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Is Being a Chess Pro Worth It? - Continued

User Rating: / 21
Written by Administrator   
Friday, 27 September 2013
By GM Daniel Gormally

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I've just come back from the e2-e4 tournament in Bedford, which was another disaster from the playing point of view.

I haven't really played a proper tournament since the British, and I get rusty very easily. It showed.

First game went easy enough. I then struggled to a draw against Terence Chapman in round two, beat a promising junior in round three, but then got battered by Alexey Slavin in the next round, and then promptly withdrew. I don't like withdrawing but I couldn't bear the thought of hanging around and watching the smug winners collecting their cheques while I get f all. (incidentally, David Eggleston won the tournament and is now on the brink of gaining his international master title. Very deserved that would be too.)

I also don't like using excuses but the reality is I'm not cut out for playing more than one game in a day anymore. Morning games are a definite no-no for me, even though I get up much earlier these days, I only really come alive at night. My record in morning games is terrible of late.

The worse thing is when you're sitting there, stinking the joint out and staring down the barrel of this horrible position, and thinking what is the point of my life? This is supposed to be what I'm good at and I can't even do this anymore.

That's why its so hard to be a chessplayer, because you can only blame yourself. Really playing chess is just a form of masochism. Mental torture. I really hate it when people watch my games as well when I'm losing. I actually want to start screaming and throwing the pieces about, but then I am a nutcase. (I actually started singing out loud in the supermarket today, the first sign of a mental breakdown.)

Spectators in chess should be banned. Or at least be made to pay. It's bad enough watching your opponent look all smug because he's winning, even worse that hordes of baying sharks should gather around the board, in anticipation of your imminent bloody demise.

Nah I'm just kidding. Of course chess has so few followers that spectators should be encouraged, not banned. Besides again it works both ways, and that smug warm feeling descends on you when you're winning and you get a large crowd. But I guess I feel hounded these days. Or embarrassed that I can't show what I'm capable of, embarrassed but even more than that angry and embittered. Annoyed that I'm losing to people who deep down I know I'm better than.

But... having said all that there is a caveat. Chess can be a fantastic game, and like others who have threatened to quit, I can't because it would leave an intellectual void in my life that I'd find impossible to fill. Eventually I'd get bored and get pulled back into it, for more mental masochism. I really admire people like James Howell who have quit completely, and never came back. How do they do it?

So I'm kind of stuck in a catch 22. I want to quit, not playing chess, but playing bad chess. Maybe I want to quit chess as well deep down but that's too big a step to take. But unless I start putting work in, I'll continue to get bad results.

And the truth is I'm lazy and as I've alluded to in this blog I very rarely do any serious work. I'm kind of stuck in a rut chess wise and it shows. My opening theory and knowledge hasn't progressed at all in the last 10/15 years and I'm too easily getting swept aside before the game gets going, especially with Black.

The only way I'm going to seriously improve is to get over my fear of flying, play more tournaments and in particular play against people who are significantly stronger than I am. Playing the same 2100/2200 guys that you play in tournaments in England doesn't improve your chess. It's boring playing the same kind of guys over and over again. You lose motivation to improve.

The best tournament I ever had was in Gibraltar 2005, when I played 2600 plus opposition every round. Eventually you start to think at their level, so when you come down and start playing guys who are lower rated, it's so much easier. Or at least I felt that at the time, since then I've rarely had a chance to test myself against world-class opposition.

As my mate Simon Williams (who also had a stinker in Bedford) said, what's the point of doing say four hours a day on chess, when you're only going to maybe get to 2580 level and your life will not significantly change? The only way my money situation would seriously improve is if I smashed through the 2700 barrier, and lets face it, at 37 that's not going to happen. Not unless I went down the Ivanov route. :-)

I know what you're thinking, whinge whinge whinge, moan moan moan. Why doesn't he grow some balls, put some work in? Well you're right. I should put some work into chess, at least it would give me some focus for a while. But deep down my heart isn't in chess anymore, and I wonder if it ever will be again. Maybe I've just taken too many hits. Too many bad defeats, like a boxer who's been bounced around the ring too often, I've lost the will to keep fighting.

I got an interesting response to my original post about whether it's worth being a chess pro or not. I'm glad it's stimulated so much discussion.. Some suggested that you can hardly expect to make a living unless you are in an elite group, near the top, and like tennis or golf you need to do coaching if you are not ranked amongst the top players in the world.

That's absolutely right. It's true I'm nothing special in world terms so can hardly "expect" to make a living. The reality is compared to the top guys like Carlsen, I'm a complete nobody and always will be. It's like you can name Tiger Woods, but can you name the golfer ranked 800th in the world? Tiger Woods gets people watching on the box. John Smith, honest but limited golf pro from Arizona, doesn't. I suppose my real regret is just that I've achieved so little in life and my struggles and apparent failure to achieve something in chess are just a reflection on that.

