Matthew Sadler is the only UK grandmaster competing at Tata Steel Wijk aan Zee, which passes halfway this weekend and attracts more than 7,000 viewers daily to its live games on the internet. The 37-year-old, originally from Kent but now a Dutch resident, is top seed in the C group, where he currently stands on 3/5 after a slow start.
Sadler was ranked in the world top 30 and had the current world champion, Vishy Anand, close to defeat at Tilburg in 1998 just before he suddenly abandoned chess for an IT career. His impressive 2011 comeback when he won first prizes at Barcelona and Oslo occurred during his normal work holidays.
In an interview for ChessVibes just before Wijk, Sadler explained that he felt he had reached his peak and that the best he could hope for was the world top 20. ” I doubted whether it was worth carrying on for another 10 years. I did not want to be 35 and on my way down. When you are 25 you can start again in a new career from the bottom, but that’s a lot more difficult at 35.”
Now he is a full-time infrastructure consultant for a software firm, and thinks it was a good decision. “It was a great adventure moving to Holland, learning Dutch, and starting again from scratch.”
But his 2011 chess successes have rekindled his interest and ambition. He never played at Wijk during his professional years because it was too soon after the Hastings event: “I was a really high energy player then, and worked ten hours a day intensively on chess, so I tried to play only where I thought I would have maximum energy.”
He was surprised how quickly he got back into his old rhythm at Barcelona and Oslo. His vision and calculation had deteriorated, but: “I’m older and calmer, and feel less pressure.” He is still keen on team chess, in which in 1996 he won an individual gold for England at the biennial world Olympiad. If invited, he is likely to continue his comeback by playing again for the national team in the 2012 Olympiad at Istanbul in August.