On Chess Tournaments

 

“S- eight. I almost said seven; I just turned eight.”

Great. I’m playing against a just-turned-eight-year-old. Win, lose, or draw there’s no way this match ends well.

He leads with his king’s pawn. I counter with the Sicilian defense. He advances a pawn to c3, and the game is on.


Chess is as eternal as anything made by mortal hands. The associations that run these tournaments are not. This one had the smell of lingering death on it.

There are two kinds of customers that a business needs to survive. The first is the regular. Regulars keep you in business; they spend a lot of money, they pitch in to help out, they show up when you have an event. They can be counted on to take some pain and keep coming back, within reason. The guy with his name on a bar stool is definitionally a regular. So is the church lady who volunteers to help with VBS, or the Ricochetti with the Thatcher membership. You know who you are.

The flip side of that coin is the Newbie. He doesn’t spend as much money. If he has a bad experience he’s unlikely to come back. The guy trying paintball for the first time because it sounds cool is a newbie, as is the church shopper, or the podcast listener whose yet to put the proverbial skin in the game.

In this tournament, the kid is the regular and I’m the newbie. Sure, I’ve been playing the game for a quarter of a century longer, but I’ve never participated in a chess tournament before. He’s Rated (1086) and got his own chess coach. He’s done this before, and he’s serious about it.


Some moves later he’s threatening a fork. His knight can take my pawn and attack both my queen and my rook at the same time. I could defend, or I could use the time he spends taking my rook to checkmate him. If it works then at least the match will be over quickly. I move my bishop. He forks me. I do my best to look like it’s unexpected and like I’m moving at random. I put my queen into striking position.

He pushes a pawn. Not only does it prevent checkmate, but it also threatens my queen. I can’t even save my rook from the fork.

This is not good.


It’s tempting to cater strictly to the regulars, but if you do only that then you die. Your regulars will come every time, until they don’t. People move, people get married, people pass away. If you’re never bringing in new blood to replace the regulars then eventually you won’t have a customer base at all. You’ve got to keep attracting new customers, and you’ve got to convert newbies into regulars.

When I say this organization has the smell of death about it, I mean that it caters almost exclusively to regulars. Most of these things I could see just reading the flyer. Let’s run down the list.

  • The tournament happened over Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. I only made it to that one because my family was out of the country at the time. You’ve got to be pretty bought in to spend a long weekend on one tournament.
  • $40 entry ($45 on site), and playing requires you to have a $40 annual membership in the federation. You can’t make a casual determination to enter this tournament. Eighty-five bucks is a lot to ask of someone who just wants something to do on Black Friday. The prize support is a good proportion of the take, but the most an unrated player can realistically expect to make is $90. Not much of a profit.
  • Time control. This is the way it’s described on the flyer: “Rounds 1-4 & 6: 45/2, SD/1 d5. Round 5: G/120 d5” No explanation. I spent about two hours on the internet trying to figure out what that means without success.*  Plainly this is something you’re expected to already understand.

I was the only unrated player at that tournament. Two weeks later in Madison, I was still the only new guy.


I’ve taken the knight back, but I’m still two points behind. Then he makes his mistake. He pushes the wrong pawn. I take with my pawn. Now my pawn is threatening his knight, but it also unblocked the long white diagonal. My queen is aimed squarely at his rook.

He moves a pawn in front of the rook, and I take his knight.

We’re even again.


If I were to host a chess tournament, here’s how I’d do things differently:

  • No hotel conference room. I asked the gentleman who runs the local game store if he’d be willing to run a chess tournament. “Absolutely.” The store is clean, spacious, and well lit, and he’s willing to lend us the space just to drive traffic in the door. Cuts down on overhead.
  • If you noticed, the tournament took three days and played six rounds. That’s what happens when you expect one chess game to take six hours. You can play a fine game of chess in one hour. If it’s less precise than high-level tournament chess then it’s at least more interesting to watch. Allot an extra five minutes per player if they’re (optionally) writing down the moves. That lets you turn around rounds in 75 minutes, and get everyone in and out in one day’s time.
  • Entry- $10 at most, no memberships required. Then award a small prize to each player for each game they win. You won your game? Here’s $2. Most players won’t run a profit, but they’ll feel better for getting something back. You’d still want prize support for placing, and for other things.
  • Fun. Necessarily loosely defined, but I’d want to make it feel more friendly than your usual chess tournament. Allow people to talk in the room. Offer some silly prizes, which aren’t based on how well a person is doing in the games. I’d also post bounties on a couple of the local Chess Club members. If you can beat them you get an additional small prize. You get the idea.

