How I Managed To Beat Loek Van Wely

Dec 20, 2015, 5:08 PM |

How I Managed To Beat Loek Van Wely

Loek van Wely is a well-known name in both the national and international chess-scene. Currently rated 2636 he is ranked 132nd of the world. In 2014 he won the Dutch national title for the seventh time in his life. Quite an opponent, and statistically an impossible challenge.

On October 4th, 2014, my chess-club celebrated its 50th anniversary. We invited Van Wely to play against 10 of our strongest players. Six of them, myself included, were rated somewhere between 2000 and 2100. Despite Van Wely having agreed to play Black on all 10 boards, a 10-0 victory for Van Wely was expected. But because I managed to win, the result became 9-1.


How do you play against a grandmaster?

When you know that you will be playing against an opponent like Van Wely, several questions may come up:

How do you prepare against Van Wely?
What kind of opening do you prepare? Do you prepare a variation you know well, knowing that your opponent may know it better? Or do you prepare something bizarre to surprise him and refrain from opening theory altogether?
To what extent do you allow your opponent's reputation to influence your play? Do you refrain from sharp variations because "he will not make mistakes"? Or do you play supersharp variations hoping that he will end up making inaccuracies?

And what is your mindset behind the board?
Do you stick behind the board for longer?
Do you feel like you have to impress your opponent?


My personal experience tells me that it's important to stay true to yourself, both psychologically and chess-related.

Regarding the chess-aspects of the game: I played out my own repertoire. I did not play differently than I would have in any other game. I played a clear and combative system I know well, play often enough (with decent results) and is not played that often on grandmaster level.
When I slept a few hours short, I play better. I think this is because when I am not in a great physical state, I have too little energy to spend on emotions. So I am not emotionally engaged in my game.
Apart from that, I did nothing to prepare anything at all. I consulted no chess-books, I did not check with Van Wely's current opening-repertoire, and I practiced no tactics.

During the match it never crossed my mind that I played against a "big gun." The anecdote of a fourteen-year-old Botwinnik playing in a simultaneous game against Capablanca and being the only one winning did cross my mind once, but other than that my attention was focussed on more important things. When awareness of the situation takes over, your commonsense is badly compromised. The game is decided ON the chess-board, not OFF the chess-board. Unimportant factors may not play any role.
So I did my best to keep my focus and play as good as I could. I did not concern myself with the outcome of the game or let the opponent's rating intimidate me.
The other nine players, who did allow such nonsense to negatively influence their mindsets, in fact lost the battle before it started.

As Dutch actor Tygo Gernandt says: "Acknowledge the pawn, not the person behind it."


White: me (2020)
Black: Loek van Wely (2664)

Simultaneous clock game

  1. e2-e4 c7-c5

  2. Nb1-c3 Nb8-c6

  3. f2-f4

This variation is called the Grand Prix Sicilian.

  1. … g7-g6

  2. Ng1-f3 Bf8-g7

  3. Bf1-b5 Nc6-d4

After 5. … e6? 6. Bxc6 bxc6 7. e5 Black would have no pawn-structure left.

A different way to play the position is the less ambitious 5. … d6.

  1. 0-0 Nd4xb5

  2. Nc3xb5 Ng8-f6

Not the most common continuation for Black. 7. … d5 8. exd5 a6! (8. … Qxd5?? 9. Nc7+ would be poison for the eyes) 9. Nc3 Nf6 10. d4 is more common. 10. … Nxd5 leads to a complex game with quite dangerous White attacking chances (Me vs Norbert Jansen, 25-09-2010, 1-0); and 10. … c4 buys Black some time to complete his development (Me vs Zyon Kollen, 28-07-2014, 0-1).

  1. d2-d3

A move which fits in White's setup. Other options are 8. e5 and 8. Nc3. The reason why I chose this setup is that I want to allow Black the possibility to spend time with a7-a6.

  1. … 0-0

White now has a central pawn-configuration c2-d3-e4-f4. Because White refrained from d4, the attacking-chances in the centre and the queenside are limited. Because White gained space on the kingside with an early f2-f4, it is logical to play for a kingside attack and follow up with Qd1-e1-h4, possibly Nb5-c3-e2-g3 or f4, and then f4-f5, Bc1-h6, Nf3-g5 and seek for complications.

With c5, Nc6 and Bg7, Black took steps to create play on the queenside. This can be accomplished with b7-b5 (possibly prepared by a7-a6), Ra8-b8, Qd8-c7 or b6, and exert pressure on White's centre. This can be done with c5-c4 to address pawn d3 (The basis of White's central pawn-chain), but also with d7-d5 (a recurring theme in most Sicilian opening-variations). Very often Black can obtain equality when he can make this push without further ado.

So White is going to play on the kingside and Black is going to play on the queenside. The middle-game has started - the big question is who will come first.

