Return of the Prodigal Chess Player

by admin on June 4, 2012

The best series of articles at 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’…)


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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Matt June 5, 2012 at 11:28 am

I’ve become quite a fan of Bryan’s lectures on It took a while for me to be won over… for some reason, I didn’t care for him so much early on. I always enjoyed your lectures, Dana, plus those of Jesse and Dennis but if I only watch two or three people, I might have to wait a while between lectures!

Therefore, I started listening to more and more of Bryan’s lectures and they have really grown on me. He hasn’t talked much about his European travels, at least not in his lectures, so perhaps there’s an opportunity there for him to show some of his games. His losses (and it seems there have been quite a few in the last year) could be very instructive for both his audience and for himself.


Lam Nguyen June 5, 2012 at 4:44 pm

If I’m in fantasy land, I would really want to be like Bryan, traveling and playing chess. But as most of us are living in reality and chess is a hobby, how many of us have the times / money/ or obligations to commit to this fantasy. This freakonomic situation begs the question where does Bryan get the money to do all of this? Is he married with kids? I wonder what his wife is telling him right now. On a side note, I saw one IM website asking for sponsor so he can play in a tournament in Southern California. Amateur players like myself have to put out all the dough so IM like him can get a freebie entrance fee.


Kevin June 7, 2012 at 8:28 am

How can he think that returing to his former life would bring his game back? but the whole thing is that we learn from our mistakes. I hope he will look back and find what went wrong so it can all be fixed 🙂
I was also reading and found it a new fresh unique blog to read. Have a look I reccommend it


Jens Svalbard September 23, 2015 at 5:59 pm

Lam Nguyen, why don’t you become and IM then, so you too could beg for money? Wouldn’t that be a good reward for the hard work? Oh, but you wouldn’t be eligible for your class prizes anymore.
Amazingly, it doesn’t cost much to live in or travel around Eastern Europe. Win an open tournament or two, and you too could do it.


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