Person of day   -  12 DECEMBER 2023



Dutch billionaire Joop van Oosterom was born on 12th December 1937 in Hilversum. In his youth, he practiced chess seriously, won the Dutch junior championship and played in the U20s world championship, where he got to the final and where his opponents were, among others, Boris Spassky, Edmar Mednis, Lajos Portisch and Georgi Tringov. Van Oosterom took 7th place in that tournament.

He played in two world student championship as a member of the Dutch team and in the match Holland- West Germany in 1962, he parted peacefully with the master Pfeifer. Despite local successes (Joop beat a strong Soviet master, Yuri Nikolaevsky and the leading Italian chess player Maximilian Romi), he soon left the game, founded the computer company Volmac in 1966 and became preoccupied with business, earning his first millions. In the 1980s, van Oosterom was one of the 10 richest men in Holland. 

“Then there were years when he was busy with business and did not have any time left for chess. I do remember, however, how someone from van Oosterom’s office called the publisher “New in Chess” and asked “Could you send one or two hundred chess books?” When he was asked what type of books he was interested in, van Oosterom replied that that was not important: “About four metres, maybe four and a half. It just gives me pleasure to look at covers of chess books…” (G.Sosonko)

Ten years after leaving sport, the successful businessman remembered his old passion and created the superclub “Folmac”, which won the national championship 15 times, since the national team de-facto played for it. Van Oosterom’s pupils took second and third places in the European champions’ cup in the competition where the team was led by defector Viktor Korchnoi. The Soviet chess federation boycotted the defector’s participation in the largest international tournaments, but Van Oosterom and FIDE President Max Euwe managed to ensure that the final match of the European Cup between “Burevestnik” and “Folmac” took place with the participation of the “villain”. (Viktor Lvovich drew three times with Yuri Balashov).

At the start of the 1990s, after emigrating to France, Lev Polugaevsky persuaded the billionaire to organise an experimental tournament in rapid and blindfolded chess. Polugaevsky’s idea took and, in the super-tournament in Nice and Monte-Carlo, named after Joop’s daughter Melody Amber, took place between 1992 and 2011. Its winners were Vladimir Kramnik (six times), Vishy Anand (five times), Levon Aronian (three times), Vassily Ivanchuk (twice), Alexey Shirov (twice), Ljubomir Ljubojevic, Anatoly Karpov, Veselin Topalov, Alexander Morozevich and Magnus Carlsen. The only elite chess player who did not come to Monaco, despite Van Oosterom’s attempts to persuade him, was Garry Kasparov. The 13th world champion said that the competition is not serious, but some said that he was scared of competing like this against Anand and Kramnik.

“Business, Genna, is an elementary thing,” Joop van Oosterom once said. “You buy something for two and sell it for five- that is your whole business. But chess is so difficult, there is so much of everything there…” Van Oosterom had many hobbies, but his main ones were billiards and chess. For the billiards tournament in Monaco that was named after the philanthropist’s daughter, Crystal Kelly, all the world’s best players were invited. One can say the same about the chess tournaments Melody Amber- that was the name of Van Oosterom’s oldest daughter.

Grandmasters were invited to Monaco on terms that were determined by the philanthropist himself. In the formulation of the contract, he acted according to the “take it or leave it principle”, believing that he was offering respectable terms and that negotiation was inappropriate.  I know from personal experience: it was like this. Having been to Aruba and Monaco, I can attest that the rumour which claimed that only bird’s milk was missing from these tournaments are true.” (G.Sosonko)

Other than Amber-tournaments in Monaco, the Dutch billionaire’s patronage extended to veterans’ matches against the strongest chess female players and matches between experiences grandmasters and promising young players. For several years, van Oosterom organised an Olympiad between small countries. Players from Monaco, Andorra, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, San-Marino, Curacao and other nations participated.  

Having passed the age of 60, Joop decided to try himself in correspondence chess and immediately moved to the front in world correspondence championships.  However, in 2001, the famous grandmaster Jeroen Piket left chess (it was officially announced that he became the billionaire’s assistant) and the famous journalist and historian Tim Krabbe wrote: “The Turk was controlled by William Schlumberger, “Mefisto” by Isidor Gunsberg, “Anedjib the Great” performed the moves of Harry Pillsbury and behind Joop van Oosterom’s success stands Piket!”

During the 2003-2004 season, van Oosterom became the world correspondence champion and repeated his success in the 2008 world championship. At the peak of his career, in 2005, his rating was 2779, whose coefficient was only surpassed by the famous Swedish grandmaster Ulf Andersson.

Some time ago, the billionaire suffered a heart attack, after which his financial contributions to chess and snooker super-tournaments ended. The two-time world correspondence champion died in November 2016.