Thursday, November 19, 2020

Corona endangers the existence of many chess-clubs

Some time ago my club-president Robert tried to cheer us up by telling us that a year without chess isn't the end of the world. He is right of course. Many players have proven that it is perfectly possible to make a comeback even after a long period of inactivity (the strongest example is doubtless strong Jan managing to become an international master after retirement and decades of not playing competitions). Beside I have every year a couple of months in which I don't play any games. I always thought this is something good as this allows me to concentrate at repairing some holes in my repertoire for which you don't have really the time during the hectic competitions.

Nevertheless today I see many indications that  chess is standing in front of the biggest crisis ever. The online magazine Vlaanderen-Schaakt-Digitaal-2020-17 warned their readers that 1 out of 3 has not renewed their membership of the Belgian federation. That is an alarming figure but we are still not the worst of the class as our neighbors England and Netherlands are even talking about a decrease of more than 50%. I have never known such huge declines in just 1 year. Also for every player stopping and returning back, there are probably a multitude of players quitting permanently. I have to admit that I also see a lot of advantages of not playing competitions. Suddenly my life is a lot more organized and quiet. It allows me to spend time at activities which before were hard to realize without getting stressed. So I believe the longer this crisis continues and it seems it will do that chess will lose more and more players.

Maybe even worse is the fact that a lot of clubs are on the point of disappearing. 14 Belgian clubs haven't subscribed themselves to the federation anymore for this year. The international situation is that bad that Fide warned in October that some clubs with a history going 150 years back, are getting into troubles. These clubs are irreplaceable and restarting any club is probably unprecedented. Therefore it is with a good reason why the boards of several chess-organizations are calling for solidarity to protect the future of chess. Below reworked poster of Lord Kitchener Wants You, originally published to call for British soldiers to fight in WW1 is funny but at the same time very serious too.
Fide Newsletter #17 (October 26, 2020)
I hope of course that the message will be heard but I fear a lot of people have bigger concerns than the existence of chess-clubs. If you lost your job in recent months or you had to make a lot of costs due to hospital-bills then it is absolutely understandable that you cut expenses which aren't of the highest priority. I can also understand that some volunteers prefer not to take risks now by meeting other chessplayers.

Fortunately not everything is bad as I see also a lot of volunteers are still willing to help. Despite the difficult circumstances many (Belgian) clubs are still offering youth-lessons. It would be a very bad idea now to abandon our youth. On the other hand I do think there is a serious problem for our teenagers. The biggest development of a player happens between the age of 12 and 18 years old. Losing 1 or 2 of those years will make a big impact forever on their career. I already noticed that last half year there were practically no new IMs or GMs. A lot of talent will be wasted if they don't receive any perspectives.

Personally I always connected progress at chess to playing competitive chess and then I speak only about classical games. Those serious games were for me like fuel as without them there are no preparations of games or analysis afterwards. For my own children it is rather the atmosphere of the tournaments and the commitment to the games which are the dominant ingredients for their personal involvement to chess. Exactly because of those reasons I made an extra effort to play this summer a tournament in Prague see the chess-microbe part 3 but that was not something I could/ wanted to repeat.

