10 hours of driving, 9 hours of chess and 3 hours of craziness!
Barcelona is a very nice place to stay with plenty of things to do. For the last couple of weeks we have been engaging ourselves in different leisurely activities here ranging from swimming in some of the best beaches to cooking, napping and ofcourse chess training. Barcelona may be reasonably an economical place to stay in the European Union, but in comparison with India it is still rather expensive. With chess not topping the list of highly payed professional sport, we still belong to the category of budget travelers.
Our summer chess circuit starts on the 25th of June at the Montcada open and from then on we split up and play in different tournaments with each of us averaging about five or six tournaments over the next three months. So we have been checking out plenty of websites and clubs to find some rapid or blitz tournament in our spare time to keep ourselves engaged and also make some descent prize money.
Finally we came across this rapid tournament in Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux last weekend (14th June). The coordinator of the tournament, also an IM Laurent Guidarelli was nice enough to respond to us quickly. We decided that renting a car would be much more feasible rather than taking an expensive bus trip to a near by city and still wander around trying to get to our final destination. Having driven in the US for several years, the driving conditions were normal for me unlike Arun who had to get accustomed to the Left hand drive conditions. With me and Kidambi well know for just for analyzing and analyzing every tiny little thing in the equation and never really reaching a conclusion, we were undecided about our trip till the night of the 12th. Finally we made a call and reserved a Volkswagen Beetle convertible with Europcar and were all set to drive and explore the Spanish coast ride and the French country side.
The next day when me and Kidambi went to pick up our car, we found that the car we had booked was not available and we had to instead take the Volkswagen Polo which in my opinion was a very descent car also. However to our dismay, the final confusion kicked in when we found that there was no GPS available at that rental location. The beautiful coastal ride and the nice cross country driving experience on one hand and the fear of being stranded in some god forsaken place without a cell phone or power in the laptop without a GPS at midnight (we actually tried very hard to accomplish this!!!) on the other hand, me and Kidambi started calculating the pros and cons again (Chess skills can also have some negative effect at times)
We finally decided to take the car even without the GPS, but not before letting a couple of customers slide through while we were deciding. There it was, the road trip had begun. We had a detailed map and a mobile (USB) internet connection till the border of Spain but nothing in France. With an iPhone, an iTouch and a couple of laptops that lasts 4 hours each with the battery, we figured the drive was not going to be a big problem. As we had expected the coastal ride was very pleasant, we took the longer route which went right in the coast instead of the much faster toll road. In the end we covered the whole 500 kms in about six and a half hours reaching Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux at around 11 pm. We checked in to the room and slept like logs for the next 8 hours.
The next day, the tournament started at 9 am. Etienne Bacrot, the strongest French Grand Master with an elo of 2728 was also participating in this one day rapid event. We found out later that he was vacationing in and around that area and decided to take a break from his rest to play some chess! I tell you, chess can be an addiction at times.... Anyways, the tournament started and we literally played back to back 9 rounds with 20 minutes each for each game. The whole tournament was done before 5.30 pm the same day. Extremely tiring to play 9 hours of chess without much of a break, but that is the point of an one day rapid event!
Kidambi went undefeated in the tournament with a creditable draw against Bacrot. Arun had a good tournament except for one unfortunate loss against Delorme Laurie and they both finished 6th and 7th respectively. I started off reasonably with a few narrow escapes and finished off well to beat Yannick Gozzolli and a draw against Etienne Bacrot in the last round to finish second. The rankings and photos are available in the tournament website, http://www.echecs-tricastin.org/
So far I have talked about the few hours of driving and chess, but if you are wondering about the craziness part, here it comes....
With all of us making some prize money and a pleasant driving and tournament experience thus far, we set out on our journey back. We decided that it was not safe to drive back continuously after having a hectic tournament schedule, so we decided to take a break for dinner in Montpelier. As we were approaching Montpelier we noticed that we were running out of gas and unfortunately for us we had already entered the city then. Without a GPS, internet or a cell phone we really had to rely on asking people to find a nearby gas station. As we entered the city, we noticed a gas station on the other side of the road, but we just decided to skip that and look for one on the same side of the road (Probably spoilt as I am used to seeing four gas stations in the same intersection in the US). After asking directions to a couple of people on the road, we still managed to get lost and not find the gas station. Eventually we ended up in the commercial center in Montpelier and decided to take a break for dinner first and then continue our pursuit for gas. It was getting dark and we still did not realize the magnitude of our problem.
It was around 9.30 pm when we finished the dinner, we started asking more people and at some point a poor guy on the road got totally scared as Arun started running towards him to ask for directions, apparently he thought that he was getting mugged by a group of Indian gangsters! As the light started to fade away, I slowly started to panic. And all the instructions that we received to reach a gas station was in vain. The fuel indicator by now had come very close to zero and from my experience I believed that I had a maximum of 50 kms left in the car. Arun was sweating all over in a fully air conditioned car and I started giving crazy ideas like going back to the highway and look for gas stations along the way. Kidambi was the only calm guy at this point and he suggested to stay within the city so that if something wrong was to happen we could still check into a hotel for the night.
The never ending pursuit for a gas station was clearly frustrating me. With the fuel needle hitting the zero mark, I took the highway in the opposite direction away from Barcelona! We turned back to Montpelier as Kidambi rightly insisted and finally reached the same place where we found the gas station on the other side of the road. A sigh of relief in everyones face, we just took a U turn ahead and reached the gas station. The final stroke in this dramatic story was when it refused to accept anyones credit card. Bam! it hit me then, I had read online that the automatic gas stations in France do not accept the regular credit cards, they have cards with a chip on it, not just a magnetic strip. So, there we were looking at our faces in the gas station with the car that can barely go for another 20 kms and nothing we could do about it. Finally we explained our situation to the next car that pulled into the gas station and luckily the guy spoke English and he was kind enough to help. We took off from there and all three of us could not stop laughing. We reached Barcelona around 1.15 am and our agony was streched further trying to locate a parking space for the next 45 minutes near our apartment.
In hind sight, it seems very simple to locate our mistakes to have avoided all this panic, but in the spur of the moment, I guess we just did not realized the seriousness of the situation. Three Grand Masters who are supposed to make the most logical moves over the chess board ended up
Not noticing the fuel reading when we took off from the tournament hall
After seeing the gas reading and a gas station, we decided to halt for dinner knowing that the sun was going down in a few minutes and we may have nothing but automatic gas pumps left open in the city.
Deciding to go into a highway without fuel, cellphone or Internet instead of staying inside the city.
It is a rather lengthy post, but I would like to summarize just like my favorite TV show character, JD (John Dorian) from Scrubs. We may have plenty of skills within us. Some people come to me and ask “You are a chess player, you should be good at logical and analytical thinking, right?” not that I am not good at these things, but it is not necessary that I use them at all critical moments. But in the end, we are just humans and we hope we learn from our mistakes.