Monday, March 31, 2008

Save Two Birds With One Move

I was going to name this one “Don’t Panic! Part Deux” in honor of Leslie Nielsen’s latest movie “Superhero Movie”, but I decided recycling titles was lame and besides, Nielsen was never in “Hot Shots! Part Deux”. Although panic was probably the underlying systemic error, I realized that I repeated another kind of sporadic error that I should have learned from years ago.

Here is the older error from three years ago at Far West Open 2005. I was playing Black and was down the exchange and a pawn, but I set up a combination that should win back some material and give me equal chances. However, I only saw the beginning part of the combination. White has just taken a pawn on 27.Rxa7.

Black to move and gain material. Try to accurately analyze at least five ply. My error and solution are at the bottom.

Round 4 of Far West Open 2008 was against another kid, a 9th grader. Not that I’m well traveled or that I follow the Bay Area scholastic scene, but I had never heard of him until this tournament. My main source of information was Michael Aigner’s blog of this very tournament. I knew this kid must be quite strong because he came out on top of the blitz tournament ahead of both Michael and a Fide Master.

The next morning, a fellow club expert who had seen my material deficit in the endgame asked, “You didn’t resign that ending did you? Knight and rook pawn versus king is not trivial.” I had a small panic attack that I threw away significant swindling chances by resigning, but looking at the endgame later, an expert should be aware of the stalemate danger and be capable of avoiding it. After all, what else would I have been playing for? Basically, White works his king to g6 and his knight to f7 and the h-pawn waltzes in. Only if White neglects to use the knight to guard h8 (or at least be within one check) when the pawn advances to h7, can Black swindle a draw.

During the postmortem, I felt like I was analyzing with a phenomenon. His suggestions seemed to go straight to the heart of the position; no second best continuations here. Bad ideas suggested by me were quickly refuted. I came away a bit envious thinking, “Damn! I gotta get me a brain like that.” Still, I count it a moral victory that I managed to hang close until 26...Qxd4?? Both Steven Zierk and Daniel Naroditsky finished in a tie for second in the Open Section at 4.5/6. Two of their nine points came just from me. If I break down my tournament demographically, I scored 0.5/3 against those under age 18 and 2.5/3 against those over age 18.

At this point I had gone 0.5/2 in day one, and 1.0/2 in day two. Dare I hope that day three could be even better? I've already given it away in the previous paragraph, but stay tuned.

In the diagram, White erroneously allowed me to play 27...e3! Now both the Bd2 and the Ng5 are hanging. 28.fxe3 Rxg5 29.e4. My elation became deflation. I never could find 29...Nf4! until after I had moved 29...Rg4?? and of course he took with 30.exd5, eventually winning the game. When I had two pieces under attack, one being a knight, I was blind to the possibility that I could save both. In neither case was I in such serious time trouble that I couldn't sit for another minute. If I can’t see such an elementary defensive move with the position in front of me, I have little chance of finding it three ply deep in a combination. I think I’m going to revive my Wetzell-inspired flashcard training (coincidentally halted right before the 2005 Far West) with this being the first new card.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Tug O' War

Einstein's Equivalence Principle begins with a thought experiment that a scientist enclosed in a box which is affixed to a rope and tugged by a "being" at constant acceleration cannot prove the difference between his constantly accelerating situation versus a constant gravitational field such as if that same box were at rest sitting in earth's gravitational field. In his thought experiment Einstein does not speculate on the nature of the "being" pulling the rope, but I imagined this divine being as a combination of the mighty Atlas and his grandson Hermes.

Game three of Far West Open 2008 was against an expert player a little closer to my age, although I suspect he was probably a little older than me, maybe 45-50. Right out of the opening, my opponent gave me some rope in the form of initiative against weak pawns and squares. Sometimes winning is a little more unnerving than losing because when you're winning, you have something to lose. Anyway, I didn't lose my grip or hang myself with the rope he gave me despite missing some stronger continuations. Instead, it was pretty much a wire-to-wire crush with me keeping the initiative and him remaining off balance the entire game.

