Wednesday 3 April 2024

Pardon my French

On my flight back home, I reflect on the tournament in Karlsruhe which just ended.

No prize, a couple of rating points which cowardly deserted, a grey hair I had discovered on a glorious morning. If only it was the first one! Some extra blisters from the miles I walked while having the time of my life playing chess and… well, nothing else, except maybe eating – when not playing for 5 hours in the morning round and, at times, sleeping- when not playing for 10 hours a day; What else was there? Some photos which make my unequalled beauty no justice, some games which mostly aligned with the general trend… To summarize it in one word- shit. Pardon my French, but why not call things exactly what they are?

Afterall, there is a special kind of beauty in the ugly. I seem to recall some Charles Baudelaire writing emphasizing this idea. I assume he must have come to this conclusion somewhere in his thirties. I have only joined this club recently and have already started to appreciate the enchantment of those moments when shit hits the fan, but you still feel fabulous. If you don’t understand how come, you’re either too young to know- but don’t worry- the fan is patiently waiting for you, or too old and no longer need to apologize for any French knowledge.

Let me explain you this concept. You wake up at 7am in the morning, try to understand why the need to function at this hour, remember there’s a chess game in 2 hours and with great enthusiasm you get out of the bed. While walking to the bathroom you feel some back pain from all those hours spent sitting at the board- at least one only needs the brain to function properly for playing chess… While brushing your teeth, you try to remember whom you’re playing and what you’ve prepared. The great effort involved makes you realize there’s an imminent threat of a headache approaching so you abandon the dangerous endeavour.

You put on some clothes and go to breakfast. While in the elevator, you see yourself in the mirror and realize you forgot there was one in the bathroom too. Consequently, looking like shit comes as a mild surprise. No problem- thirties have their perks too- by now you’ve learned about the inner world and inner beauty, and you know- the appeal of those things one can’t see. So, you confidently walk to the coffee machine. Two espressos later, you’re reminded that caffeine on empty stomach is something you should have learned to avoid by now. But you’re still not used to avoiding all the twenties mistakes. Walking to the playing hall you feel your toes hurting from the beautiful 3 kg boots you’ve chosen to take with you as the only pair of shoes. Shit. All these sacrifices and for what? Even the 50 years old elevator mirror can’t be convinced. I remind myself of the inner beauty and sing “These boots are made for walking…”. There must be a concept of inner comfort too.

(3) Facebook

You arrive at the playing hall 5 minutes late, make your way through the thousands of people and sit at the board. Move 3 of your opponent comes as a surprise you’re grateful for. Preparation headaches successfully avoided. Four moves later you realize you’re playing a line you wrote a course about but have successfully avoided making the move you extensively analysed. Merde! You sacrifice a pawn to stir things up and as compensation get an endgame with a bad knight vs a good bishop. Suffering like a dog is something you’re quite experienced at so you finally save a draw vs the 200 points lower rated opponent. At least there’s still time for lunch- a whole hour before the next game!

Salad for lunch is something you have made acquaintance with in your newly joined 30s club too. You eat one leaf after another, there’s neither any particular taste to it, nor any satisfaction. No need for it anyway- as you’ve understood by now, there are plenty of other things to enjoy in life.


Reykjavik Open 2024 - Round 8 | Flickr

Back to the playing hall you find a maximum 10 yo looking kid sitting across the board. Shit.

Luckily, the 30s club is a place where experience is at its home. You have had your share of games you lost against children, and you make sure not to enrich it. For a change, there’s no need for using my French knowledge.

The afternoon is early, and you contemplate the possibility of going for a walk. “No. No. No.” Toes, back, stomach- all in agreement. You go back to your room, lie in the bed and appreciate the moment.

That’s how a regular day at Grenke looked like. Judging by the amount of “French” I used, one might think I’m not so thrilled about the overall experience. But, let me finish with a quote from Baudelaire: “What can an eternity of damnation matter to someone who has felt, if only for one second, the infinity of delight?”

Thursday 14 March 2024

God, I miss Romania!

