My friend and I played in our first chess tournament this Saturday.
It was one of my favorite days ever. Not because of any result, which I’ll get into. But because of how fun the experience was. Let me explain.
1) I got to spend the day doing something I love with one of my best friends.
We got there an hour early. That’s my style. For any event, I’d rather be an hour early than a minute late.
We settled in, validated my parking in the Hilton garage, and prepared.
My buddy brought a couple books and his laptop to do some last-minute studying. I took a different approach.
Since the hotel was right across the street from the Johns Hopkins campus, I took a 30-minute stroll. It was gorgeous.
I walked past their cafeteria, quad, sporting facility, as well as the largest gym I think I’ve ever seen.
I wasn’t thinking about chess at all. I was meditating over how cool it was to finally be competing in this thing I fell in love with over the past year.
It was refreshing to clear my head. I didn’t think twice about not doing any last-minute studying.
Before a big fight, a reporter went into the locker room to find Floyd Mayweather playing Xbox. He said, “Aren’t you going to warm up for the bout?”
Floyd glanced over and smiled. “If I’m not ready by now, I’m not ready.”
Yes, I compare my chess playing to the greatest boxer ever. But that’s how it felt. I was as ready as I could be. And that made me feel totally present as I floated by those Hopkins students.
2) We got to nerd-out with other chess peeps.
This tournament broke the Baltimore record for the largest private chess competition. There were 96 registered players. 51 were competing in my section.
Everyone was so kind. Between rounds, we could see almost every table in the lobby with a chessboard on it and people analyzing their last game or playing blitz.
It was cool to know that everyone in the room enjoyed chess so much that they too signed up to play in a tournament.
There were four rounds (games). We had a 30 to 60-minute break between rounds to eat, chat, and chill. Then the next pairings would post and we’d make our way to our tables.
For more than half of the players, it was also their first tournament.
Each round, you got paired up against someone with the same record as you. That way one would hopefully play people closer to their skill level. It also meant that each round got harder…and more fun.
3) I played well.
My first game was against a 13-year-old kid. I felt bad.
He was clearly newer to chess and I obliterated him. Starting out with a win boosted my confidence but I didn’t want to get complacent and expect each round to be that easy.
My friend lost his first game, unfortunately. He got paired against a pretty good player.
In Round 2, I got placed with another player who was 1-0. He was a super nice 20-year-old who drove down with his two buddies from Harrisburg, PA.
He was much better than my first opponent. But over time, I was able to chip away at his kingside, win his Queen, and be up so much material that he eventually resigned.
I could see him get visibly frustrated with himself during our game. We shook hands and wished each other well for the remaining two rounds. My buddy also won his game.
I was most nervous for Round 3 since I assumed my opponents would only be getting better. I was correct.
My third opponent was a calm and quiet guy with long hair. It was also my first game with the black pieces, which meant I moved second.
That was one of the most intense games I’ve ever played. I pressed him, then he pressed me, then I broke through. Then he blundered a piece. I was winning. My heart was pounding. Then…I blundered a piece! We got back to an even game and he got me in a perpetual check. We agreed to a draw.
I was kicking myself a little for not converting a won game. But I was mostly just happy I didn’t lose. A draw is .5 points. I was 2.5/3. My buddy, who lost his third game, was 1/3.
For whatever reason, this was the first game where I wasn’t nervous. Maybe it was because I was exhausted. We got there at 10am and it was now 4:30pm.
The guy was talkative and kind. I thought he would be my toughest opponent. But I won his Queen in 11 moves.
After that, I started trading pieces and chipping away at his defenses. I had checkmate in two so he resigned. He was pissed.
I felt bad because we were the first ones done out of 26 games. I was relieved to be finished and thrilled I didn’t lose a game.
I finished 3.5/4. My friend won his last game to go 2/4.
What this means.
To my surprise, I got third place out of 51 players. That obviously felt good.
It also means I now have a professional record in chess. I have a provisional rating of about 1400. That’s like a rating with an asterisk.
Once I play 25 games (21 to go), I’ll have my actual rating.
Last night, I signed up for my next tournament—The 59th Annual Baltimore Open. It’s next month and the players should be quite good.
But for now, I’m celebrating a phenomenal start to my chess career. I played well, got some hardware, and had a blast with my good friend.
What more could I ask for?