The endgame technique of a 99-year-old

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Prof. Dr. Johan van HulstHe watched Max Euwe become World Champion. He chatted with Emanuel Lasker, and saved dozens of Jewish babies during the Second World War. Last night I had the privilege to play a club game against 99-year-old Professor Dr Johan van Hulst. I couldn't beat him.Photo: Fred Lucas Professor Dr Johan Wilhelm van Hulst was born in Amsterdam on January 28th, 1911. He's a Dutch emeritus professor of education and a politician. Starting as a teacher and mentor, from 1942 to 1960 Van Hulst was Principal of the Pedagogical Academy in Amsterdam and in that capacity he was responsible for rescuing hundreds of Jewish babies and children from the nursery of the Hollandsche Schouwburg. For this he received the Yad Vashem Distinction in 1973. About this period he said:

"The director of the kindergarten, our neighbor, asked me if she could use the school because the nursery was full. I made available an empty room and a part of the garden. Soon, this became the flight route for the children. Many children were smuggled away from the school. Members of the resistance could just walk in and out, because the Germans did not notice the school. Probably because I deliberately acted like I didn't want anything to do with the Hollandsche Schouwburg and the Jews." Source: Verzetsmuseum

Van Hulst earned a doctoral education and psychology and graduated in 1961. From 1956 to 1981 he was member of the Senate of the Dutch government and from 1961 to 1968 Member of the European Parliament. He's a former Chairman of the political parties CHU and CDA and held many other functions. Van Hulst is also author of numerous scientific publications and books; the last was published when he was 95.

Gerard Leijenhorst, Johan van Hulst and Ruud Lubbers

Consultation between (L-R) Gerard Leijenhorst, Johan van Hulst (CDA chairman for the Senate) and Ruud Lubbers (chairman CDA for the Parliament)

In the chess world he is no stranger either. He was quite a strong player himself and in fact was once invited to play for the Dutch team at one of the Olympiads. However, Van Hulst had to decline the invitation, with the knowledge that he would lose his job as School Principal if he would play. This was the moment he decided that he wouldn't pursue a chess career. But for decades he has played in the special group for (former) parliamentarians at the Corus Chess Tournament, and won it many times, including the 2010 edition, at 99 years old.

Johan van Hulst in 2007

Johan van Hulst giving one of his famous speeches,
during the 2010 Corus Chess Tournament | Photo Fred Lucas

I play chess myself very little these days. This season I've probably played just three or four games at my Amsterdam club Caïssa. Last year the 'Max Euwe' chess club ceased to exist and its members transferred to Caïssa. On the first club night in September last year, we met with our new club members, and one of them was the distinguished Professor Van Hulst. He is an honorary member of the Caïssa Chess Club, and has been a member for about seventy years. "I have been a spectator at all of Max Euwe's matches in Holland," he told us on that Tuesday night. "During one of the early games of the 1935 match, Emanuel Lasker was one of the spectators. I asked him what he'd think of Euwe's chances." We were listening in awe to Mr Van Hulst, a magical figure already, who saw Euwe play, who talked to Lasker... Of course we immediately asked: "What did Lasker answer?" Van Hulst, smiling: "I remember very clearly. He said Alekhine should be considered slight favourite, considering the time control they were playing."

Johan van Hulst in 2007

Johan van Hulst in 2007 | Photo Fred Lucas

Later that evening he also told about the period of the Second World War. "I was the chairman of a chess club here in Amsterdam. At the end of the 1930s the situation for our Jewish members became more and more difficult. At some point they weren't allowed to play anymore, so we decided to secretly play at their houses instead of at the club. Later this had to stop as well. One night an SS officer walked into our club. 'I want to be come a club member and play here,' he told me. I had to think deeply, and then I responded: "Are you a Christian? You have to be a member of our Christian community too, you know.' This way I managed to get rid of him." Van Hulst still plays almost every week. He's being brought and picked up by taxi, and needs a walker or a stick to move around. "Not long ago he had to skip a club night," the current chairman of the club told me. "The next week he came and apologized for his absence, but he had a very good reason. His daughter had turned 60." Last night I decided to go to my club, and to my surprise I was paired against Professor Van Hulst. Remembering the many stories, and with deep respect for my opponent, I had trouble concentrating. But that's no excuse; I simply played badly. More importantly, except for the opening I believe he played quite strongly, as if there was no age difference of 65 years. Van Hulst-Doggers Amsterdam (Caïssa) 2010

 
 

Game viewer by ChessTempo
After the game I said: "I won the opening, you won the ending." He answered with "I'm an old man, you know. I'm getting tired after a few hours of play." Then he asked me about my rating. I told him it was a bit over 2200. "Aha! Well, perhaps I shouldn't tell you mine, then. Well, OK, it's 1600." After that he stood up, grabbed his walker, adding "I'm satisfied about the game." He went for his coat. "I'm satisfied too," I replied, having enjoyed the evening, and feeling OK about a draw against this man. But he was quick in pointing out that this was just nonsense: "I don't think you have any reason to be satisfied!" I smiled, knowing that he was right. In the end he was the one who had won. Johan van Hulst

Photo © Fred Lucas;
for another photo see also Schaaksite

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