Chess and romance

by admin on July 9, 2008

I know you’re all impatiently waiting for my first post from “Dana’s Secret Chess Files,” but today I’d like to tell you about the first time my girlfriend (who is now my wife) came with me to a chess tournament. The tournament was in Jacksonville, North Carolina, in 1988. We had been dating for a month or two. Of course I had told her about how I was the North Carolina Champion, blah blah blah. I thought it would be very romantic if she watched while I played my game. Kay figured sure, why not give it a try?

The game started out as a Staunton Gambit in the Dutch Defense (I was White): 1. d4 f5 2. e4 de 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 and here my opponent made a typical beginner’s mistake 4. … d5? I played 5. Bxf6 ef 6. Qh5+, and got ready to gobble up the two pawns on d5 and e4.

Woo-hoo! Exciting stuff! We’re only on move 6, and I’m already winning! Of course, that is almost unheard of in a tournament chess game. I look over at Kay to signal thumbs up … and I’m shocked to see that she is fast asleep! (Well, that may be an exaggeration, but her eyes were at least at half mast.) I eventually won the game in 17 moves, and it took about an hour. For me, it was an incredibly fast game. But for her, it was about the longest hour of her life. That was the last time she ever tried to sit through one of my chess games.

It was still a fun weekend. I finished second in the tournament, and she got to meet some of my friends. One of them, Glenn Fleming, told her about how chess players conduct “biological warfare” during a tournament, by not shaving or showering or using deodorant. Ummm… Gee thanks, Glenn. I’m trying to impress my girlfriend, and you tell her that?

Of course, Kay and I stuck together. For some reason she didn’t run away from me, even after she realized that I spent several weekends a year playing a non-spectator-friendly sport with a bunch of smelly, unshaved guys. Somehow I stuck with her, even after I realized that she wasn’t going to be my personal cheerleading section. When you love someone, you accept their reality, not your fantasy.

As Kay’s career and her own interests have developed, she has accompanied me to fewer and fewer tournaments over the years. She especially didn’t like having to check out of the hotel at noon on Sundays and wait eight or ten hours for my last game to finish. It might have been different if she played the game, but she decided at the very beginning that she didn’t want to set herself up as a competitor to me. She does know how the pieces move, and one time she played my then five-year-old nephew and won. She made sure to tell me about it: “See, I know how to play chess! I beat a five-year-old kid!”  😉

There is one delightful exception to the rule that chess and family don’t mix (for our family) — the tournaments in Reno. Kay looks forward to our Reno weekends as much as I do. It is close enough that we can drive, so we don’t have to spend a whole lot of money on plane tickets. And she enjoys Reno as a vacation destination. While I’m playing chess, she is shopping at the quilt shops and having fun at the casinos, playing slot machines and bingo. Usually three days are just about enough time for her to run through her stake, and then it’s time to go home. Sometimes we’ll catch a show the night before the tournament, or I might even take a bye for one round so that we can have a night out. At the end, she is glowing from the fun weekend, and I am glowing from the chess tournament. Sometimes, one or the other of us even comes home with more money than we had at the beginning of the trip!

So … Do any of you have stories about introducing your girlfriend or boyfriend to chess? How do you keep them from turning into a “chess widow” (or widower)? If your “significant other” doesn’t play chess, have you found any way to make tournaments an enjoyable experience for both of you? If he or she does play chess, how do you keep the relationship from turning into a rivalry?

P.S. Kay and I have been married for 19 years now, and even though she doesn’t play chess with me, she still supports my addiction habit avocation.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Sara July 10, 2008 at 2:43 am

Hi Dana,

I love to read your blog, but generally prefer to lurk rather then join the commentary which is always a joy to read as well. But I can’t sit back idly while you mention my hometown. My dad Jeff Walsh is the one who used to host tournaments at the USO and I grew up playing there. I have very fond memories of beating the adult Marines and eventually most of the regulars except IM Tim Taylor and Dad and maybe a couple others. I can’t comment on the significant other bit; though I have had chess playing boyfriends, I’ve never stayed in a relationship for it to matter much. Thanks for the mention of my hometown. It brought a smile of fondness to my face before having to go to work. Keep up your great blog. All of it’s been a joy to read.

Best regards,
Sara Walsh


admin July 10, 2008 at 8:08 am

Hi Sara, Thanks for de-lurking! It’s great to know there are people out there whom I don’t know about.

Yes, the name Jeff Walsh is very familiar, and perhaps I even saw you, too, if you were hanging around that particular tournament. Actually, I played your father a month earlier (May 1988), at a one-day quad in Raleigh, and we drew. The USO tournament was in June of 1988. That’s the only one I ever played in, because I moved away from North Carolina the following year. But I certainly have fond memories of it!

If you or your father are trying to remember me, don’t forget that my name at the time was Dana Nance; I didn’t change it until 1989 when I got married.

The name Tim Taylor also brings back memories. He won the tournament, of course, and beat me in a very instructive endgame. In fact, now that I think about it, I should do another post just about that game (and maybe some of the other games I played in that tournament).


Dan S July 10, 2008 at 9:17 am

My wife isn’t at all interested in taking chess seriously, but she wanted to get good enough to beat her friends. I pointed her at the Chess Tactics Server, had her play some correspondence games online and went over them with her, and now she can beat her friends (and promptly lost interest in progressing any further, which is fine). I figure that’s about 1000-1200 level.


Thadeus Frei July 10, 2008 at 10:27 am

Hello everyone Im not sure but is an expert someone rated from 2000-2200. thanks



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