When I started playing tournament chess after my 16th birthday, it was a shock to me how horrible I was. In my first three USCF events (all 6-7 rounds each), I won exactly one game in each event. It's difficult to win that few, considering the swiss system always pairs you with someone doing about as well as you are doing so, once you start a terrible 1-4, you play someone else who is 1-4. In those days there were not many sections; of these three events I think only the first event had two sections (I played in the U1800).
But over the winter of 1966-67 I joined the Germantown Chess Club and started hanging out with some of the best players in Philadelphia on Friday nights. Playing one slow game each Friday and staying out late to analyze games with these players was a big turning point in my career.
There was a gap of about 5 months between my third tournament in Oct 1966 and my fourth in Mar 1967. But in that time I had made some definite strides.
My fourth event, the 1967 Valley Forge Open, had two sections and I played in the U1800. Amazingly, by the fifth round I had actually won a second game (admittedly against beginning players, but still...!) and thus stood an unprecedented - for me - 2-2! .500 never felt so good.
In the final round, I was paired with an acquaintance, Tim Strauch. Tim played for chess powerhouse Central HS (a magnet school in Philadelphia, whose chess program eventually evolved into the top program at the other magnet school, Masterman, where the power resides to this day). Tim was rated almost 250 points higher than I, so the prognosis didn't look good, but that's why they play the games...
I did not play the opening very well, and Tim easily won a pawn. But then I started to put up tough resistance and soon the game got complicated. Tim, a slow player, was taking lots of time for his moves, especially around the critical moves 16-19, when I turned the tables.
At one point Tim was thinking for about half an hour on his move - the time control was probably 50 moves in 2 hours. I was strolling around when a mutual friend, Lester Shelton, stopped me, and asked
"Why is Tim taking so long on this move?"
My answer: "I don't know - maybe I made the move that Bobby Fischer would have made in this position!"
Lester's face told what he thought of that: "Yeah, right!" was his obvious sarcasm.
Well, 40+ years later we have inexpensive computer engines that play better than Fischer. And, sure enough, I think I did play the best move on that move. It was probably move 16 or 18, and the engine Houdini 3 indicates were both clearly best. It could also have been move 12, which was not clearly best (although 12...a6 is reasonable); but likely later when things were more complicated and Tim had to gobble some time.
Little did Lester or I know that many years later we would have the technological capability to determine: yes indeed, young Dan did, on that occasion, play the move the move that Bobby Fischer probably would have played. And thereby make Lester's "Yeah, right" go from sarcasm to irony...(PS: Lester was the friend who, 9 months later, told me I had no chance the first time I was paired against a master [I won!]. He died tragically at age 40 from a early heart attack; we had lost touch after he graduated from arch-rival Upper Moreland High School).
Thanks to my "Bobby Fischer move" - and others (although I missed the more accurate 22...Kf8) - I eventually pulled off the upset. Here is that final round game with Tim:
I finished 3-2, obviously my first winning record. That was encouraging after so many bad events. Maybe that terrible beginner had a chance to become a decent player after all...(PS: by the time I graduated high school just before my 18th birthday, I was the highest rated high school player in Pennsylvania )