Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The beast in me

  Dave the barefoot chess player has been traveling to Marshalltown from Des Moines the last month and a half to play in our Thursday blitz tournaments at chess club. He is a stronger player than all of us except for my son Matt. He is only rated about 50 points ahead of me, 350 points behind Matt and I have managed to win 3 of the 4 tournament games we played in Marshalltown. This includes 2 games I was behind in but managed to come back and catch Dave in some tactical tricks. I attributed my good fortune to the fact that I am on my home turf and just plain luck.

  Dave and I played a pair of games after the tournament last Thursday. In the first game, I made a mistake and lost a pawn. Dave took the pawn and said “Now, I’ll really have to watch it.” I did manage to win the game when he overlooked a checkmate threat in my all-out attack on the king and won the next game by winning a pawn, and using my preferred method of trading to a winning endgame Afterwards, I asked Dave what he meant by his comment and he told me that I played like a beast when I was behind in the game and that was when I displayed my chess strength.

  I’ve always thought of myself as a slow, boring player who stays away from complicated positions who outplays my opponents in the endgame, but maybe Dave is right and I am ignoring my true nature. At the Okoboji Open, a strong player told me after my win against an expert in April that I should stop being content to tie stronger players and be confident in my ability to go toe to toe with them.

  I’ve spent the last week trying to think of myself as a ‘Chess Beast’ when I play on-line without much success, but I’m not giving up yet. I thought about my chess playing at its most beastly and came up with this offhand game I played in 1992. I was working at Wyatt Data Services in Fort Lee, NJ and a group of us would play chess at lunch except on Friday’s when we would play ping-pong. Our group was Catalin(Romania), Rolando(Equadaor), Alex(Puerto Rico), and Jay(Suburbia), and myself(Inner City). I was the best player with Alex a distant second and we had always fun playing at fast food places or the company lunchroom.

  One day Catalin, Rolando, and Alex were talking about a temp in the data entry section where they worked. They said this guy thought he was smarter than everyone else, was telling everyone who would listen how all the other data entry people weren’t doing their jobs right, how he was doing it better, and the whole operation would be better if he was in charge of the data entry department. He was young and wore a suit and tie (We all had to wear suits except for the data entry department). I’d seen the fellow but hadn’t talked to him, but the fact that my friends didn’t like him was enough for me to keep my distance.

  The next week, we were playing chess in the company lunchroom and the new guy came in, saw us playing chess, and said “Chess…hmmm…I’d play but I don’t think anyone here can give me a good game.” I had just won my game and offered to play him, and we sat down to play. One of the other guys left for a second and came back with all the data entry people, so there were about 20 people watching the match. I knew full well that this guy could be a much stronger player than me, but almost all of the strong players I know play better than they talk.

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 d6
3. Bc4 Bg4

  (This is a clue that my friend is not a strong player. Since I haven’t castled, I can drive away the bishop with pawn moves and castle on the other side, leaving the bishop buried behind my pawns.)

4.d3 Ne7?
  (I guess my friend had won a lot of games by using the bishop to pin the knight to the queen and wasn’t going to let that happen to him. But this is a very poor move that loses a pawn).


  (If he takes my knight, I take his bishop and win a pawn. The only problem is he can take my queen. The faces of my fellow chess players turned ashen for a second, but one by one they eventually understood my plan. Meanwhile, I used my college acting experience to pretend I had made a big mistake that I was hoping he didn’t see. I pursed my lips, clenched my teeth, sat stone still, and every so often glanced at his bishop and my queen. After a minute my opponent’s eyes lit up. He triumphantly surveyed all the people watching, picked up his bishop, gave a small laugh, said “This was easier than I thought.”, and captured my Queen.

5 …Bxd1???

  All the data entry people who weren’t chess players groaned when he took my best piece, but then I shot my hand out, grabbed my bishop, and took the pawn on f7, saying “Checkmate!”.

6. Bxf7!! Mate

  My opponent’s face turned beet red at the same time as the huge cheer erupted from the data entry people, followed by enormous amounts of laughter at my friend’s expense. When the laughter died down, I invited him to another game, saying in my most derisive manner, “C’mon, ya can’t lose any quicker, can ya?” The laughter erupted once more, my friend’s face turned even redder, he left the room, didn’t come to work the next day, and was never heard from again (He’s probably working for the government).

Maybe I’ve been always been a beast and just forgot.

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