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Amsterdam Pub Crawl Tournament Marks 25th Anniversary

Amsterdam Pub Crawl Tournament Marks 25th Anniversary

The unique Amsterdam Pub Crawl Tournament, where duos play each round in a different cafe, was organized for the 25th time this Sunday.

It's the last Sunday in June. We are on a terrace, somewhere in Amsterdam, and the weather is nice. A group of men are having a beer, but they are not chatting about football. In fact, they are not chatting at all, and they look rather serious. Tourists walk by and whisper: “Look, they are playing chess!”

In the early 90s, Ronald Post, a strong bridge player (“but a modest chess player!” he admits) from Amsterdam, wanted to hold a tournament with two chess players facing two opponents. He decided to combine it with another idea: the kroegentocht, or pub crawl. 

Thus, the Kroegloperstoernooi voor duo's was born. “We stole the idea from bridge and combined it with the pubs,” Post told Chess.com.

Chess in front of cafe Gambrinus.

Held for the first time in 1992,  the tournament celebrated its 25th anniversary last Sunday.

“When we started this we had no idea that it would last this long,” said Geri Opgenhaffen, organizer and arbiter. “But everyone is enjoying it so we just keep on going.”

The tournament is a one-day competition with seven rounds of rapid chess (20 minutes on the clock, no increment). Each round, a team of two players meets another team of two players, so possible scores are 2-0, 1.5-0.5 and 1-1. The pairings system is delayed Swiss so round three is paired based on the results of round one, round four on the results of round two, and so on.

Aran Köhler, seen here sporting sunglasses, has won the tournament a record four times.

Furthermore, each duo plays each round in a different pub. A total of 18 pubs participated this year. All were located in the De Pijp area of Amsterdam. And so, each year on a summer Sunday, chess sets can be seen outside and inside of many cafes, and chess players can be seen wandering the streets from pub to pub.

“Sometimes participants get lost,” says Monique van de Griendt, who has helped the organizers many times. “They don't appear for their games, and the rounds can get delayed because of that.”

Opgenhaffen: ”It can be hard to leave a cafe.”
Van de Griendt (presumably tongue-in-cheek): “Sometimes they are found days after the tournament, still wandering through Amsterdam.”

The map and participating cafes.

A typical scene: The player thinks: ‘This is actually a tricky position. How is my partner doing? Damn, he's in trouble. We cannot afford a 2-0 loss so early in the tournament. Maybe I should just sac the bishop. I don't know. Damn, my time. Let's concentrate.’ In the middle of his thoughts, the player suddenly hears a passerby shouting in his ear: “CHECKMATE!”

There's a wide range of participating cafes, with hip bars, brown cafes, lunchrooms, restaurants and even a pub run by squatters. Some cafes have participated many times; others are new this year.

Opgenhaffen: “Pubs come and go in this area. Sometimes they change ownership, and a chess tournament doesn't fit their ‘formula’, but the most traditional pubs, which have been here for decades, continue to support us.”

Paul Scheermeijer, who has been a co-organizer since the second edition, came up with the tournament's motto (which rhymes in Dutch): “Pubs come and pubs go, but the pub crawl tournament will always be there.”

The pubs are also the tricky part for the organizers. “It can happen that a participating pub isn't open when the tournament has started. It is, after all, a Sunday morning. This year even three of the 18 pubs were still closed! Yes, then it's Houston we have a problem. But that was at 10:50 am, and apparently at 11:05 am, they were all open.”

Some pubs prefer to have the chess players inside which can be quite cozy.

This year things were solved quickly, but it can be worse. Opgenhaffen: “Sometimes they don't put it in their calendar, and they simply forget. That's quite a disaster.” Post: “It can happen even when we visited the cafe the night before. Some pub owners have the memory of a goldfish.”

A typical conversation: “Is it time for our first beer?” says one player. His partner asks: “Can we still win a prize? If not, yes please!”

In the first edition, about 30 duos played, but this has almost quadrupled over the years. A total of 230 players played last Sunday, from beginners to international masters. Opgenhaffen: “In all those years, we had one grandmaster: Erik van den Doel. But he played only once. He didn't win.”

