GargleBlaster's Guide to Chess Mastery: Reinfelding in the Redwoods

Hello, readers!  In the previous two blogs about my 3000 day trek/slog/stumble to the USCF Master title I detailed some untoward experiences of mine in Baltimore and Philadelphia.  This chapter deals with my move to the uttermost regions of Northern California, Humboldt County. 


Chapter Four: "Chess In The Middle Of Nowhere"                                              

In 2005 I graduated from the Peabody Institute of Music in Baltimore and somehow found a job shortly thereafter at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California.  Arcata is a charming town, ensconced as it is among the redwoods which populate the far northern coastal reaches of California.  Unfortunately, Arcata has historically never been known for chess.  One reason is isolation: it is roughly three hundred miles from the Bay Area and even farther from Portland.  Another reason is that everyone is stoned. 

In spite of the above, Arcata has always (until very recently) had a weekly community chess club whose members, though few, managed to comprise most of the better known chess personality archetypes.  "Archetypes?", I hear you exclaim.  Yes, archetypes.  To illustrate what I mean, here are some of the, in my experience, most common:

1) The Mysterious Organizer

The Mysterious Organizer runs the chess club.  You see him every week and he seems like a nice guy, but you get the feeling that behind his affability lies some strange, sordid event in his past which has somehow led to him now running a chess club.   You hope that you never learn more about this, but deep down you know that, eventually, you will.

2) The Up and Comer

The Up and Comer is in grade school or college and is rapidly improving.  Some clubs have several Up and Comers who invariably form a separate and distinctly louder subsection of said club.  Up and Comers are useful for defining various different eras of a club, for after they enter and/or graduate from college they generally disappear, often never to be heard from again.

3) The Homeless Guy

The Homeless Guy is not necessary actually homeless, he just seems like he might be.  In general, he's a source of vast practical wisdom about everything except chess.  Often opens with the Grob.

4) The Floored Master

One of the most important figures of any chess club (and one sadly lacking from mine) is the Floored Master who once ruled the land of chess dinosaurs with his collection of Informants or, before then, obscure chess pamphlets that looked like they were printed on cardboard cereal boxes.  He now serves to donate rating points to those able to survive the first thirty moves of a game against him, as his concentration past that point decreases at an almost exponential rate.

5) The Hopeless Cause

The Hopeless Cause reads every chess book available, watches every Roman Dzindzichashvili video, does tactics trainer three times a day, and might even, bless his soul, read this blog.  None of it helps, though, as some unknown yet extremely powerful force binds his rating to 1500.  Fortunately for the Hopeless Cause, he is usually well off financially even after buying all those books and videos.

6) The Bureaucrat

The Bureaucrat is well dressed, polite, rated 1700 and plays the Colle.  He will decline all gambits and will trade down to practically any kind of endgame.  He has no soul of his own and every time you lose to him he gains a bit of yours.

7) The Man Who Doesn't Care

Regardless of time control, the Man Who Doesn't Care never thinks about his move and usually blunders something around moves eight through, at most, sixteen.  Upon realizing his error, he often will immediately resign with the weariest of sighs.  The specimen at my club was most recognizable for his gruff exclamation of "YOUR GAME" at such moments.

8) The Woman Who Is Definitely Not Coming Back

The Woman That Is Definitely Not Coming Back acts as a sort of inadvertant referendum upon the social fitness of a given chess club and its members.  It should be noted that, while this test is almost invariably failed, the failure isn't due to the members being misogynistic as much as it is due to lack of deodorant.

9) The Expert In Need Of Validation

This would be me, of course, but I imagine there are many others.  In truth, there is really nothing more pathetic than someone rated 2190 - such a creature might have all sorts of hard-earned knowledge to share, arguably more than those over 2200 that long ago stopped playing seriously, but there is no audience whatsoever for his rantings except those at the local club and/or obscure internet forums.  This is a frustrating situation made worse by the artificial pedestal that titled players are put upon.  For instance, the fact you're reading this increasingly incoherent article is proof positive of the power of even my very modest "National Master" title to completely suspend the critical thinking skills of literally thousands of members.  Anyhow, The Expert In Need of Validation will relentlessly kibitz any and all games, name drop famous players he's played/lost to, and generally humblebrag in a manner so transparent as to even annoy the Man Who Doesn't Care. 

10) The Mark

The Mark is generally someone wealthy yet naive enough to actually pay the Expert in Need of Validation (EINOV) for lessons. These rare beings, especially when also Hopeless Causes, are sometimes the only thing that keeps an EINOV going.  Sadly, I never found one in Arcata. 

Anyhow, the Arcata club featured, even at its lowest ebb, at least half of these intregal components of any self-respecting chess establishment.  Sadly it is closed now, biding its time, waiting for another Mysterious Owner to appear.  My first game at this hallowed institution was in 2005 against an Up and Comer and is a perfect example of how to create counterplay for your opponent.