My trip to Reykjavik has started a few days ago with a stopover in the UK to visit family in a terrible, traditional English town.

Every time I come here, I think that living in this place would be impossible for me. Why? First, because in this lifetime I must fulfill my dream of living surrounded by magnificent concrete walls while breathing the crisp, life prolonging, factory infused air. I’m also worried of not being able to get enough of the occasional dog bite as a form of appreciation for being an exemplary neighbour, and of course- the best of it all- getting the daily dose of satisfaction while savouring the famous Bucharest traffic. Once you try it- you’re hooked for life. You start craving to see people crossing streets at unmarked places, you miss hearing the unequaled Romanian swearing! It embraces equally all the members of society! One can never feel discriminated here- no matter of the skin colour, age, sex orientation or gods they believe in.

In the UK, life is too plain. There’s a depressing lake surrounded by a natural reservation where I can never find the familiar litter lying inconspicuously behind bushes. There’s no charm in cycling here either. My natural talent of looking at the wrong side of the road whenever I try to ensure passage through a crossroad always fails to bring the much-desired result- they never swear at me! They just smile. Every time. It’s an abomination! Instead of the healthy dose of adrenaline rush I’m used to get, I have priority in passage for my whole lifetime and I don’t get to use neither my health nor life insurance. What a waste!

A castle where no one ever got impaled; two pubs where I never get the chance to complain about food quality… How do they entertain here? Neighbours with dogs that never bite; supermarkets with food supplied by local farmers… Don’t they know about importing from other continents? The only thing about the UK which makes me feel like at home is the trains. Delays, cancellations- finally something which is the way it’s supposed to be!

Thanks God I had to endure it only for 2 days! I leave the UK completely unsatisfied, and I worry things might continue in same fashion in Iceland too. Their air carrier didn’t charge me for choosing my seat and they even offered me to buy a 3 euro coffee! Do they think I don’t know that a good coffee can never cost less than 6 euros? And what is it with all this leg space?

God, I miss Romania!

P.S. To be taken with a grain of salt.

Monday 11 March 2024

A penny for your thoughts - Part 3

Wine Tea time

Back at the hotel, I start meeting other participants. The first day is always the easiest- greeting everybody and not having to wonder whether your “hi” might break like waves against rocks.

There’s still plenty of time until the dinner begins so I decide to do some reading. Sitting by the dreamy window while enjoying some cups of tea, I listen to my favourite classical music tracks and immerse myself in the book. I’ve recently discovered an author whose writing I like so much that I must limit my reading time per day so that I can enjoy his books for as long as possible.

It all started about a month ago when I saw some advertising of a book named “Mindful Chess” by an author whose name sounded familiar to me, but I couldn’t really say who he was- Paul van der Sterren. The book’s title was intriguing, so I asked a GM friend whose chess culture is much wider than mine if he knew him. Do you know the look someone gives you after you have asked a silly question? I felt like I teleported to the time I was about 10 y.o. and participated at a lecture by a famous GM. He had asked me to name all the world champions in a chronological order and I couldn’t. The look he gave me, followed by a somewhat pitiful smile made me cry of shame. Well, I know better than crying of shame these days, but I still couldn’t help feeling as ignorant as back then. I decided to make it right- did some research on the author and bought the book which I finished in one go. The plan was to read some pages before going to bed, but… All I can say- I couldn’t really close an eye that night because of the thoughts the book provoked, and I woke up the next day feeling deprived of sleep but given a precious gift- new horizons. Imagine my joy when just some days before coming to Nationals I got an email saying that another book by Paul was available in English! Moreover, it was an autobiography, which I thought guaranteed me many pages of delight.