I was already at 1.5 points which was what I expected to score for the whole tournament. I only needed a half point in the next three rounds to reach my pre-tournament goal of 2.0/6. I find disappointment too painful, so I tend to set expectations low. More than that I get to consider gravy. Being a pessimist has some rewards. It's probably also why I tended to overread optimistic confidence and overconfidence as hubris.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Crappy Traps

Before I describe my game, what are three good moves in this position? Which of the three is the strongest? Which is the weakest?

My second game of Far West Open 2008 was against a tall kid with braces who could be playing high school basketball. Cyberstalking seems to reveal that he is a 9th grader in the Texas scholastic chess scene, making his age about 14-15. My fourth round opponent is also a 9th grader and my first round opponent is in 6th grade. The total of their ages could be as little as 39, which is what I turn this year.

During the opening, the following position arose:

White's pawn structure showed up as the one I employed in as Black in game 1 and also as the one my opponent employed as Black in game 3. Three games in a row with the same pawn structure. I have frequently heard people say that this holey swiss cheese pawn structure is weak, especially the f3/f6 square which cannot be controlled by a pawn any more. Also to get here, you have to play P-K3 and P-Q3, likely a loss of a tempo in the struggle for the center. I am fond of saying that if you've played such moves, your opening is likely a failure. Practice what you preach, hypocrite!

I offered the draw and he immediately accepted. After WSO2007, I was relieved not to be scoreless after two rounds. In the postmortem, Alex seemed a very courteous and resourceful analyst. It was he who showed me the 26.Bg5! and 30.Bf4! ideas. That reminded me of the saying attributed to either Emanuel Lasker or Siegbert Tarrasch: "When you see a good move, sit on your hands and try to find a better one."

When you set a trap that your opponent can avoid, it's important to have a Plan B to at least repair your position or improve it.

In the first diagram, I chose the weakest of White's three moves with 26.Qg6+, a cheap trap trying to get Black to win the pawn with 26...Qxg6 27.fxg6+ Kxg6, but 28.Be4+ Kh5 29.Rf7 wins one of the bishops for two pawns. In the game, Black declined the pawn with 26...Kh8 and White had little but to go for another cheap trap 27.Qxf6 Bxf6 28.Bxh6 Bxh4? 29.f6. But again, Black avoided danger by not trying to establish material equality immediately: 28...Rg8! 29.Kh1 Rg4 30.Bf4 +/- as in the game. Stronger than 26.Qg6+ was 26.Bg5!?. If Black takes, White pawns crush, so best is 26...Qe5 27.Bf4 Qf6 28.Bxb7. Also strong was the pawn-grabbing 26.Bxb7 which most likely transposes back to the 26.Bg5 line: 26.Bxb7 Rb8 27.Be4! Rxb2? 28.Bg5! hxg5 29.hxg5 Qe5 30.f6+.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


I pride myself on being humble and self-deprecating. I may be self-centered, but I don't think I'm proud. If only Dana Mackenzie weren’t busy trying to qualify for the U.S. Championship, he could read all the oxymorons I’ve been tossing around (proud humility, antagonistic collaboration). Pride goeth before the fall. Pride is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Like Polly, my belief in karmic feedback loops tends to overshadow and dampen the celebration of my successes. If I ever score an IM norm, somewhere along the line I’ll probably have to put out my eyes. Luke 1:52 reads “He brought down the mighty from thrones, And He exalted the lowly.” Blessed are the meek Class E Players for they shall inherit the demo boards.

Reading ChargingKing’s disappointment at his performance reminds me of my own story early in my chess career. The year was 1991. The World Wide Web was just a glint in Al Gore’s eye. Back in those days, the poor Tournament Directors used pairing cards and reams of supplements to pair tournaments. If they were really fancy, they used a DOS computer program. There was no Member Services Area to get last week’s tournament results. Short of calling the USCF, you knew your rating changed when you got Chess Life in the mail. After a tournament, ratings seemed to take at least three months to catch up.

I had been playing tournament chess for about eight months and my official rating that November 1991 was 1549. But I was fresh off my 2150 performance in the 5-round Evanston Fall Open in which I had scored wins against players in Class B, A, and X, giving up a draw to an A and a loss to another Expert. My post-tournament rating was actually 1705. I was pretty cocky and sure I was massively underrated. As my published rating allowed, I entered Class C of the Illinois Class Championships with full intention of demolishing the competition and winning the top money prize.

