Warming up for Wijk – or regaining one's drive

by ChessBase
1/16/2009 – There are plenty of super-GM tournaments these days – so many, in fact, that even the most enthusiastic chess fans may start to lose their natural enthusiasm. But there are a few that never fail to interest, and one of them starts on Saturday, in the windswept Dutch seaside town of Wijk aan Zee. We will provide full and spectacular coverage on Playchess. Steve Giddins gets us in the mood.

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Warming up for Wijk – or regaining one's drive

By Steve Giddins

I have to admit that these days, the impending arrival of another super-tournament tends not to get me all that excited. Indeed, there are depressingly few aspects of chess that do get me excited nowadays. The desire to play competitively ran out several years ago, and I have not moved a piece in anger for about 18 months. The only remotely interesting aspect of FIDE's Grand Prix  is the suspense of wondering which will be the next tournament in the series to collapse, and who will be the next leading GM to withdraw. As for the games themselves, there are still plenty of fine ones, of course, but somehow, the lingering odour of silicon preparation overhangs everything, whilst the best part of chess, namely the endgame, has been butchered by Kirsan's controversial time-control.

Such are the frequent thoughts of a depressed, middle-aged chess player. As you may detect, I am lacking drive. Yet even I have to admit that there are one or two things in chess that can still get me interested. And the name Wijk aan Zee is certainly one of them. This small, windswept Dutch seaside town represents one of the most glorious tournament traditions in our game, and glorious traditions are few and far between in chess nowadays. Despite the increasingly parochial and clique-ridden nature of the event's organisation, it remains the jewel in the tournament crown, and always provides something to look forward to, amidst the bleakness of January.

Trouble with his drive: Steve Giddins in Wijk aan Zee

This year, my usual pre-Wijk enthusiasm has been boosted further. I said above that I have been lacking drive. That is more true than you realise. Several months ago, with the malevolence characteristic of modern technology, the optical drive on my laptop suddenly ceased to function. No amount of cleaning, testing, swearing at it or kicking it could induce the wretched thing to work as Bill Gates intended.

When all else failed, I did what all English chessplayers do when their computers are sick – I took it to see the Doctor. Grandmaster Nunn applied his healing hands with all the skill he could muster, but was eventually forced to pronounce life extinct. Like Monty Python's parrot, my disk drive was dead, deceased, an ex-drive, it had rolled down the shutters and pulled down the blinds...

There was nothing for it but to visit the computer store and have it replaced. Easy enough, you might think. But in England, such things are always easier said than done. The spotty youth in the technical department assured me it was "No problem, guv", and quoted a suitably outrageous price. Reluctantly I agreed.

"But there's just one problem, guv", he added as an afterthought. "We 'aven't got any in stock".


"Yeah. Y'see, they get ordered automatically, as we use 'em, so we never run out".

"But you have run out?"


"OK, when will you have some in again?"

"Dunno, guv. Y'see, they get ordered automatically, so we're not supposed to run out."

Pause. "OK, can I leave you my number, and have you call me when they come in?".

"Er, no, sorry. We won't know when they come in, 'cos they get ordered automatically, see, so we never run out".

At this point, with the will to live departing rapidly from me, I gave up. There's a little independent computer shop, just opened in the High St where I live, so I tried them. I strode boldly in, and asked the proprietor "Can you supply and fit a new optical drive to a laptop?". The result was a look of astonished horror, that could hardly have been any greater if I had asked him for a new warp drive for the Starship Enterprise.  There was clearly no hope here.

So there I was, drive-less. It was either buy an external drive, or replace the laptop. Like any chessplayer who is confronted with a difficult decision, but whose clock is not ticking, I procrastinated. And procrastinated. And procrastinated. Several driveless months slipped by, until a form of zeitnot forced a decision. One December morning, the post brought a parcel of new goodies from those nice people at ChessBase, and there amongst the various offerings was Vlastimil Hort: Facing the World Champions. D-day had arrived, and the decision could no longer be postponed. Life could not continue without the means of watching the inimitable Vlasty. Luckily, at this point, the Fates finally took pity on me. A friend suddenly e-mailed me to say that he had an external disk drive, bought six months previously, and never taken out of the box. Having just acquired a new laptop, he no longer had need of it, so he offered it to me.

DVD delight: Vlastimil Hort describing his game against Boris Spassky

Manna from Heaven! Last Saturday, with trembling hands, I took the precious article from its box, connected it up, inserted Vlasty, and there on screen appeared the great man himself. And it certainly did not disappoint. There are few, if any, greater raconteurs in the chess world than Vlastimil Hort, and I have been fortunate enough to meet him several times, and even once play against him. The last time I saw him was at Wijk aan Zee itself, twelve months ago, where he was a guest commentator. As it happened, his visit coincided with the news of Bobby Fischer's death, and everybody present was keen to hear Vlastimil discussing one of his chess heroes. The memories of that occasion have given a further boost to my "Wijk fever".

Garry Kasparov teaches us how to play chess

But there is one other personality, who has completed the process of getting me fired up with enthusiasm for Wijk aan Zee 2009. And also for chess generally. So much so, that I am even wondering about playing again. The man, of course, is Garry Kasparov. The driveless months of late 2008 had almost made me forget how captivating Kasparov is, when talking about chess. I have in the past seen several of his ChessBase DVDs, on the Queen's Gambit and the Najdorf. I even reviewed one of the latter.

