Bas van Doren (Applied Mathematics), Thomas Kools and Chiel Koster (Applied Physics) and Jord Ypma (Data Science) will take part in the inaugural World University Online Chess Championship, organized by the Texas Rio Grande Valley University. They will play the blitz tournament in the weekend of 13 and 14 March, followed by the rapid tournament one week later.
In rapid chess competitions, each player has ten minutes, plus five seconds added to the clock per move. Blitz chess is even faster: three minutes for each player and two seconds per move. “That’s an entirely different experience,” Jord Ypma (on the header) says. The first-year student has just recently moved to Eindhoven and knows his team mates, except for Bas van Doren, exclusively from chess forums. He is full of passion for the game that never seizes to fascinate him.
“When you play blitz chess, you immediately start to put pressure on your opponent and try to make them run out of time.” Standard chess games, which can easily go on for longer than four hours, aren’t played online that often. “There are several reasons for that. It’s difficult to prevent people from cheating, and you can’t step away from the board between moves for a walk past the other players - which is what makes tournaments so great. In addition, it’s not much fun having to spend half a day sitting behind your computer for one game.”
His favorite opening is the Queen’s Gambit, the most famous chess opening since the Netflix series with the same title about a female chess prodigy. “I’ve played that opening my entire life, aside from a few experiments with the London system. Queen’s Gambit starts with both players pushing their queen’s pawn forward two squares, whereupon white moves a pawn to c4. It’s not too careful and not too aggressive. I can get control with it, gain a good position, and it allows me to play tactical tricks.” He appreciates the series because the makers took the trouble of using actual chess games. “There aren’t any mistakes in it. That’s usually not the case with movies.”
The students won’t be able to meet in person during the online tournament, let alone travel to Texas where the organizing university is located. They will coach and encourage, and hopefully congratulate each other with a well-played game via a WhatsApp group. They’ll start by playing ten matches per afternoon. If the students from Eindhoven do well, team TU/e will get to compete in the finals on 27 and 28 March.
No woman on the team
Each contestant plays individually and the scores will be added. The team’s score should include at least one woman’s score. The TU/e team did its best to find a woman, but unfortunately failed to do so before the registration deadline of 5 march. That means their maximum score per round will not be four points (when all four players win) but three points. Ypma: “I think it’s unfair that we have a disadvantage. It would be great to get more women enthused by chess, but applying gender quotas to university championships isn’t the right way to go about achieving this.”
Ypma taught chess at elementary school in the past. “You always saw more boys than girls during a first lesson. Approximately the same percentage of boys and girls decided to quit. When we manage to break that stereotype, which you can see from an early age on, the world of chess will automatically gain more excellent female chess players.” He thinks that the series The Queen’s Gambit plays a very positive role in this, and he hopes that the media will spend a bit more “of that modest attention chess attracts” to female chess players.
“I don’t know what the playing field will be like, the list of participants hasn’t been made public yet. It’s possible that some teams will have professional players. But our strength is that all four us are strong players. Our ratings are between 1913 and 2116, which is quite high. I’m very optimistic."
Ypma is happy with the game’s increasing popularity as a result of the above-mentioned Netflix series, but perhaps because of the lockdown as well. He wants everyone to enjoy a good chess game. “It’s more than a way to cope with boredom. Once you start to understand how everything works, it can be so very interesting.” He started playing chess in fifth grade of elementary school in his native city of Leiden, as an alternative to boring after school activities, in all honesty. “There is an endless variety of combinations with which you can compose a beautiful game. It’s also great to (be able to) see the beauty in games from the chess elite.”
Anyone can go far
Ypma can definitely recommend apps such as lichess.org and chess.com because they make it fun to learn how to play chess. “There are so many people who use those apps, once you register you can immediately start playing or start to solve a puzzle at your own level. You can go far by practicing much and by watching YouTube videos. You don’t have to be extremely smart to be a good chess player. You need to have patience, practice a lot, and then you’ll start to recognize patterns. Then you’ll know what to do in order to win games. Really, winning a chess game is one of the best experiences a person can have. It makes you feel as if you can take on the whole world.”
He would like to take part, once it becomes possible again, in the open chess tournament in Hubble Community Café. This used to take place every first Sunday of the month before the lockdown. “That will hopefully resume when Hubble reopens. For me, it’s a nice way to get to know people.”