I am playing in the Irish Intermediate Chess tournament, in the Royal Dublin Hotel, on O’Connell St, this weekend. Five games of chess, that’s all.
I always get very nervous before these events, I don’t quite know why. I always finish mid-table, or worse, and only now and again do well. It isn’t nerves over winning or losing, plenty of both of which I have done recently. But for some reason, the tension just gets more and more as the game progresses. It starts within reason, because I have plenty of time, but gets unbearable for me in any time scramble. The worst moment is waiting for the opponents reply when you’ve just played a bad move. Aaargh.
It isn’t the thought of looking bad in front of others either. Aside from the odd onlooker (and let’s face it, chess fans are decidedly odd!), no-one knows or cares. That’s not strictly true, but let’s face it, I ain’t Vladimir Kramnik, and even he wouldn’t make it into an Irish newspaper.
I sometimes feel exhausted and deflated after a tournament. I once played a tournament in Galway where all three of my games on a Saturday finished more or less right to the end. That’s 3 and a half hours of intense effort for each game. That’s 10 and a half hours in a day, starting at 9.30am and not finishing until 11pm or later. I remember getting a pounding headache and hardly any sleep that night, only to have to play two more games on the Sunday! I’ve played tournaments where I’ve lost my first three games and spent the entire rest of it playing the other retards at the back of the hall. All the little kids in way above their heads, or the older players who’ve come out of retirement etc.
There’s no glamour, either. Indeed, I cannot think of a less glamorous hobby. It’s the same boring old faces every year, the venues don’t change, the conditions can vary from cold to stuffy, and, frankly, nobody really cares whether you win or lose.
So, the question has to be: why do it?
I don’t really know. Maybe it is the love of chess, pure and simple. I love the pieces, the board, the clock. I love the opening, the middle game, the ending. I love playing combinations or delivering mate. I love the exotic names of the openings, such as the Queen’s Indian, the King’s Indian, the Benko Gambit, the Ruy Lopez, the Guioco Piano, even the Bluemenfeld Counter Gambit. Who could resist the Kalashnikov variation? The Winawer variation of the French defence?
That still doesn’t explain it though. Maybe I’m just slightly insane.