In 1990, Austria lost a qualification match for the European soccer championship with 1-0 against the Far Oer; a famous flop. The goal was scored by Torkil Nielsen, who was also chess champion of the Far Oer. 'And doubtless also running, quoits and eggs gathering champion,' I can hear the reader think; the Far Oer is only a small country.
But scoring a goal against Austria isn't easy, and the Far Oer isn't that bad a chess country - and of this double prominence among the nerds and the macho's, there are more, and more remarkable examples. Peter Leko played in Hungarian districts junior soccer teams; grandmaster Jansa, threefold chess champion of Chechoslovakia, played on the national junior soccer team and Bela Soos, a strong master, is supposed to have been a full Rumanian soccer international.
The unsurpassable example however, is the Norwegian Simen Agdestein. When he played the Interpolis Tournament in 1989 with, among others, Kasparov and Korchnoi, he was the world's number sixteen in chess, and had already played eight matches for the national soccer team of Norway - at a time when Norway started to be good.
A few highlights from his sporting life. 1982: (15 years old) Norwegian chess champion. 1984: second in the European Junior Championship (behind Salov); debut in the Norwegian junior soccer team and in the first team of his club, second league Lyn. 1985: first Norwegian grandmaster; the youngest in the world. 1986: shared first in the World Junior Championship, ahead of Bareev, Anand and Piket, but second on tiebreak behind the Cuban outsider Arencibia. 1988: third in the Hoogovens tournament, debut as a striker on the Norwegian soccer team against Italy. 1989: turns down a pro contract with the Turkish Besiktas to be able to play in the Interpolis tournament; loses his place in the Norwegian soccer team as a result. 1991: ruptures the cross ligament in his knee and, after a year's revalidation, again - 'and this time for good.'
Up to then, even if he had alternately considered giving up chess for soccer, and soccer for chess, all the while thinking that his sociology courses at university were really the most important, Agdestein had thought that his sporting careers could be combined, even if it was a pity that his soccer trainers didn't think that way, too. At any rate, he kept his chess strength during his period on the national soccer team. For a pro career in soccer however, he didn't think his talent was really sufficient; for a pro career in chess, which he considered for a while after leaving high school, he disliked the lonely hours of studying too much.
Kasparov called him the strongest amateur among the top grandmasters; his soccer team mates thought him an eccentric, a reputation he liked to strengthen in interviews, and by his appearance. 'Before, I could act quite strange in interview situations, now I'm just flattered that anyone asks.' He liked it that his playing on the national soccer team worked well for the standing of chess in Norway, which had always been low. There had never been a famous chess player there before, and now the public could see that chess players weren't all nutty recluses.
But exactly when he had to stop playing soccer, its influence on his chess proved fatal. After 1992, Agdestein fell into a black hole; his chess strength was dragged down by the great soccer deception - among other things, that Norway was going to play in the 1994 World Cup without him. The end to his soccer career could have been a blessing in disguise because now he was forced to choose for chess, but the injured knee and the other physical problems that soccer brought him (he still isn't 100 % fit, 'which shows also in my chess playing') prevented that. 'I believe I should be quite happy to have got out of the football circus. Of course I should have stopped before I got injured. But after getting on the national A-team, it was not easy to stop playing soccer.'
'The knee injury and everything around it turned my life upside down for some years. I was quite ill actually, physically, and not only the knee. That's why my rating and everything dropped after 1992.'
There followed 'a couple of years that I would be happy to be without.' He dropped out of the world-top 200, wasn't even the Norwegian number 1 anymore for a while, and it wasn't until 1999 that he won a big tournament again; the Cappelle la Grande Open, ahead of 104 grandmasters, and with a TPR of 2789.
Now Agdestein is 33, married, father of two children, and his working life is devoted full time to chess. He is the chess columnist for the big newspaper VG, recorded a television chess program, and is chess instructor at the Oslo Academy of Top Sports. As a player, 'I've recovered my old confidence, and believe I can fight with any one.'
But the ambition for a true chess career is gone; 'getting out on the road does not attract me very much.' He has seen 'the shadow side of life, the brightness of stardom, enough to realize that this is not necessarily that great. And I am very happy just to stay home with my family doing as little as possible. 'Balance! I guess that's the keyword. (Aristotle, wasn't it?)'
As a soccer player, Simen Agdestein does not see himself as a typical goalgetter. 'I was rather the type who could miss obvious chances, but I was good at creating chances. And at running. Unpredictable, I was sometimes called. I was very variable, sometimes everything went my way while other times I was really gone. Guess I was only young.'
