Confessions of a Chess addict

| 15 | Chess Players


                                         The Journey begins...



    I was just back from our soccer practice and about to go to the movies with my buddies, when I got a call from one of my friends. We were going through our discussion on which movie we'd go for and what time we need to pick up the girls etc., when one of the sane ones prompted , “dude, are you done with the partial diff eqs?” That was a rude shock which promptly got my attention! "I haven't finished my assignments to be submitted on Monday!" You see Saturday was our last chance to have any schoolwork done cuz the entire Sunday went into soccer training and league matches the whole day, by the end of which we had barely enough energy left to lift our eyelids (usually necessary to watch TV)... and attempting to solve 28 partial differential equations [pde] was not my idea of recuperating from a soccer game. So yeah, we had to scrap our plans for the movie and get back to the math problems. One of the locals suggested a cafe that we could go to.. and we headed to the cafe armed with notepads and TI-89s (man did we look like the quintessential geeks or what?)... slide rules might've been replaced by TI-89s, but nerds all over still have the burning desire to finish calculus problems on a saturday night than hit the bar! Feynman - your legacy still remains in the hearts of the true physicists!

    Nestled between a row of convenient stores in the middle of an industrial block, this cafe was conspicuous by the absence of any other sort of entertainment on that block. And winter meant there was nothing better to do than sip coffee and talk politics or philosophy in a cafe...yeah well that was my notion of cafe till I reached this place. Standing guard at the entrance was a 'goth' complete with black leather apparel, with a chain whose one end connected his nose ring while the other creeped inside his trousers. I don't even wanna know where the other end lead to! Anyway, we entered the cafe to a loud blast of death metal at such a volume that I could barely hear my own thoughts, much less anyone talking to me! We gave this look to our friend of utmost loathe who returned a sheepish smile. How were we supposed to do any work in a place which looked like a nuclear shelter that has just been bombed back into the cold war era? As we were about to return to our car, I heard someone calling for me. To my amazement, I saw one of my physics buddies Danielé waving his arm from one of the tables. He looked practically dazed & stoned which wasn't new to us physics buddies – anything to get away from solving Schrödinger! Before I could even tell him about our 'plight' , he sensed it and blurted out “ chill man, Prof Ledyaev is outta town for the whole week at a conference in San Francisco. so we can all partay...” Those words were like finding oasis in the middle of Sahara! I was so elated I almost kissed our waitress right then and there! Anyway, we joined our tables and ordered more caffeine (well, underage kids can't be too choosy about their beverages, can they?)

    Amidst our loud debates on soccer, physics and almost anything you can think of, I saw this super-hot girl playing chess with a gruff-looking guy. Chances of seeing a preppy teenage girl – the sort you'd see at malls loading up on her weekly supply of designer accessories – playing chess at a cafe like this were like a million to one. even less than sighting Halley's comet twice in one lifetime!! Curiosity (part mental and part hormonal) led me to her table which was now quite crowded. The game was going at a frenetic pace with both players banging clocks almost every second. It was the first time I had seen people playing chess with clocks. It turned out to be a 5 min game which was won by that guy. It was amazing. After the game everyone started analyzing the endgame. Statements like  "Rook to d4 and then back to d3 could've led to a zugzwang for the black king etc” were thrown in by kibitzers.. eventually they all started disagreeing over the whole thing. To settle the matter they decided to call for Rev. Someone explained to me that rev was short for 'reverend' ! – I couldn't imagine a priest playing chess while listening to death metal in such place! What was the world turning into? Anyway this guy Rev was about 40-45 yrs old..complete with a 3-piece suit and a fedora hat straight from one of those 50's movies..a la Capone! I thought to myself, - ' I trully am in a Lewis Caroll novel!'.

    So Rev smiling benignly at everyone, hugging people left and right..came over to the table, sat down and started analyzing the game ..eventually reaching to a conclusion while others watched with rapt attention. Apparently, he also gave lessons to some people over there, one of them being that girl. I chose to stand next to the girl than sit comfortably in one of the chairs (for obvious reasons!) and kept listening to what others were recommending, with one eye... err not on the position of the chess-board, are you kidding me? After about 5 min of Rev's clarification everyone seemed to nod approval at his suggestion. Well, almost all except this one obnoxious kid who flatly told that the whole tree of analysis fails to the simple Kh8, without any respect for authority or the eclectic surroundings. Now everyone was staring right at me..while I was checking that girl out. Oh yes that obnoxious kid was me, of course! Rev looked at me, gave me this quizzical look and then looked at the board, and sure enough approved that his line of tree wasn't a forced one at all. He seemed to think that I wasn't really bad at chess analysis and then asked me to play a game against him. I wasn't so sure till I saw that girl looking excited at watching me play (or lose like an idiot to her mentor!) Needless to say I was scared..partly cuz I only played chess casually back then but mostly cuz I didn't want to lose right in front of that girl. Yes, yes..the same guy who frowned upon chess now wants to win just to impress a girl.  I'm sure you'd do the same if you'd seen her. There are only few words like 'divine' that could describe her. And not to mention this Rev guy looked like a seasoned chess player who not only studied the game but also taught it to others! My entire chess knowledge was from newspaper columns till that time. I was more of a sham artist who memorised Kasparov's and Anand's moves till my opponent deviated which time I was at least a pawn up and sometimes even a piece up (it was enough for me to win the game with a pawn advantage against most of my friends..we never played seriously to find out what our ratings were anyway). But my reliance on 'book' moves gave me an edge against them who preferred to duke it out on their own from the very start.