I’ve got the advantage now, but he’s still in it. I’ve still got minor pieces but he’s still got a rook. He moves his king to the wrong spot. I take his pawn with my last knight, and fork his king and queen.

He can take it back, but only with the pawn that he moved to defend his rook. My queen is still lying in wait.

What can he do? He takes the knight. It’s better to lose a rook than a queen. Even so, he’s down enough on material that the end comes quick.


What else is there to say? I won three and lost three that tournament, which took down the unrated bracket. They didn’t hit the expected 50 players, so I didn’t get the expected $90. I got the scaled-down prize of $65. I folded $30 of that into entry into another tournament, but did very poorly. Mentally I was already checked out of it.

At this point, I don’t really expect to do much more tournament level chess. Once was worthwhile. I don’t see it being worth the time and money. I did go so far as to plug my opponent’s ratings into an online calculator to see what mine worked out to be.

Aww, yeah


* The time control works out to two hours for each player for the first 45 moves, then one hour each of sudden death. Round five the entire game has to happen in 120 minutes. In all rounds, you get a five-second delay on the clock after each move. Because, darn it, someone ought to explain that somewhere on the internet.

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  1. Hank Rhody, Varlet to the Mods Contributor
    Hank Rhody, Varlet to the Mods
    @HankRhody

    As a post script for the curious, here’s the full list of moves for that game. I’m playing black, the kid is on white. I’ve added ! and ? to the moves pulled out for drama in the post above.

    1. e4 c5
    2. c3 e6
    3. d4 Nf6
    4. Nf3 d5
    5. Bb5 a6
    6. Bxc6+ bxc6
    7. e5 Rb8
    8. Nbd2 cxd4
    9. Nxd4 Bc5
    10. Nxc6 Qh4
    11. g3! Qg5
    12. Nxb8 Qxe5+
    13. Qb2 Qxb8
    14. Nb3 Bb6
    15. Bf4 Qb7
    16. Rd1 Nf6
    17. c4? dxc4
    18. f3 cxb3
    19. axb3 O-O
    20. Bd6 Rd8
    21. g4 Bd7
    22. Be7 Bb5
    23. Rxd8+ Bxd8
    24. Qe5 Bxe7
    25. Kf2? Nxg4+!
    26. fxg4 Qxh1
    27. Qb8+ Bf8
    28. Qg3 Bc5
    29. Qe3 Qf1+
    30. Kg3 Bxe3
    31. Kh4 g5+
    32. Kg3 Qf4+
    33. Kg2 Bf1 +
    34. Kh1 Qf3#
    • #1
  2. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    ?

    • #2
  3. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    Yeah, Hank!  Chess as a game – fun…I’ve tried to learn several times, and have been intimidated: Yikes!

    • #3
  4. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Nanda Panjandrum (View Comment):
    Yeah, Hank! Chess as a game – fun…I’ve tried to learn several times, and have been intimidated: Yikes!

    Back in the late 90s, my friend’s boys all played in the chess club their dad had helped them start at school. They were pretty good and they did this a lot. I played the oldest once, and to my surprise and his, I beat him. I managed to wiggle out of a rematch for a couple of years, but then when we were on a weeklong Boy Scout hiking trip, I couldn’t avoid the rematch. He beat me, of course. It had been decades since I had played before that, and I haven’t played since.

    But this summer, at the 51-year reunion of my high school class, I was asked by a couple of the guys if I still played chess. That was a surprise. I just didn’t remember that. But I had heard a couple of years before that one classmate who had gone on to be a pastor had credited me with teaching him chess.  I didn’t remember that, either.

    But I suppose it’s plausible. I did recall that in the fall of 1963 I started my sophomore year at a new high school, after the one on the edge of the Santee Sioux reservation closed.  I think one of the teachers (there are two possibilities I can think of: Mr. Burger and I can’t remember the other one’s name. His first name may have been Jim.) helped us start a chess club. It was the first time I ever played outside of home. I do have vague memories of all that.  And then, a more vivid memory. The weekend following the Kennedy assassination I sat in the living room, watching the TV and finishing up a felt-lined wooden box to hold my plastic chess pieces. It’s not a very good piece of work, but I still have it.

