PLAYING FOR THE TITLE

Himmler2339
Himmler2339
Dec 7, 2007, 12:00 AM |
1 | Opening Theory

Unlike chess in parks, in coffee shops or in many clubs and adults tournaments across the United States the National Elementary Chess Championship ( consisting grades 4-6 ) is a well-organized and attractively staged event. Enthusiast in cities like Syracuse, Charlotte, Pulaski and Terre Haute bid against other interested groups for the right to hold the tournament. Directors plan for a year ahead to ensure a smooth operation, with playing conditions far better than in most master level tournaments. at considerable expense, more than six hundred children and their parents travel to the event from all across the country, and they are treated with decorum and respect. At the nationals, players compete against one another for seven rounds over the course of two grueling days. To become a national champion you must win all seven games, or at the very least score six wins and a draw. The competition is fierce, and no matter how good you are, it takes luck to win. One sleepy game, a brief lapse of concentration, the careless touch of a wrong piece, and it's wait ti'll next year- unless you're too old to compete in the tournament next year. In recent years, organizers of the championships have taken pains to protect against mishaps and protests. In the primary division, parents are not allowed in the playing room, which reduces the possibility of cheating or emotional scenes. The top games are televised into lobbies and waiting rooms, where the parents can watch their kids, assisted by the expert commentary of chess masters often the teachers of the players on the screen who study the moves with the seriousness of NASA scientists scanning their monitors at the moment of lift off. Often teachers of other players watch the televised games to scout the competition for their own students. Newspaper reporters and television crews do interviews between rounds. Invariably, the proud teachers and parents of the winning children are asked, "Is your kid the next Bobby Fischer?" The pomp and circumstance of the nationals greatly heightens the importance of games between children, and naturally it makes both them and their parents nervous. Parents are both excited and burdened by winning and losing, results which seem to portend the future. Such intensity plays havoc with one's perspective immortality itself may seem like the prize and even the weakest players and their parents dream of winning. In the 1985 National primary Championship, led in Charlotte, Noth Carolina, Josh was the number one seeded player. It is both exhilarating and frightening for a child to be considered the one to beat, to know that the coaches of other top players are concocting deep traps to beat you; that until you lose and get knocked off the first board, all your games are televised and scrutinized by coaches, parents and other players. For these reasons, Josh was nervous in Charlotte; in addition he was disappointed because two hours before our flight Bruce had called to say that a publishing deadline made it impossible for him to be there. Nevertheless, Josh played well. In the first six rounds, he scored five wins and a draw, and going into the last round he was tied for first place with three other children. If he won his final game he would at the very least tie for the championship. In the deciding round he played against David Arnett, a gifted player from Dalton who would later become his best friend. While they played I sat on the lawn outside the junior college where the tournament was being held. The game was televised in the lobby of the building, and about a hundred people were watching the scree, but I didn't want to see it. I leaned against a tree near some other parents whose children weren't competing for top places. they were in a gay mood, laughing easily and exchanging plans for the summer. I envied them for being able to appreciate this pleasant, breezy afternoon and wished I could be more casual, less single minded. But one more win and Josh would be national champion. I felt misshapen by tension and by my desire for my son to win. I tried to respond pleasantly to passerby, but I could feel my heart racing in my chest as though I had just run a mile. The consequences of losing were vague and unspecific but seemed immense, like impending doom or grief. Yet at the same time I was certain that this couldn't happen, and I tried not to allow myself to fantasize about our victory, our ecstatic joy and high fives, the long distance calls I would make to my New York friends with the incredible news; such thoughts were bad luck. Before the game I had walked around the same blocks, past the same trees that I had walked before Josh's wins in the earlier rounds. I reminded myself not to drink water until after the game, another ritual of support. While he played, I played against my superstitions. The game lasted only twenty minutes. I would have guessed that they were still in the opening when David came out of the building with a toothy smile. I asked if he had won. He nodded yes and said something about Josh's having fallen for a trap. Then Josh appeared, his face looking washed-out. He was attempting to be casual and trying not to cry, but he looked defeated, as if some of his life had been taken away. I put my arm around him, gave him a kiss and said that it didn't matter. Later I realized that I repeated this a few times as if it were a question, until he nodded yes, it didn't matter.But it wasn't true and we both knew it. We were both wondering how he could have lost.He had been so sure for himself. He didn't believe that any child his own age could beat him when he was trying his hardest. what could have gone wrong? The great players are supposed to win the big ones; he had heard this on television dozens of times during basketball and baseball games. Did it mean that he wasn't a great one? " Maybe I just don't have it," he mumbled. "sure you do," I said. "It was only one game." He had fallen for a trap that he had studied several times with Pandolfini. Why? Did he have a lousy memory? Josh had always worried about his memory. He didn't seem to be able to learn the openings as quickly as some of the other top players. An eight-year old doesn't feel like a child at such a moment; he feels like a loser. You're not supposed to be careless when you're playing for the national championship, he reminded himself. During his lessons, Bruce had told him many times, "Tiger, one careless move could cost you the nationals. Take your time and think." Josh kept shaking his head. He should have taken a few more minutes and found the right move. Now he wouldn't be able to get the game out of his mind for a long time.

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