A few days ago, I returned to his Queen's Gambit disk, and just as previously, within a matter of minutes, I felt my enthusiasm for chess coming back. I find the sheer love of the game, which Kasparov evinces, to be totally fascinating and inspiring. Ten minutes watching him, and I want to get the board and set out, and start analyzing. And, once again, I am seized with the thought that I expressed at the end of the above review – how can someone who loves chess so much ever bear to walk away from the game at such a young age?

GM Yasser Seirawan commenting on Wijk for Playchess

That is something I will probably never understand. But right now, all my thoughts are on Wijk aan Zee – I cannot wait for it to start. Here on ChessBase, we will bring you unrivalled coverage of the event. The games will be broadcast live on Playchess, where you can join the audience of thousands, in following and discussing them. For most of the tournament, Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan, another of the great raconteurs and commentators of the chess world, will provide live audio commentaries, whilst each evening, a full report on the day's events will appear on the present page. Oh yes, one more thing – we may well have some insights from the strongest and most inspiring chess player and teacher of all time...

It has happened – I've got my drive back!

Wijk aan Zee 2009 – information and schedule

Wijk aan Zee is a small town on the coast of the North Sea in the municipality of Beverwijk in the province of North Holland of the Netherlands.

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The prestigious yearly tournament takes place in three Grandmaster Groups. There are also a number of amateur groups taking part at the same time. The three Grandmaster tournaments have 14 players each and are round robins (each competitor plays against every other).

Participants of Grandmaster Group A

Title Player Nat.
GM Vassily Ivanchuk UKR
GM Magnus Carlsen NOR
GM Alexander Morozevich RUS
GM Teymour Radjabov AZE
GM Sergei Movsesian SVK
GM Levon Aronian ARM
GM Wang Yue CHN
GM Gata Kamsky USA
GM Leinier Dominguez CUB
GM Michael Adams ENG
GM Sergei Karjakin UKR
GM Loek van Wely NED
GM Daniel Stellwagen NED
GM Jan Smeets NED
Average rating: 2716 – Category: 19

The average rating in Group A is 26 points less than in the previous year, and the tournament has become a category 19 instead of 20. An interesting debutante is Cuban GM Leinier Dominguez, who recently won the World Blitz Championship in Almaty and who is fast developing into a super-star. GM Sergei Movsesian, who won the Group B section in 2008, is also playing in the Wijk aan Zee A Group for the first time, as are the young Dutch grandmasters Jan Smeets and Daniel Stellwagen.

Participants of Grandmaster Group B

Title Player Nat.
GM Krishnan Sasikiran IND
GM Francisco Vallejo Pons ESP
GM Zahar Efimenko UKR
GM Rustam Kasimdzhanov UZB
GM Alexander Motylev RUS
GM Andrei Volokitin UKR
GM Nigel Short ENG
GM Fabiano Caruana ITA
GM David Navara CZE
GM Jan Werle NED
GM Erwin l'Ami NED
GM Hou Yifan CHN
GM Henrique Mecking BRA
GM Dimitri Reinderman NED
Average rating: 2641 – Category: 16

The average rating in Group B is 23 points higher than in the previous year, and the tournament has advanced from a category 15 to 16. We find a former FIDE world champions here, Rustam Kasimdzhanov, a former world championship challenger, Nigel Short, and a former world championship candidate, Henrique Mecking. Of particular interest are the youngsters Fabiano Caruana, 16, who last Sunday won a strong rapid chess tournament in Turin with an 8½/9 point score; and Chinese GM Hou Yifan, who will turn 15 a month after she finishes the Wijk aan Zee tournament.

Participants of Grandmaster Group C

Title Player Nat.
GM Wesley So PHI
GM David Howell ENG
GM Tiger Hillarp Persson SWE
GM Abhijeet Gupta IND
GM Friso Nijboer NED
GM Manuel Leon Hoyos MEX
GM Oleg Romanishin UKR
GM Eduardo Iturrizaga VEN
GM Frank Holzke GER
WGM Dronavalli Harika IND
FM Anish Giri RUS
IM Roeland Pruijssers NED
IM Manuel Bosboom NED
FM Ali Bitalzadeh NED
Average rating: 2521 – Category: 11

In Group C the average is 35 points higher than in 2008, and the tournament is a category 11 instead of 10. We are interested to see how the Junior World Champions Abhijeet Gupta and Harika Dronavalli, both from India, fare. We will also get to know 14-year-old FM Anish Giri, who is of Nepalese-Russian extraction and on his way to completing his IM title.

Rate of play
This has changed for the 2009 event. For the Grandmaster groups A, B and C it is 40 moves in two hours, then 20 moves in one hour, followed by 15 minutes for the rest of the game, with a 30 second increment per move.

Location: The tournament takes place in the De Moriaan Community Centre (Dorpsduinen 4, 1949 EG Wijk aan Zee). There is running commentary on the games of the Grandmaster Groups in a special Chess Pavilion, on the Village Green in Wijk aan Zee (one minute walk from De Moriaan).

Accommodation: For information contact the local Tourist Office. VVV IJmond Noord, Julianaplein 13-15, 1949 AT Wijk aan Zee. Telephone: + 31 (0)251 374253. E-mail: info@vvvijmondnoord.nl Website: http://www.visitwijkaanzee.nl

Schedule (playing days)

January 2009
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31 1 Feb.

Games begin at 13:30h local time (CET), except for the last round on February 1st, which begins at 12:30h. There are three rest days, on January 21st, 26th, and 29th.


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