A Different World

I just played a chess game on the Free Internet Chess Server against a computer programmer from Israel.

Here's a snippet from our conversation:

ThinklingsBird: never been to your part of the world.

alexanka: i guess now is not a good time to visit

ThinklingsBird: is it "safe" where you live?

alexanka: "safe". I am a bit north from tel-aviv. they still don't have rockets to rich my region. :-(

He was a nice guy. What a tough situation to have to live in.


I'm a self-proclaimed chess fiend. Curiously, though, I've been in my new Bloo digs for almost a month now, and I haven't broached the chess subject. I hadn't even set up a category titled "chess," until now.

About two months ago some uncles and I played our semi-annual family chess tournament. For a month leading up the tournament I did nothing but study chess. I read about chess. I played chess online. I played chess on my PC. I thought about chess before going to bed. I lived in a chess cocoon. I even dropped all of my normal reading in favor of studying chess.

I rolled through the first two games of the tournament, dismantling two of my uncles with ease. My confidence was high, but I knew the big challenge would be my uncle Mark in the final round. When we squared off I was confident, but quickly my position deteriorated, and I ended up playing one of the worst games I played in years. To Mark's credit, he seized every available opportunity and tore me to shreds. I had nothing left to do but to lick my wounds.

Losing stinks. As Paul Hoffman says in King's Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World's Most Dangerous Game: "He [the loser] cannot rest until he discovers where he went awry. To this end, he goes over the game repeatedly, on the board, or in his head, mulling over lost opportunities."

Furthermore, as many chess masters have said throughout the centuries, chess is a microcosm of reality, a metaphor for life. To quote Hoffman again: "When I lose, I repeatedly remind myself that chess is only a game. Yet even that reminder doesn't stop me from replaying in my head not only the moves of the game where I went astray, but also the other things in my life that have gone wrong."

I haven't done much with chess since that loss a couple of months ago. I had invested so much mental energy in preparing for that tournament that I needed a break. Subsequently, I dropped my chess pieces and picked up my books; I read about all of my favorite topics, all except chess. Sure, I've nursed a few games on Thinklings Chess, but nothing more. No Chessmaster. No books. No Internet club play. Nothing.

Then Christmas came around, and, thanks to my Amazon Wish List, I received most of the books I requested, including the aforementioned Hoffman title and the quintessential chess instructional tome: How to Reassess Your Chess by Jeremy Silman. Silman's book is, I believe, the most sought-after chess tutorial in history (or at least close to it), and in the introduction Silman contends that the average player (like myself) will have to deconstruct everything he thinks he knows about the game. He says your game may actually devolve before it improves, because so many chess players learn the game by building a fragmented, faulty foundation -- a hodgepodge of knowledge that might work against patzers but doesn't do much for getting a player to the next level of play. Silman even goes so far as to claim that the average player who submits to his tutelage will have no problem achieving a master ranking a few years down the road. So I'm officially a Silman student, and once again I find myself fiending for the game; it's like a drug, a transient addiction.

After a big loss it's not uncommon for a player to go into hiding, or, at the very least, to be completely disinterested in the game for a period of time. The real players, though, always come back to the 64 squares.

I'm back.