For Old Times' Sake: Huebner, Nikolic, Karpov, Timman Battle In Leiden
A view of the playing hall. Photo: Lennart Ootes.

For Old Times' Sake: Huebner, Nikolic, Karpov, Timman Battle In Leiden

| 26 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Predrag Nikolic won the Old Masters rapid tournament ahead of GM Anatoly Karpov, GM Robert Huebner, and GM Jan Timman. The tournament was held over the weekend alongside the 80th Noteboom Tournament in Leiden, the Netherlands.

The annual weekender in Leiden is named after the talented Dutch player Daniel Noteboom, who died of pneumonia in 1932 at the age of 21. Besides the 80th anniversary of the tournament, there was an even bigger reason to celebrate for the organizing club LSG (Leiden Chess Society): its 125th year of existence on March 2.

Noteboom Tournament
A photo of Daniel Noteboom in the playing hall. Photo: Lennart Ootes.

On this occasion, a special side event was held, similar to what had been done exactly 50 years ago. In 1970, the club organized a round-robin between GM Boris Spassky, GM Bent Larsen, GM Hein Donner, and GM Mikhail Botvinnik, who played his very last tournament there.

Half a century later, the club did the same albeit at a quicker time control: 30 minutes for the whole game with a five-second increment.

Karpov Timman Old Masters Noteboom
Another clash between old titans Timman and Karpov. Photo: Lennart Ootes.

It was 59-year-old Nikolic who won the tournament, to which GM Yasser Seirawan, present in Leiden as a spectator, shouted: "Youth triumphs!"

The Bosnian grandmaster was invited in recognition of his long and successful relationship with the club. He is a five-time winner of the Noteboom Tournament and also a two-time Dutch champion.

Nikolic Old Masters Noteboom
Predrag Nikolic. Photo: Lennart Ootes.

But the big star, of course, was 68-year-old Karpov. As the players were staying in the same hotel where the tournament was held, the 12th world champion came down from the elevator just in time or a minute late for each round but "deserved to have some starlike airs," as one organizer remarked.

Seeing "Tolya" behind the chessboard is rare these days, and one still feels a similar kind of magic as when his old nemesis GM Garry Kasparov is playing. (This author is also looking forward to the Tepe Sigeman & Co Chess Tournament, where Karpov will be playing his first standard tournament in 11 years.)

Karpov Old Masters Noteboom
Anatoly Karpov. Photo: Lennart Ootes.

The older Dutch chess fans grew up with Timman (also 68), now a prolific writer and study composer, but in his best times a world championship candidate and a former world number-two. Besides a nine-time Dutch champion and a winner of many international tournaments, Timman also took first at the Noteboom Tournament once.

Jan Timman Old Masters Noteboom
Jan Timman. Photo: Lennart Ootes.

At 71, Huebner was the nestor of the group. Both media-shy and brilliant, he is a papyrologist and speaks many languages fluently, including Dutch. He reached the FIDE Candidates matches four times and famously lost one against Vasily Smyslov in 1983 by the roulette wheel.

Robert Hubner Old Masters Noteboom
Robert Huebner. Photo: Lennart Ootes.

Nikolic's victory was convincing: he didn't lose a single game, and he beat Karpov once and Timman twice. In the game in the last round, Nikolic kept fate in his own hands to secure tournament victory: 

Predrag Nikolic Old Masters Noteboom
Nikolic showing one of his games. Photo: Lennart Ootes.

Karpov got to show his endgame technique in his white game with Huebner. It was interesting to see him putting pawns on white squares (29.f5, 32.a3) to limit the scope of his opponent's bishop, and the slow pace at which he improved his position, following the principle "Do not rush" from e.g. Mikhail Shereshevsky's classic Endgame Strategy.

Anatoly Karpov Old Masters Noteboom
A beautiful endgame by Karpov. Photo: Lennart Ootes.

Old Masters | Final Standings

# Fed Name Rtg Perf 1 2 3 4 Pts
1 Predrag Nikolic 2658 2734 ½½ 11 4.5/6
2 Anatoly Karpov 2583 2626 ½1 3.5/6
3 Robert Huebner 2575 2513 ½½ ½½ 2.5/6
4 Jan Timman 2472 2415 00 ½0 ½½ 1.5/6

"Chess has lost its romance" (Timman).
"The creativity is gone, now it's all about memorization" (Nikolic).
"It's very obvious that we were better endgame players" (Karpov).

These were some of the remarks made by the "old masters" (as the organizers had called them) during a public post-mortem after the tournament had ended. With their melancholic words, Nikolic, Karpov, and Timman (Huebner was watching from the audience) filled in what the spectators—most of similar age—knew: they had been watching players from a long-gone era.

Chess has changed so much under the influence of the computer and the increased availability of information for anyone interested in the game. Whether these are better or worse times depends on your perspective, but it doesn't hurt to look back, every now and then, to see where we came from and remember the great players from the past with their unique personalities and understanding of the game.

Old Masters | All games for download/replay

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