Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Trash or Treasure?

  Last May my son Matt took a trip to Oklahoma with Tim McEntee, Pete Karagianis, Jeremy Madison to play in the North American Open. In order to play, Matt became a member of the Oklahoma Chess Foundation and gets a quarterly magazine called the Oklahoma Chess Quarterly. He received the latest copy of the magazine last Friday and on Saturday when Kathy took the boys to visit Grandma, I started reading it while the Daisy and Baxter were taking a nap on the couch.

  The Oklahoma Chess Quarterly is a very nice magazine that shows a lot of the top level games and tournament stories about the state. This issue had an article by Bob Moeller of Nogal, New Mexico on page 8 titled ‘Stop playing Trash Chess!!’ In the article, Mr. Moeller tells me that unless I’m playing chess at a time limit of at least 15 minutes or greater, I’m playing trash chess and if I’m addicted to it, I’m destroying any chance I have for chess improvement, and moreover, that I’m not a real chess player! Here I am relaxing on my couch with my beagles reading a magazine and by the time I got to page 8, I’m all insulted and hopping mad.

  Mr. Moeller says that chess was invented as a thinking person’s game and wasn’t designed to be a shoot-‘em-up video game where the winner is the guy who can jerk a mouse around the fastest. He also says that trash chess is a travesty of a game where the winner is “either the guy who still has a few seconds left on his clock when the other guy ran out [of time], or who committed the next to last game losing howler (which his opponent didn’t see)”

  I don’t know who appointed Moeller the decider of what is trash chess and what is not and whether I’m a real chess player or not but it wasn’t me.

  I play on the Internet Chess Club almost every day at the time limit of 1 minute per player for all their moves and am probably clinically addicted to it, but I haven’t seen much degrading of my chess at longer time limits. If I only have 10 minutes, I’d much rather play 5 1-minute chess games than 1 5-minute game, and I’d rather play 1 5-minute game than none at all. I’ll admit that there’s not a lot of time when playing a one minute game to ponder your moves, but a large part of the charm is being forced to go with your gut and having to make split second decisions.

  There are some benefits to playing quick chess. When I play a few quick ones before I go to work in the morning, I get a good sense of how my mind is working for the day ahead. I’ve never stayed home after a morning losing streak, but have had an extra cup of coffee and even put some simpler assignments at the top of my to-do list if I didn’t feel in good form. Since I am used to playing an entire game in one minute, when I’m teaching chess or running a tournament, I can put on a show for the kids by playing them with time odds of one minute for me and 5 or more minutes for them. I have an excellent winning percentage because not only am I generally a better player than the kids, they get in the habit of trying to match my speed.

  By playing so much one minute chess, I’ve gotten a good feel for how to play certain chess positions by having thousands of games of experience in them. There is a good argument to be made that my time would be better spent by studying one position in full, but at some point I’m going to deal with an unfamiliar position and in these cases, I’d like a refined sense of intuition to guide me to know what to analyze in the first place.

  I wish Mr. Moeller understood that chess is a GAME. A lot of people play it because it is FUN. Like thousands of other chess players, I enjoy playing 1-minute games. If you don’t approve, PLEASE keep it to yourself or at least stop saying the game I love to play is trash and I’m not a real chess player. It is not trash chess. It is just a different kind of chess than you enjoy playing. I’m sure that some correspondence players who take days to make a move snicker and laugh at you for thinking you play real chess at a time limit of an hour or two or three for all your moves and don’t think you are a real chess player either. They just are too polite to say so out loud.

  I just love these types who like to get all insulting because other people enjoy an activity in a slightly different way than they do. Like those guys who whine about the NCAA tournament having 68 teams unlike the good old days when only the 12 conference winners got a chance to play. Or the football fans who think concussions would be eliminated if the players just went back to wearing leather helmets. And the poker players who think their particular brand of game is the only true test of skill. I’m as real a chess player as the next guy and if I want to play 1 minute chess in Iowa, I don’t need some guy from New Mexico having an article in a Oklahoma chess magazine knocking me for it. As the children say, GET A LIFE!!!

  I’m planning on writing a letter to the OCQ to reply to this article, but for now, here are the 4 games of 1 minute chess I played yesterday morning. If you read the notes, I hope you will get a sense of the fun and excitement that can be had in a couple of minutes on the chessboard, even if they don’t pass Moeller’s ‘chess elegance’ test. They have more mistakes than longer games, but not that many more. I’ve played many 5 hour games and have yet to play a perfect game, but I can’t remember having more fun in 10 minutes than these 4 games.

  Don't get the wrong idea by the 4 wins. It was just a good morning. I lose a lot of games in 1-minute chess, some in embarassing fashion. But that still doesn't make it any less fun. If I needed to win every game, I'd buy a Sudoku book.