There were also some nice suggestions about a career change. One guy said he taught himself to be a computer programmer. I actually signed up for a computer course once, but got so bored I actually dropped out the same day! Technical stuff is a complete mystery for me, but it's true that if you have a chess brain you should be able to adapt that to other activities, which might be more financially rewarding. It's just a question of finding out what.

Someone else said why not try poker. At lot of chessplayers have made that transition of late. But it's not the same thing in my opinion, as in poker you need a lot of mental discipline to just sit there and pass pass pass, while in chess you are forcing the issue much more.

Anyway online poker is a definite no-no for me. I actually starting playing poker online when the whole internet poker explosion started about 10 years ago. At first it went very well, I turned 10 dollars into 10,000 dollars in the space of three months.

But then the drudgery of playing poker and staring at these cards all day long started to creep up on me, and it all went tits up. The truth is I don't have the discipline to make money from internet gambling. I tilt and chase, and want to force the issue too much instead of waiting for the right situations. I've also lost a bundle in sports betting over the last month or so, more than I'd care to admit.

I've tried gambling but it takes a special kind of personality to make it pay. The single most important factor in being a successful gambler in my opinion, is discipline. Without that any perceived edge you may think you have, is utterly irrelevant. Besides there's always that temptation, when you don't make much money, to try and "blast your way out" and hit that big win. I've been trying that for years, as have many of my friends, but yet to hit that elusive pot of gold.

No what I'd like to do really is something more creative. Like writing or maybe something in films. That interests me.

There was also the option mooted of moving to Japan, and I think that's a much better idea if I'm going to stick with chess. England is dead for chessplayers now, no wonder that so many people like Conquest and Plaskett move abroad, to countries like Spain, where you might actually have a chance to be appreciated. Get over my fear of flying and move to Japan, good idea.

Anyway I shall try to spend this week looking at ways I can improve my life, because it's not fun to be miserable and lets be honest, there's only so much crap that a person can take before he starts to go doolally. We should all be happy in life, no?

GM Daniel Gormally is open for chess lessons. You can contact him using this This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Other posts by GM Danny Gormally:

Is being a chess pro worth it?
An Elitist Game?
Does hard work in chess pay off?
World Cup Final preview
World Chess Cup Semi-Final preview
World Chess Cup Quarter-Final preview
World Chess Cup 1/8-final preview
Why are Russians so good at chess?
British Champs-2013
Ghent and now the British
I'll never be fat again!
Lessons learnt!
The sad case of Borislav Ivanov: Part II
Does Anyone Have a Cure for Anger Problems?
The Depth of Chess
Fundraising in chess
Nurturing a Chess Prodigy
The Sad Case of Borislav Ivanov
4NCL Impressions: no country for old men - Part II
4NCL Impressions: no country for old men
One move, one line - Part II
One move, one line
Candidates Final Review & Preview of Upcoming World Championship Match
Would Carlsen have beaten Capablanca?

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Comments (3)
1. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 17:23 27 2013 .
Mr. Gormally, it seems to me that you are in a professional "rut" which just about everyone experiences in life, often several times. I have gone through that at my job more than once, and a vacation (or "holiday" as you say across the pond)will likely help. Take a week or two (more if you can afford it)and do not do anything chess-related. Maybe it will recharge your batteries. I like how you mentioned golf, which is another of my hobbies. Both games can be very personal and frustrating when you are not performing up to your capabilities. In chess however, your opponents can have a lot to do with your performance, and as one of those weaker players rated at the level you are accustomed to defeating, I'll say this: You come to your regular tournaments as one of the "top dogs" looking to win or at least finish near the top. We lower players come only hoping to draw or win against players like you. So, we put all our preparation into playing against you. If you constantly play the same openings, we will be able to prepare a pet line aginst you, making it harder and harder for you to realize an advantage in the opening against us. Most of the time, you will still probably outplay us in the middlegame or endgame, but not always. That said, I believe you will have to put some work into preparing some different lines just to keep other players honest. I took a long layoff of sevral years when I got married and my daughter was born. Started playing tournaments again a few years ago, and have yet to have what I would deem as a good tournament. I know how it feels to become bored with the game (happens to me at billiards, which I have played at a very high level for 35 years) but if you quit it will be hard to get back to where you are now should you ever come back. I suggest correspondence chess to keep the rust off. I wish I had done that during my layoff...
2. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 19:27 27 2013 .
National Master
Yup-you are right-washed up at 37. But in tennis you are washed up at 27. In Chess, the top 20 may make it good...the rest? 
However, at 37..still young for PhD MD J.D. and other professions. If you take 1/2 the same energy used to become a GM in Chess and apply it elsewhere...the returns will be 2X as great.. 
Such is life.
3. Written by me on 14:12 29 2013 .
National Master
We, me and my wife, read with interest your essays. Here, "with 
interest" is, however, hardly applicable, because the impression 
is that you are really disappointed. We sincerely wish you to win 
somehow in the life.

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