In my Math 2240 discussion section last week, I played my first game of chess in nearly two months. It felt like it had been forever since I last played chess. But considering how much I used to play it, I thought I’d slide back in easily. It turned out I did not.
There was one slight variation we added to the game. Instead of white moving first, we had black move first. This probably doesn’t seem like much. You would think that it is the exact same thing as a normal chess game, just that black acts as white and white acts as black.
But to me, I looked at the board and felt that something was eerily wrong. As someone who had spent a great deal of time memorizing openings, I am used to seeing certain patterns and positions on the board. This time I wasn’t seeing any of them. The piece colors and left-right orientation were messed up.
Because of the first-move switch, the game did not feel like chess. It felt alien, it felt like I was playing the game for the first time in my life.
Logically speaking, black moving first is not a different game. It is exactly the same as normal chess but with colors and left-right reversed. A computer AI would never know the difference. But for a human, there’s something odd when something you take for granted suddenly changes. It’s like you wake up one day and the Sun appears green. It’s still giving off plenty of light for everyone to go about their daily life. But it would still be odd. Odd enough that people would behave differently, even if they don’t have to.
When a fact as deeply ingrained as “White moves first” is violated, it sends a hell of a confusing message to our minds.
Does this apply to anything in real life? Other than for annoying or disorienting people, it seems not. It’s just something quite strange to think about.
I’m generally a fast player, and although this is a disadvantage in that I make plenty of careless mistakes, it does mean I rarely get into time trouble. The following is one of my favorite games. It’s really less of a comeback than it is an extraordinarily lucky swindle.
Li, Sean (1383) – Haley, Connor (1754)
Texas State Scholastic. 2/23-24/2005. Round 7 (final).
My opponent’s rating of 1754 was rather intimidating at the time, but I had just beaten a 1640 and a 1700 in rounds 5 and 6 respectively. I had 5 points; winning this game would put me at 6 points out of 7.
1. c4 c6 2. g3 Nf6 3. Bg2 d5 4. b3
A somewhat unusual opening.
4… e6 5. Nc3 Be7 6. d3 Qa5 7. Bd2
The only reason I take note of this position here is that this is exactly the same position as my game after my 7th move two rounds earlier in the same tournament. I won that game against a 1640, so I thought it was pretty good for me that this game was proceeding the same way. At move seven, however, my previous opponent played 7… Bb4, whereas Haley played 7… Qd8, a more conservative move.
The game was G/75; each side started with 75 minutes, and there was a 5-second delay on each move. At the end, my opponent had run out of time, while I had 51:07 remaining. With this win, I had 6 points, and tied for second place; this is the best I have ever done at a Texas State Scholastic.
Earlier I decided to devote part of this blog to chess. I thought I would begin with my oldest game that I still possess. This happens to be the first-round game of the 2003 Houston Open in my 6th grade, in the scholastic section; the tournament was actually my eighth rated tournament, but I do not have my notation sheets from any of my first seven.
I would like to bore the reader with a history of how I started chess, but then again, it would be boring. I learned how to play in 4th grade; my first rated tournament was in 5th grade. Because that was in early 2003, and because the United States Chess Federation (USCF) was just starting its online player rating tracking system, there were a few minor bugs—in my case, my “first” tournament was actually the third I played in, the 2003 Texas State Scholastic from March 1-2, 2003 (I wish I had the games from this tournament), and this gave me a provisional rating of 1372, which was fairly high to start with.
I don’t know how, but on October 11, 2003, my listed rating at the Houston Open was still 1372 (it should have been 1304). My first round opponent was Joseph C. Wong, at the time rated 853. (Just after the 2010 Texas State Scholastic, my rating is 1806 and his is 1951.)
At this point I decided to sacrifice the dark-squared bishop for two pawns with 12. Bxh6, intending 12… gxh6 13. Nxh6, but I did not anticipate 12… Bxf5. White finishes this combination down a piece for two pawns.
I’m an amateur chess player (I’ve won money from tournaments, but that hardly qualifies me as professional), and thought to add some chess stuff to my blog. The reason? I just played in the Texas Scholastic (Feb 20-21), which will probably be my last major scholastic tournament. Over the years I’ve had quite a few interesting games (mostly at non-scholastic tournaments, particularly in Vegas and Philadelphia), and thought I would share some of them here.
I’m still trying to find a good way to post chess games into a blog. Because I am using WordPress.com instead of self-hosted WordPress, plug-ins are not going to work. And WordPress does not have a native chess reader as it does for math (LaTeX typeset).
Here are a couple options I found.
For simplicity we shall consider the game 1. f4 e5 2. g4 Qh4#. Chess players should recognize this as the Fool’s Mate, the shortest possible game—Black checkmates on the second move. The first option is to simply take screenshots at critical points and have the reader visualize the rest. (This isn’t too hard for serious players.)