"Every year, long time before the month of January comes and long time after it’s gone, chess lovers all over the world have one favorite subject to discuss: Wijk aan Zee and its famous tournament.
Formerly called Hoogovens and Corus, Tata Steel Chess Tournament was, once again, an event to remember. The strong starting list in all three groups, its long tradition and generous sponsor are not the only reasons for the tournament’s popularity. An important contribution comes from a hard working team, busy not just a little bit before and during the competition, but during the entire year.
The attention for details transpires everywhere: the invited players are carefully selected, many sides events are being organized, accessible for players of all strengths, solving competitions are taking place, commentaries are given by notorious Grandmasters, and the professional media coverage shouldn’t be forgotten. Everything is taken into consideration, including the spare time of the players and their friends or families! Excursions, dinners, different activities, they are all there to suit everyone’s needs.
But the most important aspect, which I deeply felt this year: the tournament is a piece of jewelry, a piece of art, created out of love and devotion for chess. A tremendous work, where personal interests are left aside, just to offer us a beautiful gift, a moment of joy and happiness through chess. In return, we can only give our full appreciation and gratefulness.
And “because there are no problems, only solutions”, as the organizers like to say, it doesn’t come as a total surprise that Tata Steel Chess Tournament is an example to be followed. For two and a half weeks, no matter where you are, in Wijk or Venezuela, there is this one thing which makes us part of the same chess family: Tata Steel Chess Tournament, one of the best I’ve ever seen.
Therefore, the invitation for my husband, GM Erwin l’Ami, to take part in the A-Group, made us both jump up for joy! We knew from the very beginning that every single game will be a tough fight, a long and silent “torture” spread over 13 difficult games, but nevertheless, an useful and wonderful experience. And, you never know, maybe Godess Caissa will support Erwin’s cause…
Unfortunately, a critical moment appeared in the 5th round, when Erwin had to face with Black, the highest rated player in the world: Magnus Carlsen.
In a game to remember, which lasted more than 7 hours, mistakes on both sides have been made, a normal effect due to tiredness. But this is exactly what makes sport even more exciting: errors! After a long and exhausting fight, in the moment when half a point was almost secured for Erwin, in a rook and knight against rook endgame, a terrible blunder made my heart squeeze. I was in the press room, watching the game, moving from agony to ecstasy and back within seconds. Everything was ok, should be a draw I thought. I looked again on the board and I understood: it’s all over, Erwin just dropped his rook and resigned without waiting for White’s next move. Disbelief among the audience, some people can’t help but sigh and I was one of them. An athlete who has just been defeated is an ideal prey for any journalist. A footballer scoring an own goal during an important game, is devastated after the match and reporters would crawl all over him, trying to get a first reaction. He would be able just to mumble something, to stutter, the pain is too much to bear. This is of course a great material for mass media, emotions which are very much enjoyed by a large audience.
In chess, we do things differently, most of the press people give you a break after a loss, you are left alone with your blunder. This is a generous attitude of course, but I am afraid it is not good for chess in the long run. The image that chess has right now, as an interesting intellectual battle, but somehow…flat, without any visible wounds, cannot compete with moments like the one when Roger Federer lost in the Australian Open’s final against Rafael Nadal. Total emotion on the tennis court when Federer couldn’t stop his tears…
If a camera would have captured the moment when Erwin blundered, if it would have caught on tape both players faces and their perplexed looks, or if a small interview with the loser would have been taken, that would have been a great insight in the chess player’s world. Complete silence, but what a noise in the mind of a chess player!
Remember when Kasparov blundered against Anand? The video with him completely shocked by his move, went all over the world.
Or the one when Kasparov made his famous wrong move in the match against Karpov?
In all cases, the players reactions were very expressive and this is what people like to see: emotions, an immaterial bridge which brings them closer to their idols – this is what everybody understands and what could make chess more accessible.
Mistakes are part of our games and this is what makes chess dramatic sometimes, this could make a big difference for our beautiful game: to be perceived as a serious sport, and not just as a hobby reserved for a few brainy people. Of course chess players tend to hide their emotions, considering them signs of weakness. A lost game might look as a lack of intelligence and a reason for the other players to play until the last drop against you. But you know, this could even have a softening effect on your suffering! And the more people are attracted to chess, the better, especially for you, the chess player.
Back to Erwin’s terrible day…we were not thrilled, that’s for sure. It takes a lot of energy to forget such a moment. Its influences were felt in the next game as well, when he rejected a draw against Nakamura. Playing with the White pieces a position without risks, Erwin decided to continue the game, after all he was there to play and gain as much experience as possible. Unfortunately things didn’t go into the right direction afterwards, he entered a slightly worse position and, with the memories still fresh in his mind, failed to defend and lost another game. Maybe everything would have been different, maybe he would have played longer his next game against Vachier-Lagrave, which seemed to be very promising. But, who knows…?! In any case, this game will be remembered as a terrible misfortune for Erwin. If he would have managed to make a draw, even with his beautiful stalemate trick, we would most probably say: he was completely lost but he got lucky! There is always a positive and a negative side in everything.
Chess players must understand that a lot of efforts are needed to achieve something in life, things are not coming automatically: you show up in a tournament, take your appearance fee, play a few games and go back home. This is not how it should be. Fortunately, the subtle message sent by the organizers of Tata Steel has been understood. And we all see the results: the way the chess players present themselves, the fact that they comment their games and attend the official dinners, thus they complete an almost perfect picture and bring you in your homes a professional attitude and chess atmosphere.
I hope, for the sake of chess and chess players, that more tournaments will be stimulated by this one, that organizers won’t get discouraged by the economical situation and that they will assiduously continue to knock on the sponsors doors. And if they won’t open, try the windows! Or simply other doors, you did not fail, you just didn’t find the correct one!"