Tournament Chess - An Amateur's Story

Mar 17, 2010, 10:46 AM |

I've been playing chess since I was young (maybe 5 years old I think).  Once I was at the 'beat my dad' stage, I quickly started beating my friends.  I played a little online, and even started a chess club in my high school.  But I still had no idea about the world of chess.  Of course I knew Bobby Fischer was a famous chess player, and I knew some other big names, but despite being a chess fanatic, I really didn't know the first thing about USCF, FIDE or any of that.  Maybe you're like me and interested in starting to play tournaments so I am sharing my experience as I go on.  Also, on a side note, I feel I have something to prove to myself by playing in tournaments.  I've achieved good online ratings but once I realized that they meant nothing I knew I had to challenge myself OTB (over-the-board).

So for starters, if you want to get an official rating in the US you need to be a member of the US Chess Federation (USCF).  There are different annual membership options, overall it's not too pricey.  Next you need to play in a rated USCF tournament or event.  You can search for such events on the USCF website or just do a google search.  But here's a bit of advice from someone that did it the wrong way... look for a good first tournament to attend.  You want to get experience and have fun, not get demoralized.  My first tournament was in 8/08 in Atlanta, the Atlanta Chess Center Championship.  When I spoke to the tournament director about playing he asked what my rating is.  I told him I don't have one since I just joined the USCF.  He then told me that this would not be a good tournament for me and that I should wait for a more beginner one, but I was stubborn, and I paid the price for it.  The way I figured it, everybody starts somewhere and I can't be the first person ever to be playing their first tournament so what's the big deal?  Well the TD magically assigned me a fake 1900 rating which he based off my online correspondence here.  So I entered the tournament with no opening preparation to speak of, no idea what to expect, and not having played a G/120 game maybe ever.  First game I find myself with black seated across from a ~2150 player playing a feeble Benoni defence, and crushed in 16 moves.  2nd game I blundered a piece about 10 moves in against a hyper-accelerated dragon and resigned.  3rd game I lost to a young kid rated 1700-something who played a closed sicilian against me and cleanly beat me in 30 moves.  I didn't have the heart to show up for day 2.

So seriously guys, if you're looking to play your first tournament, don't play in the open section of a club championship.  Maybe look for single G/45 games you can play or something to get your feet wet first.  For everyone's benefit of laughing at me I'd love to post my first tournament game so you can see the destruction of my Benoni, but I think I must've burned the scoresheet in disgrace.  I'll just say this, don't try to delay the move d6 in an attempt for more rapid development unless you know what you're doing.  I promise I'll have games in my next blog post.