Back to my tea and dreamy window in Eforie Nord. I opened the book and started reading it while admiring the last rays of sun. You might wonder why I had not started reading it when I was still at home if I looked forward to it so much. Well, the answer is – wisdom. As we all know, it goes hand in hand with ignorance. Jokes aside, I just trusted my intuition which told me that if I started reading it, I wouldn’t be able to let it out of my hands and I wanted to save some of the delight for the championship. I was right, hence the newly introduced rule of reading it for not more than 30 minutes a day. But don’t get it wrong, the rule was introduced only AFTER the 1st reading session. The moon was shining over the calm sea when my phone cried for the ‘n’ time “battery low”. I realised that I must hurry if I want to get any dinner at all. Finally, the time I spent on the treadmill served for something more than blisters.

Photo by David Llada
At the restaurant, I continued sending “hi-s” here and there on autopilot. Some calamari later, I understood that I can’t let myself lose touch with reality to such extent again, so the new ’30-minute reading rule’ was proposed. It wasn’t voted unanimously, but it made sure I got enough hours of sleep and daily steps.

I even managed to get to the technical meeting that evening, just in time to find out I’ll start with black. I must have attracted it upon myself with all those cups of black tea I had by the window. Guess what else it has attracted, or rather driven away- my beauty sleep. I comforted myself with the thought that my dark circles will go well with the board’s squares, and they did, at least for the first few days, but that’s a story for another time.

I promised you to share my thoughts from the time before the tournament began and here they are. Perhaps, one day, there’ll be a story on the ones I got throughout the tournament too… However, I have the feeling I might need a bottle of wine or two instead of the pot of not black tea I have just finished for that to happen.




Saturday 9 March 2024

A penny for your thoughts - Part 2

The Dolphin

A large window with a beautiful view over the Black Sea; the sun caressing the different shades of blue... My mood merges with the scenery, and I feel somewhat lightheaded and optimistic.

The tournament only starts tomorrow, so there’s a full afternoon to enjoy the beautiful weather and sudden lift in spirits. “Disfrutar la tarde” comes to my mind and I smile. Sea, sun and dreamy views in wintertime are some things I’ve grown to associate with Spain. One time, not so long ago, when I felt the outside cold sneaking into myself, I knew I needed to find a way of fighting against it. What better way of doing it than learning the warm language of sun, tapas and siesta? Right. I need to prolong my Duolingo streak first. Fifteen minutes later I feel content enough to go for a walk. Hm, is it “caminar”?

Eforie Nord is a Romanian coastal town and resort by the Black Sea. While it usually gets crowded during summer, its streets are almost empty now. Plenty of national tournaments have been organized here in the last few years.

I enjoy walking along the promenade with the wind playing with my hair and thoughts. Looking to the horizon, I can’t stop a familiar, worrying feeling creeping in. What is it? I feel ready for the tournament and eager to sit at the board again. I’m happy with my room and the nice weather is a pleasant bonus. While trying to get to the bottom of that feeling, I noticed passing by a restaurant with a beautiful terrasse where I had countless coffees and others with friends and family over the years. The place looks like it’s stuck in time. It hasn’t changed at all since the first time I was there. Was it 2000, 2001? Not sure about the exact timeline, I decided to go in, choosing the table with the best sea view. Ordering a cappuccino, I think of the time I sat in the exact same place and saw a dolphin playing in the pinks and oranges of a sunset a few years back. I remember feeling its joy like it was mine. The worrying feeling intensifies, and I don’t get it. Why?

My thoughts fly to those first years when I came to Eforie Nord as a child to participate in its traditional summer chess festival. The playing hall used to be just downstairs. I recall the joy I felt winning against a 2150 rated player for the first time and the huge ice cream I got as a reward after. Taking a sip of coffee, I also remember that time when, some years ago, I quit the tournament after only playing a few rounds. A small part of my heart broke and had to go to places more serene then. I realize there are so many things anchoring me to this place. The worrying feeling takes over completely and I feel a nod in my throat. I know now.

It was 2 years ago. I was playing in the Nationals here when the nearby war has started. Its coldness made place for itself inside me and there are no languages that can make it go away.

Perhaps, if I look over the sea, towards the horizon, I could even see it. Afterall, it’s just some 300 miles away. "Don’t think about it! Don’t think about it? Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it…", echoes in my head like a mantra.

Trying to take another sip of coffee, I realize my cup is empty.

