Chasing the rainbow

by Nagesh Havanur
4/23/2020 – ChessBase offers a window to the world of professional chess. We carry reports of tournaments big and small. There are games by IMs and GMs. We have carried tales of great players, past and present. But what about aspiring players who have just commenced the journey? Our columnist Nagesh Havanur sees it through the eyes of a young player trying to make the norm.

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You are angry with the whole world!

You are sitting at the dinner table. No one speaks. The silence is broken by Dad who reproaches your Mum, "How many times I have told you! That game will ruin him". She is more understanding. "Our boy is young. He will do better next time."

"Of course, next time. At his age…" There we go all over again. Dad is about to narrate the saga of his student days for the nth time. Your sisters pull his leg and every one is laughing. Not you. You are back in the room, sullen. 

A "memorable" tournament

How you want to forget that tournament! The rough ride to the airport and then the jet lag. When you get down from the plane, the fog envelops you like a blanket. You are freezing with cold. Have you landed in Alaska or something?

The hotel is awful. The food is lousy. Help! There are bed bugs in the dorm.

It’s a restless night. Next morning you make it to the tournament hall.

Security in is strict. Burly guards check you head and foot. What for?

"There is a gun in the hip holster," you mumble under your breath.

"Did you say something?"


Rules are rules!

Finally, when you make it inside, the TD sends you back. You are not wearing a tie. Not following the dress code. For heaven’s sake, did Bobby ever follow a dress code? No TD tried telling him this. But then you are not Bobby.

Now where will you find a tie at the eleventh hour? One of the boys playing in the hall takes pity on you and whispers, "There is a guy selling them on the pavement outside". When you rush out and find him, you see 50 boys all wanting a tie from him. The man is happy of course. It seems, he is always around whenever a tournament takes place.

"Good for business," he says to a fellow hawker. Any way you rush in with your precious tie and again you are stopped by the security. What do they want now?

"You checked me just now."

"You went out, didn’t you?"

Rules are rules. So again you go through the motions and they waive you in.

Meeting your opponent

You are on Board No. 37 and your opponent is none too pleased to see you. What does he want? A walk over and a gift of a point or what?

"Start your games!" The TD bellows.

You take a deep breath and pray. Then to your dismay you notice, your opponent is also praying. 

He can’t do that! If God bestowed His mercy equally on you both, you are sunk. There would be a draw. Now what good is that to you?

Of course you know, he is an e4 player and loves to play the Vienna. So you have cooked up something special for him. You are all fired up. It’s going to be a tactical battle and you will be transported to the world of Blackburne and Marshall.


Of course it is not completely sound. But let him find a refutation over the board.

Then you are in for a rude shock. He does not want a fight at all and so goes on to exchange queens. 


The Vienna Variation - a reliable and ambitious weapon against 1.d4

The Vienna Variation is a particular and independent system of the Queen's Gambit. It arises after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4, when Black's capture on move 4 is strongly reminiscent of the Queen's Gambit Accepted.

You are numb. How do you play such a lifeless position? Your heart is first angry and then gives way to reflection.

"FIDE should ban the exchange of queens in the first 10 moves. If only they had done that, 20 years before, Garry would never have had to put up with Vlad’s Berlin and still remained world champion." 

Even as you mourn the fate of Garry and his crown, your own clock is ticking, relentless as ever. Inwardly you curse your opponent and give him "I am so bored!" look. He ignores it altogether. Some people have the skin of a rhino.

"I am not Kramnik. You are not Topalov!" 

Then you start feeling uneasy. You had promised yourself not to go to the loo during the play. You had heard about the GM who was caught with a computer in the toilet. Who wants trouble? But now you need to go. After some enquiry, you find the place. They call it The Rest room like they do in hospitals. It’s an oasis of peace amidst the hurly burly of the tournament hall. You wash your face and calm your nerves. In doing that, you have already spent more than five minutes. So when you return your opponent is suspicious. Surely you must have been carrying some gadget showing you the next move. So you pull out your pockets and show him your pen. It was all that you were carrying. He still looks doubtful.

