I shave, shower, and rescue my 'lucky' T-shirt from the washing bag. It has a picture of King Charles I being beheaded, with the caption "Republic NOW!"
I think wandering round a chess tournament wearing this is a witty fashion statement. Everyone else thinks, "Why is that 33 year old, beer-bellied bloke dressed like a teenager?"
My mate picks me up and we drive to the venue, swapping tales of weirdness from tournaments past. Like the bad loser who tried to attack his blind opponent with a chair, and the drunk who had to be dragged out of the playing hall, shouting "I'm from the FBI and I'm here to save the world!"
I feel fighting-fit and confident of a result.
We arrive. The venue has a bar. Things just get better and better!
This happens before the first game of nearly every tournament I've ever attended. It's where the mayor of the host town blathers on about how he/she once used to play chess 40 or 50 years ago "but wasn't any good at it, and nowhere near the standard of the people here today" (he/she obviously hasn't seen some of the bewildered troglodytes in the novices section - some of these people have been missing from home so long the police think they're dead). The other mayoral speech gambit is to admit they can't play but wish they'd learnt because "it looks such a fascinating game".
Anyway, while the mayor is busy gassing pointlessly, you sit there facing your opponent in a heightened state of tension, waiting for the silly old git to shut up and let you get on with it!
The speech usually finishes with something like "...so I hope you all have a great time and you enjoy your few days in our town". This last part explains the whole exercise. Any time a sizeable number of people gather in a town, for whatever reason, the mayor is wheeled out to make them feel welcome and, as a consequence, encourage them to spend money.
Nothing wrong with this as far as i'm concerned, but I think it's very much a waste of time when applied to chess tournaments.
The facts are:
a. During a tournament, 8 out of 10 players can't remember which town they are in
b. Chess players bring very little money to a town.
A business congress might see groups of suits having expensive restaurant lunches, probably sampling some of the nightlife. In contrast, chess players sit pecking at packed lunches in-between rounds, and at the end of the day they scuttle back home to revise a bit of French defence theory and get an early night.
Apart from the 30 minutes at the start of each round, the bookstall is always swarming with punters flicking through and generally fingering the books on display. It's rare to see anyone actually buy one. The bookstall sells so little product that you start to suspect it's not a business at all but rather a sophisticated undercover police operation set up to monitor the behaviour of social misfits and potential future serial killers.
Round 1 - Friday evening:
If you are in a section with an odd number of players, and you haven't scored any points yet, you might be given a 'bye'. You turn up at the next round pairings board to find that your opponent is listed as "see controller". You are then obliged to rattle off the old joke, whenever anyone asks you who you are playing next round, "I'm playing C.Controller"
Getting a bye in round 1 isn't the best way to start a tournament. Sure, it's a free point, but you just want to get on with things.
I buy a drink from the bar and wait for the guy who gave me a lift to finish.
Throughout the history of mankind the facial beard has swung in and out of fashion.
Originally seen as a sign of strength and virility, the beard went through bad times with the early Egyptians and Romans, who praised the virtues of a clean shave. It crept back into fashion again until king Louis XIII of France when, in honour of their child king, Frenchmen went clean shaven. Beards also went underground in 18th century Russia when Peter the Great introduced a beard tax. King Henry VIII of England raised a similar tax, before changing his mind (surprise, surprise) and growing a whopping one himself. After World War I, beards were very much out of fashion, except in some religious communities, until the 1960's.
The 1960's & 70's were a golden age for beards. Every man experimented with them and many allowed theirs to expand unfettered. They were socially acceptable, if a slight fire risk.
Then the eighties and in came obsessive personal hygeine and grooming products for men. Suddenly beards were openly mocked again. You could "smell your dinner on it the morning after". Snogging a bearded man gave girls "mouth rashes". Beardos were either smelly, baldheaded bikers with huge bellies and 2 teeth, or stringy beanpoles with thick glasses, degrees in chemistry and an obsession with Star Trek. In short, beards had had their day and fierce shaving rashes were here to stay.
But, unnoticed, beards clung on in small pockets of resistance.
One of these is the chess tournament.
Even to this day, social anthropologists flock, undercover, to chess events, to marvel at the fine exotic specimen, which never would otherwise see the light of day.
My second round opponent looked thoroughly bemused by the whole thing. I had to correct illegal moves throughout the short game, and I had suspiscions he had never actually played before.
At the end I shook his hand and said, "Thanks for the game"
He replied, "I only came out for a pint of milk"
As he walked off I noticed for the first time that he was wearing slippers and a dressing gown.
