Sunday, March 21, 2010

The hunt for the elusive chess norm

The hunt for the elusive international grandmaster chess norm
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Story last updated at 3/21/2010 - 12:26 am

This week, Dr. Rich Rice and Dr. Hal Karlsson, are contributing to this column. Both are associate professors at Texas Tech and they are also assistant tournament directors at the 2010 SPICE Spring International Invitational.

Thousands of years ago, Native Americans hunted buffalo and bison on the southern High Plains. Today, a different hunt is taking place in the same region.

Ten chess players have come to Texas Tech to compete in the 2010 SPICE Spring Invitational. They hail from four different countries (USA, Canada, Hungary, Croatia) and six different states (Texas, New York, New Jersey, Missouri, California, Florida). Seven of these players are aiming for their international master or grandmaster chess norms: three for a final norm, two for a second norm, and two for a first norm.

The battle for cerebral fitness is taking place in the English department at a university. These chess players compete for the love of the game, for bragging rights, and for personal satisfaction as they hunt for that elusive chess norm.

Chess is the most popular game on the planet, with more than 45 million people playing chess in America and more than 700 million players worldwide. Millions of kids who learn and play chess each year in the states develop life skills that benefit them the rest of their lives.

As the popular saying goes, chess is easy to learn, but hard to master. The 10 players who are in Lubbock this week are working to master the game. They are some of the best chess players in their respective countries with some of the top chess ratings according to the United States Chess Federation and the World Chess Federation (FIDE).

The average FIDE rating at this tournament is 2490.5, which is equivalent to a category 10 event. A Grandmaster norm at this tournament is 6 points (out of nine games) and an International Master norm is 4 points (out of nine games).

Many online spectators have tried to predict who will earn their norms at this tournament. There are so many variables that impact each player's final tournament score.

At the time of this article, 13-year-old Texan Darwin Yang just defeated grandmaster Jesse Kraai to earn his first international master norm. Four players, including Texas Tech's own international master Gergely Antal, are still in contention for various norms. This certainly will be an exciting finish.

Chess is a game that requires mental toughness, physical fitness, strong nerves, diligent preparation, strenuous calculation, superb memory, pinpoint intuition and some plain old luck. Each player faces ups and downs during each grueling round. This is why chess is so challenging.

During this tournament, simultaneously at another tournament, one of the world's best players opened with a3, which is moving a pawn located on the side of the board rather than in the middle. This move is typically considered a beginner's mistake. His game was still going on in France while the players in Lubbock loaded up on coffee and tea discussing it before their next round.

Who will win the 2010 SPICE Spring Invitational? No one knows. Chess is live, varied, and exciting. After each game is completed, I, and others, deconstruct the language and nuances of each game. It is fitting we are doing so in the English department lounge, where words and phrases and books surround them. Analysis has shown missed checkmates, missed wins, and miracle comebacks.

Source: Avalanche Journal
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