The King Hunt
Last December I sold my car, which I had owned for a little over four years. It was a 1997 Nissan Altima, and it had taken me on many trips to chess tournaments in places as far away (from Philadelphia, where I lived) as Ohio, Kentucky, and North Carolina. It had also taken me to teach chess lessons and classes. It had even taken me to make deliveries in some courier jobs I have had over the years. We all know it is pretty much impossible to survive on tournament prizes in the U.S, and I have never had much luck in finding students. So over the years, I have taken some jobs delivering things. It didn’t pay much, but it provided a reliable income beyond chess.
One evening, some time in the spring of 2010, I was sitting in my room and studying some chess. I got a call from the courier company asking if I wanted some overtime work. “Sure, what is it?” I asked. A rock band needed their guitars delivered from a random hotel in the northern suburbs of Philadelphia to another hotel in Manhattan. Since I got the call sometime after midnight, I delivered the guitars to Manhattan around three in the morning. The streets were dead as I drove through the city. In a strange coincidence, as I drove on Broadway Avenue, the song “Up Broadway” began playing on my CD. This is a song by one of my favorite musicians, Moondog, a blind homeless guy who was known as the “Viking of 6th Avenue” because of his strange way of dressing (i.e., like a Viking). After delivering the guitars, I drove back to Philadelphia, while the sun was just starting to lighten the sky into a dark blue. I never did find out who owned the guitars.
Another time, in 2009, I played in a tournament in Kentucky. This was, I think, the Kentucky Open. Things hadn’t been going particularly well in the first part of 2009. Although I had won a lot of tournaments in the fall of 2008, I had a slump (though nothing compared to my current disastrous results). Since I was mostly living from chess prizes then, I needed the money badly. I set off on the fourteen-hour trip the day before the tournament, finally arriving and checking in to a random hotel a few miles from the tournament site. In the end I won clear first. In all of these trips I did not stay in the hotel after the tournament – I played the two games of the last day and then drove back through the night. By the time I reached western Maryland it was probably around 4 am. The rest area where I stopped was totally deserted, and was up a long set of outdoor stairs from the parking lot. As I started to climb up these stairs I noticed that the moon was sitting just at the top of them, shining down over the stairs. It was like a stairway to the moon…
When I moved to Europe last year, I left my car in my friend Amanda’s garage, and in it I stored all my possessions I was not taking to Europe. By the time I came back last fall, it had naturally developed some problems from sitting unused for ten months. Well, admittedly it already had some to begin with… Anyway, before leaving again this year, I decided to sell it, since otherwise it would be sitting unused again, and would probably fall apart completely. A guy came and bought it. On the phone he said he was a librarian, but it turned out he was a cop.
So that car which had taken me to perhaps a hundred tournaments was gone, and in its place was $700. But let me show you this game from before that, from early 2008, in one of those far-away tournaments. This one was in Asheville, North Carolina, and was called the “Land of the Sky” tournament. At this point I had not had the car for long – only a few months. It was an interesting time. I lived in the top floor of a trinity in an old section of Philadelphia. It was near the highway and around the corner from a busy street with lots of restaurants. But the place where the house was nobody ever went. I taught a lot of classes then with a local company which will remain nameless here. My days were busy but at the same time I had freedom.
This tournament took place in a rather old-fashioned hotel. The first day had three games, and this was the third of them. My opponent was a player rated around 2250.
You can see some practical instructional value here. That is, the technique of practical chess, which I did not really adhere to in this case. First of all, it is a bad idea to get in such extreme time pressure. At the point where I avoided forcing a draw, I had around ten seconds to make five moves. I was in fact very lucky not to have just lost the game, as has happened many times to me and others (see for instance my game with GM Manuel Leon Hoyos from my article “The Failed Attack (or, the Heroic Defense”). But most importantly, note that, assuming I was dead set on winning the game, I could have at least repeated moves once before continuing, thus getting one move closer to the time control. Finally, on move 35, the last move of the time control, I could have quite easily given a check 35…Qf6+ with no risk. Looking at it now, it is hard to understand why not. If it turns out not to give me any advantage, I can always take the queen on the next move. But I would have time to think. Nevertheless, during the tense situations of a game, for some of us here it is hard to maintain one’s cognitive faculties, as I continue to prove in almost every tournament.