Can’t always be what you want

My recollection is that Neil Remington Abramson taught me the basic rules of chess, when we were both around nine. While Neil has written about chess earlier, I hadn’t appreciated how much further along he had gone in the game. Here Neil comments on many years of extensive involvement with recreational and competitive chess (reproduced with permission):

I remember that when I got serious about chess, I went down to the Saskatoon News Agency on 2nd Ave. and bought a wooden set, which I think I still have. It was a standard design, likely 3.5 or 3.75 inch kings, yellow/white and black. The pieces had lead weights that rattled annoyingly. That was always my favorite set, though my Aunt Jean later gave me a beautiful rosewood (brown) and olive wood (yellow) set. I also used my stepfather’s wooden chessboard.

Chess was a very important learning experience in my life. It provided the proof that you couldn’t do everything you set your mind to. I worked very hard trying to become a good player from grade 12, to age 39. My first published rating was as a C class player, which I got up to B, then A, and finally to what we called Expert (>2000), that was then renamed Candidate Master. My highest rating was as a postal chess player. I even was invited twice to the Saskatchewan Closed Chess Championship, each time getting bombed. And my closest friends were all chess players.

I suppose that, logically, I proved you can become good if you will it. But what I actually learned was that no matter how high you rise, there is still a layer, or many layers, regarding you as a complete beginner and having no trouble proving it, even as you form that layer for those in ranks below you.

I finally decided to give up after playing a Master in a 4 or 6 hour tournament struggle. He honoured me, after winning, by analyzing the game with me. Even though he won by the barest margin, I learned that I never correctly identified any of what he threatened, and he rightly discounted everything I intended to threaten. I realized my apparent success was a mirage. I had never had a clue, after so many years of study.

I gave up tournament play in 1988. Had also grown from having mostly chess players as friends to disliking most chess players in person They were all emulating Bobby Fischer’s desire to crush your ego. Gave up postal in 1992. Too much like statistics, so no relaxation value for a struggling quantitative empiricist.

Don’t miss it, but maybe one day I can be like old Erich Hoehn, and play series of King’s Gambits, just for fun.

It really was life-changing to learn that you had significant limitations, no matter what the ideology of the times (“You can be what you want to be”) said.

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