Anish Giri or the Love of Chess
Article in 'de Volkskrant' by Bart Jungmann (Translated to English by Johanna Boersen)
When the Russian world champion Aleksandr Aljechin tasted defeat against Max Euwe in 1935 he shouted loudly: es lebe schachliebend Holland! This exclamation mark is put there on the authority of chess reporter Gert Ligterink, who recently described the victory of our very own Euwe as part of our sports canon.
More than 75 years later I am walking through Wijk aan Zee. If there is a place in the world where chess is loved, it must be right here. In the nicest seaside resort of the Netherlands an interesting tournament is organized in the first month of the year since 1938, nearly as old as Aljechin's congratulation.
When driving into Wijk aan Zee, you will see banners depicting two men sunk into deep thought. One man, dressed in a tailor-made suit, is up to his knees in seawater, the other one is sitting behind a chess board in the high water line, casting a meaning look at the photographer.
This photograph, the logo of the 2011Tata Steel Chess Tournament, also decorates an entire wall of the community centre De Moriaan. The credulous reporter of de Volkskrant is (the only person) mesmerized by this artistic staging of a New Year's swim, the annual dip in the water on New Years' Day. He is trying to recognize Kasparov or someone similar in the photograph, until Gert Ligterink whispers in his ear that these men are actors.
The sports hall of the community centre De Moriaan at Dorpsduinen is the playing field of this chess tournament. The time is half past one. Any minute now, Paul Litjens, a former field hockey player, will sound the gong to mark the fourth round of grandmaster group A. Reporters and photographers are allowed to stay a bit longer in the sacrosanct centre of the "matadors".
This will be the finest moment of this dull Tuesday afternoon. There is a tangible atmosphere of tense anticipation in De Moriaan and I may witness all this from nearby. Other sportspeople, who are expected to exert themselves physically, pump themselves up before the first whistle is given.
But chess players seem to deflate when the chips are down, at least so it appears from the expression of their eyes. They stare into the thin air, in a fathomless abyss which they must bridge in the hours to come. A last glance at the publicity photo learns that such eyes are impossible to imitate.
Today the media's focus is on Anish Giri, an exotic surprise with a small Dutch flag right in front of him. The previous day Giri did beat the Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, the world's best chess player, and this proves to be big news in schachliebend Holland. All the obvious and not so obvious TV programmes have made contact with Wijk aan Zee. Suddenly a new world chess champion, the first since Euwe, has fallen into our lap.
Anish Giri's year of birth is 1994, the year in which Kurt Cobain committed suicide and 'Oranje', the Dutch national soccer team, was defeated by Brazil in the quarter finals of the World Cup. Anish' cradle stood in Saint Petersburg, far removed from the frustrations of that deciding goal scored by Romario.
But a few years ago, after some wanderings, the multicultural Giri family, with a Nepalese father and Russian mother, settled in the Netherlands. The deciding goal scored by Iniesta at the Soccer World Cup held last summer will therefore not have passed unnoticed by the Giri family.
During his stay in the Netherlands Anish' talent for chess has developed so rapidly that already this year he may test his strength against the world's very greatest in this sport, which these days he does with remarkable success.
In a pavilion some hundred metres further down, former chess player John van der Wiel is giving a detailed explanation of Giri's game against Nakamura. The match ends in a draw, but the way it is done only feeds the euphoria surrounding this fragile little fellow. The question is whether that little Dutch flag will be placed forever at his side of the chess board. Vladimir Tsjoetsjelov, his trainer, hopes so. Without me being aware of it, the Netherlands proves to be a great chess nation, according to Tsjoetsjelov, and after all these years it deserves a contender for the world chess champion title.
But in two years time, when he turns 18, Anish Giri is entitled to choose his passport. All options are therefore still open for that small flag. Maybe in 2015, after a lost duel, Anand, the current world champion, will express the wish that long may chess-loving Nepal live.