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A Canadian chessmaster discusses his benefits & disappointments from offline chess

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Based on old chesstalk message board posts of mine:

First, I'll summarize my personal disappointments with competitive offline chess:

As a Canadian teenager back in the 1970's I made some [optimistic] guesses about what chess might have in store for me, Canada, or even for the grand old game itself, if I decided to pursue it at least half seriously for a lifetime, and these guesses all proved to be entirely ... wrong.

Guess #1: I could become at least a Grandmaster if I studied hard, if not a world-class player or even world champion.

Reality: This didn't happen. I consider myself fairly exceptional to have even become a master by my mid-twenties (I advanced little further, though I've not been short on ideas on what I could do to try to improve, with time & effort).

Btw, it should be well known that nowadays if you haven't made a big splash by the time you're twenty, you can forget about being a world-class player. I forget where I read this, but it seems to be quite true.

Guess #2: If I became at least a master, I would surely more than recoup all of my lifetime's tournament entry fees (if not book and equipment costs) in prize money.

Reality: Not even close.

Guess #3: Even if I failed to become any sort of a strong player, I could hope to produce some sort of brilliant 'immortal game' that would be published all over the world.

Reality: Even though I became a master, I've long since realized that it invariably takes two strong players playing freakishly good chess for there to be any chance of a masterpiece ever being produced. Oddly enough, my relatively recent simul games against Short and Shirov did make it to Chessbase's website momentarily, and lots of my lesser games are distributed worldwide, courtesy of monster databases now.

Guess #4: The state of organized chess in Canada would somehow improve in a steady fashion, enabling me to think about playing professionally, i.e. without writing, teaching, and coaching, even if I was merely an International Master. That was in spite of what the know-it-all middle-aged casual players were constantly saying at the local club.

Reality: As we all know, this didn't happen, but, rather, things got worse, to put it mildly. I can console myself with the thought that one IM I know made the same miscalculation regarding Canada's chess 'infrastructure', and he has stopped playing the game for several years now.

Guess #5: Computer playing programs would never rise to the level of strong chess players, so the glory of humanity (including possibly myself) would forever rule chess. All the books I read back in the 1970's said so. I had some doubts, but when I took into account the exponential possibilities of the game, I finally reassured myself it was true.

Reality: Boy was everybody wrong! As a teen in the 1970s, when chess was taking a lot of my time & my progress was slow, I began to dream of computers beating people (or even solving chess), using programs that simulated human thinking, as a reason to quit my addiction to chess. Much later I felt cheated when programs did the job more by brute force and speedy hardware, but recently self-teaching programs (thinking more like people, maybe) have excelled at chess & other games of skill etc. However we may be approaching technological singularity (i.e. where machines outhink people), with all the possible pitfalls that has for mankind. Be careful what you wish for! In any case, I never broke the addiction to chess completely.

Now, for the rewards I perceive that I get from competitive offline chess:

Having seen all of my early guesses/dreams for chess long since crumble, one might ask what I now get out of playing the game. Well, aside from being left somewhat addicted to the game, I still get a kick out of playing a huge variety of openings and positions. Looking up stuff in databases and books still makes for fun home study - very hobby-like. I get to play weekly at my local club, where competition is generally neither too weak nor too strong. There's also that just playing can produce pleasure (and a memory), whether for you, your opponent, or anyone playing over a game if it's on record.

Even more fun is going upstairs to the bar and grill after my club games. Weekend chess cash prize tournaments (roughly bi-monthly, for me) provide the illusion of chasing after serious cash, even though rationally I know it's a losing gamble in the long run, especially now that some titled players are competing (though it's stimulating to play them still). I think I may be looking forward to getting into seniors chess events soon, especially if the CMA or CFC provides more infrastructure.

I should add that I estimate that the ratio of particularly interesting games (to me, in any way) that I play competitively offline is about 1 game in 7, which may be lower than for most players, perhaps because I am a National Master who is more inclined to cringe at even 1 particularly bad move played in a game. In an old chesstalk poll I did, the average estimated ratio was about 1 game in 3 for all of the relatively few people that responded to the poll. For any who don't know, a typical weekend tournament involves playing 5 games.

Below is a link giving 12 reasons I think people may have to play chess without much taking skill level or ambition into account:

A link re: why chess is so popular among board games of skill:

Below is a link re: what I think the future of chess may be:

Below is a link re: my thoughts on reducing the perceived geek factor of chess:

A link re: some ideas of mine for new Chess Federation of Canada services for its members:

Updated 06-01-2020 at 03:21 PM by Kevin Pacey

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