All on my own
I'm 24 years old, and I've been playing chess off and on ever since my sister's boyfriend taught me to move the pieces around when I was 6.
The first game I ever won was against him, where I got what I would later find out to be called the "scholar's mate" which if you don't know, is the fastest checkmate in the game: 1. g4 - e5 2. f3 - Qh4#.
I didn't even know it was a checkmate at the time I did it, and to this day, I don't know if he legitimately made that crucial mistake, or if he was trying to let me win. Regardless, I remember how happy I was when I said, "check" casually, just expecting him to block it, or move his king somewhere, or to take my queen, but after a few seconds, he and I both realized that it was a mate, and I danced around the house all excited, because I (a 6-year-old) had outsmarted a 15-year-old.
Ever since that day, I loved playing chess, but as he and my sister broke it off, he stopped coming over, and I didn't have anyone to play with, so I kept my knowledge of how the pieces moved locked away with little to no strategy really.
That was until I got into high school, and I found out that there was a chess club. I was so excited to be able to play again, and the first game I played, I lost my queen on the 4th move, thinking that I had a mate when I didn't.
I even dreamt about chess and moving the pieces around after that first night of chess club, and I enthusiastically went every day to the club, even playing after school was over with one of the guys in the club. I also found a local city club, and I started going to that every week.
I loved chess. It was a part of who I was. I met some of my closest friends through the city club and through the school's club, and when I was a senior in high school, I was the chess club's president.
During that four-year stretch where I was playing regularly every week, I entered a handful of tournaments, and I managed to win one as an unrated player, going 4.5/5.
I don't recall what my formal rating got up to, because I always told myself that I would check it after that tournament that I won, and then I never did, and I never entered another tournament.
Once I graduated high school and went to college, I didn't have the school club anymore, my friends whom I played with were scattered across the country, and my college didn't have a club of its own. Chess literally came to a crashing hault for me.
It wasn't until I found this site that I began to play again. All of my friends in real life are out pursuing careers or furthering their education, so I still didn't have anyone to play with, and the city club that I attended religiously throughout my high school days had been disbanded.
Much like my first day in the club when I was a freshman in high school, my first few games on this site were full of over-enthusiasm that resulted in enormous blunders and quick losses for me, but I soon settled down, and I am very happy that my online rating is hovering around 1700.
The thing that makes me the happiest about all of it though, is that I have never studied a single chess book in my life. Everything that I've learned about the game of chess, I've learned through experience in all the games I've played.
I see all these references to openings like the Dragon, the French, the Scandinavian Defense, the Sicilian, etc... I literally have no idea which is which. But I can still hold my own against a vast majority of what people throw at me as far as opening "surprises." I rarely find myself in a situation where I feel the game is hopelessly lost or I'm way behind on tempo, material, or position before the midgame hits.
I have my own opening that I love to play, and I've found ways to tweak it to try and counter whatever my opponent does. It's a fairly passive opening, and I've even had someone when I was in the city club argue with me that I should move a pawn up 2 spots instead of 1, because it's "correct" and more aggressive. But I've kept my passiveness for the most part, because I feel as if being careful and slower-paced is better for me since I can't reach into my non-existent library of opening studies and instantly know how to counter my opponent. Of course, there are times when I am more aggressive early on, but that really reflects how I feel at the time I sit down at the board. I like to let my emotional state show on the board, and my closest friends can even tell when something's on my mind based on how I play.
To me, that is the beauty and fascination of this wonderful game. It's what makes it so special to me. To me, reading a book and having someone else detail the errors of one move is not as satisfying as learning from your own errors and your own games. I hope that I will continue to play chess for my entire life, and I also hope that I never pick up a book to study it.
I may be a little stubborn in that regard, but in this game, I wouldn't have it any other way. So, please, show me what is wrong about pushing a pawn 2 spaces instead of 1. Please completely destroy my queen side because I got distracted by a knight that was moved. When I am beaten, I will know that it was all on me, and since it happened directly to me, I am far less likely to fall for it a second time (and trust me, I know when I've fallen for something twice, and I'm never happy about it, but it's just fuel for me next time I get in that situation). And when I am victorious, I will know that it was all on me. Everything that I've done in this wonderfully complex and brilliant game (aside from learning how the pieces move), I've done all on my own. And I couldn't be happier to get back into it!