My first round opponent was Steve Emery (1444). Right out of the opening I thought I was going to win a bishop in this position (I'm White):

I played Qa4+, intending on the next move to capture Qxc4. My opponent calmly played b5. Duh. First I lost time as my queen got kicked around. Then I proceeded to lose all kinds of material with my king in the center. Finally I walked my king into a mating net.

In round 4, I had to bitterly keep my mouth shut in this position (I'm Black):

while Gerard Novy (1502) contemplated aloud my draw offer and whether his knight, bishop, and pawn could beat my bishop and pawn. He mistakenly took the draw, partly because he was tired and I finished with 2.5/4. Like ChargingKing, I had scored above 50%, but I was sorely disappointed.

I don’t mean to imply that I saw ChargingKing’s disappointment coming and that I knew he was so cocky that he’d be blind to his deficiencies. In that sense, perhaps “hubris” is not completely apropos. Sometimes, even when we’re prepared and confident, it’s not enough. Experience, consistency, stamina, will, mental toughness, and yes, luck all factor in. Sometimes, you have to patiently let success come to you.

“The player who plays best in a tournament never wins first. He finishes second behind the guy with the most luck.” - Savielly Tartakover

P.S. If you want a long endgame exercise, take the second diagram and play White against Fritz while following this general plan: Protect the f-pawn with the bishop. Surround c5 with your knight and king and capture it. Push the f-pawn until it queens and Black has to sac his bishop for it. Mate with bishop and knight against bare king. It might also be possible to queen the pawn without losing the queen, but I doubt it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Don't Panic!

In the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the unassuming Arthur Dent gets whisked away into space and finds himself on adventures with the President of the Galaxy, a two-headed alien named Zaphod Beeblebrox. The phrase “Don’t Panic!” is the instruction on the cover of the titular Guide which is the equivalent of today’s Wikipedia.

Not too long ago, one of my fellow bloggers bucked conventional wisdom and stated that studying your losses to improve is BS. I respectfully disagree. Learning from losses is like learning from your mistakes in life. Is your error one of blindness, inaccurate evaluation, defective/shallow calculation, insufficient knowledge, or hastiness? The first step to solving any problem is admitting you have a problem. Shying away from your losses seems like denial. What do you do if you have a streak of frequent losses, stop studying your games entirely? How do you improve quality without a root cause analysis? (Jeezus, I'm sounding like those managerial types that are lampooned in Office Space and Dilbert.)

A great game, lovingly annotated, is like a Shakespearean drama, born of antagonistic collaboration between you and a worthy opponent, turned into an epic with twists and turns and some fanciful alleyways not visited except in the postmortem. If you lose, it becomes one of your great tragedies. Wins become comedies, not because they are funny, but because the protagonist lives happily ever after..., well at least until the next game of chess. Chessloser blew through his wad in one post, while I’m going to savor each one in excruciating detail, driving away my last two readers with my tediousness. Maximum verbosity on.

Since I’m the webmaster for the Far West Open website, one of my duties is to maintain the list of people who have sent in advance entries. As the event got closer, I was curious how the Open section stacked up and I tried the first pass pairings out to see whom I would play in Round 1. Even though there were entries and cancellations affecting the lineup of the Open section, each of the three times I checked, I was paired against FM Daniel Naroditsky. Still with a likely infusion of last-minute entries, I expected there to be significant uncertainty about the pairing. Should I prepare specifically for him? Nah, it’ll never work out that way, right?

So I arrive for Round 1 and find that my opponent is the famous Daniel Naroditsky. To any chess player who hasn’t been living under a rock, Daniel Naroditsky should be well known. We in Reno watched him for years travel from the Bay Area and win all the top prizes in just about every section on his way up the ratings charts. Last year, at Western States Open 2007, I concluded my Games Bulletin recap by awarding my unofficial brilliancy prize to Langer-Naroditsky, a game in which Black turned the tables on White’s attack and won in fine style. A month later, around Thanksgiving, Danya won the title of 2007 World Under 12 Chess Champion in Kemer-Antalya, Turkey, automatically earning him the Fide Master title. For this, he was featured on the cover of the February 2008 issue of Chess Life.

