A Tangled Web
by Sarah Hurst
One fine Sunday afternoon, when the sun was blazing down on the lush green grass of the English countryside and most intelligent people were lying semi-naked on their balconies or heading for the nearest outdoor swimming pool, MateMe was sitting in front of the computer as usual, idly toying with her mouse. “I want to play chess!” she was thinking. “I am desperate to learn everything I can about this wonderful game, but no one will help me. They’re all boring!”
In truth, MateMe had a rather hazy notion of chess. She thought it must be really exciting. This view had been confirmed that morning, when she logged on to the Internet Chess Club for the first time. It was full of people with names like Porno, SlugBucket, BostonStrangler, Severed and ParalyseCabbage. “Enter your handle”, she was instructed, cryptically. She knew only one rule of chess - that the aim of the game was to checkmate - so she decided to call herself MateMe, without considering the implications.
The atmosphere at the Internet Chess Club was somewhat confusing. TriviaBot said: “The notorious ‘cold fusion’ episode had several examples of ‘the dog that didn’t bark’ - phenomena whose *absence* should have raised suspicions. All of the following are examples but one; name it. 1.Experimenters dying of radiation sickness, 2.Neutron emission, 3.Dendrite formation on the electrodes, 4.Gamma-ray emission, 5.Buildup of helium-3.” MateMe realised she had completely underestimated the amount of work she would have to do to learn chess. The BCF Yearbook hadn’t warned her about particle physics!
While she was pondering this, ROBOadmin s-shouted: “A hush fills the room as GRANDMASTER Ariela walks in! :)” Then BrownSugar wrote: “how do you see your tournementstatistics og t-rating?” and JFernandez replied: “tell tomato finger”. Now MateMe was completely mystified. She logged off just as Olenin (1287) was seeking bullet 1 0 rated and sumo was shouting: “KILLERccccccccooooooooooowwwwwwww!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! COWKILLER !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! KILLLER KILLER KILLER ccccccccccooooooooowwwwwwwwwww”. It was all a bit much. MateMe hadn’t felt ready to digest MrSpock’s lecture on Complex Endings, Part 2, as she didn’t even know how the pieces moved yet.
After lunch, staring glumly at a site called Yahoo!, MateMe was wondering where on earth to start. “Quick, get me chess!”, she typed into the search engine. Seconds later, she was presented with a suggestion: QuickChess. That sounded good, and MateMe cheered up a little. Clicking on the site address, she was immediately assailed with the question, “Challenged by Chess?”. “Yes,” MateMe thought. “You can still be a ‘rook’-ie and play. You can even learn in just one ‘knight’,” the new site promised. Joe Miccio, a New York City firefighter, was the man with the plan. Apparently he invented QuickChess shortly after having a repetitive dream of a rook moving in circles, even though he had no previous business experience of this nature and minimal knowledge of chess.
MateMe was enthralled. A handsome, heroic guy with a brilliant idea - were all chess players like this? She read on. QuickChess was played on a board with 30 squares, and each player had 10 pieces. No need to double those rooks, as you only have one of them! And the instructions came as a comic book, in which the pieces had fanciful and memorable names like Bubba the Bishop and Robok the Rook. Coloured in bright blue and white, splash-proof, and with smash-proof pieces, too, QuickChess was clearly perfect for beginners who couldn’t cope with the enormous, drab, 64-square board. MateMe was about to order a set, when she realised that she didn’t have $10 - she had exceeded her overdraft limit when she joined the Internet Chess Club. Bitterly disappointed, she clicked back to Yahoo! in search of a free way to learn.
“Maybe a grandmaster will help me,” MateMe thought. “I know, why don’t I ask the women’s World Champion? I am a woman and I like chess, we’ll bond instantly.” So MateMe connected to the site belonging to Susan Polgar. In the photograph, Susan was smiling warmly, but all she seemed to want were MateMe’s credit card details. “Private Lessons as low as $100,” Susan offered. “Well, perhaps not,” thought MateMe. “I ought to aim lower. I’ll go for someone who isn’t quite as famous.” Somehow she found her way to the site of WGM Anjelina Belakovskaia, Chairperson of Women’s Committee of the USCF and Leader of US Women’s Olympic Chess Team.
Anjelina came to New York from Moscow with $100 in her pocket - enough for one lesson with Susan Polgar. But she didn’t spend it on that. She already understood a few things about the market economy, and soon she got a job in an investment company as a currency trader. Afterwards she became a Professional Chess Player and Chess Teacher. Anjelina still wanted to make money, however, so she decided to charge $75 for an hour’s lesson in person or $60 by phone or Internet. MateMe’s thirst for chess remained unquenched.
The male grandmasters weren’t much cheaper than the women. Cheeky little Gabriel Schwartzman, who boasted that he was very active in teaching chess, including a TV show he produced and hosted for the Romanian National Television which aired for eight seasons, wanted $10 per month for membership of his Internet Chess Academy. “He does seem to be very clever,” thought MateMe.
Surfing across the Atlantic to the British Isles, MateMe found herself confronted by a cool, slick-looking young man in dark glasses. “Wow, these chess players are something else!”, MateMe swooned. Nigel Davies implored her to let him turn her into a lean, mean chess machine. “In many cases I have helped players who thought they’d never get much better to improve beyond their wildest dreams,” said Nigel. But the Checkerwise Power-Chess Program would cost £17.50 per month. “I’ll save up and buy the book from Batsford instead,” MateMe told herself.
