All The Wrong Moves Part Six: Floating In A State Of Static Mediocrity

This is the penultimate post in what has become my longest book revew, ever.

“People love using chess as a metaphor. Supposedly, Brazilian jiu-jitsu is the most chess-like of the martial arts. One chef I knew, upon hearing of my passion for the game characterized his selection of flavors as a “chess game I lay with you mouth, bro.” Part of me hates this tendency. After all, as I’ve mentioned, part of what makes chess wonderful is how much it isn’t like all to this other shit we put up with on earth. Chess has a way of encircling the imagination, of generating fanciful poetics and dubious conceptual linkage.”

Our hero meets Katherine, “…a senior editor at a publication that demanded scrupulously written arts criticism based on diligent research. He “…delivered to her inbox a scrambled piece of mumbo jumbo, larded up with a few pretty sentences so she maybe wouldn’t notice how bad it was. She noticed.”

And a new game of love was on!

“I lived two lives: a public, romantic one with Katherine, and a private, shameful one with chess.”

His chess life “…mostly consisted of playing thousands of games at my computer, huddled and nonplussed. This was not satisfactory. It was lonely and unglamorous and possessed no drama beyond the momentary rages of one game or another. When I told my children about my twenties, I didn’t want to explain that I spent big chunks of it in my bedroom staring at digital chess pieces, surrounded by granola bar wrappers, occasionally noticing the snow drifting by the window. And more importantly, I didn’t want Katherine to see me abasing myself in such a fashion.”

It would appear our hero had come to a fork in the road of life. Or as Yogi Berra (https://yogiberramuseum.org/about-yogi/biography/) said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

“No. If I was going to be a victim of chess, like Duchamp,

I was going to be a proud victim, like Duchamp. If I was going to waste my hours, I was at least going to waste them flamboyantly. Rather than skulking alone in my room, I decided, I would hold my head high. I would play in real tournaments, in countries near and far, for real money, against live, breathing opponents, hopefully with Katherine at my side…”

He did this because, “…chess is about the most human thing you can do.”

And because, “Chess takes the most banal act of all – violence – and makes it a symbolic ballet with a culture entirely of its own.”

The author, “…decided to set myself an ambitious goal that I would almost certainly fail to achieve, the key word being almost.”

“Yes, I thought: in roughly a year, I would play in the Los Angeles Open, and I would beat a player whose rating was at least 2000. That would represent a violent assault against the limits of my truly meagre talent.”

Why a 2000-rated player?

“Well, it’s just such a satisfying number: those three zeroes standing neatly in a line. Also, the prospect brought me a sort of vicious glee, because I imagined that whoever had taken their rating past that second thousand would be quite proud of themselves. Proud enough that they’d feel extra bad when their position came crashing down before me.”

When I began playing Chess seriously as an adult in Atlanta, Georgia, the top players attending the Atlanta Chess Club at the YMCA on Lucky street in downtown were rated near 2000 but there was not one who sported a 2000 rating. Although there were a few players with a rating beginning with a “2” Tom Pate was the top active player with a rating in the high 1900’s. When seeing the first number of my rating a “2” I will admit to being “quite proud.” I stopped playing Chess to begin playing the much more lucrative Backgammon and upon returning to Chess the going was difficult, to say the least. There was a period when bonus points stopped being added which caused rating deflation, making it even more difficult to garner the much needed rating points. When I did finally break the Expert barrier the Legendary Georgia Ironman said, “You did it like a salmon, Bacon, by swimming against the stream!” Tim figured I would have made it over 2100 if bonus points were still being handed out, but that mattered not to me because I had a TWO at the beginning of my rating.

Our hero made the decision to play in a tournament knowing, “All tournaments are created equal. Most are inglorious little affairs conducted in church basements on weekends. You do battle with a crowd of local yokels… Meanwhile, top-tier tournaments are calm,buttoned-down affairs, sponsored by energy companies and banks, taking place in spacious, teal-carpeted venues.”