Right before round 1, chief tournament director Jerry Weikel introduced the titled players which usually don't include Fide Masters. NM Michael Aigner prompted Jerry to introduce FM Daniel Naroditsky. I don't have any problem losing to talented kids as long as their ratings are reasonably high. Being the 256-point underdog, I really didn't feel any pressure to win the game. Sitting across from him before the round, however, I felt my shyness take over. I’m Arthur Dent, the nobody, playing a game of chess against the World Under 12 Champion, as famous as Zaphod Beeblebrox. And he’s probably got the power of two brains calculating positions. We spoke hardly at all.

Afterward, we shook hands. He had me sign his scorebook. I was still in a haze and forgot to get his autograph despite the perfect opportunity. Neither of us requested looking at it together in the skittles room and we went our separate ways. Someday, he may be playing for the World Championship and I forgot to get his autograph on my scoresheet. I kicked myself and made it a point to get the autograph from him before the next round. While Daniel was signing, somebody asked Daniel, "Did you make him pay?" Another wit who knew that I had given up the point replied, "He already did."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Far West Open 2008

Good news, bad news. The good news is that I did rather well at the Far West Open this past weekend, scoring 3.0/6 in the open section against average 2125 competition with no one below 2034. The bad news is that success may breed complacency and undermine my motivation to study and get better. We'll see how the factors play out in the coming weeks.

My games were quite interesting and they were against a very interesting slate of out-of-towners: one world champion, one legend, a rapidly improving young expert who tied for second overall, and an old rival. My two losses were decided by sad blunders when I stopped playing real chess and went for promising-looking moves without looking at consequences, but all the games were very interesting.

The masters above me played some very interesting games also. As editor of the games bulletin, I get to see all of them. I might annotate a couple for this blog on top of my own games. That's eight games to blog about, plus a few thoughts on error, training, and tournament obsessions make it about eleven posts before I run out of material. So, my three readers, look for this blog to get busy in the next two weeks.

It was a good weekend with my state of mind remaining healthy because of the successes. But perhaps the best aspect was that I got to solidify some acquaintances more toward friendships. Congrats to chessloser for tasting some success. Reno is no longer a Waterloo. I look forward to reading his recap in his own words. Congrats to drunknknite for affirming that he's the real deal expert scoring 3.0/6 also (btw our seven-way tie for fourth expert prize payout was a whole $31.20).

The club championship is starting in about 10 days. It should be a class struggle with six aristocratic experts trying to hold down the revolutionary seven bourgeois A players and the three serf B/C players running the gauntlet (sorry, no real slight intended, I just had to go with my class struggle thought). I'm contemplating switching from 1.c4 to 1.e4, but it's just too scary, so I doubt I will. Still, the fun lines of the Sicilian and French will all be Greek to me, which seems like a small tragedy.

Monday, March 17, 2008


Call it what you will: performance anxiety, nerves, stress. Around about one week prior to most major swisses, I begin to regret sending in for the discounted entry. I imagine how much work the competition has been doing and I match up what little I’ve done and shudder.

Sometimes the fear and loathing goad me into action which usually manifests in me looking at my shoddy opening repertoire. A few minutes later I’m contemplating the futility of cramming a month’s worth of preparation into a couple of days and then I give up.

Then the rationalization begins. Since I’m playing in the Open section, losing to a couple of masters plus a couple of experts will be okay, as long as I don’t lose to a bunch of A players or that one C player playing up. I’ll play for dignity, although I’m pretty sure Reno Chess Club’s newest Expert is going to outscore me. I’ll play to have fun. I’ll play to learn something. This will just be a stepping stone for my next big success at the 2008 Western States Open. It’s really “nolo contendere” to try to snow the competitive part of me that will be disappointed when I find myself at the bottom tables again this year.

My classic performance anxiety dream comes from my violin-playing days. I’m usually in my underwear, wandering around a school campus, trying to find my orchestra uniform, but primarily concerned about how I’m going to lead the orchestra and get through my solo having not practiced a single note of our concert songs.

Rarely, I’ve had chess performance anxiety dreams about not being able to read the pairings or not being able to find the right board. Sometimes I arrive and my opponent doesn’t and I spend the next long moments of dream time hoping that my opponent doesn’t show so that I can get an easy forfeit point. Often I myself forfeit games from not adhering to the round schedule. Last night, I had a dream of being paired against an expert I played in the Western States Open and having to run an errand after I made my eighth move as Black. When I came back after an hour, my opponent demonstrated how on the ninth move, he made a killer queen sac that was sound in all variations, so I justly lost.