I wonder where the dolphin is.

(To be continued)

Friday 8 March 2024

A penny for your thoughts - Part 1

30 and The Giant

My largest suitcase lies wide open in the middle of the living room and I wonder why have I packed so many things for just 9 days? I remember tournaments where I’d go with just a cabin bag for two weeks or even a month. It must be the 2 months break from playing- I no longer know what I’ll feel like wearing and it seems logical to have a different outfit for each blues, whites or blacks my mood might throw at me. With half of the wardrobe safely packed I now start wondering whether I am ready for the tournament. It feels like there are still things I wish I had done ...

My 30 years are unhappy about me handling this situation.

25 says I’m crazy to play in the open section when I could have gone for the much more accessible women’s one. 28 agrees with 25 and adds that the potential 1st prize could nicely pay another 1,5 square meters of a potential flat. 20 says the women’s section would be piece of cake and I’m a fool for not playing there while having as much fun as I wanted. 15 disagrees and yells at all the others that „30 is the coolest EVER and no one should dare criticising her as she knows best what to do!”. 18 joins her, adding that there’s nothing better in this life than „beating” men. 13 feels uncomfortable- money, fun, square meters, men- are these those things mom meant when saying „You’ll understand when growing up” ? 8 cries in a corner- she doesn’t want to travel anywhere without her lucky pink pants and there’s no pink whatsoever in „the giant” ... No one seems to know how exactly to handle a crying kid and 20 decides on „I also don’t like that there are no miniskirts”! 18 wonders where the high heels are. 25 looks for the hair curling iron. 28 and 16 are searching for the running shoes.

I pat 8’s back, trying to calm her down and remember to check if I packed the back pain cream. I have had enough of this packing party and want to leave. Throwing another grey hoodie just in case it will be cold, I close „the giant” and drag it to the front door. Just about to open it, I realise something isn’t right. Turning back, I seek for my reflection in the hallway’s mirror. Who are those women, and those children? Why don’t I see myself? Looking more carefully, I realise I see 25 with the hair curling iron, 20 in a miniskirt, 8 in her lucky pink pants, 18 rocking some high heels, 16 and 28 fighting for a pair of running shoes... They are my reflection. One day, when I’ll see just one woman when looking in the mirror, I’ll know that my mission is completed. For now, it's time to go to Nationals!

(To be continued)

Monday 15 January 2024

Playlists, dehydration and ghosts

The traditional airplane blogging continues in 2024 as well.

Three more hours to kill, eyes hurting from reading too many chess pages on the phone. It feels nice to reignite a passion. Curious what I was reading? I’ll give you a clue- a book which has a whole lot of pages and shares secrets of a recent world chess champion. 

An unpleasant form of dehydration probably caused by caffeine over consumption- now that’s an actual complain. However, there’s not much I can do about it, as when in this country I can’t resist ordering too many cups of my favourite energizer. Another sip of water and another clue. Which country am I returning from?

New music in my old headphones and thoughts which jump from one subject to another faster than my finger hits the ‘next song’ button. Why finding new songs to like is such a complicated task? I was rather excited when, not so long ago, I discovered a cool bar with great atmosphere, wine, food, people, playlist (I’m thinking that I should have rather not used ‘rather’ earlier, but why not confuse you a bit more?). So the bar, right- the bartender, who was also the waiter and the owner of the place turned out to be an enthusiastic playlist creator which he happily shares with random desperate souls. Since then, my newest occupation has been listening to that 996 songs playlist, trying to perfect my own 664 one. I don’t think 664 is a coincidence and I’m very reluctant right now to hitting the ‘add to the playlist’ button even though I kind of like this ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ thing… Decisions, decisions.

