A Blast From the Past – Nell Van de Graaff
Last week the Gold Coast chess identity Nell Van de Graaff celebrated her 100th birthday.
The following piece was first published in the Sydney Sun-Herald in April 2008.
Chess writers, myself included, regularly feature the achievements of prodigious young stars and note that no player over 50 can be found among the top echelons of the world rankings. When a veteran is mentioned it is usually Viktor Korchnoi, 76, whose temper has tended to overshadow his results in the last decade.
However this week’s column will be devoted to a truly remarkable achievement at the extreme end of the age spectrum; a draw by 92-year-old Nell Van de Graaff against British Grandmaster Gawain Jones.
The game was played on Wednesday at a simultaneous exhibition at the Gardiner Chess Centre on the Gold Coast and was by no means a courtesy draw – Jones, 20, played down to the last pawn before yielding to Van de Graaff’s defence.
Van de Graaff is a legendary figure on the Gold Coast chess scene – so much so that the Grand Prix tournament the Gold Coast Classic has been renamed the Nell Van de Graaff Classic.
Van de Graaff came to chess late after an eventful life which included years with her young family in a Japanese camp in (now) Indonesia during the second world war. Van de Graaff related her WWII experiences in a book called ‘We Survived’ which was later translated into multiple languages including Japanese.
Van de Graaff believes that chess has helped her to maintain her mental acuity; just how well can be seen from the following game.
Gold Coast 2008
White: N.Van de Graaff
Opening: Centre Counter
“I couldn’t sleep afterwards,” confessed Van de Graaff.