One more rationalization: if I play badly, perhaps it will serve as a wakeup call for me to get back to a more disciplined chess regime.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

A Tale Of Two Chess Novels

A while back I read Katherine Neville’s The Eight. One could describe it as a chessplayer’s The DaVinci Code. Indeed, several of the reviewers at compare the two and imply that Dan Brown’s 2006 smash hit was heavily influenced by Neville’s book published in 1990.

My opinion of The Eight could be summed up by saying: great opening, but it went downhill to the endgame. The Eight is a bit long for those with limited attention spans, 550 pages in hardcover. The underlying concept is great - a historic and present-day crusade to find and reunite the pieces of a magical chess set - but the characters and plot degenerate into what I would describe as “a bunch of people running around.” I think the strength of the treasure hunt genre is that the main characters bring expert skill and knowledge to the truly testing parts of the climax. In the homestretch of "The Last Crusade", Indiana Jones not only solves the riddles and traps, but he makes the process of struggling to solve these the center of the stage. Perhaps it’s unfair to compare a book to a movie, but the climax of The Eight just seemed like so much “and then they went there and did this.” Perhaps if she had made the protagonist an actual chess player and given her some chess problems to solve, it might have satisfied my desire for merit in the protagonist instead of apparently dumb luck all the time.

There also seems to be a problem of bumbling villains. They don’t seem particularly clever or distinguishable from each other, and the “good guys” don’t have much trouble dispatching them. It is here that Dan Brown did one better and characterized a many-tentacled Opus Dei with coolly efficient Captain Fache, rich and connected Bishop Aringarosa, and terminator-like Silas. What is Indiana Jones without Dr. Belloq?

I really liked the weaving of chess history and culture into the beginning of the story. It was fanciful to think that chess played integral parts in the French Revolution and the Oil Embargo. I like the flowery descriptive portions of Neville’s work such that I feel deprived not knowing what certain plants smell like while driving on coastal roads. I have to agree that she paints excellent pictures with her words, such that I was transported to the places she described and craved a glimpse at the marvelous chess pieces. But in the end, the weak plot resolution left me disappointed.

Today, I read Ronan Bennett’s 2007 Zugzwang. I walked into the public library to return some books and my eyes were drawn to two titles, Endgame Enigma which turned out to be a sci-fi novel with apparently only a tangential relationship to chess, and Zugzwang which seemed to be just what I was looking for.

I picked up the book at 3pm at the library and read all 269 pages in essentially one five-hour sitting. Whereas The Eight is written in the historical context of the French Revolution, Zugzwang is written in the prelude to the 1917 Russian Revolution against the tsar with the primary historical event being the 1914 St. Petersburg chess tournament, won by Emanuel Lasker.

The main character is a psychoanalyst who meets all manner of devious characters while mingling among the bourgeoisie, exorcising their psychological demons, and trying to evade wrongful prosecution from several different police entities. Of course one of his patients is the stereotypical near-autistic chess master, made into one of the least interesting characters by his incompetent and clichéd existence. Certainly, the female characters seem less important here than the ones in The Eight. On the one hand, they hold the plot together, easing the fantastic connections of the central characters (Adhesive and lubricant?) But sometimes, they seem little more than potboiler material. (Yes, there is sex in this book.) The villains and allies seem complex in their intersecting schemes, but in a way, they begin to seem like clones of each other, crossing and double-crossing everyone like the round robin tournament that is the backdrop. But at least they are competent, respectable villains, not the bumbling kind found in The Eight.

Compared with The Eight, Zugzwang certainly contains less flowery detail about places, colors, and the general smell of the place, but with the added perception of the psychoanalyst’s lens, the latter’s characters seem much deeper.

Best of all, there is an ongoing correspondence game throughout the book which I appreciated as a very finely conducted endgame involving zugzwang with both queens on the board. Unfortunately, the diagrams that followed the game had some awful errors, but the endgame is still decipherable to the seasoned chess amateur. While The Eight has voluminous chess references that seem almost shoehorned into the text, Zugzwang makes up for quantity with the quality of sparingly and appropriately used chess references.

