My Week In Chess: I Played My First Chess Match!

It’s been a minute since I’ve done this chess update, but this one is a doozy!

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

I played the first match of a tournament on Tuesday night!! I played OTB (over the board) for the first time since I got into chess in February. My local club reopened since the start of the pandemic.

I kept meaning to post about registering for this and prepping, but I was so nervous. I didn’t know what to expect, or how it would be for me. My coach assured me that as long as I focused on the basics, didn’t hang my pieces, and had fun, it’d be okay. That seemed simple enough!

I was feeling pretty good about the tournament because I’ve been seeing a lot of improvement in myself…until Sunday. When I get really anxious, I am basically on mental overdrive and I just shut down. The nerves got the better of me and instead of chess prep, I was playing Candy Crush and watching tv to distract myself.

The Day of The Match

I had practice that morning, and asked a lot of questions. We did some prep, and I was starting to feel a lot better. I did some tactics prep before I left, and gave myself some decompression time.

I got to the location, and I was the only woman there, which I anticipated. I had been kind of hoping to see some local women playing. Maybe the big tournament in 2 weeks will be better.

Everyone seemed to keep to themselves, and I asked the tournament director for help when I needed it. I was paired up with a 1700 player, which sucked. But I told myself, just have fun and don’t lose my pieces too early on, and I’ll be okay.

Even though I play OTB when I play online too, it was still jarring to play in front of the board with someone else. It took me about 10 moves to get in the groove, and of course by then, I had lost most of my important pieces. Oops. It made me really grateful to be making dumb mistakes in a local tournament rather than at the LA Open.

Something I kept hearing is that sometimes tournaments can be so noisy. I was ready to deal with that — my apartment can be noisy with 2 cats and my chatty partner.

What I wasn’t prepared for is how silent chess is. I cannot work or think in silence. It’s so limitless, gives my brain nowhere to focus which means every single thought is fair game for my attention. I was having flashbacks to being a child in school— I get more distracted in silence than with noise.

Between the surprising amount of silence and the nerves of playing my first game in person, my usual stress response kicked in — I forgot everything.

I accidentally put my knight and bishop in the wrong spot on the board even though at home, it’s muscle memory. What does the horse do again? Everything I had prepped went out the window.

Luckily 32 years of unknowingly living with ADHD kicked in and I spent the whole game talking through every single thing. When my opponent made a move, I had to sit and internally narrate every single thought — which piece is being attacked? Do I need to move a piece to safety? Can I capture a piece? What are my best options in any given situation?

I don’t think like this when I play online (or in the rest of my life). Usually there’s 17 thoughts all fighting for my attention, and when I do manage to focus, it’s for a moment before a new batch of 17 thoughts are here to fight for my attention again. Thinking that slowly for one game was actually pretty exhausting. Not looking forward to the tournament in that regard. I’m hoping that maybe it’ll get easier as I play more OTB matches.

It took me about 10 moves to really get situated in the game, and of course by then I had already lost both my bishops, my knights and one rook. I was really glad I was wearing a mask because I couldn’t help but laugh at myself. The one thing I said I didn’t want to do, I did! I ended up resigning, and it was pretty fun, all in all.

Photo by Jani Kaasinen on Unsplash

My coach and I went over my game the next day. We worked on my opening a bit more. A lot of my mistakes were because I wasn’t sure what to expect and my mind totally blanked.

I feel a lot more prepared to go on Tuesday for the next match, in a non-chess related way. There’s a game every Tuesday between now and the 16th, which is perfect. The LA Open is November 6–7, so this is great practice for that. I have Tuesdays between now and the Open, so I’m hoping I’ll feel more comfortable with the general tournament atmosphere and rules.

So that was my week! Looking forward to reporting on my next game. I’m going to be doing more regular weekly posts through this tournament month, documenting the process of essentially doing 2 tournaments in roughly one month.

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