When I take my son Sam to tournaments I often get asked why I’m not playing. A few years ago it certainly wouldn’t have been easy to combine chess parenting with playing, but as he gets older this is no longer clearly the case. So is a ‘comeback’ on the cards for me?
I certainly have misgivings about reentering the fray in the second half of my 50s. Emanual Lasker sensibly warned against doing battle against youth, and he was one of the greatest examples of chess longevity. Meanwhile I’ve been watching with concern as some of my long standing friends and colleagues have found it increasingly difficult to maintain their past success rate against wave after wave of young players. Age is not our friend.
On the other hand there are some definite plus points to a return. First of all I’ve heard that older people should try to keep their minds active, and chess might be good for that. Secondly I’d hope to be able to cover some of the expenses if I were to go to tournaments with both my son and myself playing. And thirdly I do still love the game and feel I might get a lot of enjoyment from playing. As long as I do well of course…
So how should an older player prepare such a return after a long break? I’ve seen some people try and fail and wouldn’t want to be one of them. On one level I think I’m not too rusty, mainly because I’ve spent a lot of time on chess teaching during my absence from competition. I don’t expect my mind to be quite as sharp as it was a couple of decades ago, but there again I know a lot more. It also seems that my health is OK, and since taking up tai chi and qigong my energy levels are high. This is very important as chess can take it out of you.
One thing that concerns me is that the game itself has also changed, not least because of the proliferation of opening theory, the rise of the chess engine and extensive chess databases. People are better prepared than they used to be and will tend to be ready if someone repeats something they’ve played before. To some extent I should be immune to this because of my wide opening repertoire and preference for systems which feature a delayed contact between the armies. Of course there are sharp lines in almost every opening, and these would need checking carefully.
So I’d say I’m up for it and have provisionally agreed with my son that his second will become less available from next summer. This leaves the nitty gritty of preparing myself because I wouldn’t want to return as a beaten up old has been! But this I’ll leave this discussion for future posts…