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MACA Chess Horizons Magazine Article
 I Did Everything but Play Well: A Chess Journey
 FM Christopher Chase
  April 2019

One month from the writing of this piece, the 2019 MACA elections will be held, and for the first time since 2012, my name will not be on the ballot for president. After nearly eight years organizing, directing, teaching, and writing about chess, the time has come for me to take something of a break.

But to do so without having first written a sensible, sentimental, self-indulgent essay filled with non-sequiturs would be a terrible wasted opportunity, particularly given my intimate relationship with the editor of this publication. And so, without any further ado, I give you my story, one of the stranger chess sagas you are likely to come across.

The Kid 

I learned chess around the age of five from my grandmother, who in turn had learned it in a Soviet youth camp in the late 1940’s. Though I did not grasp everything from her early lessons, I was imbued with a love of the game and a great sense of wonder about it, and it became a favorite pastime every time I saw her. She never let me win, and it was not until I was 11 or 12 that I claimed my first well-earned victory against her.

But for all the fondness of chess as entertainment that she gave me, she showed little affinity for it as a serious endeavor, and this became my mentality as well. Though I had brief flirtations with scholastic tournament play in middle and high school, I saw the idea of putting serious study into chess, or any other game, for that matter, as rather silly. I would play with my friends, play in the afterschool clubs, have some fun with it, and that was that.

The Student 

College came, and I barely looked at a chess board. However, a confluence of events and trends would sow the seeds for my later chess involvement, little to my awareness at the time.

First, I changed my tune about studying, thanks to another love of mine, the game of Scrabble. After some friends got me hooked on online speed games (a familiar drug to many in the chess community), the thrill of victory and the prospect of dominating old rivals and competing at high levels became too much to resist putting the work in. I started studying lists of words. And I won some games. And then I won some more games. And it felt good.

Second, I developed a fascination with tournaments in general, their organization and their structure. This began as a venture into learning about the business of sports, and in fact led me to write a senior thesis about the college football playoff system at the time, the nature of fairness as it was perceived therein, and my opinions on what to do about it (opinions which I still hold to this day, but will generously spare the reader). On a more practical level, I began organizing and refereeing tournaments for party games and casual entertainments when friends would gather, and it gave me great joy to so contribute to my peers’ fun.

And third, I became more and more involved with my community, and volunteer efforts in its interest. This began by some coincidence – I was not planning to go to college locally, but the best school by far that would have me (Boston College for those curious – go Eagles) happened to be right at my doorstep, and suddenly I found myself with the opportunity to indulge in my old schoolboy activities in a new capacity. I helped coach my old math team. I offered my services as a teaching assistant in a Latin class. In my senior year, I hosted a computer workshop for elderly Russian speakers in Mission Hill. To each experience, I said ‘why not,’ and from each I derived a sense of worth and fulfillment that I had not previously thought to seek, and a deeper understanding of what I wanted to do with my life, and what kind of person I wanted to be.  

The Club

Coming out of college, I intended to pursue a startup (spoiler alert: it failed) and take some time exploring before settling down for work. With my newfound ‘why not’ mentality and a sudden hunger for community involvement, I looked to the nearby Boylston Chess Club for a fun opportunity.

While I hadn’t gone to tournaments much in my school years, I did know a few people – old family friends – who frequently did, and they gave me the gateway I needed. My original vision was to help with marketing (my field of study at BC) or organize some sort of scholastic league, but I quickly found that my most practical and immediate use was as a Tournament Director, so direct tournaments I did.

At the same time, I started to look for opportunities to make at least some money in this exploratory phase of my life, and I found some with teaching. First running afterschool chess programs at my old elementary school, then with a few private students. My level of chess understanding was deeply amateurish at the time, but it was enough to speak to rank beginners. More importantly, my love of the game, even after years away, remained, and I do believe that at least some part of it shone through, particularly after I began to see more of what wonder the game could bring to others.