“It's really a unique tournament,” says IM Robert Ris, an active coach on Chess.com and regular participant of the pub crawl tournament. “You don't see this outside the Netherlands.”

Robert Ris (l.) playing Jos Vlaming in Cafe Pico.

The first three editions were won by a legendary Dutch FM named Erik Knoppert, who quit chess eight years ago and was never seen again. “He won with three different partners. However, in those first editions, we didn't have so many participants and therefore less revenue,” said Opgenhaffen. “He wasn't happy with the prize money and never came back.”

There is only one duo that has won the tournament four times: artist and strong chess amateur Aran Köhler together with Dutch blitz legend IM Manuel Bosboom. The latter famously won an official blitz game against Garry Kasparov in 1999 in Wijk aan Zee.

IM Manuel Bosboom (r. with tie) and his partner, IM Albert Blees,
played 1-1 against brothers Ornett and Ivo Stork.

“I just like this tournament a lot,” said Bosboom. “You can drink something, walk around... Being outside in nice weather... That's always special.” Bosboom/Köhler may be a magical couple. Bosboom has also played with other partners, including IM Albert Blees last Sunday, but in those years, he has never won.

This year the event was won by two young players: 19-year-old Hing Ting Lai (who is on his way to becoming an even bigger blitz legend in the Netherlands) and Tobias Kabos (25). “They probably didn't drink enough!” joked Bosboom.

Lai and Kabos receiving the first prize of 200 Euros.

Walking the streets of Amsterdam, chess players come across other players throughout the day. “Hi, how are you?” is the most normal question in the world, but this time the answer will always be related to the tournament. “Bad, only two points. We were unlucky enough to win with 2-0 in the first round. Then we got three strong teams in a row!”

The Amsterdam pub crawl tournament is not alone. Over the years it has inspired many other cities in the Netherlands to do the same, and these days there are similar tournaments in Amersfoort, Apeldoorn, Delft, Leiden, and Santpoort. There used to be a tournament in Zaandam, and a chess club in Hoorn is considering launching one. 

The tournament is enjoyed by young and old.

While others are keeping up with the times — e.g. Delft uses a smartphone app for the participants to submit their results and see the standings and pairings — the Amsterdam kroegloperstoernooi is still using the same system as 25 years ago.

“We have two reasons,” says Opgenhaffen. “First, we want to have a system that we can manipulate so that we can answer special demands. For instance, some want to play in the same pub as their friends, and others cannot walk too much... Besides, we want to be absolutely sure that nobody plays in the same pub twice.”

Cafe Ruis hosts the nerve center of the tournament
where the organizers are preparing the next rounds.

This means that for every round three volunteers go to all 18 bars to retrieve the results and bring the new pairings written on special cards. They go there by bike of course; we're talking Amsterdam! Each location has a “pub officer” who ensures correct match-ups throughout the day. In total, the tournament has about 30 volunteers.

One of those volunteers sadly had to miss the 25th edition. Post's wife, Mieke van der Meulen, also a bridge player and involved in the tournament since the very start, had to be hospitalized two days before the event, but luckily she's doing much better now.

Chess on the Van der Helstplein, typically full of parked bikes.

The writer of these lines has participated in at least ten editions. The most unforgettable was in 1996 — already two decades ago. When the tournament had finished and everyone was gathered on the Van der Helstplein to await the prize giving, the Quibus pub (now Cafe Buhrs) was showing the Wimbledon final on TV between MaliVai Washington and Richard Krajicek — the only Dutch winner of this prestigious tennis event. A few more drinks were ordered after the end of that match...

“They're great people!” says Lotte Berkelmans, who runs Café Ruis. “They tend to be more cheerful than other customers. In the morning, you can see that they had been looking forward to playing this event, during the day they like to drink a beer or two, and in the evening they have seen enough chess, so they are glad that it's over!”

But not for long. Many participants are already looking forward to the 2017 Kroegloperstoernooi, a very special tournament that has been running for a quarter of a century.

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