  • 2 years ago


    I'd like to think of myself as an up-and-comer, but i doubt it xD

  • 3 years ago


    I have a worrying feeling I might be No. 5, with a distinct potential to become No. 10.

  • 3 years ago


    lol do u have any floored players? like i mean the guys that r floored and they stay at their floor for like forever

  • 3 years ago


    Excellent writing and blog! I hope notices and rewards your efforts soon :)

  • 3 years ago

    NM GargleBlaster

    It's true, Crescent City is indeed north of Arcata and yet somehow still in California.  As far as the game, good question.  Perhaps with the patience I have since learned from attempting to travel by public transport from Arcata to anywhere else on earth I can now see the advantages of straightforwardly preparing a future g4 with 12. Rg1, 12. Be2, or even 12. h3.   Also possible and perhaps more to the point would be to sacrifice with an unprepared (or semi-prepared) g4 just to open the file.  Finally, also sensible is 12.Bc4 with Bd5 to follow after either an eventual ...b5 or an immediate 12...Be6.

  • 3 years ago


    Actually, Crescent City is the uttermost region of Northern California, I've been to Arcata.

    Nice job by your opponent, as well as entertaining annotations. What would you suggest instead of the 12. e5 lunge, with your new-found patience?

  • 3 years ago

    NM GargleBlaster

    Btw, if you like this or any other blog of mine, please tell (or some other site, though I prefer for a variety of reasons) to hire me as something or other: writer, programmer, teacher, admin, bar room pianist, janitor, whatever.  I need a job. :)

  • 3 years ago


    Oh my god that was hilarious

  • 3 years ago


    Great series!! Laughing

    (I'm probably a hopeless cause--though I don't like Roman's videos. Hoping to graduate to an Old-Guy-Against-All-the-Odds-Up-and-Comer.)

  • 3 years ago


    My Dad used a site for tutors to become a Chess and English tutor as a part-time job in addition to his regular job. Either way, they need the $. Just a question of which charges less to me.

  • 3 years ago

    NM GargleBlaster

    To be fair, I think it's often an excellent idea to hire an Expert for chess lessons.  The main reason I'd hire a Master is simply because they probably need the money more, as no sane Expert is trying to seriously suppliment their income with chess...

  • 3 years ago


    I'm not as active with the local chess club as I should be, but when I was in Missoula, MT, we certainly had the floored master who moonlighted as an expert in desperate need of validation, while I played the mark.  Entertaining read.  Thank you.

  • 3 years ago


    Hehe nice. I don't have many of the players you've encountered at my club. That's partially due to being in a Scholastic Club I imagine, the closest to master we get is parents that used to play Chess more often and the occasional EINOV in search of $$$(students). 

    I wonder how I would be classified by you... (just look at my rating on here vs my official USCF)

    Sigh... I need to find cheap tournaments to get a boost in rating.

  • 3 years ago

    NM GargleBlaster

    As far as I'm concerned, It's not really a chess tournament without at least one drunk Russian master.

  • 3 years ago

    NM Petrosianic

    i've met 1-9, though there is no floored masters at the clubs i attend.  there are two clubs in the area i live locally (a long story in which a club split following some disputes among a few members).  

    another club archetype is one with a club expert/master and 80% of the club up and coming munchkins --- these are the clubs i typically play at, and these generally tend to be more pleasant (kids sometimes like to get my attention, but i really don't care about in-game distractions, i've already seen many strange incidents and the worst these always involve adults [police trying to take opponent away for questioning as he resembled some local suspect for some bank crime and being in possession of a rifle bag (chess set)], first opponent i played at a club i beat and he blew a fuse and quit chess for 3 months, first master i played (him being down 4 or 5 pieces and only with 2 pawns on the board, started talking on his turn, pressed his clock (still his turn), and i flagged).  but i've seen stranger things in mutual time pressure, u have to be aware of the clock and the board with some players.  i should note that 99% of the games i play otb end up amicably, sort of (given the emotional roller coaster given my erratic time and position management, often things get complicated).  but beware of smelly old people, especially those who bring food to the board (thankfully i don't see and play these at clubs, but i have encountered these at tournaments).

    in some parts of nj --- after reaching the closest nj chess club to me (about 45 min away), you can find chess clubs all over nj always 10 minutes down from each other on the highway.

    at some tournaments you can find the drunk russian master, i've already played two who i have seen win tournaments on more than a half-dozen beers altho i've seen them lose to sub-2000 players too.  you get all sorts of characters in chess, not enough females in chess , altho i've played 3 females in a row in a long control event once (none near my age though)  you almost have to play in tournaments and not just clubs to make master unless u play in nj or ny, in some very major city or chess club.  a bit rambling, but... a few insights :-)

  • 3 years ago


    Nice writing.  The game also shows that chess can be fun even when it is not played at the highest level.

Back to Top

Post your reply: