When you’re a kid playing chess in Australia, you hear these stories about this magical, mystical place called ‘Europe’. A place where some people’s houses are older than the first Australian colonies, where soccer is actually considered a real sport, and where chess players can frolic freely from country to country, from tournament to tournament, and where chess leagues actually exist.
Chief among these chess fairytales is the legend of the German chess bundasliga, considered the highest, most exclusive chess league in the world. It’s a mystical competition in which the world’s very best chess players fly from around the globe to compete in a super-mega-strong event, with teams sponsored by super-mega-rich German football clubs. As a junior, I always thought of it as the holy grail of chess leagues.
Well, after travelling to forty countries and having lived in Europe for a few years, most of the magic of my childhool dreams of ‘overseas’ has faded somewhat. It seems that people everywhere in the world aren’t really that different, that soccer isn’t such a silly game after all, and that there isn’t a castle to be seen in all of Amsterdam. But the myth of the Bundasliga lives on. And last weekend I finally got my first chance to play in the league.
I am now an official member of the Werder Bremen chess team, which is indeed sponsored by the Werder Bremen football club, one of the biggest in Germany. We play our home matches in the soccer stadium in the town of Bremen (not on the pitch, I was sad to discover), and even have to play our games in the Werder Bremen soccer uniform (which is a rebelliously delicious white-and-green). We may not look like a typical football team, but I must say I feel very cool in my new Nike stripes (see how happy I look, on the far right).
This pic is of our first division team, but there are several other teams in the other divisions, and a strong junior arm of the club as well. The depth of the club is rivalled by its strength at the top, and actually I don’t even make the first team when we have our full-strength lineup (with an average rating around 2650!). This pales in comparison to some of the other clubs, however, with the monstrous behemoth of Baden-Baden sporting an average rating of 2750 in their top team, featuring Anand, Aronian and Svidler. Scary stuff.
I have to say, the only thing I knew about Bremen before I arrived on the weekend was its reference in the famous Brothers Grimm tale of the Bremen town musicials – the donkey, dog, cat and rooster. That’s the reference to the title pic, in case you’re confused. It’s a classic tale, so go read it if you haven’t, and a tourist highlight for the town. Ironically, however, the town of Bremen doesn’t feature at all in the tale. Confused? Read the story! What, you don’t know how to use Google? Fine, I’ll give you a link: http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/grimm027.html
I really enjoyed the comradery of the team, and getting to practice my limited German, and of course the cool sportswear. Did I mention that already? But of course, in my first ever game for the club, I almost suffered from the ‘Werder curse’ and should have lost. How fitting, seeing as the Werder Bremen football team got smashed 6-0 by Bayern Munich at exactly the same time. I got into a hopelessly depressing endgame, and I would have felt even worse had I known at the time that I was playing one of the students of the great modern endgame master, Karsten Mueller. Luckily my talented opponent, playing for Hamburg, let me off the hook with a draw, and I recovered to win my game on the Sunday. Still, the endgame is kinda cool and pretty instructive, so I’ve annotated it below.
Unfortunately, I still don’t know the name of a single player on the Werder Bremen football team, but I’ve decided that I’m morally obliged to follow them in the football Bundasliga. So, go you Green-and-White! Lebenslang Grün-Weiß!