Sunday, September 23, 2012

CHESS IN NORWAY...BACK IN 1989

Since I was in Norway for 6 months in 1989 and working in Horten (which is about 30 minutes drive from Tonsberg, the birth place of Magnus Carlsen), I thought I'd shared with you what it was at the chess scene there.

Tonsberg is a very old city but a very vibrant chess-club. I was introduced to the club by the Horten chess convenor, Mr Arild Johansen, a very helpful and nice man (he drove me every week to the club as I did not have a driver's licence or a car). The room was always filled with players, most of them playing standard chess and shunned when I asked to play blitz instead. Those who did were alright, but I won most of the games. Then they realised that they needed to tame the 'foreigner' so the top guns sat down. One was Reidar Weierod, the other was Ivar Charvannes who were both very strong and so I had a hard time. We became good friends during my stay in Norway, often meeting for blitz games during the weekend.

One particular old man caught my eye - he was in his 90's then and yet the spark in his eye as he made his killer moves stole everyone's attention. His name is Gunnar Moe, who couldn't speak a word of English and my Norwegian was hopeless. " Deutsch?" alas, my German was worse. So we end up gesticulating to each other, occasionally muttering some names that he understood.

"Ja, Alekhine!" he pointed to his heart. Ah, so he had a favourite. Then he muttered 1935 and Euwe and pointed to his eye..I now understood that he had witnessed the world championship fight between Alekhine and Euwe in Amsterdam. When we played, he could always grimaced and bit his lip when he made a mistake and generally not a gracious loser. But we laughed as the evening drew to a close and shook hands. 

Towards the end of my stint I managed to find time to play in the local weekend tournament. It costs SGD60 then to take part. The games lasted 1 hr per side and I managed to score 3.5 pts / 6 rounds to win a book prize. Not bad!

Evenings in Norway were long during April so went to Oslo one weekend to meet the chess book-storekeeper and famous arbiter, the late Arnold Eikrem. He spoke fluently in English and recommended me some great books which I spent a small fortune. It felt great when your day ends at 4pm and the peace and tranquility of the Norwegian landscape affords you the time to study chess for hours. I felt that I made big strides in my understanding of the game during this period. 

When I transited back to Oslo from Hamburg, on route to Toronto, I stopped by Reidar's place and we placed blitz with Ivar till the wee hours. When I woke up the next day I'd realised that I was only 3 hours away from the flight and here I panicked. Reidar offered to drive me to Fornebu Airport (though it was about 80 kms from Horten). I was so grateful to him for being a friend.

In summary, the Norwegian chess scene as I knew then was very amateurish, but well run by a group of volunteers and on club nights, young and old would sit and play each other, mostly without clocks. Games lasted for more than 2 hours, and everyone joined in to analyse the games afterwards. The amazing part was that at the tournament, the results were computed and the ratings as well. It was then stored onto a disk which would be sent to the Norwegian Chess Federation for update. Players could see their new ratings if they played at the next tournament. That was before the days of the Internet..today it would be a breeze to do this.

I am looking forward to re-visiting the country again in 2014, having toured the south and up to Bergen. It's a beautiful country with warm and hospitable people then and I hope it still is. Care to join me??

1 comment:

  1. CHESS in NORWAY .... BACK IN 1997
    Nice read. Thanks John for your post. I was also living in Bergen, Norway in 1997. One of the professor at the NHH university which I was studying in was a very strong FM and we had a two long games and I lost both. He introduced me to the Bergen Chess Club situated at Kong Oscars Gate by the main city. The players were club strength players, similar to the Cairnhill gang in Singapore - but occasionally a few strong FM-IM strength player would show up. Then, I decided to take part in a the City tournament. This is where I really struggled. In 1997, the Norwegian Chess scene improved a great deal i think. I remember I struggled hard in almost every game (I was NUS champion a few months before this so was fresh from playing Chess). I won my first two games then got whacked by an IM after, and then to an 8 year old kid and then it all went downhill after. think 3.0/7.0 was my result. at that time, Simen Agdestein was their strongest player (2600+)- both a national soccer player and a strong GM - he later coached Magnus Carlsen. So I think for a population equal to Singapore, to have the highest rated player in the world is simply amazing! perhaps one day we could have a world class GM too. Joshua GH Lim

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