Combining Chess With ‘Normal Life’

Last Friday I was packed and ready to depart to my first ‘serious’ (non-rapid) tournament in almost two years, the Open Norwegian Championship in Fagernes. But at 11pm I got a phone call which meant that I had to look after my son. There was little choice but to withdraw from the tournament.

This sort of situation is common amongst chess enthusiasts with jobs and families, there’s precious little time for studying or playing tournaments and it has to take a low priority. How should we make the best of the time and opportunities that are available?

As far as playing is concerned the most common ‘solution’ is either correspondence chess or online blitz, neither of which are a great substitute for serious tournament play. On the other hand they can be optimized.

The experience of my students in getting online games at slower speeds has been one of long and frustrating waits, though this can be cut down by signing onto a number of servers simultaneously. It’s a pity that nobody has had the bright idea to create a server at which only longer time limits are allowed so as to congregate the more serious online chess aficionados at a single venue.

With correspondence chess I believe it should be purely for developing an opening repertoire; play on a server on which computers and databases are explicitly allowed and just play the openings you want to use on over-the-board games. Don’t spend too much time on your moves unless you get really interested in some of the positions. And don’t worry about your ‘rating’, with so much computer use correspondence chess has little meaning as regards chess skill.

What are the odds of getting away to a real tournament? This is a really tough one if you’ve got kids, though what if they were to play too!? There are also strong arguments for cultivating chess play in a family quite aside from the possibility of reviving one’s tournament activities (e.g. neurological and character development in the young) so it’s worth trying to teach them. I’m hoping my son will have chess as a life long hobby and that we can arrange to meet up at tournaments when I’m in my 90s.

As far as chess study is concerned it is often only possible in snatched moments throughout the day. But I would recommend making the most of things like commuter time and consider all options about how to use it. One book that I’ve recommended to many people is Laszlo Polgar’s Chess: 5334 Problems, Combinations and Games. But as the thing is so bulky I’ve instructed several students to tear pages out of it so they can carry them around more easily. This can meet with some resistance but I maintain that the cost of the book is nothing compared with the increased value of what is normally wasted time.

Above all I think it’s necessary to have a plan, goals for what one wants to achieve and a realistic schedule about how to do so. It should always be remembered that Max Euwe managed to capture the World Championship as an amateur player who had a whole host of other responsibilities. And this brings hope to us all.