Just as she was about to give up hope and resort to doing something healthy outside in the open air, MateMe’s deepest desires were unexpectedly fulfilled. It turned out that the slim and photogenic Jon Levitt had published some of his games, problems, studies and extracts from his books, as well as several pictures of himself, all for free! “Are You a Chess Genius?”, he asked. “Now is the time to discover your chess talent!” It transpired that MateMe almost certainly was a chess genius, because she quickly deduced the Laws of Chess from looking at Jon’s games, and within an hour or so she was solving serieshelpmates with ease. MateMe knew she had an IQ of 150, so it was inevitable that her Elo rating would be very high, as Jon pointed out.
MateMe felt exhilarated by the knowledge that she was a chess genius, but she realised that being a genius would be useless in this day and age without a deep study of opening theory. It was time to knuckle down and do some hard graft. “I like taking risks,” thought MateMe. “I should learn about gambits.” The place to go for gambits was none other than GambitSite, devised by Thomas Stock, MD, of Berlin.
Thomas was an expert in all gambits, including the Elephant, the Blackmar-Diemer, the Belgrade, the Falkbeer Counter-, the King’s, the Smith-Morra, the Sicilian Wing, the Latvian, the Icelandic, the Budapest, the Evans, From’s, Cochrane’s and Steinitz’s, but his favourite was the Muzio, which he was writing a book about, called The Enigma of Signor Muzio. MateMe was soon au fait with all the nuances of the Muzio Gambit. However, she felt that Thomas had somewhat neglected the Diemer-Duhm Gambit, so she clicked on the link with the Diemer-Duhm Gambit site, where Jyrki Heikkinen from Finland presented a vast array of opening analysis, texts and games.
“The fun of chess lies more and more with these openings where like mountaineers climbing new peaks you can discover unknown, unbelievable positions at the board,” a quote on the Diemer-Duhm Gambit site proclaimed. MateMe was utterly hooked. Chess was as thrilling as she had expected it to be. She felt almost ready to pit her wits against a real opponent, except that she hadn’t yet mastered all the chess variants that existed in the world. Fortunately, The Chess Variant Pages provided a swift and easily digestible remedy to this problem.
At last, MateMe had the necessary armoury to make her a worthy member of a chess club. She was hesitant about returning to the Internet Chess Club after her previous unnerving experience, so she decided to look for somewhere with a more peaceful and reflective atmosphere. The Greater Grace Christian Academy chess club in Baltimore sounded like the ideal place. The site informed her that St Teresa of Avila was an outstanding chess player who authored a famous treatise on spirituality entitled The Way Of Perfection. She devoted one chapter on how to develop one’s ability to receive God’s love, and used chess-piece development as an analogy. Momentarily, MateMe was in seventh heaven, until she noticed that all the club’s members were kids who lived in Baltimore, a social category which MateMe didn’t fit into.
MateMe headed for the friendliest chess club she could find. She relaxed when she landed in Kilkenny, where she could win a prize for composing a limerick or admire a picture of the Heidenfeld Heroes. “This could be the club for me,” MateMe thought. But it was rather disorganised, and MateMe liked things to run smoothly. A subcommittee formed in 1970 to examine the running of committees in general, in the hope that from the results of its findings a better than average club committee could be formed, reported back in 1980.
The Kilkenny subcommitte found: “that solicitors, self-employed businessmen, book collectors, archaeologists and the like became club secretaries. This always leads to conflicts in that the solicitor will always insist that club reports be written in clear and unambiguous language, whereas the businessman will insist on the opposite in case the tax man ever reads them, (and sometimes the other way round depending on the honesty/dishonesty of the solicitor/businessman involved!) All the while the book collector and archaeologist insist that no living person be allowed to see a club report as this will enhance its value in the future, as well as insisting that the running of a club is no business of an ordinary club member anyway. The result is usually another forty page document wherein the second part of the report usually contradicts everything written in the first part!”
Suddenly, MateMe had a staggering thought which illuminated the whole of chess for her in a blinding flash: “I’ll see if there’s a chess club near where I live!” By a bizarre coincidence, MateMe lived in Barnet, and Barnet chess club just happened to have one of the biggest websites of any club in the world - aptly named ChessWorld. It had a special historical report of the 2nd World Champion Emanuel Lasker, a page linked from the Barnet member section in recognition of Barnet’s honorary life member International Master Neil Bradbury, an interactive trivia quiz, a Steinitz page, a Barnet Congress pictorial report and much, much more.
Seeing all the happy players laughing and chatting with each other in their cosy clubhouse caused a wave of emotion to surge through MateMe’s body. “I must be mad,” she thought. “What have I been doing on the Internet? I’m going to sell my computer tomorrow and join Barnet chess club.” And she did.
The second edition of Sarah Hurst’s book, Chess on the Web, is soon to be published by Batsford.
"He who fears an isolated queen's pawn should give up chess". Siegbert Tarrasch
"The most powerful weapon in chess is to have the next move"! David Bronstein.