Published on April 24, 2020

Harmen Jonkman


If there was one Dutch player in 2002 who was a likely candidate for a tournament on the moon, it was Harmen Jonkman. Not so much because he would easily pass a space traveller’s test (I don’t see an astronaut’s helmet in Rupert’s cartoon), but rather because there were so few continents left on earth where he hadn’t played yet…

In the five years that followed after the turn of the century, he played more than one hundred games per annum. And this with an average of more than forty moves per game. Of course, this can only be done if you have a very solid opening repertoire (or if you are called Viktor Kortchnoi): 1.e4 with white and taking the royal road with black (if 1.e4 then 1…e5, if 1.d4 then 1…d5). He already played the Berlin Wall before Kramnik did, and also the Queen’s Gambit Accepted was among his favourite variations.

The strategy of playing a lot is not unknown, but it does require quite a bit of discipline. Under no circumstances should any tournament end in a drama, as then your Elo rating will fall through the floor. Let’s check how things went with Jonkman – we will focus on the January list for each year: 2446 (2000), 2389 (2001), 2498 (2002), 2436 (2003), 2421 (2004), 2399 (2005) and 2470 (2006). Hmm… good plan, but what about the execution?

Harmen’s peak year was 2001: a hundred-point jump in one year, three grandmaster norms, resulting in the GM title. He was awarded it in March 2002, during the FIDE Congress in Goa, but by then Harmen had already finished three more tournaments, as well as a few competition games in various countries…

Of course, Jonkman hadn’t risen from nothing. He was the Dutch U16 champion in 1991, took part in the national trainings (where I met him for the first time) and obtained an International Master norm in 1996, at 21. Not spectacular, but not bad either.

It is interesting to read how the commentators reacted to this unexpected jump. Both Gert Ligterink and Hans Ree were full of praise: ‘This is an achievement to which I raise my hat in respect. There have been many chess players in the Netherlands who got the chance to conquer the grandmaster title under ideal circumstances. The Ligterinks, Langewegs and Böhms of the past were invited to the finest tournaments time after time, but didn’t succeed in achieving what Jonkman did achieve,’ wrote Ligterink in de Volkskrant on 5 January 2002, at least exhibiting a salutary touch of self-mockery.

Ree too put his oar in on 6 September 2003 in NRC, although he focussed more on the indefatigable energy displayed by globe-trotter Jonkman: ‘Two days ago, the Open Dutch Championship started in Dieren. Jonkman was just able to make it. A private plane took him to Toronto, from there he flew to New York, then to Schiphol. He quickly took the train to Dieren, and if there had only been a taxi at the station, he would even have made it to the playing hall before the start of the first round.’

After 2006, Harmen’s life changed completely: he married his Peruvian sweetheart, became the father of two children, and got a job. In recent years we’re seeing him back in the arena now and then. For example, on Schaaksite we could recently read about his adventures in Cuba during the Remedios master tournament. But nowadays he is probably doing this mostly to guide his daughters on their first steps in the chess world… (PvV)