When it comes to chess, it is fair to say that I am a late bloomer. Or, at least, I will be once I bloom.
One of my most cherished, and earliest, memories is of sitting in the room underneath the stairs at the first house we lived in, under the Christmas puddings hanging from the ceiling to dry & cure and surrounded by boxes of papers & cases of wine, playing chess with my Dad.
At some point that stopped. I don’t know why. I probably got more interested in something else in that moment. I don’t have regrets, I think they are pointless – you cannot change the past and you have to live with, and learn from, the decisions you have made. But, if I did have regrets, one would be that I stopped playing chess under the stairs with my old man.
A couple of years ago, we started playing chess again. Initially, through Zynga’s “Chess with Friends” (a user-experience that was analogous to an older, stronger sibling pinning your arms and then repeatedly hitting you in the face with your own grubby paw while saying “stop hitting yourself” over and over and over again). Eventually, after trying a few different apps, we discovered chess.com. After such awful for so long, this app was like sweet, sweet water to two men lost in a desert.
Dad has always dished me up on the chessboard and whether he wanted a little competition, or to simply be less embarrassed of his son each time we played, something drove him to give me a copy of Fischer’s book “Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess” last April.
Soon after, I was on a few long-haul flights for work and I took the opportunity to dig into the book… and once I had picked it up, I couldn’t put it down. I was suddenly hooked. I explored the chess.com app in more detail and discovered the lessons and tactics sections… then I stumbled upon some old mates and current colleagues who play on the site.
Before I knew it, I was obsessed… and now that I am obsessed I can only hope that the realisation that I am terrible at chess is my first step in the path towards being genuinely good at it.
In order to get better, I started to build my chess library, play tactics, watch others and recognise patterns. It’s been an amazing six months so far and I will probably write some blog posts on things that have helped, from Chernev and Silman’s writings to John Bartholomew’s YouTube channel.
But, I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that to truly improve, I needed to play over the board.
So, I bought a board for work. But, I was really only kidding myself. A lunch break is a luxury in our gig and when they happen, it’s hard to coordinate the timing with others who are keen to play.
I started hunting for local games and discovered a local chess club. It meets weekly for both friendly and ACF-rated games. I instantly enquired over email and got prompt, friendly and helpful responses, but it took me nearly two months to get there. My wife and I had our first child a few months ago and when I was finally not so sleep deprived that I could put my underpants on the right way around first go, not only would I have missed precious time with my son, it would’ve been damn selfish to go galavanting out to the local community hall to indulge in chess when I could’ve been helping at home. But, we have finally found a rhythm and luckily our son sleeps at the exact moment chess is being played at the local, so last night marked my first night at (now, my) chess club.
To be completely frank, I had no idea what to expect. While I can be extroverted if I need to be for a big presentation at work, I am an introvert at heart. As I ascended the stairs into the hall, I found myself wondering if the club members would be friendly or hostile, if I would be the only beginner, whether I would be able to play and annotate my own game at the same time successfully, if I would be the oldest or the youngest or the… *insert whatever insecurity you like here*…
I needn’t have worried. In that hall were some of the most welcoming folk that I’ve ever met.
Within moments I was seated across the board from a member playing a couple of friendlies and having introversion-level-appropriate chatter.
We played two friendlies and I lost both of them. But, I wasn’t stomped on and that gave me some heart.
Then I sat for the tournament game. Last night was round 1 of the “Endless Summer” tournament – a game with one hour on the clock, plus 10s per move.
I was paired against Luca, who was also there for his first night and had his chess coach alongside. I was twenty-seven years older than Luca, which is almost as many years as it has been since I last sat down under the stairs to play OTB with my Dad.
But Luca wasn’t to know that, or how likely it was that he was going to kick my A all the way to Z, and he was nervous and shy.
Spoiler alert, Luca won the game. But, despite my own disappointment at not taking a 1 on my first outing, playing over the board was a completely new thrill and, at times, my heart was pounding!
As I drove home, I could literally feel my chess addiction surge to a whole new level. Already I am busting for next week’s game and, once I’ve played enough rounds against rated players, eventually seeing a number pop up next to my name on the ACF ratings.
“The mistakes are there, waiting to be made”
~ Savielly Tartakower
I committed to doing several things this year to improve my play. One of these things was to start analysing my own games. Here is my first attempt:
Originally published at chess.com