22nd Blitz Death Match: L'Ami vs Smeets!

22nd Blitz Death Match: L'Ami vs Smeets!

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It will be hard to top the excitement of Death Match 21, but two Dutch players are going to try. GM Jan Smeets and GM Erwin L'Ami were picked to participate in Death Match 22. The three-hour non-stop blitz and bullet match will take place Saturday, March 22nd at 18:00 CET, noon Eastern (New York time) or 9 a.m. Pacific.

This "seeded match" follows the 2014 schedule, where every other month has open qualification. This particular match was by invitation, but there's still time remaining in February to try to qualify for April's Death Match 23.

Edition 22 will be live on and will feature about 75 minutes of five-minute, 60 minutes worth of three-minute, and then 45 minutes of one-minute chess. Players are not usually allowed to take any breaks.

All three time controls feature a one-second increment, a subtle addition that many recent players have worried they were not familiar to using.

The two players were both born on the exact same day, and only 30km apart! If they both remain active and continue to improve, April 5, 1985 may go down as one of the most important days in Dutch chess history.

GM Jan Smeets -- FIDE 2613. The two-time champion of the Netherlands is no longer a professional chess player, but he was once one of the rising stars of his country. With a peak rating of 2669 about four years ago, Smeets had the chance to play in the Corus A section (now called the Tata Masters section) in Wijk aan Zee.

Jan Smeets | Photo © Frans Peeters

He's a very frequent member of team play. Smeets has played in Olympiads and European Team Championships for the Netherlands, and he's also competed in the World Cities Championship and is an active member of the Bundesliga and the Dutch and Belgian National Leagues.

Smeets is almost exclusively a 1.e4 player, whereas as Black he usually enters Slav positions against 1.d4 and can play Sicilian or double king pawn. Of course, as this 2013 online blitz match shows, anything can happen when the time control is shortened. It's doubtful he will face 2...h5 or 2.h4 very much. Without looking below - take one guess who his young opponent was!---

Here Smeets shows his knowledge of the White side of the Ruy Lopez, and his attacking instinct, as he dismantles a former Death Match player, GM Nigel Short.

In fact Smeets also likes to play the move 9.d4 in the Closed Ruy Lopez every now and then, which allows 9...Bg4. On this system, which was also tried by Bobby Fischer, he wrote a long theoretical article for The Master's Bulletin last summer which you can download for free in fact! Find it in the July 2013 and August 2013 issues. 

GM Erwin L'Ami -- FIDE 2649. For a few years Smeets was slightly ahead of L'Ami, but the latter is now on his peak lifetime rating. L'Ami's rating rise having come slightly later, he has played in the top group in his country's biggest tournament in 2011 and 2013, and has played in the B group of Wijk aan Zee in 2008.

Erwin L'Ami

Like Smeets, he has played in three Olympiads for the Netherlands.

L'Ami has yet to win a Dutch Championship, but he nearly won the 2008 European Individual Championship. He finished tied for second, only a half-point off the pace, with such luminaries as GMs Movsesian and Vachier-Lagrave.

Near the end of that tournament, L'Ami had no misgivings about running his king. How often do you see a king venture to a5 in the middlegame, never getting checked along the way? In any case, the king eventually pole vaulted all the way back to g7, where safety was assured!

L'Ami was also featured in's February Master's Bulletin, in a new Q&A column called "Beyond the Board." Amongst other things, we learn that L'Ami plans to make chess his career, otherwise he would be "hopelessly lost. I was not exactly the perfect student in school and knew I wanted to make chess my profession early on." L'Ami also said that if could play any past legend, he would choose Wilhelm Steinitz, the First World Champion. "I'm really curious how strong he really was. My belief is that chess evolved so much over the years that Steinitz would have a tough time against most modern grandmasters."

Erwin l'Ami teamed up with Robin van Kampen in a spontaneous bughouse match vs Jan Werle
and Jan Smeets (with IM Robert Ris kibitzing) at the SPA Chess Open in Amsterdam last summer

Perhaps never before has a Death Match featured players who know each other so well. According to Megabase, they both are each others' most frequent opponent. In their 28 head-to-head games, Smeets holds a slim 15.5-12.5 edge, but L'Ami won their last decisive game at the 2012 Dutch Championship.

Tune in to March 22 at 9 a.m Pacific, 12 p.m. Eastern (New York time) GMT -8 for live commentary with IM Danny Rensch and special guests.

FM Mike Klein

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Mike Klein began playing chess at the age of four in Charlotte, NC. In 1986, he lost to Josh Waitzkin at the National Championship featured in the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer." A year later, Mike became the youngest member of the very first All-America Chess Team, and was on the team a total of eight times. In 1988, he won the K-3 National Championship, and eventually became North Carolina's youngest-ever master. In 1996, he won clear first for under-2250 players in the top section of the World Open. Mike has taught chess full-time for a dozen years in New York City and Charlotte, with his students and teams winning many national championships. He now works at as a Senior Journalist and at as the Chief Chess Officer. In 2012, 2015, and 2018, he was awarded Chess Journalist of the Year by the Chess Journalists of America. He has also previously won other awards from the CJA such as Best Tournament Report, and also several writing awards for mainstream newspapers. His chess writing and personal travels have now brought him to more than 85 countries.

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