8 Takeaways From Living as a Chess Vagabond

Two months of travel through Australia and Asia. Three grueling chess tournaments. Thousands of photos. Countless unforgettable experiences (on and off the chess board) My task: Share it with you in one cohesive (or at least entertaining) article. Rather than attempt to summarize the entire trip or go in chronological order, I would like to present some of the top highlights, worst blunders, and most valuable lessons from my recent adventures as a chess vagabond. While I’ll let the photos do most of the story-telling, I’ll try to give some practical travel advice along the way. I’m hoping these will inspire readers to use chess as a vehicle to explore the world.

#1: Flights are not as expensive as you think

One major barrier to travel is cost. Overseas tickets to Australia or Asia can be especially expensive. While I’m by no means a travel expert, I applied a few strategies which dramatically reduced my cost of air travel:

  • Be flexible with dates and locations
  • Check prices across multiple sites
  • Be persistent with research -- cheap flights exist if you can take the time to dig deeply enough!
  • Use incognito mode (as some sites alter prices based on search history)

I approached searching for cheap flights the same way I approach opening preparation: I invested many hours of time.. When searching flights from Chicago to Australia, it looked like I would have to pay at least $900 for a one-way flight. But then… Simply clicking on the date cut the price in half! Not sure if Google was being sneaky or buggy… While $450, seems like a very reasonable one-way price, I heeded my own advice above: Never book a flight without checking multiple sites. I quickly visited China Eastern’s website to check the same flight’s price. Lo and behold… $340 for a one-way ticket to Australia is hard to beat. Despite the 28 hour + journey, the plane was comfortable and the airline provided full meals with no extra charge.

“Chinese Breakfast” on my flight to Brisbane

#2: Kangaroos will do anything if you give them food

Upon arriving in Australia, I had one goal: Play chess with a kangaroo. After sprinkling some kangaroo food on the chess board….

Mission Accomplished!
Checkmate, mate
After lots of patience and some generous feeding from fellow chess players William Wedding and Alistair Cameron, we managed to set up a fair match... 

#3: Listening to the Perpetual Chess Podcast is more enjoyable in exotic locations

While I admit to falling behind on numerous episodes of Ben Johnson’s Perpetual Chess Podcast, I can proudly say that I caught up on all of them throughout my trip. Taking walks through Bali while listening to in-depth interviews with guests like Greg Shahade, Jen Shahade, Ben Finegold, John Donaldson and many others were insightful and entertaining.

During Sunset? Even better. 

# 4: Adjournments still exist

Yeah… That’s right. I’m talking about the old-school style adjournment. Pause the game. Seal a move. Ponder the position. Return to the game a few hours later. As Indonesia is predominantly a Muslim country, it is common to take breaks during tournament games for prayer. After 4 hours of play in round 7 of the PCNI Cup in Cilacap, Indonesia, I reached the following position:

Achmad Basyar - Rosen Eric

  The arbiter paused the clock. I was asked to seal my next move. Even though it’s a critical position, I felt rushed. While not having fully calculated all the lines, I sealed the move: 50...d3. For the next 90 minutes, I was not allowed to look at the board. Nor was I allowed to use my phone. That meant no Facebook. No Instagram. No Twitter. And obviously no Stockfish. Ugh! I had to force myself to calculate. I had 90 minutes. That’s a lot of time. I laid down in the corner of the the tournament hall and began to calculate…. d3 Nxa5 is obviously the critical line. d3 Nxa5 d2 Bf3 Be4! -+ Nice! d3 Nxa5 d2 Ba4… What’s going on?? d3 Nxa5 d2 Ba4 Bg4 was my original plan when I sealed d3, but it runs into Nc6+!! And white wins. Crap! d3 Nxa5 d2 Ba4 Bxd7 Bd1… Can black win that? d2 looks weak. After about 45 minutes of re-checking lines and constantly reminding myself of where all the pieces stood, I found the clear win: d3 Nxa5 d2 Bxa4 Bxd7 Bd7 Ne4!! And white can not prevent Nc3, winning material. When I realized Ne4 was winning, I was fairly confident I would win the game. I relaxed and got some snacks before the game resumed. I then reminded myself: while I was calculating, my opponent was praying. Uh oh... When the game resumed, he played his next move very quickly: 51. Kf3. Frustrating! I had discarded Kf3 as an easy win, but it turned out not to be the case. 

