Druss Blog

An account of my attempts to try and improve my chess.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

I've been playing chess since I was a kid, although always as an amateur and have only recently started to take it more seriously.

I can't remember the first time I played chess - I have early memories of playing my dad and my grandpa, and then later my uncle Tony. I also played a couple of people at school - Fraser and Munro. Fraser was very good and a natural chess player, Munro was very knowledgeable on openings. Well, he knew some openings. This was far more than we did and counted for very knowledgeable in those days.

I managed to beat my dad fairly early on, he didn't know much more than the basics, and after a while my grandpa as well. I also got a basic chess computer at some stage and started playing it. This was the start of me analysing my play. The chess computer was fairly limited and used to always open with a four knights opening with d & e pawns diagonal. I was under the impression that this was the only way to play chess! I sat down and systematically played it and eventually managed to beat the thing - mainly by looking more than two moves ahead.

I then entered a school tournament and somehow ended up in the final playing the geography teacher. It was the first to win three games, and he quickly went 2-0 ahead. That's when I first started reading about chess in a desperate attempt to improve. I bought Lasker's Complete Chess Tutor, which is a nice little book with puzzles about a page long with multiple choice answers at the bottom … 6.exd6 turn to page 104, 6.a4 turn to page 212, etc. A bit like the Fighting Fantasy books (for those who remember them). Great stuff. This really helped me learn. Mainly as I was reading pages and pages of Lasker saying, "No, that was the wrong move ..." Eventually I clawed a game back. At this stage the geography teacher was getting a bit sick of playing chess every lunchtime, and he decided to call a halt to the proceedings. He said - rather unfairly in my view - that we would only play one more game. If he won then he'd win by being first to three games (as originally planned), but if it was a draw then he would win 2-1. If I managed to win then we would tie 2-2 each and be joint winners. I won, and still have the trophy (cheap, plastic one who's label fell off years ago).

I was then hooked on chess. Not only did I like playing it, I started to see how I could improve.
My next target was my uncle Tony, or more specifically his chess computer. A Christmas years back saw me lying on the floor for two weeks solid playing the thing. Eventually I got the hang of it. This one actually had an opening repertoire and could think a number of moves ahead - not just two. I was amazed. Still, it wasn't that good and I could soon beat it most of the time. That was in the mid 80s, and the next thing that interested me was Karpov vs Kasparov.

They were playing for the world championship in London in the Park Lane hotel. All the tickets had sold out months before, but you could queue outside each morning for a standing only ticket for £5. You didn't get a seat in the main hall, but you could see them from the balcony. Also, there were loads of rooms round the main hall with all sorts of other stuff going on … people analysing the game, playing simultaneous games against all-comers etc. I was great. I spent day after day there, coming nice and early to queue for my ticket and then playing chess in Hyde Park until they opened at mid afternoon. Also, I got to see Karpov run out of time! That was the final game where he cracked - the championship was the first to win six games, with no limit to the total number. Karpov raced ahead to a 4-0 lead but couldn't quite clinch it. Kasparov managed draw after draw after draw (forty in total), and then eventually started to win matches! The score finally reached 5-3 to Karpov when the championship stopped by FIDE. Karpov broke down. I saw him there on stage freezing and not being able to move or play. His clock just ran out of time. Fascinating stuff for a teenager.

My next step was to upgrade my chess computer. You couldn't play online in those days, and I lived in the middle of no-where in Northumberland so there were no chess clubs. Chess computers had served me well, so I decided to up the game and buy the best one I could. I did, and then couldn't beat it. Didn't even get close. Also, I couldn't find any useful books to make the transition from a relative beginner to someone who could even start to grasp what my new computer was doing. To me it was just magic - I couldn't see how to beat the thing.

That's where my chess playing stopped. I went off to university and discovered beer, girls and philosophy.

After university I started a series of games against an old university friend - we were both now living and working in London and it seemed a fun thing to do. We decided to have a tournament - first to 12 games (can't remember why we picked that now). Richard pulled ahead to an early lead, and I was again left wondering how to improve my chess playing. Then I discovered a book called Winning with the Hypermodern and I delved into the whole new world of fianchettoing. Not enough to win my tournament against Richard, but enough to inspire me again.

I then played chess on and off for the next ten years, although never that seriously. Most of my involvement in chess was watching with interest the development of chess computers and the Deep Blue vs Kasparov match. But last year I took my chess computer (the one that I bought directly after seeing Karpov vs Kasparov in the 80s) on honeymoon (I know!). Anyway, I beat it for the first time. I don't know why. I hadn't really played chess much, but I just had a bit of a revelation about chess … it just sort of clicked in my head and made more sense. It wasn't that I learned anything new, just that the stuff I remembered reading came back to me … I suppose it was the after-effects of reading "Winning with the Hypermodern" ten years on.

Since then I've discovered online chess at the Internet Chess Club and have been playing fairly regularly ever since. My rating has gone up from about 1000 to 1050 when I first joined to about 1150 to 1200 now. I'm starting to read a lot more chess books and think about what I'm doing - particularly openings. Also, playing Aidan at work at lunchtime helps … and of course writing about everything here!