Belgium chess history

The Federation Belge des Echecs (FBE) is founded in 1920 and was one of the founders of FIDE in 1924. In 1970 the Fédération Belge des Echecs was renamed the Fédération Royale Belge des Échecs (FRBE):

The most important international chess tournaments have been organized in Ostende (1905-1907; 1936, 1937, 1956; Open 1983-1993), Spa (FBE) in 1926, Liège (World Exposition) in 1930, Brussels with OHRA and SWIFT in the mid- & end-1980s, Antwerp “Lost Boys Festival” in the 1990s, and Leuven (YourNextMove GRAND CHESS TOUR) Rapid & Blitz tournament since 2016.

The well-known Belgian chess players are Frederick Deacon, Edgard Colle, Georges Koltanowski, Emanuel Sapira, Frits van Seters, Alberic O’Kelly de Galway, he was the first Belgian Grandmaster and a World Chess Correspondence Champion, Andrija Fuderer, Paul Devos, Arthur Dunkelblum, Victor Soultanbéieff, Jozef Boey, Michel Jadoul, Richard Meulders, Daniel Pergericht, Willy Iclicki, Luc Winants, Alexandre Dgebuadze, Vladimir Chuchelov, and Mikhail Gurevich (ex USSR) who won the Belgian Championship in Charleroi 2001 with a perfect 9/9 score.

World Champion in Correspondence Chess (1962), International Grandmaster, Arbiter, and Author: Albéric O'Kelly De Galway. Photo:

O'Kelly De Galway, Albéric

Albéric Joseph Rodolphe Marie Robert Ghislain O'Kelly de Galway (born 17 May 1911, Anderlecht – died 3 October 1980, Brussels).

O'Kelly was descended from John O'Kelly, an Irish-born British army officer who was granted a nobility title in Belgium in 1720.

First native Belgian Grandmaster (appointed by FIDE in 1956, following Viktor Korchnoi, and followed by Bent Larsen), International Arbiter, author and journalist. O'Kelly started chess at twelve but only won his first major tournament at 26 and his first Belgian Championship at 27. He improved his play, thanks to regular visits to the world class player Akiba Rubinstein, inaugural Grandmaster, from Poland, later living in Belgium, who taught him the magic of chess. 

In 1962, O'Kelly became a GM of over-the-board and correspondence chess, a rare distinction, and winner of the 3rd World Correspondence Championship (1959 - 1962).

Record national champion: O’Kelly won the Belgium championship 13 times!

On international circuit, he took first in the traditional invitational superseries at Beverwijk Hoogovens, Dortmund (Prequel), Ostende (last closed event) and Palma de Mallorca (inaugural edition, shared win), amongst many other tournament triumphs.

Chief Arbiter in the two World Championship matches between Petrosian and Spassky in 1966 & 1969 as well as in 1974, for the Candidates finals Karpov versus Korchnoi.

A talented speaker and polyglot: Alberic O’Kelly de Galway spoke perfectly eight languages!

In 1958, the Belgian government awarded him the decoration of the Golden Palm of the Order of the Crown for his achievement in chess. 

Ostend 1905-1907; 1936, 1937, 1956, Open 1983 – 1993

to come

Spa (FBE International) 1926

In this International tournament of the FBE, held at Spa in 1926, Friedrich Sämisch from Germany and  George Alan Thomas from England, who was twice a British Chess Champion and a multiple All-England Badminton Champion as well, shared first prize, ahead of Romanian-born Belgian chess master Emanuel Sapira. Savielly Tartakower finished fourth (twelve players).
(Belgian Chess History)

Spa is a Belgian town, located in the Province of Liège, and is the town which gave its name to every spa in the world! The town of Spa is situated in a valley in the Ardennes mountains 35 kilometres (22 miles) southeast of Liège and 45 kilometres (28 miles) southwest of Aachen with a population of approx.10,500 and an area of 39.85 square kilometres (15.39 square miles).

Spa is one of Belgium's main tourist cities. The town of Spa is famous for its several natural mineral springs, and is also the location of mineral water producer Spa, whose mineral water is exported worldwide. Nearby Spa, in the village of Francorchamps, the renowned Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is situated, which hosts the annual Formula One Belgian Grand Prix.

The first beauty pageant in the world was the Concours de Beauté, held in Spa on 19 September 1888. Spa is also the location of the world's first Casino.

Note: The precise origin of gambling is unknown. It is generally believed that gambling in some form or another has been seen in almost every society in history. From the Ancient Greeks and Romans to Napoleon's France and Elizabethan England, much of history is filled with stories of entertainment based on games of chance.

The first known European gambling house, not called a casino although meeting the modern definition, was the Ridotto, established in Venice, Italy in 1638 by the Great Council of Venice to provide controlled gambling during the carnival season. (Source: Wikipedia)

Liège (World Exposition) 1930

Tartakower in 1922. Photo: Karlonline

Twelve chess players were invited to Liège, Belgium in August of 1930 to compete in a world elite round robin invitation tournament during the World Exposition.

