Tim Krabbé: 20 Questions

Tim Krabbé was born on 13 April 1943 in Amsterdam. His main occupation is that of a novelist; his books have been translated into 18 languages and often been adapted for films. He is best known for Marte Jacobs (2007), The Rider  (De Renner), his 1978 cult classic about cycle-racing, and The Vanishing, the translation of his 1984 novel Het Gouden Ei  (The Golden Egg), which was made into a film twice; in Europe and in the USA. He was among the twenty best chess players in the Netherlands  from 1967 to 1973 and he has written several chess books. The best known is Chess Curiosities (1985) which inspired his  website of the same name. He lives in Amsterdam.


What is your earliest memory of playing chess?

A game with my niece when I was 7 or 8, with a very strange set: flat silhouette-like pieces with a tiny third dimension which allowed them to stand precariously, never for long.


What is your most memorable game?

A game with my son when he was 5 and had just learned the rules. I allowed him to promote a pawn to a second queen, and explained the practice of using an upside-down rook. When I captured this queen and put it next to the board, he demanded that it be placed upside-down there, too.


What was your worst defeat?

A last round game when I was leading the tournament and only needed a draw, but lost and missed qualification for the Dutch Championship. It’s almost 50 years ago but it still hurts.


Which living player do you most admire?

All players, living or dead, pale when compared to Mikhail Tal.

How do you relax?

Ask again when I’m 98.


What/who is your favourite band/music/composer?

Philip Glass.


What makes you happy?

A chess game undeservedly won.


What do you consider to be your greatest weakness as a chess player?

My inability to remember that my opponent has plans of his own.


What is your favourite word?



How would you characterise your chess-playing style?



What is your favourite television programme?

Breaking Bad.


Which book would you take to a desert island?

2666 by Roberto Bolaño.


Against which player do you have the worst results?

I wish I were good enough to have an Angstgegner.


What do you consider to be your most important contribution to opening theory?

In coffeehouse/internet theory: the discovery that after 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bb5 Nd4 5 Ba4 Bc5 6 Nxe5 O-O 7 O-O d6 8 Nd3, Black does not have to play Bb6 (now or on the next move), but can win with 8…Bg4, just as he can after 8 Nc4 9 Qe1 Nf3+ 10 gxf3 Bxf3

and now the fun finish 11 Nf4 Nd5, or 11  h3 Ng4. I’ve been able to play that game a dozen times; it’s surprising how rewarding it is to win a game you’ve won before.


What was your most embarrassing moment at the chess board?

Playing 1 Na3 Nf6 2 Nb1 in an interclub match at 17, although it took me years to realise it had  been embarrassing.


Who is the chess writer you most enjoy reading, and why?

Tartakower. The why is the same for all great writers: a combination of wit and truth.

Which single thing would most improve the global chess scene?

The death of Mr Ilyumzhinov.


If you could go back in time, where would you go?

I wouldn’t go back, but I’d like to travel forward anywhere between 100 and 100,000 years.


Who is the most courteous person you have played?

The idiot who accepted my plea for a draw after I had tried too hard to win and was lost. Attenuating circumstance: it was a school team match (‘I only did it for the team, I knew it was bad!’), and we were both 14 or 15. Poetic justice: when I wrote about this 47 years later, I discovered that in the position where I was begging for mercy he had just blundered and I was in fact winning.


Are there any other sports/activities at which you excel?

I don’t excel, but many years ago bicycle racing relegated chess to being my ‘other sport’.


What do you think about doping control in chess?

Players who comply with this nonsense should be banned.


What do you think of the ‘Sofia rules’?

They are but one facet of the current repression (doping control, dress codes, penalties for being late) in chess. Organisers of invitational tournaments do not need rules to avoid players who won’t fight. In championships, players should not be bothered with obligations to please the public; they should be free to pursue their goal in their own way.

See also

What Chess Players Think about during a Game

1 Comment

  1. manish says:

    I loved The Vanishing.

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