Far West Open — Day 0

by admin on April 10, 2009

I’m in Reno for the Far West Open, my first chess tournament of the year! I’m writing this on Friday morning, before the first round, so my score is still perfect for the year … no wins, no losses, no draws.

I had some unexpected company on the drive up to Reno. Jesse Kraai sent me an e-mail the day before and we arranged for me to pick him and David Pruess up at the famous GM House. That made the drive a lot more entertaining!

For those of you who only know Jesse through ChessLecture, he’s quite a bit different in person from the very scholarly, professorly chap that you hear in the lectures. In real life he says words like “dude” and “frickin'” a lot, which is very different from Jesse the Chess Sensei!

So what did we talk about on the four-hour ride up to Reno? Well, I talked mostly with David because he was riding in the front seat. Among other things we talked about albatrosses and David’s Internet pen pal/girl who lives in Islamabad. David said that Islamabad was recently “sealed off” for a short period of time, and we debated how easy it would be to seal off a large city. I was of the opinion that in America, it would be quite easy because we are so car-dependent. You just cut off the main roads and highways and you’re there. Of course people could get out by walking, but Americans generally speaking don’t know how to walk. The idea of walking ten or twenty or fifty miles is completely incomprehensible. And also, if you want to flee a city you would want to take some of your stuff. And Americans (students and chessplayers excepted) have a lot of stuff. So I think it would be very easy to shut off a big American city.

It’s kind of funny that we were talking about this, because yesterday Santa Cruz dropped off the Internet and phone network for several hours. Somebody apparently cut some fiber-optic cables (I don’t know the full story), and so any phones connected to the AT&T network just didn’t work. Home phones — busy. Cell phones — busy. Internet — can’t connect. It went on and on like that. I went to the gas station to get gas for my trip, and the pumps couldn’t take credit cards. I went to the bank to get money, and they had a sign on the door saying the bank was closed because of technical difficulties. It was pretty amazing. One person with a pair of scissors, apparently, was able to cut off 50,000 people from the rest of the world and turn Santa Cruz into a cash economy.

But anyway, let’s get back to the trip. I was interested to hear that Jesse has gotten on Facebook and “friended” a lot of ChessLecture listeners. I’ve been debating whether to try out Facebook. Do any of you have opinions on whether it’s a good idea or not? David says that he’s sort of a contrarian, and so he is not interested in getting on Facebook. Actually he’s not always a contrarian, but if he decides he doesn’t like something then he tends to be stubborn about it.

I asked David whether he likes playing chess in Europe. (His most recent tournament, along with Jesse, was at Cappelle le Grand in France.) Here’s how he put it. The air fare is kind of expensive, and that is the only con. Everything else is pros. You only have to play one game a day, all the equipment is provided, and most importantly you are treated with respect. Cappelle le Grand is sponsored by the city, and so it is an honor for the town to host the chess players. How many American chess tournaments are sponsored by cities, as opposed to individual promoters?


David does like the Reno tournaments run by Jerry Weikel, because he does provide good conditions for titled players. Jesse, as a GM, is getting a free room and free entry fee. David, an IM, gets free entry. Before the first round Jerry will announce who all of the titled players in the tournament are. R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Who would have thought that is what a chess player wants?

Jesse and David were quite curious about what kind of tournament we’re going to have this weekend, because the huge Foxwoods tournament is also taking place this weekend. That will probably lure away a lot of the big-name players, so we might have a very wide-open tournament with lots of chances for people like Jesse and David to win.

I asked David if his life has changed since his Samford Fellowship ended. He said he is still playing about a tournament a month, as he was when he had the fellowship, but the biggest difference is that he is now working full-time and not studying chess nearly as much. He is working for http://chess.com as, I guess, the site administrator or something. In other words, he is not just writing columns for them, he is doing all the technical stuff too. He was wearning a “Chess.com” jacket and cap, I guess as sort of a walking billboard for the site. It looks like a pretty good site to me, and I urge you to check it out.

David also said something very interesting, which was that he has for a long time had a “contract with himself,” that by the age of 28 he would get involved in some kind of activity for the betterment of society. During the period when he was just playing and studying chess, he said, it started to feel a little bit narcissistic to him. Even though he is kind of an introverted person, there is some point at which focusing only on self and self-improvement becomes a little bit tedious. So this is the year when he is going to Get Involved in something. The only problem is that he doesn’t know what yet, because there are so many good causes: education, the environment, …

I thought this was great to hear and I hope that David finds something that is worthy of his time. I do think that almost everyone, as they get older, starts to lose some of the thirst to become the best possible whatever — chess player, quilter, birdwatcher — and it’s only natural to start asking, “What is this for? How is this helping anyone else?”

We also talked a little bit about rap music. I didn’t realize this, but apparently rap music is quite big in the GM House: Vinay Bhat, Irina Krush, and David are all fans. We got onto this subject because Irina had an unfortunate incident at the Berkeley Chess School, which I will have to leave partially to the reader’s imagination because this is a G-rated blog. Basically, Irina was sitting at the back of the class listening to her rap music. Then she got up to look at the games, and one kid made a really, really stupid move, and Irina (who still had the rap music going in her head) made a comment on it with a word that you hear in just about every other line of a rap song, but you aren’t supposed to say in front of children. The kid immediately ran out of the room crying, and as you can imagine there was a bit of a scene.

Personally, I’m not a fan of rap music, although I think it would be hypocritical for me to make a blanket statement that I don’t like it. If “rap” means “spoken word,” people have been doing it for years. The hula kahiko dances, which I’ve mentioned before, are done only to chants and percussion — and that’s a form of rap. But what most people think when you say “rap” is the hip-hop form of rap that comes from the inner cities, and I’m just not into that. It doesn’t really say anything about the world I live in, and also it seems so limited to me musically. It’s using the human voice only as percussion, when the voice can do so much more — melody and harmony, for starters.

The story about Irina made me realize a whole new practical problem with rap music, as it is practiced in the inner cities, which is that it sort of lowers your resistance to certain words and expressions that are not acceptable in a lot of contexts. I wonder if it’s a little bit like pornography that way, which lowers your resistance to certain kinds of depictions. Of course, with both rap and pornography pervading our society so much these days, maybe the things that were once not acceptable will eventually become acceptable. I dunno.

Anyway, a word to the wise: If you’re going to be a teacher, you’d better either leave the rap music at home!

As I mentioned, David is also a rap music fan, and he wrote a pretty funny rap about the Cappelle le Grand tournament. I think he put it up on Chess.com somewhere, so you might want to go and look for it. I think it was G-rated, at least the online version.

One more Fact You Didn’t Know about David Pruess: he taught for a semester in China! He says that he really loves a lot of things about the Chinese culture, and if it weren’t for the awful air pollution he would be very glad to live there.

Here are two Facts You Didn’t Know about Jesse Kraai. His mother drives a Prius (as do I), and he talks to chocolate chip cookies. Or maybe it’s more correct to say that they talk to him. I brought a dozen chocolate chip cookies for the trip, and as soon as I mentioned them Jesse started hearing them talking. Perhaps I should clarify that these were actually chocolate chunk cookies, which of course are infinitely superior to chocolate chip cookies because of the larger pieces of chocolate. Chocolate chip cookies barely talk at all, I think, unless they are freshly baked.

Okay, ten minutes to go until the first round! Because Jerry Weikel’s tournaments always run late, that probably means forty minutes to go until my first game, but even so I should stop writing now and head down to the tournament room.

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