    So, yes, I once played chess. But how I came to have a reputation for it at the high school where I graduated is completely lost to me. I must have brought some enthusiasm for it with me when we moved there at the end of 1963.  But I have no memory of who, or where, or how it went. That bugs me, because I have fairly vivid memories of a lot of things going back to when I was almost three years old. How this could have dropped out of my memory to the point that no cues can bring it back is somewhat disturbing. What else have I forgotten about?

     

    • #4
  5. Richard Easton Coolidge
    Richard Easton
    @RichardEaston

    I came home once and told my wife that I’d beaten a nine year old and drawn with a ten year old.  She responded by asking why I don’t pick on people my own age.  :)

    • #5
  6. Hank Rhody, Varlet to the Mods Contributor
    Hank Rhody, Varlet to the Mods
    @HankRhody

    Richard Easton (View Comment):
    I came home once and told my wife that I’d beaten a nine year old and drawn with a ten year old. She responded by asking why I don’t pick on people my own age. :)

    Several years back I got stomped by a nine year old at a Magic tournament. It wasn’t even close. I said to him “when I tell this story you’re going to be at least 14”.

    • #6
  7. Matt Balzer Member
    Matt Balzer
    @MattBalzer

    Hank Rhody, Varlet to the Mods (View Comment):

    Richard Easton (View Comment):
    I came home once and told my wife that I’d beaten a nine year old and drawn with a ten year old. She responded by asking why I don’t pick on people my own age. :)

    Several years back I got stomped by a nine year old at a Magic tournament. It wasn’t even close. I said to him “when I tell this story you’re going to be at least 14”.

    Was there a Shadow Dad involved?

    • #7
  8. Hank Rhody, Varlet to the Mods Contributor
    Hank Rhody, Varlet to the Mods
    @HankRhody

    Matt Balzer (View Comment):

    Hank Rhody, Varlet to the Mods (View Comment):

    Richard Easton (View Comment):
    I came home once and told my wife that I’d beaten a nine year old and drawn with a ten year old. She responded by asking why I don’t pick on people my own age. :)

    Several years back I got stomped by a nine year old at a Magic tournament. It wasn’t even close. I said to him “when I tell this story you’re going to be at least 14”.

    Was there a Shadow Dad involved?

    No, my father wasn’t even there.

    Oh wait, I see what you mean. His dad was judging the tournament. Wasn’t hanging over the match.

    • #8
  9. Ian Mullican Inactive
    Ian Mullican
    @IanMullican

    I love chess!  If anyone wants a correspondence game on chess.com or lichess or something let me know and I’d love to play!

    • #9
  10. Richard Easton Coolidge
    Richard Easton
    @RichardEaston

    Ian Mullican (View Comment):
    I love chess! If anyone wants a correspondence game on chess.com or lichess or something let me know and I’d love to play!

    I’ll play you.  I’m a little rusty but I’m a class A player (my highest rating was close to 1900).

    • #10
  11. Ian Mullican Inactive
    Ian Mullican
    @IanMullican

    Richard Easton (View Comment):

    Ian Mullican (View Comment):
    I love chess! If anyone wants a correspondence game on chess.com or lichess or something let me know and I’d love to play!

    I’ll play you. I’m a little rusty but I’m a class A player (my highest rating was close to 1900).

    My chess.com and lichess profiles are both Imullica.  I never play OTB, but my online rating is about that, so let’s get some good games in!

    Cheers.

     

    • #11
  12. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Hank, fun post.

    Reminds me of a time… One of my sons ran a chess night at the local library til he went to college this fall, and one night last year he had an unexpected conflict, so I told him I would cover for him at the library while he went to his emergency rehearsal.

    This one little six year old, a cheeky little bugger, had been pestering/hero worshiping my son all year, and was very disappointed that Max was not there. He accepted me grudgingly as a substitute, and we began play.

