January 3, 2011

Interview with Daniel Stellwagen

Daniel Stellwagen

Country: The Netherlands
Born: 1st of March 1987
Title: GM 
Current Fide Rating: 2631
Peak rating: 2639 (October 2007)

Daniel is only 23 y.o. and he achieved a lot so far, both in chess and his education: Grandmaster at an early age, several times Dutch Champion, silver medal in European and World Championship under 12, winner of many open tournaments, and now he is doing his PhD in Chemistry at Utrecht University. He will soon be a Doctor and, if you think about it, not so many of them out there with a GM title and being so young! We might wonder when did he have time for both, especially to excel in such different fields.

Chess and chemistry: Daniel's two passions. While his chess results are well known among chess circles, his career as a scientist is still a mystery for many of us. In the following interview Daniel will give us an insight into his life as a chemist, where chess remains a reliable friend.

Alina: Why don't we see you so often anymore playing chess tournaments?
Daniel: Unfortunately, I don't have so much time now. I have a job, which requires a lot of time, as a PhD student at Utrecht University. I am working in the chemistry department, in research, with a full time job, from 9AM until 5PM, five days a week. Usually it takes even more time because I am trying to do my job properly, I get excited with a new project/discovery, and I am eager to finish it. My project for PhD involves making new types of catalysts for biodiesel production from renewable feedstocks such as waste oils and fats. (ed. just for the record, Daniel helped me with my article on Chess and Chemistry; sometimes I felt completely out of the conversation, when the discussion took the chemistry path; so don't worry if you have to google what he just said about his project:)
Of course I am trying to keep up with the current  chess events as well. Occasionally I'll still play myself, in league games and team events like the Olympiad.

Alina: Have you ever had doubts which one to choose, chess or chemistry?
Daniel: I briefly considered life as a chess professional when I finished high school, but I didn't want to specialize so early on in my life. Instead, I went to university to expand my horizons. For a while I combined both chess life and my chemistry studies, trying to divide my time equally between both subjects. At the moment my priorities have shifted toward my chemistry work, since a PhD project obviously requires much time than undergraduate studies. In any case, whenever I find time, I like to fill it up with chess.

Alina: Are you considering to come back as a professional chess player?
Daniel: I hope to first get my PhD, so if I will decide to come back to chess full time, it won't happen in the next few years. I simply enjoy my life more when I do other things besides chess. Anyway, it would have been, practically speaking, more appropriate to decide upon a chess career a few years ago, to be able to reach the very top.

Alina: Which one is more difficult: chess or chemistry?
Daniel: Difficult to say because they are different from each other; but if I have to choose one...I'd say chemistry is more difficult because it is a much bigger field. On the other hand, chess is a very competitive game, you have to beat someone, you have to train hard and there are a lot of emotions, stress and pressure involved. In chemistry, you also have the competitive element, because you have to publish your work, you have to come up with better ideas than other people, but you don't have to face and fight against somebody. This is what makes chess a difficult game.

Alina: Can we talk about different styles in research as in chess?
Daniel: When you are doing research you try to find the optimum result, and there are of course many different ways which will finally bring you to the same conclusion. We can talk about two kind of scientists: experimental and theoretical, but there is so much to know, the volume of knowledge is so high that you are more or less forced to specialize in only one. 
In chess, we can also speak about the theoretical players and the practical ones; but at the very top, the strongest GM's need to be both theoretical and practical players.

Alina: If you could start all over again, what would you choose between chemistry and chess?
Daniel: Difficult to say, I have more experience as a chess player but it's nice to do them both and experience as much as possible. It brings you a nice perspective.

Alina: What do you miss most from chess, besides playing?
Daniel: The tournament atmosphere, seeing my friends, it's a really pleasant life. that's why it's a pity that I don't have so much time to play anymore. Of course, I am a bit more relaxed now with chess because I am less concerned. We know that when we lose a game, it's not good for your inner peace; the more serious you are on chess, the more disturbed you get with bad results.
Now I am much easier on myself, it's not the end of the world if I lose a game and my life is more pleasant. So, I do miss the nice atmosphere but not the soul crushing defeats which sometimes appear:)

Alina: Why chemistry?
Daniel: I really enjoyed sciences, especially biology and chemistry. But after highschool I chose chemistry and later on I specialized on inorganic chemistry. 

Alina: Would you like to become a chess or chemistry teacher at some point?
Daniel: No. My aim is to work in industry.

Alina: What is your opinion on Tata Steel this year?
Daniel: The A and B groups are very strong this year, with a very exciting line up! All the players are extremely strong but if I have to make a prediction:
A-Group: Kramnik - I enjoy his games and I hope he will do well
B-Group: could be anybody; maybe McShane, he was very successful in London. But with such strong players, the tournament can be won by any of them, depends on the shape.

Alina: A final chess advice?
Daniel: When things go wrong in a game, many players don't enjoy it anymore and, as a consequence, they no longer make an effort to fight. They should be aware of the following fact: for the better side, for the player with a winning position, it's extremely annoying to face a tough defence. It's so frustrating that you cannot easily turn your advantage into victory that, quite often, a winning position changes into a lost one. Keep fighting and be as resilient as possible!


  1. Interesting, nice insight in the life of such a great player. We would like to see him more often playing chess, though! =)

  2. too bad such a great player with top 100 potential and even World Champion candidate potential, wastes his time on "science" LOL
    But it might be the safer choice, moneywise.

  3. wastes his time on "science"
    Why would science be a waste of time? After all, it is fair to argue that even the smallest bit of science will save more lives than chess ever has. Exploiting the brain's one's got by doing science is in no means worse than using it by playing chess.

  4. Alina,

    Just discovered your blog and has been reading through your previous blogs. Very good stuff. Thanks and please continue to blog!!! I have linked to your "Boost Your career" blogs. But this is a great interview with GM Stellwagen. Very intsructive for chess juniors. I am mainly involved with chess juniors in New South Wales and Australia. http://australian-junior-youth-chess.blogspot.com/

  5. Thank you for your kind words! Just visited your blog too and I wish you a lot of success with your pupils and promoting chess in Australia!
    I was thinking to play there as well, but it's a bit difficult, Australia is far away; maybe one day it will happen:)
    Best regards from Roumania!

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