  1. Qd1-e1 d7-d6

An option, but I think it is not the strongest ot the most challenging. Probably it was better to play more directly with 9. … a6 10. Nc3 b5 or 10. … d5.

Chances are that Black will want to play Bg4. In order to deny Black this plan, I played

  1. h2-h3 a7-a6

  2. Nb5-c3 b7-b5

  3. Qd1-h4

A move within my plan, so this move requires little thinking. If I do not play fiercely and accurately, eventually things will go wrong. I may not let that happen.

  1. … b5-b4

  2. Nc3-e2

The knight is transferred to the kingside.

  1. … c5-c4

A very logical move, undermining White's pawn chain. 14. dxc4 Nxe4 is very pleasant for Black, because the centre will fall in his hands. And without a centre, the chances for a kingside attack will be reduced.

  1. f4-f5!

For White, everything revolves around the kingside attack. In that light, sacrificing the f-pawn is justified. Capturing on f5 would be ridiculous, because the kingside would be poorly compromised.

Of course Black carries on with his own plan.

  1. … c4xd3

  2. c2xd3

The key pawn of White's position is the pawn on e4. If e4 falls, the game is practically over. I have to recapture. This also buys me some time, because Black will have to put in more effort to siege pawn d3.

  1. … Qd8-b6+

  2. Kg1-h1

Likely 16. Kh2 was more accurate, because the g3-square gets extra protection, the back rank would not be check, and Black's light-squared bishop cannot give check. But I assessed the king would be safe enough on h1.

  1. … Qb6-b5

If I choose to defend the pawn on d3, it will take time, and the effort of one attacker. I want to create play on the kingside as fast as possible.

  1. Bc1-h6 Qb5xd3

  2. Ne2-g3

The pawn on e4 is excellently defended now, and the knight joins the attack.

  1. … Bc8-b7

  2. Ra1-d1

Let us be accurate: the queen must leave the third rank.

  1. … Qd3-c2

  2. Nf3-g5

Black is going to face difficulties. Capturing on e4 is not an option: 20. … Nxe4 21. N3xe4 Bxe4 22. Nxe4 Bxh6 23. f6! is very nasty, and 20. … Bxe4 21. N3xe4 Nxe4 22. Nxe4 Bxh6 23. f6! leads to the same. Possible continuations: 23. … Be3 24. fxe7 Rfe8 25. Nf6+ and Black is going down, or 23. … exf6 24. Nxf6+ Kg7 25. Nd7 and White wins.

  1. … Nf6-h5

Probably insufficient.

  1. Bh6xg7 Nh5xg3+

Also 21. … Kxg7 22. Nxh5+ gxh5 23. Qxh5 is unpleasant for Black.

  1. Qh4xg3 Kg8xg7

  1. f5xg6!

Things go wrong for Black.

  1. … h7xg6

Other variations are bad as well. 23. … fxg6 24. Ne6+ wins the Exchange, and allowing White to pry open the kingside is not an option either.

  1. Qg3-h4 Rf8-h8

Other variations lead to checkmate.

Anyone with commonsense would play 25. Rxf7+ Kg8 26. Qg4 followed by Rfc1 and Black can resign. I myself failed to see 26. Qg4 and went looking for a different winning variation. Fortunately it was there:

  1. Ng5-e6+ f7xe6

After 25. … Kg8 26. Qxe7 Rxh3+ 27. Kg1 (not 27. gxh3?? Bxe4+ and Black wins) Rh7 28. Rc1 White will win too.

  1. Qh4xe7+ Kg7-h6

In the analysis room it was suggested that White probably has perpetual check. Of course I have perpetual check, and I can always settle for that if there was no win. But I still had 47 minutes on the clock, and I spent 12 minutes looking for a win.

  1. Qe7-h4+ Kh6-g7

  2. Qh4-f6+ Kg7-h6

  3. Qf6-f4+ Kh6-g7

Relatively better (but still insufficient) was 29. … g5.

The difference with two moves ago is that my queen is now positioned on f4 instead of h4. The queen still does the same: covering the squares f6 nd h6, so Black's king cannot escape. The difference is that the queen is not attacked on f4. I have the time for the next move, which was missed in the analysis room:

  1. Rd1-c1

Black is lost. He tried something but went down after

  1. … Rh8-f8

  2. Rc1xc2 Rf8xf4

  3. Rc2-c7+ Kg7-h6?

  4. Rf1xf4 Ra8-b8

  5. h3-h4 Bb7-a8

  6. g2-g4 Rb8-h8

  7. Kh1-h2 e6-e5

  8. Rf4-f7 Ba8xe4

  9. g4-g5+ Kh6-h5

  10. Kh2-g3

And Black resigned in view of inevitable checkmate in two.



This is me after the match. Note how they messed up the pieces on White's back rank.

Thank you for reading!

Best regards,