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The King Hunt

  • GM BryanSmith
  • | Feb 16, 2012

Last December I sold my car, which I had owned for a little over four years. It was a 1997 Nissan Altima, and it had taken me on many trips to chess tournaments in places as far away (from Philadelphia, where I lived) as Ohio, Kentucky, and North Carolina. It had also taken me to teach chess lessons and classes. It had even taken me to make deliveries in some courier jobs I have had over the years. We all know it is pretty much impossible to survive on tournament prizes in the U.S, and I have never had much luck in finding students. So over the years, I have taken some jobs delivering things. It didn’t pay much, but it provided a reliable income beyond chess.

One evening, some time in the spring of 2010, I was sitting in my room and studying some chess. I got a call from the courier company asking if I wanted some overtime work. “Sure, what is it?” I asked. A rock band needed their guitars delivered from a random hotel in the northern suburbs of Philadelphia to another hotel in Manhattan. Since I got the call sometime after midnight, I delivered the guitars to Manhattan around three in the morning. The streets were dead as I drove through the city. In a strange coincidence, as I drove on Broadway Avenue, the song “Up Broadway” began playing on my CD. This is a song by one of my favorite musicians, Moondog, a blind homeless guy who was known as the “Viking of 6th Avenue” because of his strange way of dressing (i.e., like a Viking). After delivering the guitars, I drove back to Philadelphia, while the sun was just starting to lighten the sky into a dark blue. I never did find out who owned the guitars.

Another time, in 2009, I played in a tournament in Kentucky. This was, I think, the Kentucky Open. Things hadn’t been going particularly well in the first part of 2009. Although I had won a lot of tournaments in the fall of 2008, I had a slump (though nothing compared to my current disastrous results). Since I was mostly living from chess prizes then, I needed the money badly. I set off on the fourteen-hour trip the day before the tournament, finally arriving and checking in to a random hotel a few miles from the tournament site. In the end I won clear first. In all of these trips I did not stay in the hotel after the tournament – I played the two games of the last day and then drove back through the night. By the time I reached western Maryland it was probably around 4 am. The rest area where I stopped was totally deserted, and was up a long set of outdoor stairs from the parking lot. As I started to climb up these stairs I noticed that the moon was sitting just at the top of them, shining down over the stairs. It was like a stairway to the moon…

When I moved to Europe last year, I left my car in my friend Amanda’s garage, and in it I stored all my possessions I was not taking to Europe. By the time I came back last fall, it had naturally developed some problems from sitting unused for ten months. Well, admittedly it already had some to begin with… Anyway, before leaving again this year, I decided to sell it, since otherwise it would be sitting unused again, and would probably fall apart completely. A guy came and bought it. On the phone he said he was a librarian, but it turned out he was a cop.

So that car which had taken me to perhaps a hundred tournaments was gone, and in its place was $700. But let me show you this game from before that, from early 2008, in one of those far-away tournaments. This one was in Asheville, North Carolina, and was called the “Land of the Sky” tournament. At this point I had not had the car for long – only a few months. It was an interesting time. I lived in the top floor of a trinity in an old section of Philadelphia. It was near the highway and around the corner from a busy street with lots of restaurants. But the place where the house was nobody ever went. I taught a lot of classes then with a local company which will remain nameless here. My days were busy but at the same time I had freedom.

This tournament took place in a rather old-fashioned hotel. The first day had three games, and this was the third of them. My opponent was a player rated around 2250.


You can see some practical instructional value here. That is, the technique of practical chess, which I did not really adhere to in this case. First of all, it is a bad idea to get in such extreme time pressure. At the point where I avoided forcing a draw, I had around ten seconds to make five moves. I was in fact very lucky not to have just lost the game, as has happened many times to me and others (see for instance my game with GM Manuel Leon Hoyos from my article “The Failed Attack (or, the Heroic Defense”). But most importantly, note that, assuming I was dead set on winning the game, I could have at least repeated moves once before continuing, thus getting one move closer to the time control. Finally, on move 35, the last move of the time control, I could have quite easily given a check 35…Qf6+ with no risk. Looking at it now, it is hard to understand why not. If it turns out not to give me any advantage, I can always take the queen on the next move. But I would have time to think. Nevertheless, during the tense situations of a game, for some of us here it is hard to maintain one’s cognitive faculties, as I continue to prove in almost every tournament.


  • 6 weeks ago


    Thanks for the funny detailed and teaching article

  • 4 years ago


    Awesome game.

  • 4 years ago


    I liked your story of stairs to the moon..

  • 4 years ago


    Great story and beutiful game!
  • 4 years ago


    If you're reading this I wouldn't mind being one of your students. I like your approach to the game. Send me a message if you'd like through the site and we could set something up.

  • 4 years ago


    very inspiring story.. ! a stair way to the moon.. should be an unforgetable memory.. I would love to travel to play chess like you which still just in my dream..

    inspiring games also..! after move 24 with 3 sacrifice.. It must be take a deep thought! since I cannot figure it out when  I see the chess diagram above..

    would love to read your article more..

    Great Thanks Brian!

  • 4 years ago


    superb sacrifices &  combination play

  • 4 years ago


    this article is inspiring me to get a car and drive around to chess tournaments, sounds like a good fun and maybe some adventures.
  • 4 years ago


    As always, Brian's writings about the tournament circuit are great. 

  • 4 years ago


    Wait, how did the car relate to the chess game?

  • 4 years ago


    ...how much you make depends on what you deliver.

  • 4 years ago


    That was a great article.  I really enjoyed that.

  • 4 years ago


    The calculation you must have done on move 24 boggles my mind.  Very interesting game, and great calculation practice trying to find wins in these variations!

  • 4 years ago


    Great game, congratulations. I find it admirable the moves you´ve found just seconds from losing on time.

    Let me share my sympathy for the general bitter taste of your article when you point that is very difficult to make a living out of playing or teaching chess. I personally did´t make it and ended up working as a lawyer, so I guess I can understand your point.

    Go on writing articles like this one ... and playing as in the game you showed to us this time.

  • 4 years ago


    WOW 27.....Rxf2+

  • 4 years ago


    man i thought i was the only one struggling to make ends meet with chess but glad to find out that there are few others who are doing the same

  • 4 years ago


             Thanks for learnable lesson .

  • 4 years ago


    awesome game !!! i realy want to become a player who can play like that :D

  • 4 years ago


    Great game very insightful. One question for you or anyone:

    After the late sequence (that you missed in the real game) ...31. Nxd4 32. Rxd4 ...32.Qd2, where is the quickest mate? I can't find one in 2-4 moves at least. I mean it's definately a win at that point.


  • 4 years ago


    Good reading, very good article, thanx for sharing...

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