When halfway through the 1960s a young player dropped in at the Groningen chess club Unitas, it was soon clear to everyone that chess life in Groningen finally harboured a talent of national level. Actually it was strange that the northern region of the Netherlands had to wait for so long, since organized chess life in and around the city of Groningen got into stride at an early stage. Already in the 1870s there was a Provincial Groningen Chess Federation, which re-baptized itself into the Northern Chess Federation a few years later. So there was no lack of organization, but apparently there was a lack of real talent.
By the way, the dynamic rise of Gert Ligterink, of whom we are speaking here, could not be attributed to the northern chess organization or its youth training system, for instance. Young Gert only learned chess in 1963, shortly after his fourteenth birthday. That he played on first board for Unitas in the Dutch first league three years later already, in the season 1996-67, shows that he was a terrific raw talent. In 1966, Ligterink had participated in the Dutch youth championships for the first time; in 1969 he conquered the national youth title after beating Hans Böhm in a play-off match by 2-0.
His late start, and the fact that he lived in the north of the country, doubtlessly contributed to the fact that Ligterink never made it any further than national top level. With a better basis, and stronger opponents, there is no doubt that he would have accomplished more. As it was, he achieved his most important results on Dutch soil. He played seven times in the Master groups of the IBM and Hoogovens tournaments, and six times in the Grandmaster groups of these events. From 1976 onwards, he took part in the national Dutch championship thirteen times, with 1979 as his absolute high point. In a group with fourteen players – something we can only dream of nowadays! – he scored ten points, one point more than Hans Ree and Jan Timman, and two-and-a-half more than Hein Donner and John van der Wiel.
It is a widely known fact that a lucky or an unlucky break in the early rounds can make or break your tournament. The 1979 Dutch Championship was a classic example of this. In a gigantic time-trouble duel with Piet van der Weide in the second round, when both players were no longer writing down their moves, Ligterink landed in a totally lost position, when Van der Weide decided that by now he must have made the fortieth move, and went off to get a drink. When he came back to the board, arbiter Folkers told him that he hadn’t gotten any further than move 39. This extra point gave Ligterink wings, and later in the tournament he beat his nearest rivals Ree, Timman and Donner.
You would think that such a top performance must have been soundly based on thorough preparation. But no, Ligterink hadn’t got around to that. He was in the middle of a move to another house, and had mainly occupied himself with painting and papering the rooms. To get in the mood, he had gone through David Bronstein’s classic tournament book about Zürich 1953 just before the tournament.
These days, the Dutch chess world mainly knows Gert Ligterink as the chess correspondent of de Volkskrant. Already at the start of his career as a professional chess player, he realized that in the long term you can’t make your living playing in tournaments and competitions alone. And then a change to journalism is a quite logical step. Via the Winschoter Courant and the Nieuwsblad van het Noorden he ended up writing for de Volkskrant in 1983. He started with the weekly column, but soon he was also assigned to cover chess events, because Hein Donner, who had been doing the reporting up to that moment, suffered a brain haemorrhage in late 1983. That Ligterink has been highly appreciated by the editorial staff ever since is clear from the fact that, besides Hans Ree’s in NRC Handelsblad, Ligterink’s chess column is one of the few serious ones that escaped the slaughter in the previous decade. (MbdW)