Hello, chess.com readers! In the previous two blogs about my 3000 day trek/slog/stumble to the USCF Master title I detailed some untoward experiences of mine in Baltimore and Philadelphia. This chapter deals with my move to the uttermost regions of Northern California, Humboldt County.
Chapter Four: "Chess In The Middle Of Nowhere"
In 2005 I graduated from the Peabody Institute of Music in Baltimore and somehow found a job shortly thereafter at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California. Arcata is a charming town, ensconced as it is among the redwoods which populate the far northern coastal reaches of California. Unfortunately, Arcata has historically never been known for chess. One reason is isolation: it is roughly three hundred miles from the Bay Area and even farther from Portland. Another reason is that everyone is stoned.
In spite of the above, Arcata has always (until very recently) had a weekly community chess club whose members, though few, managed to comprise most of the better known chess personality archetypes. "Archetypes?", I hear you exclaim. Yes, archetypes. To illustrate what I mean, here are some of the, in my experience, most common:
1) The Mysterious Organizer
The Mysterious Organizer runs the chess club. You see him every week and he seems like a nice guy, but you get the feeling that behind his affability lies some strange, sordid event in his past which has somehow led to him now running a chess club. You hope that you never learn more about this, but deep down you know that, eventually, you will.
2) The Up and Comer
The Up and Comer is in grade school or college and is rapidly improving. Some clubs have several Up and Comers who invariably form a separate and distinctly louder subsection of said club. Up and Comers are useful for defining various different eras of a club, for after they enter and/or graduate from college they generally disappear, often never to be heard from again.
3) The Homeless Guy
The Homeless Guy is not necessary actually homeless, he just seems like he might be. In general, he's a source of vast practical wisdom about everything except chess. Often opens with the Grob.
4) The Floored Master
One of the most important figures of any chess club (and one sadly lacking from mine) is the Floored Master who once ruled the land of chess dinosaurs with his collection of Informants or, before then, obscure chess pamphlets that looked like they were printed on cardboard cereal boxes. He now serves to donate rating points to those able to survive the first thirty moves of a game against him, as his concentration past that point decreases at an almost exponential rate.
5) The Hopeless Cause
The Hopeless Cause reads every chess book available, watches every Roman Dzindzichashvili video, does tactics trainer three times a day, and might even, bless his soul, read this blog. None of it helps, though, as some unknown yet extremely powerful force binds his rating to 1500. Fortunately for the Hopeless Cause, he is usually well off financially even after buying all those books and videos.
6) The Bureaucrat
The Bureaucrat is well dressed, polite, rated 1700 and plays the Colle. He will decline all gambits and will trade down to practically any kind of endgame. He has no soul of his own and every time you lose to him he gains a bit of yours.
7) The Man Who Doesn't Care
Regardless of time control, the Man Who Doesn't Care never thinks about his move and usually blunders something around moves eight through, at most, sixteen. Upon realizing his error, he often will immediately resign with the weariest of sighs. The specimen at my club was most recognizable for his gruff exclamation of "YOUR GAME" at such moments.
8) The Woman Who Is Definitely Not Coming Back
The Woman That Is Definitely Not Coming Back acts as a sort of inadvertant referendum upon the social fitness of a given chess club and its members. It should be noted that, while this test is almost invariably failed, the failure isn't due to the members being misogynistic as much as it is due to lack of deodorant.
9) The Expert In Need Of Validation
This would be me, of course, but I imagine there are many others. In truth, there is really nothing more pathetic than someone rated 2190 - such a creature might have all sorts of hard-earned knowledge to share, arguably more than those over 2200 that long ago stopped playing seriously, but there is no audience whatsoever for his rantings except those at the local club and/or obscure internet forums. This is a frustrating situation made worse by the artificial pedestal that titled players are put upon. For instance, the fact you're reading this increasingly incoherent article is proof positive of the power of even my very modest "National Master" title to completely suspend the critical thinking skills of literally thousands of chess.com members. Anyhow, The Expert In Need of Validation will relentlessly kibitz any and all games, name drop famous players he's played/lost to, and generally humblebrag in a manner so transparent as to even annoy the Man Who Doesn't Care.
10) The Mark
The Mark is generally someone wealthy yet naive enough to actually pay the Expert in Need of Validation (EINOV) for lessons. These rare beings, especially when also Hopeless Causes, are sometimes the only thing that keeps an EINOV going. Sadly, I never found one in Arcata.
Anyhow, the Arcata club featured, even at its lowest ebb, at least half of these intregal components of any self-respecting chess establishment. Sadly it is closed now, biding its time, waiting for another Mysterious Owner to appear. My first game at this hallowed institution was in 2005 against an Up and Comer and is a perfect example of how to create counterplay for your opponent.