Friday, March 19, 2010


A summary of my chess career thus far:

I became infatuated with the game as a young kid, likely because it was perhaps the only competitive endeavor at which a short, skinny, precocious seven-year-old could demonstrate that he was better than his peers. When I learned that there existed such things as chess tournaments that I could actually compete in, I got really excited, and played in my first tournament at age 10. Before too long, my excitement gave way to frustration as I found that I was no match for many of my opponents. My initial rating was in the 1300s*--perfectly respectable for a kid my age, but not particularly impressive. And, despite spending hours in solitude reading chess books and playing in many more tournaments, I never seemed to get better. I finally quit playing in tournaments at age 15, my rating still stuck at 1340.

*A rating above 2200 is "master" (and above 2400, "senior master"). From 2000-2199 is "expert," while anyone rated below 2000 is a "class player": Class A from 1800-1999, Class B from 1600-1799, Class C from 1400-1599, Class D from 1200-1399, etc.

Over the next several years I would occassionally play a casual game, often against my brother, who had also played in tournaments and was about my strength (well, okay--his rating was slightly higher). But the part of myself that competed in chess tournaments gradually faded to a distant memory until I rather suddenly caught the "chess bug" again about six years ago. It started when, browsing the internet, I realized that you could actually play live chess with people online now.* I won my first couple of games, and was immediately hooked.

*We're talking or even interfaces with lots of weak opponents. There are, of course, much better free options out there, such as or

Soon afterwards, I was browsing the local Barnes & Noble and my eye was drawn to a chessbook, which I bought and promptly devoured. I actually had no idea that the book I'd bought on a whim, Jeremy Silman's How to Reassess Your Chess, was already considered a classic for the aspiring class player. Soon I was eager to play "real chess" again, and so I renewed my long-dormant membership in the USCF (United States Chess Federation) and was off to play in tournaments.

While my first tournament as an adult was rather humbling, it was soon clear that my understanding of the game had actually grown quite significantly. What's more, I studiously went over my games, learned some new openings, and quickly amassed a small library of instructional chess books. I soon crossed the 1400-rating barrier, then the 1500, and less than a year after returning to tournament play, my rating actually passed 1700! Somewhere in this period of rapid improvement I set myself the ambitious goal of becoming a master before I turned 30.

Of course, I soon realized that there's a big difference between improving from, say, 1500 to 1700, and 1700 to 1900. My rating progress slowed to what seemed like a complete halt--but I persevered, continuing to learn more about the game and gradually improving my results.

I had something of a breakthrough in the second half of last year--in July, I took first place in the Under 2000 section of a fairly big tournament in Connecticut, winning 5 out of 5 games! Then in December, I won 5 out of 6 games at a weekend tournament in Albany, also enough for first place. In some ways that victory was all the sweeter in that I lost my first game, and then had to win the rest.

And so, while some time ago I realized that my goal of making master by the age of 30 would not be feasible, it appears I may have done the next best thing.

I'll turn 30 exactly three months from today. My most recent chess rating, according to the USCF website:


2003. Expert! I feel I must hasten to add that ratings don't become official until a month or so after they're rated, and indeed this may be something of an anti-climactic announcement, since last Saturday I played in a local one-day tournament (which has yet to be rated) and didn't do well, and so my rating may well fall back below 2000 before my next "official rating" comes out.

But whatever. For the moment anyway, I can at least refer to myself as an "unofficial chess expert." And it's only a matter of time before it becomes official.

And then, who knows... perhaps I can still make master by age 35.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"It is I, castlerook's first blogpost, come to gloat! Just as I predicted, castlerook has proved incapable of maintaining his blog! See, what a desolate wasteland is here. 'Tis been over five months since castlerook has visited this, his creation. He has abandoned thee! I hereby claim rule over this region of cyberspace!"

"Not so fast, vile one! It is I, castlerook! I have returned to reclaim that which is rightfully mine!"

"You're too late! This blog is my domain now. Look around. See anyone here? I didn't think so. Did you honestly expect you'd still have any readers if you came back? That anyone would still care about what you have to say?"

"It matters not. 'Tis true I have been away, and 'tis true there may be no one left to hear me speak. But I am here now, and again have voice. That alone matters. Begone with your purposeless cynicism."

"Ah, but you created me, castlerook. My purposeless cynicism is really your purposeless cynicism. Don't you know that?"

"Then I shall smite thee out of every corner of my own consciousness! Draw, and do battle!"

(A virtual swordfight ensues. A lot of epic stuff happens--blogpost's virtual blade cuts castlerook's virtual right shoulder, castlerook disarms blogpost but graciously allows blogpost to retrieve his blade--you know the drill. In the end, blogpost is about to deliver a fatal blow but castlerook's sword reaches its destination first.)

"Oh, I am slain! Farewell, castlerook, but know ye this: shouldst thou waver in thy care for this virtual land--shouldst thou once again be silenced by thy own self-doubt and cease thy work--should that day come, I will return, and stronger than ever!"

(Blogpost dies. Castlerook gives blogpost a sincere and proper burial, and then at last resumes his mercurial musing.)