The 5th Grade Tournament

I started playing chess when I was 10 years old.  My 5th grade teacher, Mr. Connor, held a chess tournament every year.  It wasn’t until many years later that I realized that this set a really high bar for his students, especially considering that the majority of students had never played chess before.

A group of us stuck around after class for several days learning how to play chess from Mr. Connor.  My friend Ryan and I really got into it.  We played after school at his house, and on the weekends I’d play against my father or brother out on our patio.  Of course, at the time I knew nothing of tactics or strategy.  Just learning the rules and how the pieces moved was a big accomplishment.

The first time I beat my father at chess, I went to my room and cried.  It was the first time I had beat Dad at anything, and I was overcome with a sense that I was growing up.  It was really bittersweet.  I felt accomplished, scared, proud, and uncertain all at the same time.

The tournament wasn’t “seeded” in the sense that Mr. Connor didn’t build our tournament bracket by finding out our respective skill levels in the game.  At this point Ryan and I were the strongest players in the class, and we quickly made our way to the semifinals, where we met each other in combat over the board after school.

We played three games, and Ryan beat me two-out-of-three.  They were great, drawn-out games that were especially fun because we were best friends and both highly competitive.

Ryan went on to play Chris, another student, in the finals, and soundly beat him with a couple of blitzkreig mates (four-move mates).  The reporter who was going to snap a few photos for our town newspaper arrived about 1/2 hour after the start of the match, and it was already over.  Ryan and Chris had to set the board back up and pretend that they were playing in order to get some realistic-looking photos.

As a prize for winning the tournament, Ryan got to play against Mr. Connor on a large Civil War chess set with tiny pewter soldier pieces.  Mr. Connor won, of course, but it was fun to watch nonetheless.

The College Years

Ryan and I stayed interested in the game and played each other sporadically over the years.  Another great friend of mine, Dan, got me back into the game a bit in college.  His style was completely different from Ryan’s: He made wild, unpredictable moves that always threw me for a loop after having played Ryan for so many years, whose style was much more methodical.  Dan would blunder as much as any young player, but always knew how to recover quickly and come roaring back in style.


It wasn’t until 2009 that I actually began to study chess more intently.  Vijay, a co-worker of mine, had recently discovered the game and took to it very quickly.  We played a few correspondence games on Facebook with the app, and he rocketed to a 2000 rating there.  I began studying chess books and learning basic tactics and strategy.

While I’m still at the beginning of the journey, I have already learned a lot and am eager to teach other amateurs from the perspective of a fellow patzer.

How did you get into chess?  How long have you played?  Any memorable games that drew you in?

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