The best series of articles at chess.com came to an unexpected and somewhat sad conclusion last week. I wrote previously in two posts (here and here) about Bryan Smith’s series, “A Traveling Chess Player,” which began with his impulsive and not completely planned decision at the beginning of 2011 to travel to Eastern Europe to play chess. Although I have not met Bryan in person, I knew him via the Internet as one of my fellow lecturers at ChessLecture.
After a rocky start as he got his bearings in a new culture, Bryan’s play suddenly blossomed after a strong performance in the Bulgarian Open. He achieved two GM norms and got his FIDE rating over 2500. Although he missed America, he seemed to have found himself. “While playing in tournaments, I feel like a human being and am able to have respect for myself, something I could not in the U.S.,” he wrote at the end of the fifth installment of his series. He had no plans at that time to return to the U.S.
However, in his latest update, called “A Traveling Chess Player 6: My Last Good Tournament,” our hero writes that things have not gone so well for him over the past year. He has had an unbroken string of nine consecutive bad tournaments, during which his rating has tumbled from 2515 to 2440, and needless to say, he has not managed to get his third GM norm. He is planning to return to the U.S. once again at the beginning of June. “I hope that returning to my former life will let me regain my ability to play chess,” he writes.
I read this with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it will be great to have Bryan playing in U.S. tournaments again. But on the other hand, I’m sorry to see his great European adventure end on such a down note. I hope that years from now, when the disappointment is not so fresh, he will look back on the last year and a half and realize what a wonderful time it was.
I also hope that he’ll be able to use this experience to add maturity and wisdom to his play. It seems as if he is still prone to brutal, self-critical, emotional funks. Next time thing are going badly, I hope he’ll tell himself: “Look, I’ve played chess at a castle in Italy. I learned to navigate the Eastern European train system. I learned a new language completely from scratch and lived with it for a year. Compared to that, how hard could it be to play a chess game?”
And if his plan to become a chess grandmaster doesn’t work out, perhaps he’s discovered his real calling in life — to be a travel writer! (I’m actually being a little bit serious here. From what I’ve seen, Bryan could be an outstanding travel writer. Not only that, he’d probably make more money and have more prestige in our chess-indifferent society. I’m just sayin’…)