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Alexandra Ekaterina van der Mije-Nicolau

Author: Johan Hut   Print
Date: 2013-10-17 08:45

“Have I been forgotten in the Netherlands?” is a question that was regularly asked by Käty van der Mije in recent years. Last Monday, after she had passed away, it turned out that the answer is no. Together with Fenny Heemskerk and Zhaoqin Peng she was part of the greatest trio of women chess players in Dutch history.


Käty van der Mije during the BDO-tournament 2005 in Haarlem with Nona Gaprindashvili, whom she admired greatly. (Photo: André Hendriks.)

She was born in 1940 as Alexandra Ekaterina Nicolau in the Rumanian capital Bucarest. When she was six years old, one of her brothers taught her to play chess. At national events and training camps for women, she and Margareta Teodorescu formed an inseparable couple and Käty often made the witty remark: “You don’t see your husband as often as you see me.” Teodorescu was four times Rumanian champion, Nicolau six times, in 1960, 61, 63, 64, 65 and 73, so she had her best years in the early sixties. It was then (and a little later) that she had two of her greatest achievements. At the 1963 Olympiad she scored 10 out of 12 on the First board, and in 1966 she scored 8 of 10, again on board one. Behind the Soviet Union, Rumania was the second strongest nation in women chess. Taking in account her results, you could regard Nicolau as one of the world’s strongest women chess players. At both Olympiads mentioned, only Nona Gaprindashvili had a higher score. Nicolau has always had the deepest respect for her. In 1966 Nicolau did win against Gaprindashvili. In 1972 she scored 7 out of 9 on board 2, making an awesome total of 25 from 31 (80,6%).

World top
In 1961 and 1967 Nicolau came seventh twice on the World Championship candidate tournament that by the way was not the official name then. The tournament winner had the right to challenge the world champion, so she was definitely among the ten strongest players in the world. Before and after her move to the Netherlands, she won many international tournaments (sixteen in her own recollection). Among those victories are the Danlon Tournament twice (Amsterdam/Emmen) and five times the women group of the Hoogovens Tournament. She was especially proud of her three wins in Belgrad, where many of the world elite were present. When the Elo system was introduced in 1969, Nicolau was fifth in the world ranking.


(Photo: René Olthof)

The Netherlands
Before emigrating to the Netherlands, she had already won a few tournaments there. Therefore, when she decided to leave her unfortunate homeland in 1974, Holland was a logical choice. Chess life was well organised there, also for women.
Her victory in Wijk aan Zee 1966 played a crucial role in her decision. She was very impressed with what was to become her new country. She once said in an interview: “For years, whenever I felt unhappy in Bucarest, I used to go outside the KLM building in order to see what freedom looks like.”
In 1974 she made the important move. Rather soon she met a Dutch man whom she married: Hendrik van der Mije. She adopted his surname and switched from her Christian name Alexandra to her middle name: Ekaterina, abbreviated to Cathy, and much later to Käty. Dutch chess among women was on a much lower level than in Rumania. Her view on this: “Women chess in the Netherlands was on a modest level. Corry Vreeken was my only rival.”
This was emphasised when Cathy van der Mije became Dutch champion in 1974, 76, 77, 78 and 79.
Van der Mije considered 1980 as her last year of serious chess. After that she called herself an amateur, however, in 1988 she played her fourth Olympiad for the Netherlands.
She was active at her club every week. Het Spaarne in Haarlem was her club for many years. She was club champion in 2007 and in 2010, at her seventieth birthday, she was made honorary member.

(Photo: Dimitri Reinderman)

Forgotten?
Käty van der Mij was still one of Haarlem’s heroes, but what was her status outside Haarlem, she wondered. In 2011, in my Saturday column, also published in Haarlems Dagblad, I wrote about top women chess players who settled in the Netherlands. The article was just about recent successes, so Van der Mije was alarmed and let me know through a colleague chess journalist that she felt left out. I contacted her and Allard Hoogland, publisher of New in Chess. Was this an idea for Matten? Sure, but they had already tried this and it had failed because Van der Mije insisted on too many corrections. He also wrote that Van der Mije had already contacted all Dutch chess journalists and asked to get her out of oblivion. My mail exchange with her was hilarious. She ended her first mail with: “With cordial greetings”. An hour later I received a second mail, in which she wrote that it wasn’t the right time for that and would I please consider it as “With best regards”. Two weeks later I published a story about her in the newspaper, whereupon she sent me a mail to thank me for it: “With cordial greetings”.

Alexandra Ekaterina van der Mije-Nicolau was born on 22 July, 1940. She died on October 14, 2013, aged 73. This story is partly based on an interview by Dinu-Ioan Nicula for the Rumanian Chess Federation in 2008. 

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