Member in the Spotlight: Niels Ondersteijn of Chess Club Paul Keres
In our latest Member Spotlight, we shine a light on Niels Ondersteijn, a passionate chess enthusiast and the Club Chairman of Chess Club Paul Keres. With an impressive journey in the world of chess, including attaining the title of International Master, Niels has played an integral role in shaping the club's success. Learn more about his experiences at the European Chess Championships, finding their home at Tribes Utrecht CS, and the exciting future ahead for Chess Club Paul Keres.
Hi Niels! Can you tell us a little about yourself and Chess Club Paul Keres?
I learned chess from my parents when I was 7 years old, quickly liked it and started playing at a (small) chess club. Over the next 30 years, I kept playing and improving - getting weekly training, playing many games and tournaments, and learning a lot from fellow chess players. You could say that I kept gradually improving throughout my life. In 2018 I achieved the title of International Master in Chess (IM) which I am very proud of. It will always remain a hobby, but it’s nice to play on top of the amateurs. I like the chess community a lot, and playing has really helped me in other aspects like thinking, dealing with pressure, making a plan, coping with losses etc.
Outside of chess I work as an IT product owner for Wocozon, a foundation that helps social tenants of housing corporatives with solar panels. I’m responsible for all IT developments; strategy, decision making, planning are all very useful aspects that are definitely boosted by chess!
As for Chess Club Paul Keres, it is an active Utrecht Chess club with about 100 members. It started as a student association and is now an open, sociable association where members of different ages and strengths enjoy the game of chess together. You can read more about it here.
How did you become involved with Chess Club Paul Keres, and what do you enjoy most about your role as Club Chairman?
In 2011 I moved to Utrecht and immediately wanted to play chess at the most serious club at the highest level. That was by far Paul Keres. To sustain your level and to improve, it’s very helpful to play many games against strong opponents. After a couple of years I knew many other players and I joined the board of the club. In my free time, I always organized many things so this felt very logical and nice to do. The previous Chairman, Jan Jaap, was at that moment chairman for 15 years and he quickly asked me to become his successor. I gladly did that 5 years ago. A choice I certainly did not regret!
As chairman I am very proud of all the awesome things we organize, and as a board we try to come up with new and innovative ways/tournaments/formats in the chess world. It’s very cool to see that our members really like that. That’s what I like about being chairman; seeing new members join the club, analyse some games with them (the combination of International Master and Chairman is very handy for that!), or seeing members that are already a member for more than 30-50 years still liking the club and remaining enthusiastic about Paul Keres. Despite all the changes the chess world has undergone (faster games, younger age, more online, Queen's Gambit!) and also Paul Keres (we moved quite a lot of venues in Utrecht, members stopped and started, the average age decreased a bit), however the enthusiasm about chess always remained!
You recently travelled to Albania for the European Chess Championships, congratulations! Can you tell us a little more about the competition? How was the experience for your members?
True and thank you! It was an amazing experience, especially for an amateur club like ours. We joined the European Chess Championships with two teams of 6 players in Albania. It’s the Champion’s League of Chess with the best players of the world participating in a club team. For instance, the best player of the World, Magnus Carlsen, also played with a Norwegian team (who won the tournament).
We stayed in a 5 star hotel resort next to the beach with 28 degree weather and a buffet 3x per day - it felt really nice to experience the ‘professional’ chess life sometimes. Many people really envision this trip as an ultimate holiday, but that’s really not the case - the chess is very intense and time-consuming. We all spent much more time on chess than normally in a work week. Every day the game started at 3pm and you prepare before each one. That is very intensive! You know your opponent and study his games, make an opening plan, study some opening lines. Also a very psychological preparation. Your opponent is doing the same thing with you at the same time. Shall I surprise my opponent with some risks involved or not? The games last between 3 hours (very quick games) and 6 hours. After the game, dinner, some beers and chess blitz with the rest of Paul Keres and the next day the same again! The first team of Paul Keres finished 39th.
On our website there is a liveblog of our results/photo’s for all the supporters in the Netherlands. It was an amazing experience with serious chess with many club members playing the ECC for the first time, much laughter and also time to relax.
We are proud to be the home of Chess Club Paul Keres at Tribes Utrecht CS! What were some of the deciding factors in choosing Tribes as your base?
From January 2023 we had to search for a new club venue, and that was a very, very time-consuming search. I think we sent emails to 60+ locations in Utrecht. It remains hard to exactly explain how a chess club like Paul Keres works. The requirements (good coffee, quiet room to play chess, some bar, an extra place for a bar and analysis, open until midnight, storage etc) made many locations unsuitable. We managed to get 3 potential locations where we each held a trial club evening, and Tribes was the last one. After the first evening in Tribes, it immediately became clear that Tribes was a perfect match for Paul Keres! The location is very central, the canteen is ideal to play chess, you hardly hear the trains, the coffee is nice and we don’t need personnel or a concierge (in previous schools) to stay until late. The relationship with Tribes was very positive.
What kind of events does Chess Club Paul Keres host at Tribes, and can non-members get involved?
Every Thursday evening we have our internal competition; one long chess game played between members. People who are interested in our club are free to try 3 club evenings to determine if they want to become a member of the club.
Every 6 weeks we organize tournaments which are also open for non-club members. Information and registration can be found on our website, or interested people can directly contact me directly. I am happy to explain more about chess in Utrecht in general or Paul Keres at Tribes! Our next tournament is on Thursday 2nd November. Then we’ll play Bask Chess: you play not 1 but 2 games at the same time against your opponent, 1 with white, 1 with black. A really fun format.
Finally, what does the future hold for Chess Club Paul Keres?
Hopefully a very long stay at Tribes with many, diverse chess activities! This chess season that started in September, we play our external competition for the first time in history with 7 teams (of 8/10 people). We are growing as a club and Tribes really helps. Next week we start with a monthly training, called the PK-Academy, where around 10 motivated members (many who played years online before joining a club) are learning from good players from Paul Keres that teach a variety of chess topics. We hope that the first team can end again like last year in the top 5 of the highest chess league. But in general, we hope that everyone remains enthusiastic about playing (or watching) chess at Paul Keres.
Thank you, Niels!