The participants were Aron Nimzowitsch, Frank James Marshall, Akiba Rubinstein, Savielly Tartakower, Mir Sultan Khan, Edgard Colle, George Allen Thomas, Karl Ahues, David Przepiorka, Henri Weenink, Isaias Pleci, and Victor Ivanovich Soultanbeieff.

It was to be one of Tartakower's best tournaments. He finished undefeated with 8.5/11, two points ahead of second place Sultan Khan: (Chessgames) (Belgian Chess History)

The World Exposition of 1930 was an international exposition that took place in Liège, Belgium between May and November, 1930. The fair marked the centenary of the establishment of the Belgian Kingdom in 1830: (in French)

Brussels between 1984 and 1988; 1991, 1992

International invitation tournaments in classical chess:
1984 OHRA, 1985 OHRA, 1986 (April) SWIFT, 1986 (December) OHRA, 1987 SWIFT

1987 Blitz, inofficial first World Championship SWIFT

1987 Team match OHRA

1988 GMA World Cup tournament SWIFT

1991 FIDE Candidates quarter-finals SWIFT

1992 Rapid knock-out SWIFT

years in bold: classical elite event

Brussels OHRA 1984, 1985, 1986 December, 1987 Team 
(compare also the annual Amsterdam OHRA series, 1982-1990)

Brussels SWIFT 1986 April, 1987, 1987 Blitz, 1988 GMA, 1991 FIDE Candidate's, 1992 Rapid

Brussels overview

Korchnoi won with a convincing 11/13 at Brussels (OHRA) in 1985. Spassky finished sole second. Both men with a trophy in their hands (14 players). Photo: CNC - Chess Network Company

A moderate invitation tournament took place in 1984 (won by IM Julian Hodgson ahead of IM Lev Gutman, both soon later GM, in total 14 participants). This might have been the first closed tournament with a chance for IM norms in Belgium.

Brussels, the capital of Belgium began having elite tournaments in December 1985: Viktor Korchnoi took clear first ahead of Boris Spassky in a strong single round robin of 14 players including prominent names such as Sax, Speelman and Nunn, or rising Zsuzsa Polgar mixed in old style with three (rather inferior) participants from the hosting nation.

This event was sponsored again by OHRA, a Dutch insurance company which had launched simultaneously  a strong series in Amsterdam (closed and open tournaments): Tournoi OHRA — Wikipédia.

Driving force behind the OHRA support was Willy Iclicki, who also organised the Iclicki Masters from 1986 to 1990, sometimes as a side event of the OHRA tournaments.

In April 1986, Karpov won ahead of Korchnoi a Category XIII invitation tournament at Brussels sponsored by SWIFT.

Still the same year, in December 1986, an even stronger tournament (Category XVI, the initial maximum) was organized at Brussels by OHRA again, where Kasparov was in awesome form and played some wonderful games, though he was lucky against Korchnoi who finished clear second.

Kasparov and Korchnoi were the only players above 50% (Hübner and Nunn shared third place, Short was fifth, justly proud of his victory against the champion, solid Portisch finished sole last (!), six players, double round robin).

Of the thirty games, twenty were decisive, an incredible quantity for such a top-level clash!

Brussels (OHRA) 1986 was a ground breaking event in many respects. It was Garry Kasparov's first all-play-all tournament since 1983 (after his gruelling series of marathons against Anatoly Karpov for the world title), and it was the first major chess tournament televised by the BBC and containing commentary by the players themselves.

The OHRA tournament at Brussels 1986 (not to mix up with the S.W.I.F.T. series at Brussels), averaged out at Elo 2636, was then the strongest chess tournament ever since the Elo system of rating was introduced.

Belgium had not have such a fine tournaments since the Ostend from 1905 to 1907 and a single event at Liège in 1930.

<Brussels>, the capital of Belgium was the <Chess Métropole>, in the second half of the 1980s, thanks to OHRA and SWIFT (with Bessel Kok) sponsoring.

At the second SWIFT tournament in Brussels 1987, Garry Kasparov and Ljubomir Ljubojevic shared first prize, a full 1.5 points ahead of the rest of the field, 3. Karpov, 4. Korchnoi, 5. Timman, 6. Tal, 7. Larsen; Short finished sole 11th, in total 12 players.

The (inofficial) first Blitz World Championship just played afterwards, was won by Kasparov ahead of Timman, followed by shared third Karpov and Ljubojevic. Korchnoi, now at age of 56 took his personal revenge and beat twenty years younger Karpov twice (twelve players, mostly the same contestants as in the classical event, among them also great Tal, who had already played at the famous Herceg Novi Blitz events in 1970 and 1983, and won in 1988 at Saint John World Blitz knock-out).

The same year in 1987, a Team match Ladies vs. Men was organised and sponsored by OHRA at Brussels. As a side event, an additional Open had been played in 1986 and 1987 at Brussels.

In 1998, Karpov won the (part of the GMA World Cup) tournament at Brussels ahead of Salov.

