Thursday, June 30, 2022 09:35

There’s always someone better….

It was a cold and rainy night n the city…. How cliche! But it’s true. That didn’t stop me getting by our local chess cafe. And getting beat.

Here’s the thing. I’m very beatable as a player. Just about anyone who pays any attention at the club where I play at least has a shot at me. All of the other “serious” players at the club can beat me.

It can get discouraging sometimes. Why do I go down to the club, if I expect that I will lose far more than I win? Well, before that question can be answered there are a couple of realities to face.

First, unless your name is Garry Kasparov, Viswanathan Anand, or Vesselin Topalov there are times you will lose games. (In fact, even Kasparov, Anand, and Topalov lose games.) In short, there is always somebody who knows more than you do about chess. If winning every game is all you care about, chess will not be for you.

Another revelation to new club players: There are players younger than you who know a whole lot more about chess than you do. And when I say, “younger,” I mean third graders, junior high school students, and high schoolers. If having an 8-year-old beat you at chess is too much to bear, you probably won’t like club play very well.

So why do it? Why spend evenings playing? I would propose two main reasons.

The first: You can learn.

Earlier tonight I had a game against one of the club regulars. I got schooled, as usual. But “schooled” also implies learning. Bob employed a “Sicilian Defense” against me. The Sicilian is a very common opening when a player leads with their King’s Pawn (1. e4.) And at this point I still always play 1. e4 as white. Instead of directly challenging my pawn, Black plays the Queen Bishop’s pawn. (1. …c5)

The Basic Sicilian

It’s a reasonably complex opening in all it’s variations. Wikipedia notes its popularity, “One sixth (17%) of all games between grandmasters, and one-quarter (25%) of the games in the Chess Informant database, begin with the Sicilian. Almost one-quarter of all games use the Sicilian Defence.” (Here’s the link to Wikipedia’s article on the Sicilian..)

Now, I knew that I could play either knight to c3 or knight to f3 here. I chose knight to f3 (2. Nf3) and knew a pawn exchange would occur on d4. Confused? It’s OK, because now you know almost everything that I knew about the Sicilian.

Bob and I kept playing quite awhile more. (The silly thing was… I didn’t record the moves of the game. Argh! I usually do!!!)

So we played out the game. Around move 7 the position was something like this:
The Yugoslav variation of the Sicilian, after 7. ...0-0

In the midpoint I was completely out of my strategic depth. I lost quite handily, and Bob in fact corrected one move I made that would have allowed mate in 1. Bob made a remark about the Yugoslav variation. One of the few other things I knew was that the Yugoslav was one of the variations of the Sicilian.

So I came home and looked up the Yugoslav on Wikipedia. I learned that even though I was out of my “opening preparation” at move 4, I was actually playing the “book opening” through at least move 11 or so. Bob also helpfully pointed out a move that he had expected me to roll out (and I chose a worse alternative.)

The thing is…. I know a lot more about the Yugoslav (and Sicilian Openings) than I did four hours ago. And this was just a little bit of casual study – not at all intensive.

I can learn. That’s reason one.

Reason two? Well, I got to see Rob, Dennis, Joe, Chris, Bob, George, and of course Colley (and Colley’s kids Jason, Sarah, and Levi, and lots of others I haven’t named…. ;) ) It’s fun seeing the guys (and women) at the club, and talking with some of them! To me, that’s more important than the games I lost or the (very valuable!) information that Bob communicated to me.

Whether it is learning more about chess, or having a bit of social time with a bunch of other adults and kids… whether novice beginner, woodpusher (my level,) or near Expert player… whether it’s raining or snowing outside… Chess is fun!

Ultimately, that’s the reason one learns, plays, and continues to play the game. :)

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