My First Chess Tournament

Forget about the notion of winning or losing, playing my first chess tournament was serious fun. Tournament players have been holding onto a secret, they are not playing for money, they are competing because it is simply enjoyable, just being in the moment not a care past the 64 squares and the 32 pieces.

My kids play competition chess so I have picked up some ideas and become tactically aware by intently watching their blunders over the last couple of years. I have been intrigued about the process of playing a tournament and trying to understand why so many people pay to put themselves through it. I must admit that I had been scared about playing myself so have always opted for sitting around, drinking tea and chatting when my kids are playing.

apprehension grew, peaking just before the first round draw

Full of indecision I put my name down for the 2013 MCC Andrew Saint and Hannibal Swartz Memorial tournament. As the event got closer my apprehension grew, peaking just before the first round draw. Once the draw went up I knew I was committed which made it much easier because pulling out was no longer an option.

Even though I had not played more than the odd game of social chess since I was a kid myself, coming into the tournament I was not totally unprepared. Paul Cavezza has been putting together a beginners program at Melbourne Chess Club, in which he recommends doing 300 tactical problems. So four days before the event I signed up for Chess Tempo online and found solving chess problems was really addictive. After 15 hours of solving and 600 problems later I figured that I have prepared for tactics enough.

I was most nervous about losing in 10 moves

I was most nervous about losing in 10 moves, so I asked Bill Jordan, a coach at Melbourne Chess Club, to 'show me chess openings'. I am well known at the club because of my children and I am a volunteer committee member, so Bill was very happy to help. His one hour accelerated opening course was about opening principles, he did not teach me a single opening, but rather gave me confidence to just play with general ideas. This was brilliant because I did not have to learn anything and had the bonus of taking the experienced players out of theory pretty quickly. In my opinion this was a very solid approach for the beginner.

As the first game started I found myself strangely comfortable just sitting down and focusing on the board. I abandoned any thoughts of actually winning but considered the act of playing a reward in itself. Apparently I was losing out of the opening in my first game, but I did not know this, so my interest was still in the game. I was stoked that I lasted a couple of hours.

It became clearer that this was just about playing

I lost the second game but again just really enjoyed playing. It was sort of fun just testing an idea even though it ended up two pawns down. In the end I just smiled when I blundered a piece. It became clearer that this was just about playing. It is also pretty cool going over the game afterwards and a great learning opportunity.

Unfortunately for my opponent in the third game, he blundered while trying to mate me which meant he lost in two moves. He was very nice about it and was still willing to go over the game to show me where I went wrong in the game.

As the tournament went on I felt like every game was a unique and new experience and an opportunity to learn. I was determined not to lose out of the opening so mostly my clock went down from 90 minutes to 5 minutes while my opponents stayed at an hour. Remembering to press the clock and writing down the moves was pretty difficult, especially as the pressure built up towards the end of the game. I figure this will just take practice.

There is something about the framework of a tournament which makes playing much more enjoyable than I expected. Part of the enjoyment is the shared experience with 60 other players, part of it is a friendly chess community, part of it is the arbiter choosing your opponent rather than social interactions, part of it is the discipline of the clock without social pressure to make timely moves, part of it is testing ideas and seeing what happens, and part of it is being engrossed in the game for 3 hours forgetting about the rest of the world. Ironically because it was a tournament my emotions were not tied to winning or losing as they would have been if I was playing socially.

I don't think it matters, but the game I felt I played best was the last game where I put a lot of pressure on my opponent out of the opening (see above). The game continued and even though I was clearly winning at this stage I still found it very difficult to find moves to finish it off under time pressure. I ended up just swapping everything off and mopping up the pawns, but I could not read my score sheet for the next twenty or so moves.

I'm hooked !!!!