The draughts world has been buzzing with rumours the past few months. The sudden withdrawal of nine-time world champion Alexander Georgiev (Russia) from the championship match was unprecedented. Supposedly, he had been bribed by the world draughts federation. But draughts journalist and championship co-organiser Bert Dollenkamp does not believe a word of it: ‘The federation doesn’t even have the money for that. I think Georgiev was just lacking in motivation and he wants these two to have a chance.’
‘These two’ are 23-year-old RUG student Roel Boomstra and his opponent, 18-year-old Jan Groenendijk from Wageningen. For the first time since 1984, when Harm Wierma became world champion, the draughts title will be held by a Dutch person. In 12 games to be played in Groningen, Wageningen, and The Hague, Boomstra and Groenendijk will decide who wins. In addition, they will share 30,000 euros in prize money.
Football is a mental exercise
Did you know that professional football player Arjen Robben used to play First Board 9the best player, ed.) on his elementary school’s draughts team? Or that Abe Lenstra, in addition to scoring goals in Heerenveen, also won games for the local draughts club? Research shows this is not a coincidence. On 6 December, the last match day in Groningen, an interactive conference in the Van Swinderenhuys will explain exactly how that works.
It starts at 11:30 a.m.
Boomstra was surprised to learn that he would battle Groenendijk. ‘I heard the news in April. I finished my bachelor research to focus on preparing. I am generally considered to be the favourite. I’ve been doing this for a while and I came in third at the world championship twice. Jan came in second last year, which was an enormous surprise to everyone. He is a great talent and he’s improving every week. I’m expecting his game to be stronger than ever.’
Boomstra, who Dollenkamp says is a tactical player with a professional approach to the game, put a lot of work into his preparation. Together with a dozen top players, he analysed natural talent Groenendijk’s games and worked on new elements in his own game play. ‘This is the biggest chance I’ve had for a world title so far. One year the championship is a tournament, and another year it’s a twosome. And the fact that it’s being played at the RUG is a great bonus.’
Together with hip hop label TopNotch, he and Groenendijk recorded a video to promote the sport.
‘This is a great chance to raise awareness of draughts in the Netherlands’, says Boomstra. Dollenkamp agrees: ‘Chess is much more respected. They’re currently playing for the world title in chess as well and their prize money is half a million euros! The white intelligentsia is fooled by the shape of the pieces, because they are more titillating. They look more romantic. But in spite of the simplicity of the pieces, draughts might actually be a more profound game than chess.’
Poppema vs. Den Oudsten
It is one of the subjects that will be discussed on Friday during the official opening of the twosome. The Academy building will host a symposium about the ‘The Smart Moving Brain’, but first, RUG president Sibrand Poppema and mayor Peter den Oudsten will play a game against each other. The two title contenders will help them out.
Starting Saturday, Groenendijk and Boomstra will play their matches in the Van Swinderenhuys. There is room for an audience in the games room (although not much). Outside, Auke Schollema will host the game, providing explanations and comments. The new world champion will be known by 18 December at the latest.
You can find more information about the world championship draughts hier here.
Eccentric draughts player: Jannes van der Wal
Whoever wins the twosome will be following in the footsteps of, among others, Jannes van der Wal. Neither Boomstra nor Groenendijk can claim to be as eccentric as this 1982 world champion. In his day, Van der Wal gained notoriety by recording a carnival song and falling asleep on the train on the way to the Dutch draughts championship and travelling back and forth between Utrecht and Zwolle several times.
Just like Boomstra, Van der Wall studied at the RUG, although he never finished his maths degree. ‘That’s where they differ’, says organiser and draughts journalist Bert Dollenkamp, ‘Roel already has his bachelor’s degree in physics. I do think he knows he won’t play draughts at this level his entire life. He may be motivated now, but who knows what will happen if he wins two world titles over the next few years. He just might decide on a career in physics when he’s 30.’