[pgn] [Event "PCNI Cup"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.12.30"] [Round "?"] [White "Achmat, Basyar"] [Black "Rosen, Eric"] [ECO "A13"] [WhiteElo "2094"] [BlackElo "2379"] [Result "1-0"] 1. c4 e6 2. g3 d5 3. Bg2 Nf6 4. Nf3 dxc4 5. Qa4+ c6 6. Qxc4 b5 7. Qc2 Bb7 8. O-O Nbd7 9. d4 Rc8 10. Nc3 a6 11. Rd1 Qb6 12. e4 c5 13. d5 e5 14. Nh4 Bd6 15. Bh3 Rc7 16. Be3 O-O 17. Nf5 g6 18. Nxd6 Qxd6 19. Rac1 c4 20. a3 Nc5 21. f3 Nb3 22. Rb1 Bc8 23. Bf1 Nd7 24. Qf2 Ndc5 25. f4 f6 26. f5 g5 27. Be2 Rg7 28. Kg2 Bd7 29. Rh1 a5 30. Bxc5 Nxc5 31. Qe3 Rc8 32. h4 g4 33. h5 Rg5 34. Rh4 b4 35. Nd1 Nxe4 36. Rxg4 Rxg4 37. Bxg4 Ng5 38. Qd2 c3 39. bxc3 bxc3 40. Nxc3 Qxa3 41. Rc1 Qb4 42. Be2 Bxf5 43. d6 Qd4 44. Qxd4 exd4 45. Na2 Rxc1 46. Nxc1 Kf8 47. Bb5 Nf7 48. d7 Ke7 49. Nb3 Nd6 50. Bc6 { Position adjourned for approximately 90 minutes. I sealed 50th move: d3 } 50... d3 51. Kf3 (51. Nxa5 { Critical line! } 51... d2 52. Ba4 (52. Bf3 Be4! $19) 52... Bg4? { This is what I initially calculated when I sealed 50...d3. However, I overlooked White's important resource } (52... Bxd7 53. Bd1 Ne4!! { For some reason it took me 45 minutes to figure out Ne4 is winning. As black threatens Nc3 (Attacking the bishop and controlling e2) White cannot use his king quickly enough to help out }) 53. Kf2 (53. Nc6+! { White wins! } 53... Kxd7 54. Ne5+)) 51... Nc4 52. Kf4 Bxd7 53. Bxd7 Kxd7 54. Nc5+ Ke7 55. Nxd3 a4 56. g4 a3 57. Nb4 Ne5 58. Kf5 Nf7 59. Kf4 Ng5 60. Kf5 Kf7 61. Na2 Nh3 62. Nb4 h6 63. Na2 Nf2 64. Kf4 Ke6 65. Kf3 Nd3 66. Ke4 Ne5 67. Kf4 Ke7 68. Kf5 Kf7 69. Nb4 Nc6 70. Na2 Ne7+ 71. Ke4 Ke6 72. Nc3 Nc6 73. Na2 Nd8 74. Nb4 Nf7 75. Na2 Nd6+ 76. Kf4 Kd5 77. Ke3 Kc4 78. Nc1 Kc3 79. Na2+ Kb2 80. Nb4 Kb3 81. Nd3 Nc4+ 82. Kf4 Ne5 83. Nc1+ Kb2 * [/pgn]
Knight endings can be a pain. In the end, I did win. The game started at 8am. It ended after 2pm. You can do the math. Chess can mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting. But a win is a win. 

#5: The Chess World is a Small World

Photo by Kevin Goh Wei Ming

While traveling through Singapore, I ran into the one and only "Blindfold King" Timur Gareev in a fancy hotel at 2am. He had given a 7-hour blindfold simul earlier in the day and proceeded to give a several hour seminar later that morning. I’m not sure when this guy finds time to sleep!

Timur's Travel advice? Always carry extra toilet paper. You never know when you'll need it.

