In fine art, we’ve often heard the term ‘Old Masters’ that refers to great European painters who worked between the Renaissance and 1800; seminal figures as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Vermeer, Rubens and Rembrandt. The title is widely believed to have originated in the Netherlands, and somewhat fittingly the Dutch have now repurposed the term ‘Old Masters’ for a special anniversary memorial tournament to one of their fallen heroes.
Dutchman Daniël Noteboom (1910-32) was an unsung rising star of the early 1930s who passed away all-to-young. He gained notoriety with an impressive début for Holland at the 1930 Chess Olympiad, scoring 11.5/15, but he tragically died aged just 21 in London just a week after contracting pneumonia during the 1931/32 Hastings tournament. His lasting legacy is the wild and complex Noteboom variation in the Semi-Slav (1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c6 4.Nf3 dxc4 5.a4 Bb4 6.e3 b5 7.Bd2 a5 8.axb5 Bxc3 9.Bxc3 cxb5 10.b3 Bb7) that even today still packs a lethal punch for an unsuspecting opponent.
And many tournaments have been held in his memory, too, the first, in 1936, won by Dr. Max Euwe during the Dutchman’s short period as world champion (1935-37). This small, but highly select rapid event held in Leiden – close to Noordwijk, where Noteboom was born – is always well attended by Dutch players. Last weekend, the Noteboom Tournament marked its 80th edition and, on top of that, there was also an added celebration with early March being the 125th anniversary of organizing club LSG (Leiden Chess Society), so a special marquee event also ran in parallel to the traditional rapid event – won by the young Dutch IM, Casper Schoppen – and headlined by a legendary former world champion and three former world championship candidates.
Tradition is everything to the Dutch, and in 1970, a small double anniversary tribute was similarly staged in Leiden, with the club organising a special round-robin between Boris Spassky, Bent Larsen, Jan Hein Donner, and Mikhail Botvinnik (which was also his last tournament before the legendary Soviet ex-world champion announced his retirement). This time, half a century later, all the players are ‘retired’ in one form or another, so hence the ‘Old Masters’ title, and the four-player double round-robin rapid featured Anatoly Karpov (Russia, aged 68), Predrag Nikolic (Bosnia & Herzegovina, 59), Robert Huebner (Germany, 71) and Jan Timman (Netherlands, 68).
In the end, youth triumphed, as top seed Predrag Nikolic – a previous five-time Noteboom winner and two-time Dutch champion – was in vintage form, as the Bosnian convincingly took the title with his unbeaten score of 4.5/6.
1. P. Nikolic (Bosnia & Herzegovina) 4.5/6; 2. A. Karpov (Russia) 3.5; 3. R. Huebner (Germany) 2.5; 4. J. Timman (Netherlands) 1.5.
Photo: Predrag Nikolic demonstrates to the spectators one of his wins en route to victory | © Lennart Ootes/80th Noteboom Tournament
GM Predrag Nikolic – GM Jan Timman
80th Noteboom ‘Old Masters’, (6)
King’s Indian Fianchetto
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nf3 Bg7 4.g3 0-0 5.Bg2 d6 6.0-0 c6 7.b3 e5 8.dxe5 dxe5 This is known, unadventurous line that usually guarantees a draw with the queens being traded early. But that said, all the onus is on Black to play accurately to ensure the equilibrium is maintained, as one slip could – as happens in this game – lead to a very difficult defence. 9.Ba3 The bishop is well-placed here, and, of course, you can’t snatch the pawn with 9.Nxe5? as 9…Nfd7 gives Black a near winning position. 9…Qxd1 10.Rxd1 Re8 11.Nc3 Nbd7 The position is equal – but that said, White just as the marginally better of it, and as we said earlier, it will only take a little slip for Black to be facing a tough struggle to defend. 12.Ng5 Bf8?! As Timman himself readily admitted after the game, far better was the more spirited option of 12…e4!? 13.Rac1 Bh6 14.h4 e3!? 15.f4 Bg7 16.Bf3 Nf8 with near to equality; though with Black’s pieces being more active. 13.Bxf8 Kxf8 Timman thinks he is just edging his way to equality, believing the trades will see the game drawn. 14.b4N A new twist from Nikolic, and suddenly the position becomes somewhat ugly for Black. Previously, we’d seen 14.Nge4 Re7 15.b4 a5 16.b5 Nxe4 17.Nxe4 f5 18.bxc6 bxc6 19.Nd6 e4 and White just not having enough to try for a win. But Nikolic’s new idea, taking command of the dark squares, soon pays off as Timman fails to hit back accurately enough. 14…Nb6 15.c5 Nc4?! Timman simply had to kick the knight now with 15…h6 16.cxb6 (If 16.Nge4 Nxe4 17.Nxe4 as this time 17…Nc4! does work, as Black can keep the knight on c4 by means of …Be6 that will disrupt White’s plan.) 16…hxg5 17.b5 e4! 18.bxa7 Rxa7 19.bxc6 bxc6 20.Rd6 Kg7! 21.Rxc6 Bd7 22.Rc5 Ra3 23.e3 g4 where, despite the potential long-term danger from White’s a-pawn, Black should really have enough piece-play here to fight for the draw. 16.b5! It could well be that Timman simply under-estimated the danger from this move, as Nikolic takes the initiative. 16…Na5 The only possibility now from Timman, as 16…cxb5 17.Nxb5 sees Rac1 and Nd6 looming, and doesn’t look an attractive prospect. 17.Rd6 The rook lift just piles the pressures on Black’s fragile position, which looks set to collapse. 17…Ke7 18.bxc6 bxc6 19.Rb1 Even stronger was 19.Rad1! as it is hard to see how Black can untangle his pieces without at least the c6-pawn falling. 19…Bd7 20.Rb4 Reb8 21.a3 The time was ripe to ‘cash in’ with his active rooks by 21.Rh4!? Nb7 (If 21…h5 22.Nf3 and the …e5 pawn is set to fall.) 22.Rxf6! Kxf6 23.Nce4+ Ke7 24.Nxf7! and Black is in deep trouble. 21…Nb7? Under a lot of pressure, Timman makes the final, fatal slip. He just had to find 21…h6 that would have kept the game near to equal, as 22.Nge4 Ne8 23.Rd3 Rxb4 24.axb4 Nc4 and, with …Rb8 coming next, the game is going to soon fizzle out to a draw. 22.Bxc6! The decisive blow, as all the tactics are winning now for Nikolic. 22…Nxd6 23.Bxa8 Rxa8 24.cxd6+ Kxd6 25.Nxf7+ Ke6 26.Ng5+ Kf5? Black is in a bad way, but this move only hastens his demise. The only try to stave off an immediate loss was 26…Ke7! 27.Nce4 a5 28.Rb7 Nxe4 29.Nxe4 Rc8 and White still has work to do to convert the win. 27.h4! [see diagram] It doesn’t look so obvious, and perhaps this better explains Timman’s choices, but the big threat now is g4+! 27…Rc8? 28.e4+ The clinical kill was 28.g4+! Nxg4 and now 29.e4+ forcing 29…Kf6 (The alternative is 29…Kf4 30.Nd5#) 30.Nd5+ Kg7 31.Rb7 and the bishop is lost. 28…Kg4 29.Nd5 Ne8 No better was 29…Nxd5 30.exd5+ Kf5 31.Rb7 Be8 32.Rxh7 and White easily wins. 30.Kg2 1-0 Timman resigns, as either he’s set to lose more pawns and/or his king snared in a mating net.