Brussels was the hosting city of the FIDE World Chess Championship Quarter Final in 1991, played as parallel matches, sponsored by SWIFT. Remarkably, Viktor Korchnoi, aged 60, had qualified for the Candidates’ tournament for the tenth time (world record!).

Chessdiagonals then watched the first round live in Brussels at the SAS Royal Hotel. What a line-up (in alphabetical order): Anand, Gelfand, Ivanchuk, Jussupov, Karpov, Korchnoi, Short, and Timman.

In 1992, SWIFT organised in Brussels a Rapid event in a Knock-out format, Adams beat surprising Lobron in the finals (32 players, including Anand, Karpov, Korchnoi, Kamsky, Jussupov, Salov, Bareev, Beljavsky, a.o.), this was the Farewell Event by SWIFT.

The Belgian company S.W.I.F.T (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications), was founded in 1973, Bessel Kok the driving force behind its splendid support for chess.

Biography of Willy Iclicki

Willy Iclicki (born in Belgium, 12 January 1955, later settled in Monaco, today playing for Liechtenstein), is a strong chess amateur player, organizer and author. 

He served as a longtime FIDE Treasurer and Editor, and is current Fide President Assistant.  

Iclicki is the author of the FIDE Golden Book, a landmark encyclopedia of chess facts & figures, and founder of an eminent web chess encyclopedia:

The Belgian-based CHESSPEDIA gives you easy access to information, with an immense glossary of players and tournaments, plus a historical day and year calendar to keep your memory alive about the great people behind the chessboard.

Biography of Bessel Kok

Bessel Kok in 2008. Photo: ChessBase

Bessel Kok (born in Hilversum, 13 December 1941) is a Dutch businessman, chess patron, living in Prague. Kok is also active in the arts.

He graduated in 1963 from the Municipal University of Amsterdam with a degree in Economic Sciences.

Kok was President of the Belgian-based Banking communications company SWIFT and responsible for SWIFT's sponsorship of several major international chess events; and has also served in top management positions in telecommunications companies (Belgacom and Czech Telekom). 

Bessel Kok was the Chairman of World Chess Grandmaster Association from 1985 until 1991, and helped to establish the 2002 <<Prague Agreement>> concerning the World Chess Championship.

Kok ran a creative campaign for presidency of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) in 2006. The election was held during the Chess Olympiad in Torino, Bessel Kok lost 54-96 to the incumbent president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. (Wikipedia)

Brussels (SWIFT) in 1987, it was the first tournament with the then 3 big "K": Kasparov, Karpov, and Korchnoi. At age of 56 years, mighty Viktor could not surpass the odds of twenty and thirty-two years, respectively. Kasparov and Ljubojevic won, 1.5 points ahead of Karpov, half a point behind Korchnoi and Timman, followed by Tal, Larsen, etc. (12 players).

Brussels tournament tables

Lost Boys Festival (1993 – 2002), Antwerp and later Amsterdam

Closed invitation and Open tournaments, starting under the label of Volmac.

to come

Leuven, Rapid & Blitz (since 2016)

Leuven, YourNextMove, Rapid & Blitz, was part of the Grand Chess Tour (GCT) 2016.
Magnus Carlsen got the wildcard Lächeln

Final blitz standings: Winner Carlsen
Final rapid standings: Winner Carlsen

Final combined results: Winner Carlsen 23pts, Wesley So 20.5pts, Aronian 20pts, Anand 19.5pts, Caruana 17.5pts, Vachier-Lagrave 17pts, Nakamura16.5 pts, Kramnik, Giri 16pts, Topalov 14pts

The tournament, a four-days-event, consisted of a two-day rapid round-robin and a two-day blitz double-round-robin; in the combined standings, then the results of the rapid games counted double (2 points for a win, 1 point for a draw, 0 points for a loss) while blitz games counted normally.

No classical chess.
No player from the hosting nation invited.

Leuven, YourNextMove, Rapid & Blitz tournament, will be again part of the Grand Chess Tour:

Leuven, 28 June - 2 July 2017

Magnus Carlsen (NOR)
Wesley So (USA)
Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (FRA)
Viswanathan Anand (IND)
Ian Nepomniachti (RUS)
Levon Aronian (ARM)
Vladimir Kramnik (RUS, wildcard)
Anish Giri (NED, wildcard)
Vassily Ivanchuk (UKR, wildcard)
Baadur Jobava (GEO, wildcard) (Official Site) (Grand Chess Tour 2016) (The Week in Chess, Standings 2016) (Chessgames, Blitz 2016); (Chessgames, Rapid 2016)

Leuven Rapid & Blitz 2016: Carlsen won both categories and naturally the combined overall standings. Photo: Grand Chess Tour

A Galaxy of Genius, Tal, Larsen, Lautier, Korchnoi, Kasparov, Anand, Bessel Kok, Timman, Spassky in 1992. Photo restored by Lisa Overly, TNQ India

Sources and further links