A new chess.com member reflects on their experiences
“Most gods throw dice, but Fate plays chess, and you don't find out until too late that he's been playing with two queens all along” [Terry Pratchett]
So far, I have managed to escape most of the addictive habits that the Internet spawns in the fertile human psyche, however since joining chess.com I am beginning to reconsider this viewpoint. Apart from the obvious benefits of being a member – a huge amount of chess related resources, a committed community and the chance to improve your game, there is is one factor that has me gripped tightly gripped in a bear-hug of obsession – the variety of playing styles of the players and the roller coaster of adrenaline that goes with it.
As a young lad, it was my uncle who taught me how to play chess. An accountant by trade, he was a meticulous and methodical player. In the early days of teaching me to play, he did not pander to my younger inexperienced chess mind by playing softly, rather he let me make my own mistakes and then gently explained where my strategy, tactics and moves were lacking. This indeed was a baptism of fire, and for a less tenacious child this might appear a brutal tactic, but I blossomed under this approach. After a while I was winning games, and while I never managed to gain the upper hand, we ended up fairly evenly matched.
This provided a strong foundation for when I entered secondary school, as there was no chess club at junior school. A chess club! How my heart rejoiced as this skinny, bespectacled youth found a niche at last. But alas, my peers had much more practice than I, and were seriously into openings and chess theory, so at first it was very difficult to win any games. Over time though, I managed to climb the greasy pole of the in-house chess tournament, and eventually represented our school in an external tournament. I was so proud getting into the blue Ford Transit minibus, neatly dressed in full school uniform as our small team visited another school. Unfortunately we lost, but that particular recollection is probably my favourite from all of my school days.
In adulthood, I played chess with a few friends, and one appointment became a regular fixture on Friday pay-days at the end of the month. The whiskey tournament. My friend and I got together in his small room over a bottle of finest scotch and a beautiful wooden chessboard. The loser purchased the next bottle for the next months match. Many Friday nights were spent drinking, chatting but more importantly playing the game of Kings.
Sadly career, and family took centre stage for may years, and while I dabbled with computer chess, I found the game play too cold and methodical – once you understood the algorithm the game was easily won ( I remember my disgust at beating an early machine with a variation of Scholar’s mate). At other times the machine was so patently ruthless and blunder free, there was no joy there. None of my friends, family or colleagues played - although a close friend did seduce me into the backgammon camp – so until recently I had not played regularly for many years. What resurrected my passion was the number of people observing my backgammon set on my desk who remarked “Is that a chess set?” and I realised there were a few closet chess players where I worked. After having a few games at lunchtime, a fellow chess player and I decided to play online in the evenings, and that was when I discovered chess.com.
So as a new member what have I discovered? Well, like any community, there are the sore losers, those that try to game the system and the time-wasters. Thankfully though, these characters are very much in the minority. Sadly, when you play like that, you are only cheating yourself, and missing an opportunity to learn something. The majority of members are helpful, graceful in defeat, and sportsmanlike in their approach. What fascinates me though is the different playing styles between players and frequently nations. This variety is what has inspired me to write this article, as I believe it is part of the “missing link” in becoming a really good chess player. For the majority of my life, I have only played English or Scottish players, and while the openings are often different, the style of play has been – well very British. Reserved. Little aggression. Aim to develop your pieces, and look towards the middle game as to where the real “meat and potatoes” of game play lies. No so on chess.com. Some of my favourite games have been a roller coaster of thrust and counter thrust, a huge adrenaline rush of two equally matched players slugging it out in round after round like two medieval knights fighting to the death, until one makes a tactical blunder then bang – darkness fills the eyes of the opponent and unconsciousness descends as the game spirals towards the grave of defeat. Beats an evening of soap opera's any night of the week.
Chess is indeed the game of Kings. Not just entertainment, it has a secret up it's sleeve as it embraces you and challenges you to discipline your mind, curb your impulsiveness, prepare for the unexpected, develop tactics and strategy but most of all - to take a deep breath and observe the balletic beauty as each individual game unfolds. It is a meeting of minds, a play that is stronger than the sum of the individual parts.
I look forward to our many games together, be they in victory or defeat.