Published on April 24, 2020

A Flash in the Pan?

Drejev Hoogovens  1995

In the past fifty years, the Hoogovens/Corus/Tata tournament invariably had such a strong field that it was usually won by a (former) world champion or another famous player. There have been only a few winners who could be called a ‘flash in the pan’. For example, the 1982 edition was won by Yury Balashov (shared with John Nunn), and the 2002 one by Evgeny Bareev, but above all Alexey Dreev’s victory in 1995 probably hasn’t stuck in the mind of many chess fans.

However, this doesn’t do full justice to the fine career of the Russian, who is 50 years old by now. After all, he was the World U16 Champion not once but twice, and was at twenty already a grandmaster. He was very close to the world top for years on end, but Alexey never managed to secure a fixed place between the greats. Of course, he also had the bad luck that these were the glory years of the four K’s (Kasparov, Karpov, Kamsky and Kramnik), which meant that as a Russian he was automatically pushed into the background. However, he was allowed to play on the lower boards for the Russian team a few times.

Drejev won the knock-out tournament in Wijk aan Zee by beating, in succession, Cifuentes (2-0), Zapata (2-0), Seirawan (3-1, 2-0 in the rapid playoff), Short (1½-½) and Bareev (2½-1½). The final was an easily forgettable one. It wasn’t just that Bareev and Dreev were not the names the organization had hoped for, but their games were long and boring as well. Since then, a dull playing round has always been called a ‘Bareev-Dreev-like day’ in the pressroom of the Dutch seaside resort.

As a result of this victory, Dreev not only crossed the 2700 Elo rating mark in February 1995, but also conquered a place in the world top 10. He remained in the sub-top for many years, with an upsurge every now and then. For example, in January 2005 he managed to raise his personal Elo record to 2726. In the summer of 2011, he again passed the 2700 threshold, but due to Elo inflation this didn’t amount to more than a spot between the Nos. thirty and forty in the world at the time.

In recent years, Dreev has been focussing more on seconding, training and writing. He has built up a quite impressive oeuvre – especially, he has written various trend-setting opening books. However, here in the Netherlands we will mainly remember him as that ‘Flash in the Pan’ from 1995. (ES)