    By this time, even my friends were rounding up at the table and eager to see how this would unfold. Most prolly wanted revenge for their own losses, but we physics buddies wanted to stick to each other in times of crisis... you get the point. I sat down and Rev wound the analog clock for a 10 min game. Now, you see that unbeknownst to him my advantage was in timed games where my memory could churn out moves in a flash [all read in the Times from a recent supertournament in Europe] and by the time my opponent could figure it out, I was up time and sometimes even material. So, there I was with white pieces..I went for the best move there is – e4, hit the clock and looked at Rev, secretly hoping he'd go for c5 then I can unleash Kasparov on him! To my horror he went for d6. I was stumped on move one! I had seen c5, e5 even e6 but d6 was weird for me (perfectly natural since most chess games I'd seen were of the top 10 super GMs who rarely played anything except c5 or e5 against e4). So the game went on with me playing basically the same stuff I'd play against e5 or e6 without even thinking what the best moves were. But to the astonishment of all, my moves were making Rev quite uncomfortable indeed and I think the time control was making him move fast without actually sinking his teeth into the position. By the eleventh move I had him completely helpless, delivering the checkmate on the very next move. It was then I took a deep breath and heaved a sigh of relief. (internally I felt like Tarzan inflating his chest, beating it and yelling out loud but sanity prevailed) Everyone was astounded, including me that I beat Rev and that too in 12 moves! as for that girl..who was the only one that mattered to me at that moment, she was practically beaming at me.. a very positive sign I must say.




    Rev was very gracious in his loss and said that I played very well. I told him that the truth that I was basically scared beyond wits to face an actual competitive chess player for the first time. He turned out to be a 1400 USCF player.. so I was kinda relieved that I wasn't as bad as I thought. We later analyzed other games and talked about chess scene in our town, while sharing anecdotes of our past encounters. He invited me to join the chess ladder at the cafe which it seemed was bustling with about 20 players. I was elated but I wasn't really motivated to play chess seriously. Rev seemed to take his chess pretty seriously, always travelling with a board, pieces, a clock and few books, hoping to run into a fellow chess afficionado. It was the first time I saw someone so dedicated to the game. He regularly studied the game but was more of a coffee-house player sacrificing at will with fearless abandon. It create chaos and he usually nicked top dogs at tournaments, but I found it to be unsound against solid play. People who play such attackers want to punish their audacity and thereby end up in even worse positions than their attackers. I thought the best way to deal with them is to keep it smart and safe..and trade as much as you can. When I traded Rev's queen it basically made his attack quite impotent and he was now on the defensive! a situation which attackers hate to be in. Of course, Rev was quick enough to pull out his MCO-13 and check the line we played, making notes in his book. I am sure I would never beat him again in 12 moves.

    To be honest, I thought that it was a bit too fanatical for my taste. After all chess was something that I always hated since I could remember. The only reason I even ventured into it was that my best friend at middle school was the school chess captain. Being extremely competitive and having beaten him in academics and sports, I couldn't let him have this small edge over me. I had to know how to play chess. I sought newspapers and internet articles on chess, taught myself the notation and started playing chess with my friends. When I did meet him again, we played a game and after I beat him was now content with leaving it. I still played it casually but wasn't really captivated or anything by it. That all changed when I saw that girl across the table!

    Anyway, remembering my initial incentive for chess, I went over and started talking to that girl. I found out that she lived right around the corner and was often at the cafe playing chess. She was clearly fascinated by the game and now that I've beaten her mentor.. kinda fascinated by me! It took great effort to hold my tongue inside my mouth at that moment! Now I knew how my dog felt when he was shown his favourite treats..I could swear I might've resembled him in front of her.. so yeah..I went back to see her at the cafe, again and again...and chess was on the menu too (albeit as a side-dish of course)! Tongue out