In UK tournaments there is often a prize given to the oldest player to turn up. This might sound a bit arbitrary, but if you're 95 years old and you can still face dragging your carcass to a chess tournament to get whipped by ignorant 10 year old swindlers then you probably deserve a prize!
You know who you are...
Some words for the youth who beat me in round 3:
- Stop scratching! You'll only make it worse
- Get a wash - please
- There was a big black hair hanging out of your cheese sandwich - sorry, I forgot to mention it at the time
- You may be better at chess than me but you smell funny and look like a dork. Also I am considerably older and harder than both you and your creepy mate with the lardy hair.
- A Marilyn Manson t-shirt doesn't cancel out dental braces. It just makes it worse.
Several years ago there was a book released called "Fear in Chess". The idea behind the book was that if you spend the whole game being worried and paranoid then you are more likely to spot your opponent's threats.
Now, speaking as someone who used to be physically sick before meaningless division 2 games in the local middle-of-nowhere chess league, I know all about the stress involved in a game of chess. [Incidentally, if you look in the dictionary under 'stress' there's a picture of Nigel Short holding a goose]
Boffins have proved that so much nervous energy is expended in just thinking hard during a game of chess that a player can lose a significant amount of weight. More worryingly, scientists believe that the constant and repeated release of hormones associated with the stress response are major factors involved in the deterioration of the immune system. In a nutshell, stress makes you ill.
Given that 99.99% of all chess players will never be any good at it, it seems almost criminal to encourage people to worry about it so much.
My message is RELAX! Have fun. Stop worrying and start losing!
Here are some useful phrases to remember if you ever find yourself in a stressful chess situation:
- It's easier to wear carpet slippers than to carpet the world
- It's only a game
- Imagine all the pee-pole, livin' life in peace, whoo-hoo woo-woo-woo...
- Nicole Kidman
Finally, a word about the chess variants that seem to be springing up all over the place. Games with dozens of new pieces, extra-large boards etc. I say to the variant makers - Why? Isn't chess hard enough already?!! Leave us alone you sadists!
Round 4 and I'm losing the plot. I'm sure I used to have features on my face.
My opponent - a jaundiced teenager with matching teeth and a Slipknot ski-hat. He sniggered at some internal joke or planned act of baby animal torture throughout, without once looking up.
I look forward to seeing him on Crimewatch in the near future.
Lost in 15 moves.
Tip: After losing quickly, find comfort by wandering over to the novices section and locating 'The Worst Game Ever Played'. This is usually easy to spot because both players are so tense that their faces look like sweaty spam. The board will also probably be ringed by grinning onlookers, trying not to burst into hysterics.
Look out for games where each side has at least 3 pieces en prise but neither player wants to make the first capture, for unknown mystical reasons. Illegal moves go unnoticed, as do one move checkmates, and after 4 hours of grim toil they always end up with just a king each.
Watching two people twisting on a spit like this is a horrible but fascinating spectacle, and it will make you feel much better.
Dinner time - final day. Since my morning game was over in 15 moves I've been sat in the pub across the road an extra 3 hours. So, inevitably, I'm completely off my face! I decide to compose a pub salad, to soak the beer up a bit.
A pub salad is when you buy a varied selection of pub snacks, such as crisps, nuts, pork scratchings etc., and pour them into a big pile in the middle of the table.
I polish off the 'salad' then settle down to a crippling indigestion. It occurs to me that eating that much crap in one sitting isn't smart.
A group of friends arrive. They all take the p*ss.
One informs me I am on target for a "faggot norm". A Grandmaster norm requires a player to achieve a certain score in a top-rated chess tournament (once you get enough of these you are officially a GM). A "faggot norm" apparently requires a player to score 50% or less in a bog-standard, provincial chess event.
This doesn't help. Feeling a bit queasy, I decide to walk back to the playing hall, hoping the fresh air will clear my head.
I don't see much of round 5. I fold my arms on the table, rest my head on top, and stay that way for most of the game, only looking up every 15 minutes or so to make some random move and offer a draw.
2 hours in and I stagger to the gents toilet, arriving with two fists full of sick, pre-spewed. As I lean over the sink, recreating the pub salad in Jackson Pollock style, I am dimly aware of a man shielding his young son's eyes and tutting as he leads him out the door.
I spend the journey home with my face squashed against the car window trying to focus on the spinning streetlights, while my mate waves his winners cheque at me.
Make mental note never to do a chess tournament again...