In summary, both books interlace regicidal portions of history with chess-related murder mysteries. I think the problem with The Eight is that it became too ambitious with too many settings and the added dimension of treasure hunt genre, such that the ending became too unwieldy to tie up. Zugzwang was much more tautly written with more interesting psychological struggles and better plot execution. The Eight I would coolly recommend with reservations of not getting your hopes too high about the plot. I wholeheartedly recommend Zugzwang especially for (adult) chess players.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Mamas Don't Let Your Babies

Grow Up To Be TDs. One day I thought it would be cool to know how to run tournaments. That way, I wouldn’t have to depend on other people to TD tournaments. If I ever found a suitable cheap space to run tournaments on the weekends, I could run the whole thing myself. Since the USCF has migrated their operations into a web server, it’s handy to submit memberships and rating reports. And learning the rules in a formal manner might make me a better player. Best of all, it might expand my narrow little world into another dimension.

Alas, being a TD holds little reward and much grief. You get to mediate in touch move disputes where one person must be lying or at least mistaken, but no one seems to be able to prove it either way. The other day, I witnessed some pretty bad sportsmanship that turned me off from chess a bit. One player was down massive material (lone king versus queen and two pawns) and was playing for a swindle. The other player may have been trying to promote a second queen, which is his perogative when facing a player who refuses to resign a hopeless position. The player trying to swindle got mad at being subject to the equivalent of chess torture, so instead of resigning, he decided to just let his clock run (he had about 45 minutes). On top of that, he began consulting chess books, something that’s expressly forbidden in the rulebook. I was in the middle of playing my game, so I asked another TD to take care of the situation, but it still distracted me. The other TD persuaded the guy to resign. He turned his king down in a huff and hardly saw the error of his ways as he continued to blame his opponent for some kind of injustice.

If one can’t get along with his fellow chess players, perhaps one should know the loneliness of living in a town too small to support a chess club.

I work well with data, contributing to the idea that I’m a good administrator, but I have issues when dealing with actual people. My problem is that I try to please everyone, but often end up pleasing no one. Sometimes, being tough but fair is what is called for from the TD, but I have a tendency to second guess my decisions and become hesitant. And I really don’t want to be the big mean TD who ruins one or both players’ good time. I’ve generally avoided conflict because I’m also thin-skinned.

There is a particular out-of-town chess player that I’ve had multiple run-ins with. Once I bumped his Quick rating 200 points up to his Regular rating so that he was ineligible for a blitz class prize. Another time, he tried to demonstrate insufficient losing chances after his flag had already fallen. Both times I held my ground and ruled against him. Luckily, the other TDs have also had run-ins with him and always support me. He regularly complains about pairings and threatens to never come back, but so far he’s always returned. But I’m paranoid of going to his neck of the woods for tournaments and being made to feel unwelcome. Thin skin.

There’s a controversy regarding the format of the club championship. Some people want a round robin, some people want knockout matches, and still others want a swiss. We’ve had round robins for many of our championships, but there have been problems with people forfeiting games and screwing up the standings. We’ve had people delaying games for various reasons and then others complaining that the delayer is angling for an unfair advantage. I made the mistake of opening Pandora’s Box and asking for a democratic solution. My simple 3-format ballot has had the slate expanded by four write-in votes. Of the eight votes I’ve received, they seem to be split evenly among four choices. It’s surprising how much passion there is about the format of a club championship and whether people should be allowed to make up for being absent. It’s not unlike the Republicans versus the Democrats. I finally called off the vote and went with the Republicans. But I feel like I betrayed my fellow Democrats for the good of the State. The best explanation I can come up for my actions is that like one of the presidential candidates says, it’s time for change.

The worst thing is that it’s hard to completely compartmentalize my TD duties while I’m playing. It’s just a little harder to concentrate on this difficult game when the externals erupt and interrupt. I know I just need to offload some of the duties with the other TDs, but I just cheerfully keep taking up the slack, so they let me.

So far I've probably avoided the worst kind of disputes, but I think I need to take a sabbatical and concentrate on playing.

