The World is a Cruel, Indifferent Place

by admin on April 20, 2011

Yesterday I read a rather strange post on by IM Jeremy Silman, called Seeking Chess Fame. Apparently Silman gets a fair number of e-mails from people who want to be famous at chess. Or as Silman says:

Can a non-titled, low rated player who desperately wants attention from players in his own category also become well known in elite chess circles? … I’ve created this question from endless ego-driven diatribes by players who stare in the mirror when nobody is around and fantasize that everyone is thinking of them in glowing terms, 24/7.

My initial reaction was, “What are they, nuts?” I mean, seriously, if you want to be famous, there are lots of better ways to do it than playing chess. It seems as if the popular way to do it these days is by singing badly in front of a camera. And if you only want to be famous among chess players, all I can say is … Why? Better to work at your local soup kitchen and be famous among the local homeless people — at least you’ll be making the world a better place.

Nevertheless, Silman turns it into a serious question and gives it a respectful answer. He suggests ideas like becoming a specialist on chess history, or becoming a tournament organizer, or becoming an expert on some particular facet of chess like endgames (but I’m not really sure a low-rated player can do this). I really like the chess organizer idea. We always need more of them, and they provide a huge service to the community and deserve all of the credit that they get.

A couple more suggestions, from my own experience: (1) Teach chess, and (2) Write a blog! The first is a really great way to make a difference at your local level, assuming you aren’t overwhelmed by kids the way I am. The second will make you famous at least among a very tiny coterie of followers. I’m actually surprised at how many times people come up to me at tournaments and say that they read my blog.

Of course, you can do both of these things, and in that case your name is Elizabeth Vicary. Her blog is witty and fun, and she also is doing amazing things as a chess teacher at an inner-city school in New York. Read here about how they won the U.S.  Junior High School National Championships. (Lots of photographs!) Is Elizabeth famous? Well, I think she is getting pretty well known on the American chess scene, and deservedly so.

Anyway, for those chess narcissists that Silman was writing about, here is my prescription. Next time, before you write to him complaining about the fact that the world does not recognize your genius, take a look at yourself in the mirror. (We know you like to do this.) Repeat after me:






Keep telling yourself this until you truly believe it. When you feel a sense of relief, then you’ll know that the cure has taken effect.

Then go outside and watch the sun set.

P.S. On a slightly related issue, does anyone know how games get into online databases? I’ve known for some time that the collection of Dana Mackenzie games at is, to put it mildly, rather embarrassing. For a long time they had six of my games, all losses. When I checked this morning, the collection was now up to nine games: eight losses and one draw. (Hooray! My draw against the late Billy Colias from the US Masters in 1990 is now rescued from obscurity. Why is just now getting around to adding that game, I cannot fathom.) My lifetime winning percentage of 5.6% has to be one of the lowest nonzero winning percentages on the site!

But this is really not too surprising, as is far from encyclopedic.  Let’s look at some other representative people around my rating level who read this blog. Brian Wall — also nine games (but a better winning percentage). Mike Splane — no games. Matt Hayes — one game. Heck, let’s even go to a much higher rating level and look up Steven Zierk. All he’s done is win the IM title and the world under-18 championship. Even he has only 15 games on, as of this writing! Nine of the games are from the 2010 U.S. Junior championship, and none are from the World Under-18 championship. Clearly is not the place to go if you want an accurate picture of his career.

However, I was surprised when I did a vanity search for my games on ChessBase. Unlike, I do consider ChessBase to be fairly comprehensive. That’s why I was willing to pay for it. Even so, ChessBase’s collection of Dana Mackenzie games is very spotty. They have 55 of my games, and none since 2008! In fact, there is only one from 2008, so it basically looks as if I stopped playing chess four years ago.

This is actually kind of handy, because if any of my opponents look up my opening repertoire on ChessBase, they won’t know what I’ve been playing recently.

For comparison, Brian Wall has 40 games in ChessBase. Mike Splane has 14, none of them more recent than 1994. Matt Hayes seems to have three games, but two of them are from the US Open in Chicago in 1994, and that might be a different Matt Hayes. Steven Zierk has 80 games, including one from way back in 2001, when he was eight or nine years old and had a 1487 rating! That one will be a historical curiosity, I’m sure.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Jim Krooskos April 20, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Hi Dana,

I use for an initial attempt at research, but mostly I use my chessbase 2010 Big Database. Also, I go to TWIC and download the latest games from the week and add them to my database.

I found this on

Where do you get your games?

The database has been constructed over a period of many years from PGN files obtained from free, public domain sources.

Primary among these sources are:

University of Pittsburgh FTP – one of the oldest and most complete archives of chessgames online.

La Regence – archive of recent chess games, organized by ECO code.

Britbase – archive of British chess games from the 1920’s to present.
Rusbase – the Russian cousin to Britbase.

The Week in Chess (TWIC) – Mark Crowther’s world famous source for brand new chess games.

Lars Balzer’s Homepage – A very well maintained list of places on the internet where you can download chess games.

The very newest games are usually obtained from the official websites of the chess events.

We also accept PGN submitted from our users, pending review by administrators. Please see our PGN Upload Page for more information.


Brian Wall April 21, 2011 at 5:23 am

I compiled 100 of my games and sent them to the editor of They said my pgns were in the wrong format. I did not pursue it. I might in the future.


Brian Wall April 21, 2011 at 5:33 am

I couldn’t care less about opponents preparing for me. I want to be Chess famous. I wrote all those anonymous letters to Silman. I do believe the Universe cares.


Marc April 21, 2011 at 9:32 am

I must admit to some level of the narcissism that Silman described. I know the Universe doesn’t care. But I get a tremendous sense of pride on the few occasions when masters paused to watch my games for more than a passing glance. I would be satisfied with a reputation for being a dangerous opponent. Still working on that one though…

Some day when my kids are older and I have more time, I might enjoy teaching or coaching chess, or organizing. I found out that my son’s school has an active chess club for the K-6 students, but my son is still in the preschool. I tried to teach him chess, but he insists that all the pieces MUST go on squares of the same color. I guess he already prefers the bishop to the knight, which has no legal moves under his scheme.

I also have this vague dream of starting a chess club in Palo Alto: The closest clubs where I can get a serious slow game on a weeknight are in Burlingame or Campbell, which are 20 miles and 1 hour of traffic in either direction.


Elizabeth Vicary April 21, 2011 at 2:14 pm

thank you!!!

The funny thing is I’m about to get married and change my name to Spiegel (after realizing that my fiancee is never asked how to spell his last name) and reset my famousness level to zero. 🙂


Matt April 22, 2011 at 5:39 am

I can confirm that not only have I never played in the US Open, I have never even been to Chicago except for layovers. 🙂 I suspect the one game that has for me is one I lost to Eric Schiller a number of years ago. I should have drawn…but I suppose if I had, he wouldn’t have published the game!


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