#6: There is  such thing as “too much chess”

During the month of December, I played three highly demanding 9-round tournaments. 27 classical games of chess in less than 30 days is simply too much. I don't like to make excuses, but I was burnt out. As as a result, I played some really bad moves. Here are some of my worst moments:  My misfortune began in the last round of the Lidums Australian Young Masters tournament. A final-round win would guarantee me first place and some nice prize money. I was playing Zachary Loh who held clear last place. To make my situation even better, he played a dubious version of the Smith Morra and gave me two pawns out of the opening. I got too comfortable and then things got messy. And then I lost my mind...

Loh, Z - Rosen, E | White to move after 43...Ne5??

[pgn] [Event "Lidums Australian Young Masters IM Norm Event"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.12.08"] [Round "?"] [White "Loh, Zachary"] [Black "Rosen, Eric"] [ECO "B20"] [WhiteElo "2218"] [BlackElo "2379"] [Result "1-0"] 1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd4 3. c3 dxc3 4. Nxc3 e6 5. Bc4 Nc6 6. Nf3 Qc7 7. O-O Nf6 8. Qe2 Ng4 9. Nb5 Qb8 10. e5 a6 11. Nd6+ Bxd6 12. exd6 Qxd6 13. Rd1 Qc7 14. h3 Nge5 15. Bf4 f6 16. Rac1 O-O 17. Bb3 d6 18. Nd4 Nxd4 19. Rxd4 Qe7 20. Rcd1 Rd8 21. Bc2 Nf7 22. Qd3 e5 23. Qxh7+ Kf8 24. Re4 d5 25. Re3 Be6 26. Rg3 g5 27. Bd2 Rac8 28. Bg6 Rc4 29. a3 Rh4 30. Bh5 Rxh5 31. Qxh5 Kg7 32. Bb4 Qd7 33. Qf3 d4 34. h4 g4 35. Qe2 Rh8 36. f4 exf4 37. Rc3 f3 38. Qf2 Rd8 39. Rcd3 Qc6 40. Rxd4 Rxd4 41. Qxd4 fxg2 42. Be7 Qf3 43. Re1 Ne5?? 44. Bxf6+! Qxf6 45. Qxe5 Kf7 46. Qxf6+ Kxf6 47. Kxg2 Bf5 48. Kg3 a5 49. b3 b5 50. b4 axb4 51. axb4 Bd7 52. Kf4 Bc8 53. Rc1 Bd7 54. Rc7 Be8 55. Kxg4 Ke6 56. Kg5 Kd6 57. Rc5 Ke6 58. h5 Kf7 59. Rc7+ Kg8 60. Rc8 Kf7 61. h6 Kg8 62. Rxe8+ Kh7 63. Re7+ 1-0 [/pgn]
Directly after the completion of Lidums AYM in Adelaide, I flew to Melbourne to play the Australasian Masters. There were no rest days between tournaments. While I won my first 4 games in Melbourne, my play quickly deteriorated. I finished the tournament with a disappointing 5.5/9. The below games tell the story.:

Rosen, E - Khamatgaleev, A | Black to move after Ra5??

 

