Chess

My dad taught me how to play chess when I was five years old. When I was seven, I joined my school’s chess club and found I had a knack for the game, and through playing I quickly rose towards the top of the rating ladder. The game stuck with me long after many of my chess club friends had abandoned it. I enjoyed the mix of creativity, intuition, memory, and logic that chess required. By scholastic standards I joined competitive chess fairly late, a few months before my 12th birthday, but I improved quickly. By the time I was 15, I was strong enough that it was conceivable become an official chess master before I graduated high school. Alas, I got a bit burned out from playing so frequently (I’d often commute over an hour each way on school nights to play tournaments, and would come back home with my homework incomplete and only five or six hours left before I had to wake up for school), and I became distracted with my improving social life and greater involvement in the Troy Davis campaign. My tournament frequency plummeted, my ranking dropped, I stopped training, and I never really returned from hiatus. I still plan on becoming a master (or beyond) some day, but until then I’ll have to content myself with peaking at 16.

Chess Achievements

Individual:

K-6 Unrated SuperNationals National Champion (Apr 2005) (This win, one month after I began playing competitively, was featured in the Atlanta Journal Constitution).

Runner-Up Georgia High School State Champion (Apr 2009)

Georgia Grade 11 Chess Champion (Oct 2009)

Ranked top 100 in the US for age from June 2008- August 2012, when I aged out (peak rank #56)

Ranked top 100 in Georgia from August 2008-Present (peak rank somewhere in the 30s)

Ranked top 10 high school players in Georgia from February 2009-August 2011, when I aged out (peak rank #5)

Team:

I founded the Alpharetta High School chess club in 2007, my freshman year of high school, and ran it for the next four years. That year, we couldn’t muster enough people to send a team to send to the state championships.

The next year I managed to scrape together a team at the last minute, and served as the team’s captain. We won all but one match (narrowly losing 2-3) to become the runner-up state champions

In 2010, my junior year, I again captained the team, this time generating enough interest to send two teams, an “A” team of the school’s top players, and a “B” team of less experienced players. The A team became the first (and to date, only) team in state history to ever win the state championship with a perfect 25-0 score, winning all five matches on all five boards every time. The B team also had a respectable result, finishing in the middle of the pack with a 2.5/5 match score.

Due to scheduling conflicts, we could not attend the tournament in 2011 to defend our title. Still, by the time I graduated a lot more people knew about chess and the chess club, and sometimes I’d even see people pulling out chess sets and playing during lunch, which would’ve been unheard of just a few years earlier.

My Best Game

I’ve had a couple of games that I really liked, but I think the one that stands out the most is a game I played when I was 16. I was playing Damir Studen, the Georgia state champion, known for his tactical prowess and his unmatched skill in short time controls (any time control under 60 minutes per side). Damir had (and still has) a very lopsided record against me. His usual strategy is to hold me at bay until I get into time pressure, and then set nefarious tactical traps that I wouldn’t have the time to figure out. This has worked very well for him, and there was a time when he was known for pulling out wins from lost positions using this strategy. Some called it “swindling”, but I think that’s unfair. I takes a lot of skill to do what he does.

This game was a 45 minute game, and as expected when it finished I only had a few minutes left on my clock while Damir had more than half of his time remaining. The big mistake was 18…Re8, allowing 19.Qh7+. My guess is that Damir didn’t think it was much of a threat, since there was no natural followup. I probably would’ve thought the same way if I hadn’t studied the game Smyslov-Ribli, 1983 just a few weeks before. In that game, Grandmaster Ribli makes a similar mistake in allowing a Queen to come to h7, which allowed former world champion Smyslov to win with a brilliant attack.

Blog Entries Under “Chess”

How to Get Good at Chess, Fast (November 24, 2013)

Using Data to Improve Your Chess (November 27, 2012)

4 thoughts to “Chess”

  1. What’s your plan to come back to chess? I’m a chess master and would be glad to help you come up with a plan and let you know some of the difficulties/problems you might face.

    1. Hey Alex,

      I’m hoping to make my comeback towards the end of 2014. The plan is basically to follow the template outlined here, but at a higher level. Any advice?

      1. Hey, Gautam.
        I have a question for you, is it possible to suddenly get bad at chess? I used to play really well when I was around 12, but something happened and I lost all interest in the game (don’t quite remember what), but anyways. I am unable to calculate like I used to, back then I could calculate variations in even blitz games very deeply. I have a feeling it may be the fear of losing that puts me off a lot of things, but I don’t know how to overcome this. Can you please email me with some advice?
        Thanks,
        Reb

        1. Reb,

          Rustiness in chess is a real thing. Since I’ve been retired from serious competitive chess for about five years, I’ve noticed a significant drop in my speed of calculation, tactical abilities, and understanding of opening positions (though my positional and endgame knowledge seems mostly intact). It usually doesn’t happen “suddenly,” but rather over a prolonged period of inactivity. It’s like exercise, in that you quite rapidly lose your gains if you don’t continually practice. The best way to get over it is to simply play and study, as per this guide.

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