You resist the temptation of telling him, "Look, I am not Kramnik. You are not Topalov. This is not Elista and we are not playing a world championship match. You want to win a silly endgame that a ten-year-old can draw".

You are better than Misha!

Any way he torments you for another 20 moves before he gives you a draw. When he signs the score sheet and gives it to you, he behaves as if you owe your whole life to him.

But it was you who conceded the precious half point to this nitwit, and he doesn’t even have the decency to admit it.

There is a story that young Tal used to lose in the first round of every tournament. On that score his friends once made a "helpful" suggestion, if he is playing in a tournament, the first round result should be annulled. But why would the organizers oblige? So young Misha continued to score nought in first rounds. At least you have done better than him. You have half a point.

You are in luck

The tournament itself is full of ups and downs. You win when you should have lost. You lose when you should have won. It’s crazy. You still remember with a shudder the sixth round. In the following position you have sacrificed a rook and followed up with the offer of your queen. There is nothing for your opponent to do but to resign. Seconds turn into minutes and he sits impassive, staring at the position with a blank expression.

"What’s he doing?" You wonder, "Is he waiting for some divine intervention?"


Then in a flash you realize, you are in need of divine intervention yourself. You have blundered and anyone can see it. Silently you reproach yourself for your folly. You ought to have been patient. "Sit on your hands before you make that  move." Who had said that? He was wise. Strangely enough, your opponent hasn’t noticed a thing. Resigned to his fate he signs the score sheet and stops the clock. The score is 1-0. You rush out of the tournament hall unable to believe your luck. Fate has plans for you (or so you think!).

You are out of luck

Then comes the last round. You need a full point to make the IM norm. Your opponent keeps on making draw offers right when you are about to mate him. You angrily refuse and then go on to lose! It’s the clock. Everything goes up in smoke. Here is what happened. You have chased the Black king all the way, and he has shut himself in a castle. So your king himself arrives to deliver the coup de grâce. Then you are struck by lightning. The Black queen throws herself into the fray and you are threatened with destruction.


You are stunned by this unexpected turn of events and can’t bring yourself to make a single move. To add insult to the injury, your opponent calls the TD who stops the clock and writes on your score sheet, 0-1 (White lost on time).

You have a nightmare when you try to sleep. The humble g-pawn appears in your dream and says, "I could have given my life for you".

You are moved by his devotion, but don’t understand why he wanted to sacrifice his life for you.

Any way it’s all water under the bridge.

It’s an unfair world out there!

Now you are back home putting up with homilies from Dad who cannot tell a bishop from a knight. As you mull over your misfortune, you receive an SMS from your friend that reads,

"Idiot, next month there will be a tournament. Stop licking your wounds. Start chasing the rainbow. Good luck!"

Your eyes light up and pull out the ChessBase Magazine that you received only last week and did not want to see. "No more playing and studying chess." You had said to yourself then. Now suddenly you are all hope.

There is a soft knock on the door. It’s your Mum.

"I got your Dad to spend a little more on your chess…"

Mum is Mum. 

You are grateful.

"But on two conditions: No more fancy shoes and iPhones…." 


"And no more looks like a nerd."

"I am not a nerd," you protest.

To no avail.

"You need to have a hair cut and look decent. Not like a drug junkie."

This game is lost and you resign. It’s an unfair world out there….

P.S.: That was before the lockdown. Now who will give you the rating?


  1. Discerning readers would know that the last two positions are from Tim Krabbe’s essay The ultimate blunder.
  2. The Toiletgate controversy during the Kramnik-Topalov World Championship Match 2006 was unfortunate. The accusation against Kramnik was never proved and it was not believed by grandmasters & chess fans. There was a rift between the two players for years on account of this controversy. Now it has come to an end and they are good friends.


Prof. Nagesh Havanur (otherwise known as "chessbibliophile") is a senior academic and research scholar. He taught English in Mumbai for three decades and has now settled in Bangalore, India. His interests include chess history, biography and opening theory. He has been writing on the Royal Game for more than three decades. His articles and reviews have appeared on several web sites and magazines.


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