I got paid to play chess

Photo from: baltimore.org

Yesterday was the quarterly Baltimore Charm City Chess Tournament. I played in the U1400 section.

Typically, I compete with my buddy. But he was on a work trip so I was left to my own devices.

I got to the hotel early, as I always do. After signing in and dropping off my bags (my chess set and food), I took my usual stroll around the Johns Hopkins campus.

It always gives me anxiety walking on a college campus. It brings me back to my days of skipping class and feeling low status. Sometimes I feel insecure pacing by students as a 28-year-old man with a mustache.

But it was a lovely day. The air was crisper as fall approaches.

When it got closer to 10:30 I headed back to the hotel to see the first pairings. My first of five opponents was a teenager with a lisp.

Shit.

In the first game in my last tournament, I played against a four-year-old and nearly lost. I’m not proud of it, but losing to a kid has a particular sting to it.

But this teen was good. He slowly squeezed me until I blundered a piece and resigned. After losing, my mind flooded with excuses.

I’m tired. It’s not as fun without my friend here. I might leave early and enjoy my Sunday.

Fear of failure leads our minds to hilarious places. I texted my buddy, “Never again will I do a tournament by myself.” I was so salty!

If you’ve ever climbed a mountain or worked on a difficult project, you know this feeling.

Starting or launching a pursuit is exciting and novel. We have these shiny images of what it’s going to be like. Then we get going.

Nine times out of ten, it gets hard or boring or both. We have to push through resistance. We need to improvise and solve problems we didn’t account for.

At some point, we even question why we wanted to do this thing in the first place. That’s where I was at. All I could think about was losing my remaining four games.

But I stayed.

In game two, I demolished the poor guy and he resigned after 13 moves. Chess was fun again.

I texted that same friend, “Nvm just beat a guy in 13 moves my spirits have lifted.”

It’s wild how easily our states can change. It makes me question reality. How much of our perceptions of what is going on are painted or tainted by how we feel at that moment? I went from genuinely hating chess to being eternally grateful for spending a day playing my favorite game.

With my newly-found momentum, I won the rest of my games—tying for second place and winning $100.

The winner and I played in my first-ever tournament last winter. We drew. I saw him and congratulated his performance.

These events always pump me up to improve my game and play more. If you’d like to see my actual games, here’s a link to a study I made. I even annotated some of them so you can see my thought process.

Having hobbies and activities that have nothing to do with work or money is rewarding and therapeutic.

What are your favorite things to do outside of work? Let me know.

(PS—Here’s my favorite final position from round 5. It’s rare to have the enemy king so deep in your own territory.)