I already realized in August that I had been lucky and that was once more confirmed a month later when other Belgian players also played a tournament in Czechia and got seriously ill by the corona-virus. This was a clear wake-up call for me and I stopped making any new plans of another tournament in Czechia to play during autumn-holidays. The infection-rate was meanwhile already 10 times higher than the period we were there. Eventually the tournament was not surprisingly cancelled. An alternative which I checked was Open Tegernsee in South-Germany but also that party didn't proceed. Well they made one exception for a separate master-group of 10 players. As the number of boards were limited, the organization managed to install on each of them a plastic screen to protect the participants maximally. Obviously I wasn't invited for it but our Belgian hope Daniel Dardha was. Despite 3 defeats he still managed to win some ratingpoints as the opponents were very strong. His victory against the Czech grandmaster Thai Dai Van Nguyen proves again that the title of grandmaster is for him just a matter of time. I assume most readers haven't heard before of this grandmaster but he did win very recently a rapid-match over 10 games against former-worldchampion-finalist Nigel Short.
[Event "Tegernsee Masters"] [Site "Bad Wiessee"] [Date "2020.10.31"] [Round "1"] [White "Dardha, Daniel"] [Black "Nguyen, Thai Dai Van"] [Result "1-0"] [WhiteElo "2468"] [BlackElo "2571"] [PlyCount "111"] 1. c4 c5 2. Nc3 g6 3. g3 Bg7 4. Bg2 Nc6 5. a3 b6 6. d3 {(I am no specialist but looking in my online openingbook then I assume Daniel was surprised by this line.)} 6... Bb7 7. Bg5 h6 {(A logical novelty which is also recommended by Stockfish.)} 8. Bd2 e6 9. b4 Nge7 10. Rb1 d6 11. Qc1 $6 {(The start of a bad plan. B5 is fine but I understand why Daniel wants to play something more flexible.)} 11... Qd7 12. Nf3 Nd4 13. e4 f5 14. Qd1 {(White admits something went wrong.)} 14... O-O 15. O-O fxe4 16. dxe4 Rac8 17. b5 Kh7 18. Re1 Rf7 19. Re3 Rcf8 20. Be1 g5 21. Rd3 Nxf3+ 22. Bxf3 Bd4 23. Bh5 Rf6 $2 (23... Ng6 $1 24. Rxd4 cxd4 25. Qxd4 Ne5 $19) 24. Rxd4 {(Now the exchange sacrifice is much stronger as white has a very important extra move.)} 24... cxd4 25. Qxd4 e5 26. Qd1 Qc7 27. Nd5 Nxd5 28. cxd5 Qg7 29. Rc1 Rc8 30. Rc6 {(A lovely second exchange sacrifice. It is not difficult but you still need to play it as there were acceptable alternatives.)} 30... Bxc6 31. bxc6 Rcf8 32. Bg4 Qc7 $2 {(Despite the extra material black needs to be very careful. Here Qf7 is better to be able to repond Bf5 indeed with a counter exchange-sacrifice.)} 33. Bf5+ Kg7 34. Qd3 Kf7 35. a4 Ke7 36. Bb4 h5 $2 {(Black doesn't want to sit but this only weakens the position.)} 37. Bd2 Rg8 38. Qe2 g4 39. h4 Rxf5 {(This exchange-sacrifice arrives too late. Anyway the position is beyond salvation.)} 40. exf5 Qc8 41. Bg5+ Kf7 42. Qe4 Rh8 43. Qb4 Qb8 44. Qb5 Qc8 45. a5 Qc7 46. axb6 axb6 47. Kg2 Ra8 48. Qb1 Rh8 49. f6 Qb8 50. Bd2 Kxf6 {(Black accepts the pawn-sacrifice but this opens just more lines.)} 51. Bg5+ Kg7 52. Qf5 Qf8 53. Qd7+ Kg6 54. Qe6+ Kg7 55. c7 Qf3+ 56. Kg1 {(A nice victory from a very bad opening. Technically Daniel plays already like a grandmaster but I think there is still some work at the openings.)} 1-0
It seems Daniel is going to any place in Europe (Portugal, France, Hungary, Greece,...) wherever exists the smallest chance to play standard chess. This contains definitely risks but I do fully understand his choice. As I wrote earlier this are his best years to make progress. After he will be 18 years old, university will be next and later probably a demanding job. Also the health-risks of the corona-disease are rather limited at his very young age (I need to be much more careful).

He is not the only one as I read at the site of hmcdenbosch that the 16 year old Dutch FM Siem Van Dael played despite corona in the last months at 6 tournaments: Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, Italy, Sweden. You have to run the extra mile sometimes as he admit that it wasn't pleasant at all to play with face-mask at + 35 degrees of temperature. Anyway they are exceptions. I think 99% of our youth hasn't played any official games at all lately as clearly making such trips in the current situation can't be recommended.

For me the Open of Prague this summer was the maximum I could achieve. So since beginning of October I have no more work to do at all for chess. All analysis of my games are finished. I also don't see anything in the pipeline as the Dutch interclubs, Open Bethune... are already cancelled. However in the next article I do want to propose the method which I invented for myself to anyway restart working at chess. Standing still is going backwards and giving up chess is no option for me.


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