Let’s Get Down To Business — And Play Some Chess.

Today I wanted to write more about my personal experience with chess, more as a player, than anything else related to the industry or design.

Now that things here will be reopening soon-ish, I am starting to look towards the possibility of playing over the board (OTB). As a person who started playing because “Queen’s Gambit” on Netflix, I’m really looking forward to this. I am a really tactile person, I think there’s something great about having to physically move the pieces around versus just moving your mouse. Playing online games is great for so many things, but it’s also just another degree of separation in some other ways. I prefer to analyze games on my own board rather than on the computer.

Anyways. My local club is going to be reopening in June, and they’re potentially looking at doing an under 1200 tournament (the lower end of the ratings spectrum). I really want to do this, having never really done even a casual tournament before. I am also still very much a beginner, and I don’t want to get kicked out in the first game.

There’s also a very big tournament at the end of November that’s local to me, and I’d love to be able to enter. I talked to my chess coach about it a few weeks ago, and he said I could potentially be ready, but it’s still a bit too early to tell. That’s fine by me, I definitely need some time to figure out how to do this.

What a feat though — I went from being so scared of playing to wanting to participate in tournaments! It feels good to reach this milestone. There’s also something really interesting about reaching this milestone — I am no longer a casual beginner, it’s time to get serious. I have never been very interested in any sports in my life, or ever wanted to be good at something before. This is a new experience for me, to want something this bad. But I do, the desire to try tournaments is greater than the fear of failing at them.

I’ve written about mindfulness of chess on Chessable, I’m currently working on a follow up post about the science of it, what we can learn from it as chess players. I work with my therapist who helps me with mindfulness, and chess is one of the few places it’s natural for me to use these tools. From my research on mindfulness, it’s a body and mind connection.

When we are aware of ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, it makes a difference not only in how feel mentally, but how our body operates.

Chess is the same way.

This week was actually a tough week for me with work, client deadlines all seem to be at the same time. A big conference I had been working on since the beginning of the year kicked off this week. My mind was being pulled in a lot of different directions and I had a finite amount of brain space, and a lot of stress. I felt like I didn’t have the time to commit to taking walks (or what I really need to do, get back into running). I powered through the week like normal with all of this going on, as in, just hopping from putting out one fire to the next. My online correspondence games I play with friends and my coach, they suffered for it. I could see that because I wasn’t taking the time to deal with my stress and anxiety, I didn’t have the space to be able to think through my games. My chess engine analyses looked worse than normal.

By the end of the week, it really clicked that if I’m going not going to completely bomb even my first club tournament, I need to get myself together. And if I really want to be able to do my first rated tournament at the end of the year, then continuing with this mindset isn’t acceptable. It’s going to be intense, there’s several games to play in one day. I struggle with time management both over the board and in my life, and that’s definitely going to be something that has to be fixed ASAP.

I have tried a lot of mindfulness apps, and this week I got a recommendation to try Ten Percent Happier. I started that on Friday. It’s now Sunday, and I’ve been able to stick with it for three days (which feels like a big deal in itself, my attention span is all over the place).

At least I learned something from this week. I see why physical exercise is just as important as the mental exercise of playing chess. Elite chess players like Magnus Carlsen and Jennifer Shahade have talked about how intense it is to play, and why it’s even more important to have the physical stamina in addition to the mental stamina to play, and come out on top. The more I learn about mindfulness, the more I see this mind and body connection when approaching the board.

I made myself redownaload the C25k app. I did pretty well with that app for a while last year before the covid outbreaks got worse in my area. Over the past 6 months, I felt the difference of not running. I am by default a pretty lazy person, I’d rather not move. The Anthony Bourdain quote about outwitting the lazy person within him resonates with me.

But now something matters a bit more than that — playing chess. No, being good at it.

I am a part of an online adult improver’s group called #chesspunks on twitter, and they’re a really awesome group of folks. (I highly recommend you come hang out with us!) I had asked around about study plans, to see what sort of advice came back, what others were doing, before I asked my chess coach. Unsurprisingly, it varied wildly from person to person, depending on how much time and energy you have to commit. I’ll link it here if anyone wants to get some ideas about how to approach chess more seriously. There’s some awesome resources in there.

I asked my coach about helping me build a study plan. We set up some fairly loose guidelines, but it gives me the flexibility I need to figure out what kind of structure works for me. Of course, this week being as it was, it was not successful to actually start building that habit. But next week.

Next Sunday I’m hoping to have good news to report, including more details about this study plan as I put it into action (and do my first week of C25k again).

Until next time!

Jessi is a UX Designer at DIA Design Guild. She lives in Los Angeles and can be found on twitter @jessishakarian.