Essays

Moscow Patzer: On Taking Lumps at the Chessboard


Dr. Wurzburger -- Peifer; Paris, 1933

1.e4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3.f4 exf4? 4.e5! Qe7 5.Qe2 Ng8 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.d4 d6?? 8.Nd5 Qd8 9.Nxc7+! Black resigns (if 9...Qxc7 10.exd6 (discovered check wins the queen)
May 30, 2003
The Moscow Times

By Carl Schreck

Patzer n. [Slang] an amateur or inferior chess player

It's not easy being a patzer in Moscow.

"You see, in Russia even bad chess players play at a fairly high level," my chess teacher Vladimir says with a hint of patriotic pride.

He's right as far as I can tell. I've certainly taken my share of beatings from local players of all ages and abilities.

When I first arrived in Moscow, I went immediately to the Central Chess Club on Gogolevsky Bulvar to look around. It was a Wednesday evening, and when I went upstairs to the Mikhail Chigorin Hall on the second floor, I saw there were tables set up with about 40 boards and chess clocks.

"We're having a blitz tournament tonight," an elderly woman attending to the tables told me. "Would you like to play?"

I figured 30 rubles for seven five-minute games was a worthy investment.

My first opponent was a silver-haired pensioner who kept jotting down notes in his pad as we played. After eight moves I was down a bishop, and I resigned a few moves later. Naturally, I went on to lose the next six games.

After the final round, the silver-haired gentleman approached me.

"You like chess, don't you?" he asked.

Affirmative.

"But you're not very good."

Duly noted.

"Well, I'm a chess coach, and if you like, I could help you get better."

I called him the next day, and we agreed on $10 an hour.

That was three years ago, and I've been working with Vladimir -- a former member of Anatoly Karpov's coaching team -- ever since.

Since then, I've played in three official tournaments with a two-hour time control, managing a grand total of a half a point -- against a World War II veteran dressed in a shabby sport coat covered in awards and medals of honor. He offered me a draw after 11 moves, and I still suspect Vladimir bribed him to offer it to me so that I wouldn't lose heart and quit chess altogether.

I didn't quit, but even though I've improved markedly, I've posted objectively pitiful results in the various competitions held at the club.

Aside from my defeats in blitz and official tournaments, I've been spectacularly poor in the weekly Sunday tournaments: seven games with 15-minute time control, again for 30 rubles.

The most points I've ever accumulated in a single Sunday tournament is two. But right now, at least I can say I'm on a one-game winning streak.

It was about four months ago, and I had characteristically garnered zero points in the first six games. I had one game remaining to salvage the outing.

When I sat down at the table, I looked up and saw a dainty 8-year-old girl with long black hair and glasses wearing a pink dress. Her overbearing father -- obviously distraught that his wunderkind was performing so poorly as to have to play the likes of me -- stood behind her staring down at the board.

With the white pieces, I played the Vienna Gambit, the opening that Vladimir had throttled me with in our first meeting. She fell for the gambit's opening trickery. I captured her queen early, and she finally resigned by giving me a meek handshake and stopping her clock.

I got up and went to the scorer's table to make sure my meaningless point was recorded for posterity.

As I walked out the doorway of the Chigorin Hall, I saw the girl still sitting glumly at the table. Her father sat across from her moving the pieces about the board, explaining where she went wrong against me and scolding her intermittently.

I felt bad for her, but I left in a triumphant mood anyway. When you're a patzer, you take any win you can get.

Here's an example of how black can fall victim to the Vienna Gambit. Patzers should take note of this line, as sometimes you can notch wins against better players who simply aren't familiar with the opening.




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