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Moment

In “Star Trek: Insurrection”, there is an Amish-like clan of space people who mostly reject technology. Some members of this community have the power to change the flow of time by using their will to “live in the moment.” Funny thing, these people live on a planet named Ba'ku, like Garry Kasparov's homeland.

I’ve been reading lately from multiple sources that chess players enjoy the moment when all you have is the board in front of you and the rest of the world disappears. This reminded me of my own experiences in the moment. Chess is like a meditation. I empty my mind of the cares of the world, and then focus my thoughts on a small 8x8 world with both finite and infinite possibilities. Even my opponent seems like an apparition at the edge of my awareness.

I approach the board like a visitor to a miniature sculpture garden with the individual Staunton-stylized pieces set apart by mathematical proportions: the circular radius of knight moves, the starburst of queen possibilities, the Golden Rectangles, and the myriad of nested and intersecting squares.

The lines and diagonals are the rudiments of String Theory across which bishops and rooks radiate their laser beams. The pawns seem like elementary particles, although they also seem to be the most solid and immobile and opaque objects, defying the laser light to pass through.

Matter and energy are conserved here. The Pauli Exclusion Principle applies: No two pieces can occupy one square. Force, space, time, momentum and acceleration are here, purer in form than in the real world. In the end, the results are trinary: 1, 0, or ½.

And the movement is the Dance of Death, whereby the sculptures leap about, feinting, dodging, colliding, and disappearing from the board. The player with the initiative leads; the other follows, each watchful of the other’s balance and footing. The center of the board beckons to the dancers like a disco ball with its own gravity field. Wallflowers orbit on the flanks.

The alternating turns mark the rhythm. The moves are the notes. The advances and retreats are the crescendos and decrescendos. Plans are conceived and left behind as quickly as riffs from a jazz musician’s instrument.

But my meditations are far from serene. I get this adrenalin rush near the beginning of the game such that in a completely warm environment, I will sometimes shiver uncontrollably. A fellow club blogger once wrote about the Art Thief Mentality. Deception and subterfuge are some of our more primitive weapons. There is a kleptomaniacal rush when my opponent falls for my clever trap. “He doesn’t see it!” I avoid slamming pieces down in real life because I think it’s a bit rude, but in my mind, I’m like Evil Geri in Pixar’s short “Geri’s Game” gleefully fulfilling a materialistic urge. “A-ha! Heh!” Between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, there are many emotional shades: the eureka moment when it first dawns on me that the game is winnable; the recession of denial into the sad realization that things have become hopeless.

Whatever the outcome of the game, a handshake is the transporter that brings me back from the world of chess to the real world. “Beam me up, Scotty.”

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

White Rabbit

My Tivo has a thirty second skip forward which is the greatest thing since sliced bread. I hardly ever see commercials any more, which is probably mutually beneficial for both advertisers and me since I’m no longer in the coveted 18-34 age advertising demographic. The other day, I caught the promo for the Xbox360 game called Lost Odyssey. What caught my attention were the lyrics of Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 song “White Rabbit”. Now I have been into chess since 1991, but I was never aware of this song until now.

A while back I mentioned that certain songs get stuck in my head while I play in a chess tournament even though I don’t listen to any kind of music player. The haunting melody and the bizarre lyrics of "White Rabbit" are a trip and I think they’d be perfect for rounds 5 and 6 when my brain is fried anyway. Apparently "White Rabbit" is some kind of drug culture hit veiled in Lewis Carroll imagery. I don’t do drugs and I hardly even drink, preferring the high of adrenalin, insomniac endorphins, and the fumes of electrical fire coming from my overheated mental circuits during a long weekend chess tournament.

Of course much of the imagery is from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and its sequel “Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There”.

I’m going to try to add my own psychedelic spin by illustrating the lyrics of “White Rabbit” with some images from Dragon’s Lair II: Time Warp.

One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
Don't do anything at all
Go ask Alice
When she's ten feet tall

And if you go chasing rabbits
And you know you're going to fall
Tell 'em a hookah smoking caterpillar
Has given you the call
Recall Alice
When she was just small

When men on the chessboard
Get up and tell you where to go
And you've just had some kind of mushroom
And your mind is moving low
Go ask Alice
I think she'll know

When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen's "off with her head!"
Remember what the dormouse said: