"I just like to set high standards"

| 0 | Chess Event Coverage
After finishing school in May, 19-year-old Dutch FM Ali Bitalzadeh decided to be a professional player for a year. Two months later, at the Open Dutch Championship, he surprised everybody by winning clear, ahead of 6 GMs and 7 IMs, scoring his third IM and first GM norm, without a single loss. Time for an interview!

But first we need to tell a bit more about what exactly happened. What? The Open Dutch Championships. Where? Dieren, a Dutch small town where the tournament has been held for ages. When? 21-31 July, 2008. Who? GMs Ikonnikov, Sandipan, Ernst, Van den Doel, Nijboer and Pavlovic and IMs Simutowe, Bosch, Brandenburg, Sriram, Hendriks, Van Delft and Wohl were topping the list of participants. But... it was somebody else who would be stealing the show.

After a smooth victory with Black, FM Bitalzadeh surprised for the first time by beating GM Chanda Sandipan (2558). The Indian might have been unaware of the fact that his oppontent, rated 2310, used to have 2400 and already possessed two IM norms.

After a relatively quick draw against FM Reiner Odendahl (2434), Bitalzadeh beat GM Sipke Ernst (2581) in a heroic fight, where the grandmaster missed several wins.

A round later, he crushed IM Brandenburg (2431) in just 20 (!) moves.

Then, Bitalzadeh was playing on board 1 for the first time in the tournament. There he defeated IM Hendriks (2425) with Black, and the next round he faced GM Ikonnikov (2592). This seems to be the usual moment when such fairy-tale tournaments end, but not for Ali! He reached a rook ending with a pawn up, and the GM had to use all his energy to draw it.

In the eighth round, Bitalzadeh just kept on rolling, and by using his new weapon 1.d4 he defeated GM Van den Doel (2567). Again, he Ali had been under big pressure, but he kept his cool and used small tactics to defend his position.

Suddenly the 19-year-old found himself in a one-point lead to his closest rivals, because Sandipan had beated Ikonnikov. A quick draw in the last round against GM Pavlovic (2515) made Bitalzadeh's dream come true: he had won his third IM norm, a first GM norm at the same time, the Open Dutch title, and a ticket to the regular Dutch Championships in 2009 (which always goes to the best Dutch player at the Open in Dieren).


Ali Bitalzadeh was born April 19, 1989 in Kosovo. His parents are from Iran, who were studying at the Univsersity of Pristina at the time. At the age of 6, Ali learnt chess from his father. Since 2000 he's been living in The Netherlands. He won the Open Dutch Junior title once, finished shared first at the Dutch Junior Championship in 2001 and 2003 and finished 7th at a European Championship.

Thanks to modern technique, I was able to have a short interview with Ali, by chatting on the internet, me in Sochi, he in Enschede, where he's playing the Young Masters, trying to become the Open Dutch Junior Champion! :-)

Tell me a bit more about yourself.

"Well, I live in Kesteren and for two years I've been playing for my club Utrecht in the Dutch Meesterklasse. I used to play for ESGOO. I have scored two IM norms in 2006: at Cappelle la Grande and at the Essent Tournament in Hoogeveen. I could have scored a GM in the second one, if I had drawn Gurevich in the last round."

What happened to your rating?

"Until 2006 it was just going up and at some point I had a bit over 2400. But yes, then it dropped a lot, to 2310 now. I was simply not very motivated, and I had a busy period at school. But I finished it in May, and instead of going to university, I decided to concentrate on chess again. I want to be a chess professional for a year and I want to win back all my points this year."

I guess that's not a problem after this huge success?

"No, in one tournament I have won 48 points already! Actually my goal is to become a grandmaster now."


"Yes, I like to set high standard form myself. If I just say: I want to become an IM, that doesn't make sense. I will do that anyway, and then there would be nothing to play for."

In Dieren you had some scary moments as well. It looked like you profited from the fact that some players were trying to win too hard, e.g. Ernst and Van den Doel?

"Well, I don't think so, especially not those two. I had beaten some strong players already, like Sandipan and Brandenburg, so I guess they knew what form I was in. OK, Doel avoided a perpetual, but that was timetrouble. And yes, he did want to beat me in that crucial game, of course."

It looked like you could have beaten Ikonnikov as well? GM Sosonko told me here in Sochi that he thought it was an easy win.

"Well, it wasn't so easy. Apparently Sosonko looked at the game like I did: without paying attention to White's defensive possibilities!

Some games, for example the one against Hendriks, gave me the impression that cold-bloodedness in timetrouble, and strong tactics, are your strengths. Is this correct?

"Yes, I think so."

How did you learn this?

"Well, that's a difficult question. Actually I think it was because I was feeling very well, and I was only thinking about the tournament. I wasn't distracted by other things, like school, or sports, friends or TV."

I've noticed that you started playing 1.d4 this year. Why, and was this part of your success?

"Since I was a youth player, trainers have advised me to play 1.d4, because they think I'm a d4-player. I've never started looking at it because it takes so much time. Now I decided to go for it, although I haven't been able to study it thoroughly yet. It's not really part of my success, no, because if you look at my openings, it's clear that I only got promising positions out of the opening when I played 1.e4!"

What kind of training did you have?

"Well the usual training provided by the Dutch Chess Federation. I have worked with Yge Visser, Ruud Janssen, Arhur Jussupow and Vladimir Chuchelov."

What game in Dieren was your favorite?

"Well, the win against Brandenburg was good, it was a correct game. But against Sandipan was the best result of course, because that was the start of a fantastic tournament!"

After the season 2008/2009, Ali Bitalzadeh is planning to study Accountancy. Before that, chess players playing in the same tournaments as he, are warned. Ali B. is back!


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