“Economically, chess is sort of like acting: top people make money, second-rate people teach, and everyone else receives spotty compensation at best.”

The tournament was in Canada. “There’s a menacing lull that precedes all open chess tournaments – a silence tinted by the excitement of incipient conflict felt by a room full of dorks awaiting their fate. Their fate is determined, during those long moments, by the arbiters,

who run an algorithm that determines the pairings. Also, the computers are always beat-up old PCs. There are no Macs in the chess world. The anthropological significance of this is left to the reader.”

And what did our hero learn from the experience of playing in his second tournament?

“This is one of the embarrassing things about coming to chess in your twenties. When you’re in the lower ranks, your opponents are basically of two varieties: children with promise who haven’t yet developed their skills, and adults who are long past their peak, too old to calculate complicated tactics. Meanwhile, you float in the middle, in a state of static mediocrity.”

And…

“Clearly, I needed to stop relying on my own judgment. What I really needed was a teacher – someone who could actually figure out why I was so terrible. One name came to mind instantly: that of Grandmaster Ben Finegold.”


Ben and Karen Finegold in happier daze

Rapid is the Future of Chess

The first game of rapid Chess of the 2018 World Human Chess Championship was the first rapid game of any world championship I have ever watched. It was thrilling and exciting, something sorely lacking in the classical part of the WHCC. Rapid is perfect for current Chess fans. It is certainly perfect for Magnus Carlsen, the undisputed Rapid Champion of the Chess World.

When it comes to so-called Classical Chess and Magnus I am reminded of the famous quote by many time World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik,

who said he was, “First among equals.” Magnus did not best Fabiano Caruana in the twelve games of Classical Chess, therefore, Fabiano should have earned another shot at the Champ.

After the game concluded I stretched out, putting a dark tee shirt over my eyes to rest before the second game. I was not down long before getting up to make my second cup of coffee of the day. It was shocking to see the second game had already started. I do not know how much time there was between games but it obviously was not enough, especially for Fabiano Caruana.

I do not know how much time a player needs to gather himself after a loss but certainly there should be at least forty-five minutes before the next game begins, maybe an hour.

While resting my eyes I reflected upon the weekend tournaments at the House of Pain, aka the Atlanta Chess & (What Other?) Game Center. I envisioned a weekend tournament consisting of ten Rapid games. Each round would consist of two games between the same opponents, with each playing white and black. The first could begin at ten am Saturday morning. Game two would begin at eleven thirty. Round two would begin at one pm, with the second game of round two beginning at two thirty. Round three would begin at four pm and the second and final game of the day would begin at five thirty. The first day would end around six thirty.

Round four would begin Sunday morning at ten am, just as the previous day. After the second game of the fourth round beginning at eleven thirty the next, and final, round could begin thirty minutes later than the previous day, at one thirty pm. The last game of the day would then begin at three pm. The tournament would end around four pm.

A total of ten games of Chess could be played over the weekend, which should be enough Chess for anyone. I must point out that playing an even number of games would mean each player would have the white pieces the same number as every other player. I recall one of the stronger players in Atlanta when I was beginning to play tournament Chess, Tom Pate, withdrawing and leaving before the fifth round when he was assigned black. Tom, a 1900+ rated player, was upset because he had previously drawn the black pieces in several (I cannot recall the exact number) tournaments. Come to think of it that may have been the last time Tom played Chess…The Rapid format would obviate that possibility.

A senior tournament could eliminate the third round, allowing for more time between rounds. For example, the second round could begin at two pm, allowing more time for a decent lunch and maybe some camaraderie, one of the best things about a Senior tournament.

The Chess must adapt to changing circumstances. Rapid games may not completely eliminate cheating, but will certainly make it much more difficult for players to consult a device containing a 3500 rated Chess program. In addition, moving to a Rapid format would eliminate one half point byes and the dreaded Zombie attack of re-entries. As Captain Jean-Luc Picard was so fond of saying: