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The Quest for 2000 (but I’ll settle for 1500)

Note: This is the first in a series of posts that became “The Patzer Chronicles”.  The first 10 posts were originally published at my other blog, Nothing N’ Nobody over at blogger.com.  The rest of the series will follow as soon as I can get off my lazy ass and copy them over here.  This post, the first, was published on December 10, 2011.

I am a chess player.  It is a game that I find both enjoyable and perplexing.  The vast amount of opening theory alone is enough to fill a bank of super computers.  But I suppose that is what I love about it.  It is a game of unlimited challenge.  It is practically unsolvable (though the computer engines are hard at work trying to prove otherwise).

I don’t get much of a chance to play chess.  When I do, it is usually against one of the personalities in Chessmaster 9000, the computer game.  Practically no one I know in real life plays chess.  So when I grow weary of silicon-based opponents, I turn to the internet.

My favorite place to play (read: the only place I play) is the Free Internet Chess Server, or FICS.  As the name implies, it is free to play here and it is always easy to find a game, no matter what your skill level or time control preference.  And, if you don’t want to use the web interface on FICS, they offer several graphical interfaces that are powerful and easy to use.  I use Babaschess which is the most popular of the interfaces, but there are lots of choices.  There are even ones for mobile phones.

To play chess on FICS, you don’t even have to register, you can play as a guest.  However, if you want to play rated games, and thereby earn a rating, and play tournaments, then registration is required.  I play under the handle of DissidentAggresor.  Although I have been a member at FICS since 2007, I have only managed to play 8 games (7 rated).  That’s not exactly an accelerated pace.  As I said, I rarely manage to find time for chess, especially against living, breathing opponents.  I think that’s why I play so much against my computer.  Time is not as much of a factor.  I can pause the game or start and stop whenever I want.

Anyway, my rating on FICS is presently 1282 for blitz (5 games) and 1583 for standard (2 games).  My record for blitz (any game less than 15 minutes per player) is 3 wins, 1 loss, 1 draw.  The 3 wins came in two 10-minute games and one 12-minute game.  In standard time controls, I managed 1 win and 1 loss (both 15 minute games).  I prefer standard time controls to blitz because I’m a slow thinker.  But it is easier to find opponents at the shorter time controls.  Still I try to play a mix of game lengths.

So, why am I telling you all this?  Because I have decided to play more chess online.  I want to improve my chess.  I want to achieve a rating of 2000 in either blitz or standard or both.  Now a rating of 2000 is a lofty goal in chess, even on an online chess server.  So I threw in the caveat that I will settle for 1500.  Now, my current standard rating is 1583, but because I have played so few games, it most likely isn’t very accurate.  My ratings would be what FIDE, the World Chess Federation, calls provisional.  FIDE requires that you play at least 20 rated games before your rating becomes standard.  So I have a ways to go.

So let the quest begin!  I will continue to post updates as I go along.  My goal is to play at least one game every week, hopefully more.  I guess you could say it’s my move.

PARD and Me (or, How I became a Chess Player)

Note: This essay is a draft of a post to my profile on Chessgames.com  (user: BishopofBlunder ), originally published around the 2006-2007 time frame.  It was inspired by another user on the site, Richard Taylor, who asked in one of the forums to hear members’ stories on  how they started playing chess.  This is my story.

When I was a boy in Garland, Texas (USA), a municipal organization called PARD (Parks And Recreation Department) used to run a recreation center during the summer months in the gymnasium of the junior high school located a half of a block from my house. They offered activities to children who were out of school for the summer months (June, July, and August). It had a ping pong table, basketballs, and a few board games, but most kids, myself included, went there to play wiffle ball. Basically, wiffle ball is baseball played with a hollow plastic ball, usually with some holes in it for aerodynamic purposes, and a plastic bat.  I wiled away many a hot summer day here.

Sometimes the older boys wouldn’t let the younger ones play wiffle ball with them. On one such occasion, when I was one of the younger boys, a friend of mine and I were looking through the board games when we came across a chess set. Oddly, there was no checkers available. My friend asked if I knew how to play chess and I said no, but I think it is similar to checkers only you don’t jump the pieces, you land on their square and capture them. I had seen chess on TV, but didn’t know the first thing about it. Having no idea how to set up the board properly, we put the pieces down at random using the same type of set up used for checkers. We started playing, just moving one square at a time, regardless of the piece, and capturing as we went along. One of the older boys saw this and asked what we were playing. “Chess”, we replied.  He laughed and said, “that is not how chess is played.”

He asked if we wanted to learn how to play chess properly and, always being a very curious young man, I said yes. My friend didn’t seem interested and excused himself. So this 16 or 17 year old boy, who looked all grown up to me, and whose name I cannot recall, started teaching me the game of chess. He taught me the starting position, the names of the pieces and their movements. I was fascinated by the complexity of the game and the characteristics of the different pieces.  They were like characters in a fantasy, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.  My favorite piece was the Bishop. I liked the way it moved diagonally, slashing its way, serpentine-like, across the board.

We played a few games and he trounced me completely, of course. I even fell victim to the dreaded “Fool’s Mate”. This was not long after the Fischer-Spassky World Championship Match, and he would tell me about Fischer and how he was the first, and only, American ever to be World Champion. I continued to play at the gym occasionally with my “teacher” or one of the few others who played chess. Or I would watch one of their games and try to soak up some knowledge.

That Christmas my parents bought me a small table that had a chess board and some plastic pieces. The table was particle board with a cheap veneer finish and the pieces were cheap molded plastic, but I thought it was the most beautiful thing in the world. They also bought me a copy of “Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess”. I read that book a dozen times, working all the problems over and over.

The main problem I had was finding someone to play chess with. None of my friends were interested in chess. They were only concerned with “normal” sports like football, basketball, and baseball. I talked my sister into playing with me. But after I beat her 3 or 4 times she lost interest and started to avoid the subject. Eventually, the table got broken (from playing ball in the house) and we got rid of it.

I gave up chess until 11 years later in 1984, I shared a room with a friend of mine in Fort Worth, named “Truck”, who played some chess. We both worked nights and when we would get home from work, we would stay up all night playing chess and listening to Pink Floyd. Neither of us had any clue about opening principles or tactical combinations. We simply moved the pieces and tried to gain material. It wasn’t great chess but it was a load of fun! We were pretty evenly matched but I came out on top more often than not.

The next year, I moved back to Garland and lost touch with Truck. I didn’t play, or even think, about chess again until 1988, shortly after I got married. Late that year, my wife’s stepfather passed away. I was helping my mother-in-law move some stuff, that she was going to sell, out of her house. In the stuff, I found a beautiful ceramic chess board with ceramic pieces. The board was very large, bout 2-1/2 feet square, and separated into four square sections. I commented to my mother-in-law on how much I liked the chess set and she gave it to me.

We had a large square coffee table with a glass top that the board fit on perfectly. Once again, though, I was without an opponent.

Not long after this, I went to work for Domino’s Pizza and met a man, Scott, who knew how to play. He had played in some tournaments before and knew some traps. When we first started playing, he beat me consistently. As I said, my favorite piece is the Bishop. I could use them well. But the knights were a different story. I had no idea how to use them effectively. Scott was the opposite. He was brilliant playing with his knights, but he hated the bishops. He would trade his bishop for a knight every time, but would hold on to his knights like they were gold.

I am a very competitive person. I don’t like to lose at anything. So, in order to compete with Scott, I knew I had to do something. I went to the library and found some books on chess. I studied some opening principles and simple tactical combinations.

It took a while, but eventually I managed to draw a few games with him and even win a couple. I learned the secret to beating him was to get those darn knights of his off the board as soon as possible. Knights were to Scott like hair was to Samson. We spent many enjoyable hours hunched over the board.

Then Scott went and joined the Army, so I lost my partner again. I went on another hiatus from chess for a while, though I would still play an occasional game against my computer (Chessmaster 2100, baby!).

I became interested in playing chess again a few years ago, updated my chess program to Chessmaster 9000 and began studying again. Thanks to the users on Chessgames.com and some other internet advisors, I am now learning the game of chess backwards, so to speak. I have begun with simple checkmates and tactics and will work my way up (back?) to opening theory.

My chessmaster rating just reached 1000, so I have a long way to go. Looks like it is going to be a fun ride.

And that is how I became a chessplayer. 

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