Seafair Open 2014
I started my comeback tournament exactly the way I had started my very first tournament: by losing, in this case to a 1700 player. I learned a number of things from this game. Chess clocks have gotten a lot more complicated ("increment" and "delay" were not yet in play in the 1980's). 40/2 is a very slow time control if you've been playing a lot of speed chess. And I wasn't playing very well. The big question in my mind: was I rusty, or just massively over the hill?
I managed to win the second game, an Alapin Sicilian--the blitz experience was useful after all. I had always feared the SIcilian, and when I started playing blitz online took up the Alapin to avoid my opponents' preparation. Though I'd never studied it, it was good enough to beat a 1200-rated player.
The third game was the moment of truth for me.
A rather straightforward game: I made an opening mistake, lost a pawn, and my opponent exploited it. I said to him, "I was searching relentlessly for cheapos but you wouldn't cooperate."
He frowned at me and said, "I saw that was what you were doing, and it cost you the game. You could have drawn if you'd made up your mind to do so rather than assuming you could cheapo me off."
This took me aback because it was so true. I'd not only been playing blitz and skittles exclusively, but blitz and skittles against mostly much weaker players. I'd come to assume that any problem could be solved by diligently looking for a cheapo. It dawned on me after this game that even 1500 players know better than that.
Chess is hard. Caring about chess is very hard: the truth of that came flooding back. You can lose in an instant. You have no one to blame but yourself. And after 27 years you are not who you were, not an Expert despite the rating, not even an A player.
I drew the next game against a nervous 1200 player who seemed overawed by the number next to my name, and let me repeat the position when he needn't have done so. I was trying to play better, but it wasn't working.
In the final round I was paired against August Piper, the only person in the room I recalled from playing chess in Seattle in the 1980's. He managed to evade my very limited opening repetoire as Black (the French and Dutch Defenses) and we got into a complex middlegame of an unfamiliar nature. He was attacking; I was attacking; everything was very unclear. Eventually it came down to an endgame, his two knights versus my knight and bishop. I have always been bad at endgames, but I dug into this one, made some attempts to win, was rebuffed. Managed, at least, not to lose.
My final score was therefore exactly the same 2-3 as at my first tournament in 1977. At that tournament I earned a provisional rating of 1116. My performance rating for the Seafair was about 1300. It looked like I was going to have to learn to play the game all over again.
I had forgotten the intense emotional rollercoaster of competitive play: not just winning or losing, but all the intermediate evaluations, the sudden moments of triumph or terror as you see something you didn't see before, or your opponent makes an unexpected move.
I was astonished by how serious and strong my opponents were. I felt like a dilettante in comparison to the degree of study and calculation on display, even from quite small children.
And, just as in 1977, I was hooked.