What would be a chess player’s paradise? A place with countless chess books. Strong computers. World champions as training partners. A place where invitations to great tournaments would come every other day. Where there’s a button to push whenever you want to switch the dreamy mountain view working desk to the ocean view one. Oh, or maybe it’s the place where men always complain there are too many chess tournaments with high prizes for women. Hm… Is it reality or paradise, or part reality, part paradise- I got confused. Blame the next song in the barman’s playlist for this line of thoughts- ‘Girl, you’ll be a woman soon’. Now if that made you feel somewhat uncomfortable, unhappy or any other ‘un-’, sorry, that wasn’t my intention, was it? Anyways, let me make it up to you. The next song in the barman’s playlist is ‘Great balls of fire’. 

Now back to the clues on books and places. I’ve changed my mind, even though there’s been no ‘Winds of change’ so far in the playlist.

Let’s start a different subject.

2024- a new year, one which will bring new, exciting things. Hm… In which way? New tournaments, new experiences, new places perhaps. Would it be so bad if they would be just the same old ones? Or maybe the old ones before the old ones?

On a more serious note, my sketch for this year’s calendar is more or less ready. There are some new tournaments, some new places, but no new countries so far. A bit disappointing.

‘Running from the ghost’ starts playing in my headphones. Is it a metaphor, a sign? To what? Have I been running? Who’s the ghost? Where to run from it? Maybe to a country I’ve never been to before.

Looks like I have enough food for thought for my remaining flight time and typing with my eyes semi-closed while trying to coordinate it with constantly hitting the ‘next song’ button is not as easy as I thought.

Cheers to a new year with good playlists, fewer dehydration issues, new paradises and no more running from ghosts.



Monday 16 October 2023

Spätburgunder Writing

A late Sunday night flight from the Women’s Chess Bundesliga and I have suddenly felt like reviving this blog again.

Have taken my shoes off, something I don’t do often and I really hope it’s not only me who’s had a long day and stopped paying attention to things other than the music in the headphones and the newly created database with a new opening idea I plan to dwell on after I finish with this writing.

(Photo by Thomas Marschner)

Right, so the weekend has been a successful one- 2 team wins and 2 individual ones. I am quite content with my play, but that’s not the highlight of this weekend.

I had a dream last night. Mostly, I dream family and chess related stuff. This one was a very realistic one. I won the World Cup among women and it felt so real that I can still almost believe it. The joy was huge, but not lasting. I felt I won, but nothing really changed. Funnily, I was kind of trying to convince myself about the importance of the achieved- “You’ve got the GM title”, “You’ve qualified for the Candidates”, they all sounded cool, but I still felt empty. I saw people around congratulating me, even saw Magnus- the winner of the overall World Cup celebrating it. It felt very real but not fulfilling. I was surprised, not by winning- by the way I felt after it. Was it not what I wanted the most?

7:30 am. Time to wake up and get ready to play some real chess. The game was tough and the match- not easy either, but I pulled off some good moves and won, as the team also did. I could still not shake off the emptiness feeling I got after my dream.

A 2h30m drive to the airport and there I was, sharing dinner and chatting with my best friend, who is luckily also my teammate in more than just Bundesliga. The emptiness had slowly started to go away, but I am now left even more clueless than ever.

What is it that really makes me happy? It appears it’s not chess results only, as I had always believed. It is good people, straight-forward people, who are not considering twice before speaking their minds. I have realised that I’ve come to a point in my life when I can do really well the polite talking about nothing thing, but I really don’t want to invest time and energy into it. Being 1st in anything in your country comes with certain responsibilities and it might sound like something one really can’t complain about. I don’t. I won’t.

What do I want? I want to speak my soul out, play chess and be surrounded by true people, at least sometimes.

Have booked a mountain house in the middle of nowhere as a vacation after the tournaments season will be over and that is something I really look forward to. I’ve been longing for it for far too long and I actually secretly hope I won’t like it, though my dreams keep reminding me of how blessed I’d be to wake up with the view of the ocean, surrounded by forest, no phone signal, no need of polite talks and just the real me. Something to enjoy or to fear?

Taking a sip of very dry wine, laying back on my economy seat and diving into the blues in my headphones, I just remind myself that there’s one life and it would be a pity to spend even a split second of it away from that forest house if that’s what I don’t even dare to dream of.

Sweet dreams and a successful week!