(Mis) Adventures in Chess

checkmate

One of my negative traits is that I am very prone to temporary fads. Like Mr Toad I launch into a new discovery with a wave of rash enthusiasm before it eventually loses its allure and I move onto something else. One of the more recent and more lasting fads has been the Royal Game. I learnt the basic moves of Chess as a youngster but never really took if forward after junior school. It was one of those things though that I had logged in the back of my mind in the “things I really ought to look into when I have the time” section along with studying Latin and taking up the Guitar (I am sure they will follow one of these days).

The opportunity arose when a net friend of mine was in hospital and, lying bored in his hospital bed, spent many hours chatting on Internet Relay Chat. The subject of chess came up and he mentioned that he enjoyed the game but did not have anyone to play with. The conversation moved on to the fact that I had always fancied taking up the game again but had always fought shy of Chess Clubs, thinking they were a den of highly obsessive geeky ticks (something not far from the truth if you have ever seen the film “In Search of Bobby Fischer”). However a few clicks around google and various app stores led me to two great correspondence  chess apps: Chess Time and Social Chess respectively and we both registered and played a few games.

Now playing against friends on these apps is easy. You can have a nice little chat with the IM system and, even though I was beaten roundly, the said friend was gracious and and provided plenty of encouragement and support. Even with these informal games I found myself addicted to the drama of chess where one stupid and thoughtless move can have disastrous consequences and it soon became another one of Bod’s fads. I scoured Amazon and indulged in a book buying frenzy that led me to discover such chess writers with such exotic names as Nimzowitsch, Chernov and Pandolfini as well as discovering the great players such as Capablanca, Keres, Karpov and the strange but brilliant Bobby Fischer. All this is fine and dandy so far until I started taking on strangers on  the apps and finding out that the various openings and techniques that I had spent hours brushing up on in the instruction books were roundly ignored by the online players who played their own wild, yet brutally effective moves (whatever happened to “don’t bring your Queen out too soon”?) What is more I was losing regularly and hard and so in a fit of frustration I thought “Why not see how experts play their games?” A couple of days later “The Mammoth Book of Chess Games” through the door and I pounced on the packet as soon as it hit the mat, grabbed my lovely little mini chess set (another recent purchase) and began to plot the destruction my “enemies” (as many described themselves on the apps) using the genius of others.

Again this was all very well until one got into the variations. Of course one can follow the moves of the game and play through it on a chess board and learn a lot but the commentary of these books, which I hoped would instill in me some healthy pearls of wisdom, just made my head swim. Instead of talking through the game as played, the writers go off in a flurry of computer generated algebraic notation pondering what would have happened if the great Karpov had played QD3 instead of QD4 # (check) for example. All very well for a hard core expert but hopeless for a beginner. You need at least three boards just to follow all the variations in these books however try I did using the board, the computer and the ipad…and still I lost.

Despite this and unlike most fads I don’t feel as though I can let Chess go completely. I have never been a very logical or scientific person (and as for my ability in Maths, just don’t ask) but yet the logic and grace of the game of Chess has a poetic beauty that fascinates me in the same way as poetry fascinates in the way it can capture drama and emotion within the strict conventions or Metre and Rhyme. I don’t think I will be able to walk away from this game, it lures one back to try again in pretty much the same way as one is lured back to an attractive woman who plays hard to get. As long as one thinks one has a chance, one will keep on trying. So if anyone fancies an easy win or if you are a player of distinction, who has chanced upon this entry and taken pity on this poor wayfarer  through the game of Chess and who can give me some instruction, please look me up. I am Matteob on both Chess Time and Social Chess. Don’t get too cocky though, I am still reading and my luck may just change!

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