    I did beat the kid, but it was not pretty. I was slow throughout the game, and finally I told him that if he told me to hurry up one more time I’d stop playing with him. He did stop, he was actually a really good little kid if super duper hyper active. And smart. A little too smart…

    • #12
  13. Hank Rhody, Varlet to the Mods Contributor
    Hank Rhody, Varlet to the Mods
    @HankRhody

    CB Toder aka Mama Toad (View Comment):
    he was actually a really good little kid if super duper hyper active. And smart. A little too smart…

    Matt Balzer has this reaction to kids who know too much about politics. “You’re only twelve! It’s super impressive that you know the size of the national debt and can quote Hayek, but go watch Star Wars or something.” I had a bit of that going with this kid, but honestly I was to busy staying alive to treat him as anything other than an adult. Kid was very mature and very patient; I don’t know many at that age who could have done it.

    I could have, but I was always a little weirdo.

    • #13
  14. Hank Rhody, Varlet to the Mods Contributor
    Hank Rhody, Varlet to the Mods
    @HankRhody

    Ian Mullican (View Comment):
    I love chess! If anyone wants a correspondence game on chess.com or lichess or something let me know and I’d love to play!

    There was a correspondence game going on here in the comments of one post. Don’t know how that one turned out; I lost track of the thread. Fascinating reading though.

    • #14
  15. Katie Koppelman Inactive
    Katie Koppelman
    @KatieKoppelman

    Hank- your way of running a tournament sounds a lot more fun.  I think you should have done something else instead of the second chess tournament…

    • #15
  16. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Did anyone do postal Diplomacy? Something like Ricochet would be perfect for that. Set up a Diplomacy Group. Recruit seven players. Have moves every week. (To allow diplomacy) Communicate through private messages. Announce moves on a specific day of the week via the Group.

    Sigh. I would have killed for that 25 years ago. Today? Meh.

    Seawriter

    • #16
  17. TG Thatcher
    TG
    @TG

    Thanks for writing this, Hank!

    • #17
  18. Hank Rhody, Varlet to the Mods Contributor
    Hank Rhody, Varlet to the Mods
    @HankRhody

    Katie Koppelman (View Comment):
    Hank- your way of running a tournament sounds a lot more fun. I think you should have done something else instead of the second chess tournament…

    I had options; a large part of my problem with it was that brother and friends were also in town, having scheduled a game weekend opposite. I kept thinking “Would I rather be playing this, or the Dune movie tie-in board game with my friends?” Not conducive to sound play.

    The Dune game did not include enough subtle maneuverings for my taste. Also, it could have featured Sting more prominently. Sure, he was on the cover but he hardly showed up in the gameplay at all!

    • #18
  19. Hank Rhody, Varlet to the Mods Contributor
    Hank Rhody, Varlet to the Mods
    @HankRhody

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    Did anyone do postal Diplomacy? Something like Ricochet would be perfect for that. Set up a Diplomacy Group. Recruit seven players. Have moves every week. (To allow diplomacy) Communicate through private messages. Announce moves on a specific day of the week via the Group.

    Sigh. I would have killed for that 25 years ago. Today? Meh.

    Seawriter

    I’ve always avoided Diplomacy; it seems like I’d either be too slow to backstab people or too angry when someone backstabbed me.

    There was a Ricochet game of Diplomacy ages ago.

    • #19
  20. Hank Rhody, Varlet to the Mods Contributor
    Hank Rhody, Varlet to the Mods
    @HankRhody

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    How this could have dropped out of my memory to the point that no cues can bring it back is somewhat disturbing. What else have I forgotten about?

    I know the feeling. My solution is to never remember anything.

    • #20
  21. Bo Grimes Coolidge
    Bo Grimes
    @BoGrimes

    Excellent article, well-crafted, back and forth from the game to the commentary.

    The point can obviously be expanded beyond chess.  I have been reading the same 50 writers in the same 6-8 conservative magazine and journals for 30 years.  Very few try to cultivate new talent, even after the Internet boom.  It’s true there are a lot more sites, the equivalent of back-of-the-store tournaments, and the quality reflects it I suppose, but the A-list is still stale.

    • #21
  22. Hank Rhody, Varlet to the Mods Contributor
    Hank Rhody, Varlet to the Mods
    @HankRhody

    Bo Grimes (View Comment):
    The point can obviously be expanded beyond chess. I have been reading the same 50 writers in the same 6-8 conservative magazine and journals for 30 years. Very few try to cultivate new talent, even after the Internet boom.