'But football was such fun, scoring goals felt so great and all the money - this is very complicated! I still don't like to watch football very much, the feeling that "I could have been there" is still there.'
As a chess player, he has an attractive style; sharp and inventive. The following game 'from long ago I'm a little proud of,' he mailed me when I asked him for games to go with this story.
Agdestein - Karlsson, Gausdal 1987
1.Nf3 c5 2.e4 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 O-O 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.Bc4 Bd7 10.O-O-O Qb8 11.h4 Rc8 12.Bb3 a5 13.h5 a4 14.Bd5 Nxh5 On 14...e6 there follows 15.hxg6! exd5 16.Bh6 fxg6 17.Bxg7 Kxg7 18.Qh6+ Kf7 19.Nxd5 and wins. 15.g4 Nf6 16.Nf5 Bxf5 The g-file must not be opened. 17.gxf5 Nb4 18.fxg6 Nfxd5Now, Black would win after 19.exd5 Rxc3 20.bxc3 Nxa2+, but Agdestein had prepared a fantastic move. (See diagram). 19.Bd4! Simply does not fulfill his part of the exchange, but reinforces the attack by neutralising the black bishop. 19...Bxd4 On Nf6, winning is 20.gxh7+ Kh8 21.Rdg1, and after 19...e5 a beautiful variation is: 20.gxh7+ Kh8 21.Rdg1 f6 22.exd5 exd4 23.Rxg7 Kxg7 24.Qh6+ Kf7 25.Rg1 and White wins. 20.Qxd4 e5 21.gxf7+ Kf8 Or Kxf7 22.Rxh7+ Kg8 23.Qg1+ Kxh7 24.Qg2 and Black is mated. 22.Qg1 Nf6 23.Rh6 Nxa2+ To gain a tempo for bringing his queen closer to the action. After Kxf7 there would follow 24.Qg5. 24.Nxa2 Dc7 25.Nb4 Qxf7 26.Rxd6 Ne8 27.Rd3 Rc4 28.Nd5 Rac8 29.c3 R4c6 30.Qg5 Rxh6 31.Qxh6+ Qg7 32.Qb6 Ra8 Here, White missed 33.Qc5+ Kg8 34.Rd1 and the rook enters decisively over g1. After the slightly weaker 33.Rd1, Black was able to postpone resigning until move 62: 33...Ra6 34.Qc5+ Rd6 35.Rg1 Qh6+ 36.Kb1 Qe6 37.Rg5 h6 38.Rf5+ Kg8 39.Ne3 Qb3 40.Kc1 a3 41.Qxa3 Qxa3 42.bxa3 Ra6 43.Rxe5 Ng7 44.Kb2 h5 45.f4 Re6 46.Rxe6 Nxe6 47.Ng2 Nc5 48.e5 Kf7 49.c4 h4 50.Nxh4 Nd3+ 51.Kc3 Nxf4 52.Kd4 Ke6 53.Nf3 Kf5 54.c5 Ne2+ 55.Kd5 Nc3+ 56.Kc4 Ne4 57.a4 Ke6 58.a5 Kd7 59.Nd4 Kc7 60.e6 Nf6 61.Nf5 Kc6 62.Ne7+ and Black resigned.
And: 'I'm also happy with this combination.'
Agdestein - Dolmatov, Tilburg 1993
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Bd3 0-0 6.Nge2 Nc6 7.0-0 Nd7 8.Be3 e5 9.d5 Nd4 10.Rc1 c5 11.dxc6 bxc6 12.b4 f5 13.exf5 gxf5 14.Bxd4 exd4 15.Na4 Qg5 16.f4 Qg6 17.c5 Kh8 18.Ng3 Nf6 19.Qf3 d5 20.Rfe1 Bd7 21.Re7 Rae8 22.Rce1 h5 23.Rxe8 Rxe8 24.Rxe8+ Qxe8 25.Qe2 Qb8 26.Nxh5 Qxb4 27.Nxg7 Kxg7 28.Qe7+ Kg6 (See Diagram.) 29.h4 Qxa4 30.Be2 Qa3 31.h5+ Kh6 32.Qxf6+ Kh7 33.Qe7+ Kh6 34.Qd6+ and Black resigned.
© Tim Krabbé, 2000 nobambooforestnome
Top of the page | Main chess page | Main page