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The Independent Culture
IGNORING THE joys or otherwise of life under New Labour and other social considerations, which nationality would be best to have, for purely chess reasons?

It's easy to think of places and times to avoid. In the old Soviet Union, for instance, you had to be tremendously good to stand out from the pack. On the other hand, if (to abandon my initial premiss) you had been unlucky enough to press the wrong button in a time machine, then chess players in the former USSR did have a lifestyle and opportunities to travel abroad that were beyond the average citizen. Moreover, heterodox behaviour - in the form of eccentric chess moves - was even encouraged, if it led to good results.

Returning to the present, and restricting myself to Western Europe, three countries stand out in their suitability for professional chess players.

In Iceland, chess has the status which football enjoys here. I well remember being harangued on the main street when I drew too many games in the World Cup tournament in 1989, and I also recall members of the public asking technical questions in a bar afterwards. Chess players receive money from the state, and the speaker of the parliament is the grandmaster Fridrik Olafsson. But it is very cold and dark in the winter...

Spain is also a strong candidate, with enormous chess activity; there were more than 100 international tournaments there last year, though, of course, the majority were more or less strong Opens.

But on balance I would probably plump for Holland, where there are several important and magnificently organised tournaments every year. Currently there are two major events: the VAM tournament in Hoogeveen, and Tilburg, sponsored by Fontys - the University of Adult Education. This started yesterday. As in previous years, it contains 11 viciously strong players under 30, this time including two Englishmen - Michael Adams and Matthew Sadler - and a veteran, Victor Korchnoi.

More on Tilburg next week. But for the moment, back to VAM, where Judit Polgar only drew with Timman in round four but still leads by a street.

Judit Polgar (Black to play)

Tal Shaked (White)

The splendid 27... d5 break was based on the bad position of White's queen on c1 and rook on a3. 29 dxe4? was a bad mistake: after 29 Qe1! he can still fight, since 29... Rfe8 30 dxe4 Nxe4 31 Rd3 Rxc4 32 Nd2 Nxd2 33 Qxd2 is unclear, while after 29... e3 White does at least have a pawn for his pains. Shaked was obviously playing for 32 d6 but had missed the murderous 32... Qe2!

27... d5! 28 exd5 e4! 29 dxe4? Nxe4 30 Qh6 Ng5! 31 Rxg5 fxg5 32 d6 Qe2! 33 Bxb7 Qxf1+ 34 Kh2 Rxf5 0-1.

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