Turning European

by admin on July 14, 2011

This is just a very short entry, to tell all readers of this blog that they are required to click here and read the continuation of Bryan Smith’s travelogue in Europe. His series, “A Traveling Chess Player,” is the best writing ever on chess.com. It’s a rich, fascinating tapestry that isn’t just about chess — it’s about being young, going on an adventure, discovering yourself, and discovering the world. Especially a part of the world (Bulgaria, Poland, Czech Republic and Serbia) that is not on the radar screen of most Americans.

That’s really all I need to say, but if you want a short reminder of the plot, here it is.

Bryan (who is, by the way, one of my ChessLecture colleagues) was thoroughly disillusioned with chess in America and with his own poor play. He decided before the first article to pick up and move to Europe and seek his chess fortune there. Articles 1-3 are about his experiences in the first couple of months, when he continued to play badly and made up his mind to quit chess. But he had committed to play in one more tournament, the Bulgarian Open. Against all odds, he won third place there and earned a grandmaster norm. Most importantly, he wrote at the end of Article 3, “I realized I was happy being a chess player again.”

Originally he had intended to end the series there, but so many people clamored for more that he has now written two more installments. These recount some more aimless wandering, some unexpected tournament successes in difficult-to-get-to places, and finally Bryan finding a place to settle down semi-permanently in Serbia.

What strikes me most in this series is the way that Bryan keeps on doing better than he expected. He’s improving, and he doesn’t even know why. My theory is that this experience of living in other countries and coping with completely unfamiliar situations is forcing his mind to be open and receptive. He got past the critical point when everything seemed to be coming apart, and now the seeds he planted in the winter are flourishing in the spring.

The only thing I don’t quite get is the reason for Bryan’s utter disillusionment with American chess. He writes, “tournaments in the U.S., particularly the biggest ones (those run by the Continental Chess Association), were like self-torture conventions, where a bunch of crazy people would gather to cut off their fingers with knives. The atmosphere, for someone who has spent his life in chess, is soul-crushing.” My experience has been completely different. Bryan’s articles don’t really give you any specifics about why he feels this way. But maybe it’s just as well for him to leave unpleasant memories in the past.

Anyway, don’t miss these great articles. Bryan says that this is the end of the series, but as we’ve seen before, his plans can change, and I hope they will.  😎

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Jason Rihel July 14, 2011 at 11:03 am

For those big American Opens, I certainly understand the soul-crushing feeling. First, they are pricey, both to enter and to secure a place to stay. Second, at two rounds a day, most of these tournaments don’t even leave enough time for food gathering, let alone time to do anything fun with friends or family. What is the point of travelling to some great tournament location only to sit in an over-air conditioned room for up to 12 hours a day?

I took my wife to a big chess tournament like this exactly once. I thought it would be fun, and I even took some strategic byes to allow for some free time. Instead, as we scrambled to find dinner at 11 PM for the second night in a row after both my games went to sudden death time controls, I vowed never to do that again.

Even though I did well in that tournament, it felt at times like torture.


admin July 14, 2011 at 11:27 am

Well, that’s certainly true. The big American Swisses are inimical to normal non-chess relationships and family life. That may be one reason why chess in this country seems to attract a relatively high percentage of, um, socially impaired people.

My wife tried going with me to tournaments for a few years, but she hated it. There was nothing for her to do, and I was so cranky if I played badly. The only tournaments she ever accompanies me to now are the ones in Reno, because there are so many kinds of entertainment available.


Jason Rihel July 15, 2011 at 8:49 am

I also think that, at Bryan’s level, the big American swisses offer minimal reward for a maximum of headache. I’ve been following my friend IM Marc Esserman’s travels through Europe this summer (he was mentioned in Bryan’s recent essay when they crossed paths in Serbia). As a titled player, he often gets conditions to play. The prizes also go fairly deep into the player pool, so, even with a stiff competition, a top 10 finish will bring with it some reasonable prize. Usually there is one round per day, at a good time control. For guys trying to break into the top levels of chess, it sounds like a great deal.

And for us well under 2400 types, I think the chess club format offers a more flexible and friendly air than the big swisses.


Jason Rihel July 15, 2011 at 8:51 am

By the way, I want to add that I loved Bryan’s chess.com articles as well. Some of the best chess writing I’ve seen in a while.


Marc August 2, 2011 at 2:18 pm

I agree: Bryan’s articles are by far the best writing I’ve seen on Chess.com.

I don’t play in any big USCF tournaments precisely because they seem to coincide with holidays. I spend enough time away from my kids as it is due to my job. I look forward to when my young children are older so I might be able to go to 1 or 2 weekend events, like Reno or CalChess State Ch. The only format that works for me is weeknight club play. Fortunately there are several organizations in the SF Bay Area offering such opportunities at a relaxed pace of 1 game/week, typically SD/120.


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