    The regulars and newbies dynamic is present in just about any human organization. The McDonald’s by the highway exists almost entirely on Newbie traffic, and a monastery can’t cater to Newbies without giving up the essential discipline that makes it a monastery, but most other institutions exhibit that dynamic.

    • #22
  23. Locke On Member
    Locke On
    @LockeOn

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    Did anyone do postal Diplomacy? Something like Ricochet would be perfect for that. Set up a Diplomacy Group. Recruit seven players. Have moves every week. (To allow diplomacy) Communicate through private messages. Announce moves on a specific day of the week via the Group.

    Sigh. I would have killed for that 25 years ago. Today? Meh.

    Seawriter

    Dippy??  If there’s one thing that could bust up Ricochet more than SSM or #NeverTrump…

    • #23
  24. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    I would guess that many types of clubs face the same problems.  The people that volunteer to run a club have been doing their activity for so long that they may lack the perspective of how to promote their thing to outsiders.

    Bo Grimes (View Comment):
    Excellent article, well-crafted, back and forth from the game to the commentary.

    I concur.  I really don’t care about chess at all, but I do enjoy the quality of Hank’s writing.

    • #24
  25. ToryWarWriter Thatcher
    ToryWarWriter
    @ToryWarWriter

    Chess is a kids game, that’s why 8 year olds are so good at it. In fact it’s a really lousy game, try your hand at a semi-pro wargame like Pursuit of Glory sometime.

     

    I like people to much here to play Diplomacy with them.

    • #25
  26. Hank Rhody, Varlet to the Mods Contributor
    Hank Rhody, Varlet to the Mods
    @HankRhody

    ToryWarWriter (View Comment):
    try your hand at a semi-pro wargame like Pursuit of Glory sometime.

    I’d give it a shot, but

    A) I’ve played war games on every point of the scale in terms of strategy and complexity, and

    B) You’re never going to beat Seawriter for wargame cred.

    • #26
  27. ToryWarWriter Thatcher
    ToryWarWriter
    @ToryWarWriter

    I have 4 published wargames.

    I have over 2 dozen articles published in Strategy and Tactics, World at War, Modern Warfare and Against the Odds magazine. I have lectured at Origins war college and have attended the Connections Wargamming Conference sponsored by the DoD twice and plan to go again this year.

    Not trying to be arrogant, just not a poser.

    • #27
  28. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    ToryWarWriter (View Comment):
    I have 4 published wargames.

    I have over 2 dozen articles published in Strategy and Tactics, World at War, Modern Warfare and Against the Odds magazine. I have lectured at Origins war college and have attended the Connections Wargamming Conference sponsored by the DoD twice and plan to go again this year.

    Not trying to be arrogant, just not a poser.

    File this in Thing I Learned Today… Well done.

    • #28
  29. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    ToryWarWriter (View Comment):
    I have 4 published wargames.

    I have over 2 dozen articles published in Strategy and Tactics, World at War, Modern Warfare and Against the Odds magazine. I have lectured at Origins war college and have attended the Connections Wargamming Conference sponsored by the DoD twice and plan to go again this year.

    Ummm . . .  I am pretty sure there are at least two dozen S&T, WaW, and MW articles tucked in among them. They still have another half dozen awaiting publication. There are also these.

    Most of my wargame stuff predates the Internet (most of it predates the personal computer). I helped host the 1978 Origins, in Ann Arbor, writing the infamous guide to Ann Arbor that included information on where to score drugs and hookers. (I honestly thought that would be edited out. I included it only because one of the directors jokingly asked me if I was going to include it – so I did in the same spirit. Nope. It got published.) Did a lot of writing wargame articles in the 1970s. Published and edited Ann Arbor Wargamer between 1974 and 1979, a gaming fanzine with a press run of 500 (all dead trees), and a reach throughout the Midwest. Knew Gary Gygax back when D&D was just released as an extension of the Chainmail fantasy rules.

    Drifted away from wargaming in the late 1980s and 1990s.

    Seawriter

    • #29
  30. ToryWarWriter Thatcher
    ToryWarWriter
    @ToryWarWriter

    Between my new job and life stuff, I seemed to have burnt out on writing.  Keep meaning to get back in, but it just hasn’t happened yet.

    • #30
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