Person of day - 14 DECEMBER 2023
Jan Hendrik Timman was born on 14th December 1951 in the family of a famous Dutch mathematician, Professor Rein Timman. His father actively encouraged his son’s interest in chess, believing that they develop spatial awareness, but soon Jan’s love for the game outweighed his inherited mathematical talents. Timman Jr won the junior Dutch championship several times and came third in the U20s world championship.
“At this time, he was training with master Hans Bouwmeester. The notion of a trainer did not exist in Holland at that time- Timman merely turned up to Bouwmeester’s home every Saturday and they watched classical chess: Rubinstein’s endspiels, Botvinnik’s matches, which they analysed. But that was not the most important thing: Bouwmeester taught Jan how to teach himself. This period lasted for eighteen months. Bouwmeester remembers that even then Timman was notable for his excellent strategic intuition, a rare efficiency and a love for analysis.” (G. Sosonko)
After finishing school, Timman enrolled at the mathematics faculty of Delft University, where his father worked. But, realising that he found mathematics boring, he left university and devoted his life to chess.
“After Jan left school, a question rose: what’s next? His parents wanted him to continue studying and Timman became a student of the mathematics faculty. He even listened to the first hour of some lecture, but could not do any more…a few years later, after his father’s sudden death, Jan, already a grandmaster by that time, would say that he wanted to recommence studying mathematics without leaving chess, but that was mainly an emotional impulse: chess had already become his life” (G. Sosonko)
In 1971, he won in a secondary tournament in Wijk aan Zee and became an international master. His division of first place in Hastings in 1973 with Tal, Szabo and Kuzmin, his victories in Sombor and Banja Luka brought Jan the title of grandmaster, the third from the Netherlands after Euwe and Donner. Timman began to dominate in national championships, winning nine of them in total.
In 1976-1977 he played against defector Viktor Korchnoi and ex-world champion Boris Spassky, losing 2,5:5,5 and 2:4 respectively. Nonetheless, the experience of competing with chess giants hardened the Dutchman; he reviewed his understanding of debuts and spent a lot of time in analysis and investigation. Timman added to multiple great matches and finished of history’s great chess players and was often published in “New in Chess”, where he contributed more than 50 studies. Soon, this bore fruit and the resident of Amsterdam began to storm the Olympus.
He was the winner of the zonal tournament in 1978 and a series of first-class competitions, the winner of the European Cup as a member of team “De Variant”, a bronze medallist of the European league as a member of team “Folmac” and a silver medallist of the 1976 Olympiad, where he showed the best results of first tables. In 1979, he beat Lev Polugaevsky 4,5:3,5, who was de-facto third best in the world. In the inter-zonal tournament in 1979, Timman won a clean fourth place, but came behind the eventual candidate Robert Huebner by half a point.
In the next candidates’ cycle, Jan’s ambitions were significantly higher: at home, he was thought of as Euwe’s successor long ago, he won several super-tournaments, defeated the current world champion Karpov three times and his Elo was the second highest in the world, ahead of Korchnoi’s and Spassky’s. Timman was called “The best from the West.” Sadly, in Las Palmas in 1982, the Dutch player performed disappointingly and had to postpone his candidate ambitions once again.
Nonetheless, it was obvious that Jan Timman was ready to fight for the crown, since his next matched against Korchnoi and Spassky finished with 3:3 draws. Next, Timman defeated Lajos Portisch 3,5:2,5. In the USSR-Rest of the World match, Jan was placed at the second table (after Ulf Andersson, who was pitted against Anatoly Karpov for strategic reasons) and he lost to Garry Kasparov by a minimal score of 1,5:2,5. Finally, at the inter-zonal tournament in Taxco in 1985, Jan Timman won his long-awaited first place.
In the candidates’ tournament in 1985, he split 4th place with Mikhail Tal and, due to superior additional results, progressed to the semi-finals after six additional matches which ended in a draw. In the semi-final, he lost to Artur Jussupow heavily, 3:6. While preparing to play against Mark Dvoretsky’s student, he lost a training match to world champion Garry Kasparov 2:4.
“Even prizes in tournaments, the title of Dutch Champion and the title of grandmaster were concomitant factors and interested him to a limited extent. For him, the main thing was the path to perfection, his love for the game, his desire to compete against those whose names he only encountered in the top positions of the strongest tournaments and his determination to achieve the pinnacles of chess.
This determination accompanied him throughout his whose chess career- a career which combined soaring rises and painful falls. Years later, while a grandmaster of extra-class, Timman wrote to Yusupov after a semi-finals loss in a candidates’ match: “In 1985 I reached heights which seemed unreachable. But a sudden end does not mean that that is the peak of my abilities. Even if I have to fight a waterfall in a wooden barrel and armed tribesmen were waiting for me at the bottom, I will continue to fight.” And he continued to fight, playing in competitions for the world championship again and again.” (G. Sosonko)
He was the vice-world champion of blitz chess in 1987, losing to Kasparov in the final. In the candidates’ matches in 1988, he beat Valeriy Salov and Lajos Portisch by a score of 3,5:2,5, Jonathan Speelman 4,5:3,5 but lost the final match to Kaprov by 2,5:6,5, who won the right to play against the champion from Baku for the sixth time. He participated in the World Cup in 1988-1989.
In the next cycle, he outplayed Hubner and Korchnoi consecutively, by a score of 4,5:2,5, took revenge on Yusupov with a score of 6:4, but once again lost in the final match- this time to Nigel Short 5,5:7,5. However, soon Kasparov and Short decided to play their match outside of FIDE, who subsequently disqualified them and Campomanes, trying to salvage the official match for the world crown, announced an upcoming match between Karpov and Timman. The match took place in Holland and Indonesia, Timman maintained a draw for the first five matches, but could not survive the ex-champion’s onslaught- 8,5:12,5.
At the start of the 1990s, a new strong generation of players came onto the arena and Timman soon dropped out of the elite, although he was often invited to super-tournaments due to his previous achievements. In the FIDE’s candidates’ matches in 1994, he beat Joel Lautier but lost to Salov- both matches finished with a score of 4,5:3,5. Soon, Jan’s pre-eminence in Holland was challenged by Jeroen Piket, Loek van Wely, Ivan Sokolov and Sergei Tiviakov- this struggle was not easy for the oldest of chess players.
He played against every world champion from Vasiliy Smyslov to Magnus Carlsen, other than Robert Fischer and beat every one, other than Tigran Petrosian and Vladimir Kramnik.
Jan Timman played in several FIDE knockout world championships. The grandmaster retains considerable powers, his rating surpasses 2250 and recently Timman defeated the rising Dutch star Jorden van Foreest and his historic rival, Anatoly Karpov.
He has written over ten chess books, the most popular one of which is perhaps “The Art of Chess Analysis”- it is translated into multiple languages, including Russian. He is the honorary editor of “New in Chess” magazine, where he has a column.
Jan Timman has been married twice and has a son and daughter from his first marriage.