Eelke de Boer (2003) is one of Groningen’s most talented young players. In a city with a lot of strong young players, that ought to tell us something. Eelke played his first real chess games at the youth tournament of our Chess Festival in 2009. He won second prize in his group and was awarded his first trophy by Robin van Kampen, who then played a match against Jan Timman that year (the first match-up between young and old on the festival). Later on, Eelke went on to become four times Dutch champion in his age group and in September 2017 he reached 5th place at the European Championship, just missing the title. He has already beaten some GMs and his rating has crossed the 2300 barrier. After a tight match against GM Dennis de Vreugt two years ago, now it’s Eelkes turn to represent the City of Talent in a match against GM Friso Nijboer.
Interview previous to the 2017 Chess Festival.
How would you describe your playing style? Has it changed during the course of years?
In my first years of chess I was a very aggressive player and I still am, but my attacking skills are much more refined now. I think my style has changed in the sense that if I have the choice between a sharp, double-edged position and a position in which I have a small but stable edge, I would choose the latter.
What is your favourite opening? Is there also an opening you like but have never played?
My favourite opening is the King’s Indian, when played well. I have always thought the Benko gambit would be quite fun to play.
A chess game can be quite stressful. How do you cope with that?
I have never really had any problems with that, but when I do feel nervous I just focus on the game and on how I can maximize my chances to win. That relaxes me a little.
What kind of influence has your place and country of birth had on the chess player that you have become?
If I hadn’t lived in Groningen I never would have met chess coach Hiddo Zuiderweg and never would have considered chess an actual sport.
Are most of your friends also chess players? Do you feel pity for people who don’t know the game?
Most of my friends are school friends and they really don’t like chess. I wouldn’t go as far as to say ‘I pity them’ but I definitely think their lives would be improved if they were interested in chess at least a little.
If you could choose to be a second, to whom – present or past players – would it be? And if you could choose your own second, who would that be?
I think both would be Carlsen. It would be awesome to work for the World Champion but even better to have the World Champion working for you.
How do you prepare for your opponents? Do you focus on openings or also on things like weaknesses, psychology, and other things?
When I prepare for a single game I only look at openings. For this match I’ll try to get a full picture of what kind of player my opponent is.
Is the pleasure of winning some games worth the frustration of losing others? In other words: what has more impact on future results for you, winning or losing a game?
I think losing a game always has a bigger impact on my mood because when I start a game I always expect to win.
How do you think the game of chess will be in fifty years?
I think it will be interesting to see if the computers have become significantly stronger by that time, especially in light of the new AI Alpha Zero. As for human play, I think the top level will have increased a lot, because of more opening theory and better engines. Besides that, I really hope cheating won’t have become a problem by then.
What is the strangest or nicest dream (real dream) you have ever had about chess?
Once I dreamt that I was way too late for my first game for the Dutch Championship, so that when I arrived I only had 30 seconds on my clock. Apparently, in my mind my opponent wasn’t very good, so I still managed to beat him.
– Benno de Jongh –