Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Game of Life

The Game of Life
By Margaret Bryan

The completely windowless room still managed to shed voluminous amounts of light on the guests as the numerous participants situated themselves at their correct boards and placed their flags proudly in easy vision of their opponent. The ceiling was an abundant cascade of translucent beads, and the dark paneled wood intricately bordering the walls was a sight of impregnable extravagance. I looked about me searchingly, attempting to scout out a pink sweatshirt in this huge mass of overwhelming confusion. I smiled, thinking it humorous that one of the only people I had spoken to before the tournament happened to be my opponent in that first round.

I glanced about for a clock, and, finding that there were none on the walls, began scanning the vicinity for the sight of a watch on someone’s wrist. My parents came over to wish me good luck, and, as in the tone of a person in a severely anxious state, I replied tersely, “What time is it?”

“Only 10:45, you still have fifteen minutes to go,” my mom assured me. I sighed and leaned back in my chair impatiently. For a twelve year-old, in nerve-racking instances such as these, fifteen minutes seems like an eternity. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, momentarily banishing my feelings of anxiety and anticipation, able to smile as my opponent slid into her chair and speak with relative cordiality, managing to temporarily mask my nervosa.

One of the tournament directors cleared his throat and began to speak. I kept one eye on him, but most of my attention was directed to the other competitors, all of them using trademark methods to compose themselves. One player straightened the chess pieces placidly, while others attempted to cause an aura of intimidation by staring down their opponents. I wondered if they all were as nervous as I was, and then I concluded that train of thought by writing some quick information down on my score sheet. At last the speaker said, “You may now start your clocks”, and the sound of scribbling on paper mingled with the slamming of pieces rang through the room. I noted with satisfaction that this was a community where I could easily belong. I pressed my clock, then leaned back, suddenly much more relaxed than I had been the moment before.

Before the Polgar tournament, I was merely a hobby player. (Judging by my small rating of 1076, you probably could have deduced that without my saying so.) I was accustomed to being the highest rated scholastic female player in my sparsely populated state, and, since I didn’t have to overly practice to attain that goal, I was content. But when I arrived at the Doubletree hotel, I noticed young players much like my self in many respects save that their ratings ranged from a hundred to almost a thousand points higher than mine. I remembered that I had agreed to write a daily journal for, our state’s largest chess website, and immediately felt sick to my stomach. My analysis would seem like a joke when compared to the intellectual prowess of these new “young” talents; most of whom were at least three years older than myself. It was at that moment that I made a crucial decision: I was going to become a chess player.

So I purchased my own bright red chess bag and roll-up board, a set of weighted pieces, and both an analog and digital clock, but soon realized that being a good chess player is more than walking around with a showy display of equipment and trying to get your rating up higher. It involves a love of the game, and, more importantly, a word that at this juncture was almost alien to me: “practice”.

Then I gradually began to increase my skills. Every night, I spent a good hour analyzing my game for the day and played blitz whenever possible with any of my family members who were willing. I registered myself for ICC, and, after my round had finished, strolled around, studying the games of both the top and lower boards alike.

I was also astonished at the profound impact the tournament had on my family. My mother had never had much of an interest in chess before, but after attending Susan Polgar’s lecture could often be found intently studying a book of chess puzzles. My father played in several side events, and as a result, his rating went up sixty points. Even my eight year-old sister, who hadn’t played chess much for a couple of months now, found a rekindled interest in the game. She ended up buying her own set and board as well, and, if possible, was even more adamant about playing blitz than myself. What an influential game chess can be!

I glanced around the lobby one more time, still in a slight state of shock that it was finally over. I was leaving for home today, and I wasn’t really looking forward to returning. Yes, Maine is a wonderful state in the long run, but I would have liked just a few more days to roam the halls of the hotel, occasionally pausing in the main hall to glance at a couple of games at the top boards in the final rounds of the U. S. Open, and perhaps driving into the city one more time to stroll along that Magnificent Mile and glance in awe at those tall skyscraper, slightly jealous that they were allowed to remain there stationary in that haven of unique food and urban culture.

I said one last farewell to the friends I had made over the past week, then strolled through the lower lobby bookstore with an obvious air of finality. I then ascended the escalator and went to rejoin my family. We exited the front doors unceremoniously, loaded our luggage into a taxi, and rode out of the Western suburbs for the last time en route to Union Train Station. I gazed at the hotel once more as we drove off into the distance, knowing full well that the seven days I had spent there would have an effect on me forever.

Well, I am back in Maine, and you can read my complete account of the Susan Polgar National Invitational for Girls on It is Friday, August 18, 2006, and since returning home on the 14th I have attended two chess clubs, a four day running camp, and spent much time polishing my pieces of writing for the website. So, basically my life has returned to normal, if it weren’t for the memory of a weeklong visit to one of America’s most illustrious cities and both the friends and experiences I acquainted myself with there. Before that, chess had just been a competitive sport for me; it was something to win and something to lose.

But now I look upon the game as an exquisite piece of art created by the ultimate genius. It’s unfathomable that this diminutive collection of shaded squares and figurines could unveil so many possibilities. I mentioned before that I knew that my experiences at the tournament would have an effect on me forever, but I was wrong. They didn’t just have an effect on me; they profoundly changed me for eternity. The difference was as subtle as an insignificant pawn being advanced one space, but, like that pawn, revealed a whole new series of combinations and potential, and with this newly discovered wisdom, I can succeed in almost anything. Posted by Picasa

1 comment:

Jonathan said...


Quite an essay, congratulations Margaret!

I played in the Denker and I saw you a couple of times, but never got the chance to say hi. You have quite an interesting story and seem very eager to improve your chess! If I can be of help in any way (if you need practice games or ever have a chess question) please feel free to drop me a message on the ICC, where my handle is KindlyCoach.

Congratulations again and good luck in the essay contest!

Jonathan Hilton
(Ohio Denker Representative)