Good luck, bonne chance, buena suerte!

Good luck, bonne chance, buena suerte!

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Do you think that luck plays a part in chess, or is it purely a game of skill?  As one of my opponents said recently, “Chess is a game of cool calculation; luck has nothing to do with it.”

If chess were played solely on the chessboard and only by computers, he'd probably be right. In real play, especially tournament play, there may be any number of external factors that can impact on the result of a game.

A few years ago I played in the U1600 division of the New South Wales Open. The NSWCA was offering the highest cash prize every awarded for an U1600 tournament in Australia.  It was expected to attract the strongest eligible field, including many up-and-coming juniors. I had few personal expectations. I'd played in many tournaments in the past and normally finished in the top 15% but rarely won prizes, so I was completely relaxed and expected to enjoy the weekend's chess.

So why, on the night before the competition, was I unable to sleep? I'm a chronic insomniac and that night I managed little more than two hours. The result was that when I got to the tournament I was pretty tired.

The result? Although I had a material advantage in my first two games against low-rated players I blundered in both the end games and had to settle for draws. That was good luck for my opponents, but bad luck for me.

Or was it?

There's a phenomenon, which may be an urban myth, known as the Swiss Gambit. A player is supposed to throw his first game so that he gets an easier passage through the field—for the nature of Swiss tournaments is to pair winners against winners, losers against losers. Maybe my luck would prove to be good instead of bad.

I slept well on Saturday night and managed three wins on the Sunday. Maybe that Swiss Gambit was working for me after all.

But in New South Wales, tournaments are notoriously slow to start and even though all the players were there on time the tournament start was again held up. That meant that everybody was going to have a late night. Bad luck for those of us with long distances to travel but, I suppose, good luck for those who lived nearby and would face weary opponents the next day.

My third opponent played Philidor's Defence (1...e5, 2...d6) but had never seen Legal's Mate. Good luck for me, this time, because the game was all over in ten minutes. Even luckier, it was the final game so I was in bed early and turned up on Monday completely refreshed and feeling dangerous.

Luck didn't seem to be a factor any more. Whatever the result I would have no excuses.

I won the first game which placed me on the top board for the final round. That game proved to be a long, hard grind. Perhaps there was an element of luck even there because, no matter how many times I analysed the game later, I couldn't work out why I had brought my queen into a counter-attack without any realistic plan to make use of her. Even now, I can't see what I hoped to gain by it. Fortunately (another “luck” word) my opponent didn't understand it either and made the wrong response allowing me to win. So I ended up finishing 1-2 with the guy who won on Board 2.

I was lucky!

And so, my friends, if you and I sit down at our computers to play a game of chess I will continue to wish you good luck—but my fingers may be crossed as I wish it.

(The games are available under New South Wales Open in the box to the right of this page.  Don't expect masterpieces—it was a restricted-class tournament.)


There are many examples of luck in world chess, but this post would be much too long if I catalogued them here. If you can think of some, please add them below.

Do tell us what you think about chess and luck.  Is it all skill?   Is it all calculation?   Is there an element of luck that creeps in?  Let's have your thoughts.


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You won't find any advanced chess analysis here, but there'll be plenty of stories about chess and chess players -- often with an off-beat twist.

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