Before last night, the last time I had played a serious, competitive game of chess was August 2012. Over a year. It's the longest gap since my first tournament as a 12 year old.
This past week, as I prepared myself to play, it was a very strange feeling. I had no idea what to expect. I did not know if I would be stronger or weaker than my opponent. I did not know any openings. I wondered what it would be like to play a serious game. It was refreshing and new: like entering the chess world for the very first time again.
I remembered the first time I walked into the kids' chess club, and the first time I went onto the UC campus for an adult quad. The feelings matched what I was feeling now.
My principal chess preparation was to do tactics trainer. I did badly on each occasion. I had little patience (the ticking timer did not help with that). I overlooked obvious things for myself and for my opponent. The experience gave me no confidence at all.
And so I went into my game with a mental approach that I have found helpful across a wide variety of competitions and challenges, and now dub "the humble approach." It's to assume that you are in a tough situation, that your opponent (or the challenge you face) is superior to you, and that you should just do as well as you can. Play as many good moves as possible, or score as many points as possible, or make the game as long and difficult for your opponent as possible. Eventually you will lose, but you are not afraid of losing, you are just trying to make a good match of it. This approach brings a surprising number of wins
Playing was really fun. My patience and concentration reappeared from out of nowhere about 10 minutes into the game. I was still nervous, and double-checking, and calculating poorly, but I was trying. I calculated something, rather than totally giving up on calculation and avoiding confrontation. And while there were some holes in it, I was not mad at myself for that: I had lowered my expectations. I just think it will be fun to learn to play chess again, and rebuild a few of the skills that I used to have. I'm really looking forward to playing more.
Here's my game from last night:
The match was incredibly tense. A few minutes in, I considered us serious underdogs, since our rating advantage was on the first two boards, and I knew my rating no longer meant anything, while Jesse was struggling with repeated lengthy disconnections. These would have thrown anybody off-- I could even imagine just giving up and walking out when you can't even see your chessboard or make moves. He had to move into a rowdy room with a hundred other people to be closer to the internet and finally "settle in." Ultimately, he hung in there, and defended his horrible position for a long time. With the match tied 1.5-1.5 he even turned it around, and won a very close endgame with both players on their last seconds. The whole Mechanics family rushed to congratulate him on his heroics as he lifted us to a 3-0 start on the season.
Nice. At least we won 3 matches this year, that's something!