I had never been to a huge scholastic tournament before this past weekend when I went to the Greater New York Scholastic Chess Championships, or the “City Championships”, as my friend called it. I only played chess competitively in a few small scholastic tournaments and Goichberg tournaments. I never had a school chess team, never competed with a team of friends or with other children, even though I longed for it- and still somewhat do. I’ve recently been living vicariously through watching kids and covering tournaments instead of actually playing in them.
Now that I have at least poked around a scholastic tournament a bit, there are a few things I feel that I have missed out on because I didn’t grow up playing in tournaments every weekend or have close chess friends. They are things that sometimes make the scholastic chess experience so fun and life-changing.
FIVE THINGS I MISSED OUT ON (in no particular order):
1) Having time
This one’s obvious: having the time to improve or just play when school (or work if you’re older) isn’t eating away your energy and effort. This one doesn’t require much explanation.
2) Close chess friends (although that has been somewhat remedied in the past year)
What I mean, though, is friends I sparred with over the board every week or every few tournaments, friends that I confided in about more than chess. Or at least chess friends that actually lived nearby. What I don’t mean is the people you say hi to and see at every few tournaments, have dinner or catch up with, and don’t talk to much until you see each other again. While those friends are nice and I have plenty of those, I mean the ones you see often, the ones that go to the same after school programs or clubs. In the same way that kids make friends exclusively through baseball or ballet, I wish I had made those kinds of connections through chess.
I think chess friends in any respect are an essential part to the chess experience, as they are the ones who support you, help you grow as a person and as a chess player. I often feel that I have missed out on growing up with chess friends, although I’m glad for the many I have now.
3) Parents being so excited when I won a game
This one requires a story:
Today I watched a kid come out of the playing room. His mom said “You won?!” He said yes and his mom swept him up into a hug and kissed him. It was clear she was so happy for him, probably because he most likely won some sort of prize, but it was obvious that she was so proud of him.
I don’t mean to say that parents aren’t supportive. Alice wrote a great article on how important it is to have supportive chess parents that you can refer to about parental support. I mean this thing on my list in the way that parents brag to their friends about their children’s achievements over tea. I mean this in that I never got into chess at an age where I was young enough to be fussed over, shown such outward support and pride. I mean this in the way that parents don’t obsess over their eighteen or thirty year old child’s victory in the way they did when they were six. I never got that, which may arguably be a good thing, but it’s all a matter of perception, and I feel that it might be something I missed out on.
My friend pointed out that this parent’s actions may not have been best for the child because it breeds the thought that winning is so important, but the way I’ve spun it is so that the kid knows how proud his parents were of him not only for his success, but also in general for showing up that day and fighting it out over the board.
Okay, this is meant to be a bit of a funny one, but obviously I don’t get trophies anymore (I have a few from when I was K-12 nonetheless). They only give out money at non-scholastic tournaments (sometimes plaques and other prizes). Of course, I’m not complaining about getting money, but I saw many kids running around in glee with their trophies and I rarely got that experience!
5) A school team
I’ve never been part of a school team before. It is sort of related to the chess friends idea, but I never got to participate in team activities, to play as a team and win as a team. I wish my school or more schools where I grew up had these opportunities to play together with classmates, but I guess I got unlucky. The cheering as kids received a big trophy represented growth and success together. The achievement could be celebrated with others and that is a feeling that cannot be replicated when chess is often so individualized
BONUS: World Youth (and any other cool invitational, scholastic tournament like Denker,
Barber, Susan Polgar’s Girls Invitational, etc.)- This sort of relates to #5 on the list because in a way, the delegation is a “team” of sorts.
This one kind of isn’t the typical scholastic experience, as World Youth is special.
I only found out about World Youth last year when I was seventeen. Too old for a beginner to rise up. I knew it was something I’d never get to experience and many of my chess friends have.
And let’s be real, the jackets stand out at every tournament. Who doesn’t want one of those jackets? Every time you go to a Goichberg tournament, there’s a kid with one of them! I want a jacket. I know never getting a World Youth jacket. Every kid secretly wants one. You know you want one. But anyway, every time someone who really knows anything about getting to top level chess in this country sees the jacket, he/she knows the exclusivity and symbolism of the jackets alone. They say I represented my country. They say I’ve reached a level that most people don’t reach.
Everyone who has one has the right to flaunt it. Every kid has earned it!
If you had the chance to experience these things I never got to, reminisce on those memories a bit. For scholastic players reading this, enjoy it. Cherish these things, record them in your mind (and maybe on your phone too). You are likely to never forget it, whether you are able to go to World Youth or are just able to participate in a national championship.
If you did not grow up in such a vibrant chess scene, I hope this article I’ve written expresses how you feel, just a bit. But clearly, you are not alone in missing these things. If chess has proven anything in the past, it is that it’s never too late to start playing, to make your own chess friends. The game is for people of all ages. Remember that whenever you realize what you missed out on. There’s always more opportunities, new things to appreciate.
Sometimes maybe you’re not meant to have those experiences. I for one, cannot believe how much my life has changed in the past year through my chess adventures. I met so many chess players and made new chess friends. I went to my first World Championship. I took up a little bit of chess journalism and chess photography and yesterday, someone told me he enjoyed my articles. Today I got to shake Garry Kasparov’s hand and tell him my name. I didn’t have the traditional chess experience I will always long for, but I always have something to look forward to in the future. I am not going to stop making chess memories because I did not get something in the past. I want to write articles about the Grand Chess Tour, World Youth at some point, the 2018 Olympiad in Batumi, and more. No matter what happened or didn’t happen in the past, there are always going to be things to look forward to in the chess world- new friends, new experiences, and new adventures.