4.1.09

The Tradition is Coming Back in Groningen


Who were the participants of the Staunton World Championship in 1946 in Groningen? Where the tournament was held? Who from the participants is still alive and composing?
This is one of the questions that you will find in the quiz of the Atlantis Café in Groningen. The answers you will find bellow, but now I would like to ask you for some patience. It has to do with the tournament that is in progress at the moment- the Groningen open had reached its 45-th editions. “And we intend to make it 50” stated the organizer Jan Colly in his opening ceremony’s speech.
“The tournament has seen better and worse times too”, informed me the strong Dutch GM Ervin L’Ami, who I met in the train of my way for Groningen. The Netherland’s Olympic player was on his way back home after a productive training session with V. Chuchelov. “The last few years were not as successful as in the 90-ties when more than 500 players took part in the tournament, but the tradition is coming back to life”, continues L’Ami. This year the organizers managed to strengthen the average rating of the “A” tournament. 9 GMs take part in the event, as well as many strong, young, and hopeful youngsters. There is also a “B” group, a compact group (that starts later, on 26 December). In the train I hear a girl explaining that she will play chess tomorrow. Funny, I think to myself, how small the world is- I should know this girl. I look around, but I see no familiar faces. On the next day I recall a familiar face from the train-it is Carla Heredia Serrano and she is travelling all the way from Ecuador! There are fourteen nations at “A” the tournament. At the Groningen station I meet in addition Yochanan Afek from Israel. We share a taxi, and speak about the chess in Holland in general. “I know that you live here for some year. Why?” I ask the Jewish IM. “I needed to grow old somewhere. And I found that Netherlands is the best chess country for it!”
The pearl in the crown is the match between two Jan- the current Dutch champion Jan Smeets, and the winner of the recent European Community Championship- Jan Werle. The latter is a student at the Groningen University where the tournament takes place. Jan uses his free time to have a look at the games, and to support his girlfriend. “I am getting prepared for the match. It is not only question of prestige, but it will also be counted for rating, so I am very eager to win at home.” The first game saw an uncompromised battle, in which Werle sacrificed a piece for two pawns, but Smeets defended well and the game was eventually drawn.
Jan Colly tells me that in the next five years there will be five more matches. The opponents of course will not be the same, but the sponsorship of the Groningen University is already assured.
The organization is on very high level. Every detail is a fine piece of work. The venue is spacious, there is enough space for the spectators, and air for the players, an analyzing room (actually a hall), a special hall for the spectators, a daily quality bulletin, professional photographers, etc.
When we speak about the tournament in Groningen we cannot pass nearby the famous Atlantis Café. On the 21-st of December it celebrated its third birthday. The owner of the Café is Bern Van der Marel, a keen chess enthusiast, and a good chess composer. He is also a sponsor of the summer Atlantis round-robin tournament, in which I had already the pleasure to play twice.
The Café is an excellent place, where you can play not only chess, but various mind games, like darts, cards, etc. and to have a drink or two while playing. You can also do play blitz, or take part in the study sumultaneous, try to solve the chessquiz, or participate in the AfterChess with IM Hans Böhm. If I try to imagine how the Café did Regance looked like in the past, probably I will see the Atlantis Café.
I take a look at a Dutch book of the first Groningen tournament back in 1946. This was the first chess tournament after the Second World War. It is written by the fifth World Champion Max Euwe. Then I start to recall some stories of the event-how Alexander Kotov beat his compatriot Botvinnik, how later he returned the favour by stopping Euwe in the final round, and how he was called Robin Hood by the local audience for his habit to beat the strongest and to give points to the weakest (Kotov finished the tournament on the modest tenth place), and how Mikhail Botvinnik saved a desperately-looking rook endgame against the same Max Euwe in a game that he considered decisive for the whole world cycle in 1948, and the decision to create a match-tournament for the best five players.
In the Café I learn some new stories about the Groningen Festival. Fifty years later, in 1996 the seven still living GMs from the first edition in 1946 met again for an honorary tournament. At the closing ceremony Migeul Najdorf on behalf of the participants thanked to the organizers about the opportunity to see his old rivals again, and added that it would not be bad if they have done the tournament for the twenty-fifth anniversary instead. The nine year old Fritz Rietman have just started to play the Najdorf Defense at this time, and when his mother heard that Don Miguel is here she asked him to play a game with her son. Najdorf was white, and after the moves 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cd4 4.Nd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Fritz failed into a deep thought. “I was terrified to choose the opening that the old Grandmaster created. What if I do something wrong, he might get angry…I wanted desperately to deviate and to choose the Dragon (I also used to play that one, too). However, after a lot of hesitation I finally choose 5…a6, Najdorf “blundered” some pieces later, and let me win. You chose a very good opening, was his comment at the end.”
We reach the answer of our question at the beginning- the only living player from Staunton tournament in 1946 is Vassily Smyslov. The competition took place at the very same hall-Harmony at the Groningen University. Twenty players took part in the event that was won by Botvinnik, who scored 14.5, followed by Euwe, who had half point less, and Smyslov.

1 comment:

Harry said...

Dejan, a number of photographs which you have included in your article about the Groningen tournament were made by me, Harry Gielen. You are free to use these pictures, provided you include the name of the owner/photographer.
Thanks.