What Was Your Chess Spark?

What Was Your Chess Spark?

Jul 18, 2008, 1:30 PM |

Not long ago, Sigma Xi, a research society of nearly 60,000 scientists worldwide that includes several Nobel Prize winners, asked their members to document how they first became interested in science.  Was it a teacher?  Something they read?  The membership responded with a flood of fascinating anecdotes.  You can read all current submissions that have been collected into the document, What Was Your Spark?  (Search on my name, and you can read my own science spark.)

I thought it would be interesting to ask chess.com members to document their chess spark stories.  Just tell your story by adding a comment below.

My own chess spark is this.  Four years ago, I enrolled my younger daughter (chess.com name:  eskici) in a weekly chess class for children.  She’s exceedingly bright, excels in geometric thought, and I knew that she could become a good chess player if the game captured her interest.

At the time I knew how to move the pieces (exception:  en passant!) and that was about it.  Growing up in small-town Iowa in the 50’s-60’s was not conducive to becoming a chess master.  My parents gave me a chess set, but there was no one for me to play with.

I took my daughter to class each week, and sat inconspicuously in the back of the room.  I listened attentively as Lou Cyccone, a well-known chess instructor in Michigan (and who has encyclopedic knowledge of the game, incidentally), gave a mini-lesson to a small group of elementary-age school children.  One early lesson concerned the concept of development in the opening. 

That made sense to me.  I sat up, more attentive than before.  Another time Lou discussed mobility of pieces, pointing out that one young member’s bishop was acting primarily as  a “giant pawn” protecting the pawn adjacent to it rather than seeking out a more active square.

I was hooked.  After a few weeks, I began to play chess on my PDA, rather than watch the class.

The class was held in a large room next to the local chess store, “All the King’s Men” in Warren, Michigan.  Giving up the PDA, I started to lurk about the tables in the store, watching the mostly male members play skittles each Tuesday night while I waited for my daughter. 

The players as well as the game fascinated me.  They were from all walks of life, and chess skill, rather than socio-economic status, was what counted in this room.  I saw speed chess for the first time and felt like laughing out loud at the impossibility of it.  The trash talk amused me.  Creativity over the board and the tongue was everywhere in the room.

I browsed the lengthy book collection, purchased a few, and began to study.  I played against my PDA at home, becoming extremely excited when I won my first game.  I continued to haunt the club each Tuesday night.

Finally and with great trepidation, I garnered the courage to actually play a game at the club.

I was easily crushed by my opponent.  I played again and was crushed again.  I lost 21 games in a row before my first win against someone even more ignorant than myself.  But I was not deterred.  I bought more books and hardly a day went by when I did not study, play, or both.

Eventually, I won an occasional game at the club and I was elated.  Even if I was defeated, I felt happy if I made my opponent work for the win.  I was determined to improve.

That was four years ago.  Today I have myself on a daily study plan with a different activity each day of the week, and I play daily on chess.com.  Chess is now a passion for me.  The Passion of Chess.

That was my chess spark.  What is yours?