My OTB Chess Adventures With Strangers

My OTB Chess Adventures With Strangers

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It’s amazing how people we cross paths with can set us off in an unexpected direction, even decades after the brief encounter. It all began here with Hugh - a guy who played chess in the same tournaments as I some 20 years ago. We never talked nor played in the past. Just smiled and nodded. But last fall, we got in touch after all these years and arranged to play OTB chess. My pretty much first OTB game in a decade! I thought it would be a one-time thing and I would go back to my usual mommy business after. But boy was I wrong! That chess meet-up unleashed a HUNGRY, WILD BEAST within me and I got hooked. What followed was a series of chess adventures and encounters that I’m still enjoying today.

Hugh and I met every week after our first meet-up last autumn to play more chess. We played in the park (avoiding the indoors because of the pandemic) until the weather got too cold and we got our first frost bite. He then went on and on about the anatomical differences between men and women and how we react differently to cold. Yeah, I froze my “jewels” too!

Anyhow, this year, I decided it was time for me to branch out. So, I went to our local Facebook chess group and posted an ad that read something like this:

*** Looking for a player with a rating of about 2000, to play OTB chess on weekdays, preferably in [my neighbourhood] and during daytime. ***

Replied two musketeers - Mike and Richard. Woah!

I started with Mike. My quick “police background check” revealed that we have friends in common. I was good to go! But Mike couldn’t make it. To this day he still didn’t make it! Onto Richard…

My First Encounter With A Stranger. It was NOT a date!

"Police check" on Richard revealed nothing. No friends in common (at the time. Now he’s a popular guy!). No clear photo on Facebook. Nothing on the internet.  Suspicious!

I decided to take a leap of faith, nonetheless, and messaged him: “Hey, wanna play chess this Friday at [such and such] library at 1:30?” Dangerous Woman was playing on my Spotify app as I texted Richard. It was like a movie scene! I felt audacious.

Richard replied instantly. “Sure!”

There was no “Hello,” no “nice to meet you,” nothing. Just “sure.”

“Ok,” I said, “see you then.”

No reply back.

I came to the library at the designated time a bit early; set up the chessboard and … waited. And while I waited all sort of thoughts invaded my mind. Will Richard show up? Does he actually know how to play chess? Is he a nice person? What if I lose all my games? Will I be kidnapped??

But the worst of the thoughts didn’t even occur to me until the last minute. Will he think it’s a DATE??

I was horrified. We know nothing about each other, except our ratings! People on blind dates know more about each other than I and Richard did. At least, on online dating sites there is a profile with some description of a person.

Then it hit me. My Facebook profile photo is a cartoon version of myself where I look like I’m 25!

Caption: My age-defying Facebook profile picture. 

Did my Facebook ad give a wrong impression? Did Richard think he’s going on a date under the chess pretext? I mean, why else would a man commute all this way to just play chess with me during work day? And, more importantly, what other happily married woman in her right mind would seek someone to play chess with in person? Am I crazy?

I sat and sat there at the library, sweating and anxious to find out what happens and if Richard will be a worthy opponent and if we can be chess buddi…. I didn’t care anymore. I was about to run away, when he texted me: “Almost there.”

“Oh, sh*t! He’s actually coming.” Somebody SAVE ME!!

This was February 2022. We were still in the midst of the pandemic, everyone wearing masks. And yet, as soon as Richard walked into the library, I instantly recognized him. He had a very distinct feature about him, even in the obscure Facebook photo – his beard. Somehow, that beard “told” me that Richard was working from home, is a programmer of some sort (is also probably a genius!) and ... is most likely young and single. I was right on all accounts.

Caption: My first encounter with Richard. 

We sat down to play. It was awkward. I tried to have a small talk here and there between the games … It was awkward. While he was contemplating his moves, I was examining his face. He wore a cotton mask, so whenever he breathed in, it would hug his face tightly and I could see the outline of his nose and lips. When he breathed out, his face vanished completely under the puffy mask. And the process would repeat. Now I see you, now I don’t. Talk about blind dates. This is much worse!

At the end of this 3-hour meet-up, we parted with an equal score against each other, just as awkwardly as we started.

The next time we met, months later, the awkwardness quickly dissipated. Richard was a jolly chatterbox. He kept impressing me with his breathtaking openings repertoire:

“And now we transposed into the Sicilian,” he said, while playing white against me.

“Damn, I thought I was still playing the Pirc!” I thought.

We giggled and had a good time …

By the way, check out Richard’s new and totally awesome YouTube channel where he shares his love for funky openings!

Life After Richard

Since my first encounter with Richard, I got over the awkwardness and fears that come with meeting up with strangers for chess. It was a huge milestone for me, especially after all the social isolation that the pandemic brought! Since Richard, I attended a chess club and street chess events, and met up one-on-one with several (!) more players my level. I thoroughly enjoyed every single encounter.

Every player brought something unique and different to the table. My youngest opponent was just 18 years old! My oldest – 83!

Caption: playing against Vadim, my most senior opponent. Such an inspiration! Also, notice his ancient chess set from 1950's, USSR! It was such a pleasure to play on this set. It evoked so many memories of my childhood ...

Interestingly, I’ve never viewed chess as a social game in the past. In my active years, 20 years ago, it’s all been about little tournaments and A WHOLE lot of looonesome preparations at home. I must have done it all wrong! For today, I love LOVE all these chess gatherings and meet-ups and getting to know all the amazing and wonderful people. There is such a diversity … wait a second! They were all male!

Anyway, yea, so as I was saying … I love the diversity and hope to form many more interesting chess friendships …  And now I can’t help but wonder – does the fact that I’m a woman make a difference in this? Does it somehow make it more or less likely that all these men will want to play chess with me, again and again? I suppose that’s going to be my next discovery … But so far so good!

Final Remarks

There is always something nice and comforting in hanging out with a person you know from a distant past. As such, in the very small chess compartment of my heart, I will always hold a tiny special place for Hugh.

I do plan to return to competitive chess soon and will probably see more people from my distant past. I can’t wait! But one thing is certain, if it wasn’t for that first OTB game with Hugh in the fall, I highly doubt I would be on this chess path today, so soon, meeting all these wonderful people and having so much fun!

Here comes the BEAST!

Former Canadian Girls Chess Champion (1999 tied for 1st, 2001 1st place)

Busy mom of two

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