On the road again! Traveling to chess tournaments is a joy

On the road again! Traveling to chess tournaments is a joy



One of the joys of tournament chess is traveling to other cities. Seeing new places and faces and testing your skills against stiffer competition. I have played in many cities across America. One of my favorites is Reno, Nevada. There are two tournaments a year there, one in the spring and another in the fall. It is a three-day, six games competition, running Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I go with my friend, Bill, and we drive down on Thursday. During the long drive, Bill holds a chess board on his lap next to me and we spend the next 8 hours or so looking at new chess openings to try out. When I’m looking at the board, Bill is watching the road. He lets me know if I’m drifting to the left or right or getting too close to the car in front. In ten years, we have never had an accident, but I did get a speeding ticket. There’s no time to waste on this drive, so we grab the ticket and go!

In Reno we always stay at the casino where the tournament is held, and we eat whatever mediocre food is available in the casino. This isn’t a gourmet adventure; we’re here to play chess (well, I am). Bill’s system of preparation is a little different from mine. He immediately sets off in search of a cold Bud Light and a hot blackjack table. I go to the tournament hall to check the conditions, the tables, sets, clocks and look at the pairings for the next morning’s first round. Since you have to preregister to play, the pairings are up. I now know who I’ll play and with what color. I head back to the room and spend another 3 or 4 hours looking at chess openings and games.

Gameday, after breakfast, Bill goes for a walk while I head to the playing hall. I check the chess set and clock I’ll be playing with and change what I don’t like. I sit in different chairs until I find one I like – even through they are all the same. I fill out my score sheet with my lucky pen and get my drink. I sit at the board and think about my opponent and how much I don’t like him – even through we have never met. He’s the kid that took my lunch money in grade school, kicked my dog, took my girl to the senior prom and anything else I can think of. I play better when I dislike my opponent. I have a hard time playing against friends. When he shows up I don’t shake hands or look at him until the game starts.

Bill comes wandering in about 5 minutes before the round starts and goes to his board. He shakes hands with his opponent and they start laughing and talking! I think to myself, “Come on Bill, get your head in the game!”

For the next 4 hours I’m staring at the chess board while the chess pieces are dancing in my head (just like in “The Queen’s Gambit!”). This is my world. Neither of us says anything. All you hear is the ticking of the clock, the scratching of pen on paper and the sound of a heavy sigh as my opponent knows he is lost. We reset the chess pieces and I mark a win on the score board. I feel vindicated that my system works.

Checking on Bill’s game, it looks even, so I go and check out the bookseller. I walk in the room and it’s a candy store, toy store, my birthday and Christmas morning, all rolled into one. The walls are lined with bookcases as high as I can reach. Tables with chess sets, boards, chess hats, chess shirts with chess sayings that no one but another chess player would understand. The seller sees me and shows me to a table just for me. Since I have over 1,600 chess books, he knows I’ll be buying more. You can’t have too many chess books! I go shelf by shelf, bookcase by bookcase. I make three stacks: books I’ll buy, books I may buy and books I won’t buy.

I take a break and go look at Bill’s game. I sigh. He’s losing. So back to the bookseller. Now I look at chess sets. I have over 40 sets, but a couple more won’t hurt. The same with clocks. I have 18, but there may be a new one with more bells and whistles—got to have it!

I see Bill coming and I wait to hear his sad story. I ask, knowing the answer. How did you do? “I won,” he says gleefully. “The other guy dropped his queen and when I took it he resigned.” Is there no justice??

After lunch Bill goes for another walk. Again, I check the pairings and color and go study openings. Then it’s back to the chess board and the start of the next round.

After the end of the day’s rounds, it’s dinner, then study for the next round. Bill? He goes on his quest for beer and a blackjack table.

On Monday we head home. I have a suitcase filled with my new chess books, sets and everything else I bought. I’ll have to be sneaky to get it past my wife. She can’t understand why I never come home with any prize money. What can I say? I’m just not lucky.

The drive back is like the drive down. I drive and Bill sits with a chess board on his lap and we review the games. He keeps an eye on the road when I’m looking at the board. If in the spring you are driving south on I-5 on a Thursday or north on a Monday, keep an eye out for a couple of chess nuts.

And don’t warn the police!


Why learn chess? Simple: It’s a great mental workout that helps children perform well in the classroom. Chess is a logical game where kids have to plan ahead and adjust to new situations. But most of all, it’s fun! Larry Ball (Coach Larry) teaches students of all ages at the Steinitz Chess Academy in Beaverton. For more information, email Larry at larryball48@yahoo.com.