The antechamber to Hell.
I entered the building to a cacophany of sounds: plastic pieces coming into contact with each other, stifled conversations spoken in a seemingly foreign language which I later learned to be algebraic notation, and the back-and-forth application of fingers to chess clocks, not unlike the rhythmic sounds of the wheels on a Pullman rail car.
It was my first visit and I had arrived at the chess club full of confidence, not just in my ability to play good chess but in my irrational belief that I would dominate everyone there – after all, I had beaten friends, family members, and the lone second shift manager at the C & K. I was to be sorely mistaken. I had read about the chess club in the local paper under the title of “things to do this weekend.” What it should have read was “soul destroying, infuriating and deeply depressing hobby that turns normal human beings into hopeless addicts.… meets here.” Looking back I see the deep duplicity of that statement…"things to do this weekend." As if this was some simple pastime that could be discarded upon the completion of a few relaxing games. I didn’t even bring my set, I mean why bother? Soon everyone there would know my prowess on the chess board, my stunning shock and awe opening would surely net casualties like a cholera epidemic after a third world flood. After engaging in the normal salutative pleasantries (a precursor to what I certainly expected would be a 64 square massacre) I signed on the dotted line and joined the USCF. Little would I know what that signature would mean. My reaction upon signing that document should have been more like those exhibited by Russian party members whose forced confessions during the Stalinist purge were gained with a bit more enticement than the promise of 12 free issues of Chess Life (which to be honest is only slightly more exciting than a reading of Das Capital).
My first opponent was an individual named Tom, a man in his early 50’s who, when asked what his rating was, replied that he was an average player, rated around 1500. We sat down and I opened up with my patented queen and bishop attack, not quite what is termed as an attempt at fool’s mate, it was a modified version, more or less downgraded to simply an idiot’s mate, or at worst the “You need to get checked for Asperger’s” attack. Much to my disbelief, my attack fizzled after ten moves and the next twenty or so was an exercise in terminal morbidity on the board. I had never experienced a failure in what was an elaborate tactical plan (bring out three pieces, mate immediately). I got pounded. Badly. Time and again. Thank God it was a simple game of skittles because it made me, well, skittish, so I delayed my entry into the world of tournament chess. I spent the next several weeks getting hammered with pneumatic regularity by anyone who sat across from me. I lost to all sexes (by “all sexes” I mean the possibility that there are more than two, based on my round three opponent in the Nevada Open who to this day I am still not sure about), and all ages. Engineers, short-order cooks, children, even the legally blind. Now when I mention that I lost to all sexes I mean I lost to a woman, a single solitary woman, in fact the only woman in the entire club (this was an absolute shock to me, chess was a gentlemen’s game and hazy recollections of some sort of pseudo-scientific studies more reminiscent of phrenology than of common sense had convinced me that women could not be good at this intellectual pursuit).
Her name was Amy and I hated her. Why? Because she beat me every time I played her, in fact it took me the better part of two months before I got my first victory. I could not fathom that a woman could actually be better than me in every facet of the game. But she was, and she let me know it time and again. What was worse she somehow interpreted my approach to the game as being somehow sexist (her being right didn’t help matters) and verbally lambasted me every time we played, I don’t know how she got the idea that I came to the board with a full set of pre-conceived notions; it probably was my penchant for howling like a biblical prophet every time she beat me. I couldn’t stand her. She talked trash, laughed at my dumb moves (which was continuous to the point that it sounded if I had employed my own personal laugh track) and every time I walked into the club she would loudly announce her greeting…”you again?” to the entire club. It was the kind of introduction that would not only express surprise that I was back for more beatings at the board but also implied that I was the individual who drank from the same glass the village idiot uses.
Little did I know she would end up becoming one of my best friends.