20 Year Anniversary

Dec 21, 2014, 11:09 AM |

In early August 1994 I walked into the Chicago Chess Club at 1149 W. Lunt Avenue in Chicago. The club resided on the first floor of an old greystone apartment building just a few hundred feet from Lake Michigan's shores, in a quiet neighborhood near Loyola University.

The club was impressive. It had multiple large rooms, shelves lined with chess books, and dozens of tables with boards and sets scattered between several rooms. I approached the reception desk to check in to my first chess tournament. A young asian man with a full fu manchu mustache and braided beard sat behind the counter.

"I'd like to play in the tournament," I said.

"Ok, what's your rating?" Fu Manchu asked?

"I don't have a rating. But, here is my USCF ID."

"Hey guys, we have a tournament virgin here!" Fu Manchu broadcast to the dozen other guys standing around the room.

So began my dive into the chess tournament scene. Fu Manchu turned out to be FM Albert Chow, one of the stronger chess players in the Chicago area for many years, though now the Chicago area has 5-6 resident grandmasters and many lesser masters. 

The tournament itself was a G/15, 5 round affair. My chess experience up till this point was, well, not impressive. I learned most of the rules as a young kid from my father but he was a card player, not a chess player, and so I just fumbled around a bit with my siblings.

Then, in my early twenties I started playing chess against a knowledgable player while I was in the military. At the time, I didn't know there was such a thing as chess ratings and over the board tournaments, so I never asked him his rating. I would guess it was in the 1200-1600 range. I never came close to winning a game in our dozen or so matchups. I would always drop pieces left and right and wonder why?

This was around 1990 and my losses incited me to go pick up some chess books at a game store in Berkeley, California, near where I was stationed. But, being busy, I didn't start to read those books until 1994, when I moved back to the Chicago area. And, I hadn't played a game of chess since those few games in the Navy way back when.

So I entered that G/15 tournament and I had virtually no experience. No FICS, no chess.com, no casual games against friends, neighbors, or family. With such limited exposure to chess and no friends or family that played chess, I have no idea why I walked into that chess club on Lunt Avenue.

The results speak for themselves and they are not a surprise. I learned a lot in that first tournament, mostly that I had a lot to learn.
My next tournament was just a few days later at the US Open that was being held in the Chicago area at the time. That year FM Albert Chow and GM Dmitry Gurevich shared first place with several other players. For me, it was an opportunity to play in several of the G/30 side events, in order to get a standard rating.
In my first standard tournament, I was able to win two games!
The main thing I remember from the tournament was that in my first game, against a young girl named Amy Bauer, I was so nervous that at one point I tried to capture my own queen. Fortunately, she noticed the surprising move and had the sportsmanship to tell me. I lost.
Here is my first rated win, from later in the tournament.