Chess champion Lucas van Foreest renounces the National Chess Championship and competes outside the board for unvaccinated top athletes



Lucas van Foreest looks intently at his opponent during a match at Tata Steel Chess 2019 in Wijk aan Zee.Statue Klaas Jan van der Weij / de Volkskrant

Lucas van Foreest is perhaps the most idiosyncratic of the Groningen chess family with six children, of whom Jorden broke through this year as the winner of Tata Steel Chess and Machteld made a name for herself among the women. Jeroen van den Berg, tournament director in Wijk aan Zee, watched in amazement as Lucas van Foreest turned to another hobby. ‘A strong Dutch grandmaster finds arm pressing more interesting than chess, then you immediately know what special character Lucas has.’

During the European Championship in Reykjavik, a Dutch chess player with arms like tree trunks sat behind the board, says Van den Berg. ‘Lucas really got into it, adjusted his diet and did strength training. He wants to excel in arm pressing, that is Lucas van Foreest. His brother is more thoughtful.’

And so Lucas van Foreest also dares to row against the tide. During the Dutch Chess Championship that starts on Friday in Hoogeveen, participants must show their corona pass, because the municipality of Hoogeveen considers the tournament an event. Unvaccinated participants such as defending champion Van Foreest must be tested daily. He did not take it and went to court with his sister Machteld and four other participants, who ruled in favor of the KNSB and the municipality of Hoogeveen on Wednesday.

Issue of principle

It is a matter of principle, according to Van Foreest. You don’t need a corona pass to exercise. ‘That is also laid down in the protocol of sports umbrella organization NOCNSF.’ He calls it unfair that the municipality of Hoogeveen uses different rules for the chess championship in town hall. ‘So now you are excluding several participants from the Dutch National Championships, while they should have free entry.’ The judge ruled otherwise.

There is also a practical objection, says Van Foreest. Without a corona check, he must test himself daily to gain access to the gaming room. ‘That test is valid for 24 hours, it means that I have to be tested eight times for eight knockout rounds at the Dutch National Championships. But when? A game of chess can last six hours, I never know when I can get tested. And when will the result come? You shouldn’t have those worries during an important tournament.’

Striking figure

Grandmaster Loek van Wely, tournament director in Hoogeveen, calls the 2019 champion ‘a smart, but also special boy’. Unconventional, a striking figure in the chess world. ‘This action also suits Lucas, he tries in his own way to draw attention to himself. Although I sometimes wonder if it’s more about the attention than the point he wants to make.’

As a senator in the Senate, Van Wely moved from Forum for Democracy to the Nanninga Group. He also says he has reservations about the corona pass, but he does not even try to understand Van Foreest’s motives. ‘Lucas came up with vague stories about why he didn’t get vaccinated. At a certain point I lost track.’

Van Foreest does not want to explain why he refused a vaccine. ‘I notice that there is indeed a compulsion to vaccinate in society.’ He says he is ‘surprised’ that the chess federation and the municipality of Hoogeveen are not showing more leniency.

Chess Elite

In 2019 Lucas van Foreest (20) finally emerged from the shadow of his brother Jorden two years older by beating him in the decisive tiebreak of the Dutch National Championships final. In The Gelderlander Lucas announced that he wanted to “become as good as Magnus Carlsen.”

But the Norwegian world champion faltered in 2020 at Tata Steel Chess against Jorden van Foreest, who achieved his greatest triumph in January in Wijk aan Zee by winning the ‘Wimbledon of chess sport’. Jorden defeated his highly regarded compatriot Anish Giri in the jump-off, since then he has belonged to ‘the elite of the chess sport’ according to Lucas.

Lucas has been forced to adjust his ambitions. The pandemic has paralyzed classical chess for a year and a half. And only his brother was invited to the lucrative online tournaments. ‘Jorden is the professional chess player in the family, he is a lot better than me. I also have other interests.’

Lucas is back in Jorden’s shadow, says Van Wely. “It used to be different, but Jorden has made his name. Lucas isn’t just playing chess. To win the tournament in Wijk aan Zee you have to lead a one-dimensional life. Any year that you don’t fully devote yourself to chess at that age is a wasted year. It is not fatal, but it determines your future.’

Statement

Van Foreest hoped to make a statement with the lawsuit. “It’s not just about me. I want to stand up for other athletes who are not vaccinated. The corona pass creates an unfair playing field. My principles now outweigh defending my title.’ He accepts the consequences of his defeat in the Haarlem court and withdraws for the Dutch National Championships.

Van Foreest does not have to apologize, says Van Wely. ‘I would have loved to have had Lucas, after all, he is the title holder. But he doesn’t owe anyone anything.’

Van den Berg, tournament director Tata Steel Chess, regrets that it had to come to this. ‘I don’t want to call Lucas van Foreest a wappy, I don’t like that term. The choice not to be vaccinated typifies his idiosyncrasy. It is a pity that the reigning champion is missing, now the entire Dutch chess sport is losing.’

3x Lucas van Forest

In 2017, the VPRO documentary about the Van Foreest family was released, in which father Nicky and mother Sheila Timp explained why they had educated their children until they were 14. School was a prison in their eyes. Lucas van Forest, in 2019 in The Gelderlander: ‘Education is leveling out. If you want to specialize yourself, school is an obstacle.’

Lucas van Foreest and brother Jorden and sister Machteld followed in the footsteps of their illustrious great-grandparents Dirk and Arnold van Foreest, who divided the chess titles between 1885 and 1893. But business is attracting, he says that he focuses on ‘investments’ among other things. “Chess is not my job.”

At the Winter Games in Beijing in 2022, it will be virtually impossible for unvaccinated athletes to participate. They have been quarantined for four weeks alone. Lucas van Foreest: ‘That is also why we have filed preliminary injunction proceedings. This shouldn’t happen. Sport should be accessible to everyone.’

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