[pgn] [Event "Australasian Masters IM"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.12.14"] [Round "?"] [White "Rosen, Eric"] [Black "Khamatgaleev, Alexej"] [ECO "A45"] [WhiteElo "2381"] [BlackElo "2399"] [Result "0-1"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. Bf4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. e3 Bg7 5. h4 c5 6. h5 Ne4 7. Nxe4 dxe4 8. c3 Qb6 9. Qb3 Qxb3 10. axb3 cxd4 11. exd4 Nc6 12. Bb5 Bd7 13. Ne2 f5 14. b4 a6 15. Bxc6 Bxc6 16. Be5 Kf7 17. Bxg7 Kxg7 18. Ra5 Kf6 19. Nf4 g5 20. Nd5+ Bxd5 21. Rxd5 Rhd8 22. Rc5 Rac8 23. Ra5?? Rxd4! 24. Ke2 Rd3 25. Rd1 Rcd8 26. Rxd3 exd3+ 27. Kd2 e5 28. b5 Rd6 29. c4 axb5 30. c5 Rd5 31. Rxb5 e4 32. Rb6+ Ke5 33. b4 f4 34. Rxb7 e3+ 35. fxe3 fxe3+ 36. Kd1 Kd4 37. c6 Rf5 38. Ke1 d2+ 39. Ke2 Rf2+ 0-1 [/pgn]
And then there was this game... After an opening gone wrong, it was pure positional torture.
[pgn] [Event "Australasian Masters IM"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.12.15"] [Round "?"] [White "Schon, Eugene"] [Black "Rosen, Eric"] [ECO "B48"] [WhiteElo "2291"] [BlackElo "2381"] [Result "1-0"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nc6 5. Nc3 Qc7 6. Be3 a6 7. Qf3 Nxd4 8. Bxd4 Ne7 9. Qg3 Qxg3 10. hxg3 Nc6 11. Bb6 Be7 12. O-O-O Bd8 13. Na4 Rb8 14. Be2 Bxb6 15. Nxb6 Kd8 16. c4 f6 17. c5 Kc7 18. f4 h6 19. Bh5 Ne7 20. Rd6 g6 21. Bf3 Nc6 22. Rhd1 Rh7 23. a3 Na7 24. Be2 h5 25. b4 Nc6 26. Kb2 Nd8 27. a4 Re7 28. b5 Nf7 29. Bc4 g5 30. Bxe6 dxe6 31. Nd5+ exd5 32. b6# 1-0 [/pgn]
All credit to FM Eugene Schon for crushing me like a bug.

#5: Elephants make everything better 

The Russian word for bishop, Slon, is also the word for elephant. When I posted the above photo on Facebook, it inevitably prompted some chess-related discussion...

      After meeting some actual elephants, I can say that they do not quite resemble bishops. They are slow and gentle. However, they do occasionally like to travel in pairs.

#6: People are nice

Without the so many incredible hosts that I stayed with throughout my trip, it would not have nearly been the same experience…

GM Moulthun Ly (one of Australia’s top players) picked me up from the airport, hosted me for a night, and spent a day showing me around Brisbane.
Fedja Zulfic secured invitations for me to play IM norm events in Adelaide and Melbourne, giving me an excuse to travel to Australia!
Alistair Cameron and his family generously hosted me for 10 days during the Lidums AYM. Alistair is a top bloke -- a common Aussie phrase which I learned from him.
IM Ari Dale and his family generously hosted me for 10 days during the Melbourne Invitational. I don’t have any pictures of them, but here’s their adorable cat.
Kevin Goh Wei Ming (right) hosted me in Singapore. Along with our friend, newly minted GM Andrey Kvon (Left), we helped my former Webster University teammate, Irene Sukandar, prepare for the World Rapid and Blitz Championships.
Irene and her family generously hosted me and fed me for a two weeks in Indonesia. They also took care of me when I got really sick.
Even when Irene left town to compete in the World Rapid/Blitz Championships, her family continued to show me why Indonesia is so amazing
My longtime friend, Asha Kapengut (granddaughter of well-known trainer IM Albert Kapengut) hosted me in London for 3 days. In the midst of going out for drinks, she was much more interested in playing on lichess.

#7 Watching the PRO Chess League is a lot more fun if you’re surrounded by cats

As a manager and player for the Webster Windmills, following the league can be exciting, but also a bit stressful (especially when my teammates are in time trouble). These cats make the stress disappear!

If you don't believe me, go to this cat cafe in Phuket, Thailand and try it for yourself. 

#8 Never give up

At the end of January, I made my PRO Chess League debut for the Webster Windmills. My play was suboptimal. I should have lost all my games. I lost the first three, and was completing losing the fourth. In frustration, I played on in a completely losing position. Miraculously, I managed to find one last trick in the position which took advantage of the risky nature of pre-moving.

[pgn] [Event "Live Chess"] [Site "Chess.com"] [Date "2018.01.31"] [White "LastHeroJr"] [Black "IMRosen"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "B35"] [WhiteElo "2362"] [BlackElo "2379"] [TimeControl "900+2"] [EndTime "17:50:34 PST"] [Termination "Game drawn by stalemate"] [CurrentPosition "7k/5Q2/3P4/1p5P/1P6/2P2PP1/1P3K2/8 b - - 0 70"] 1.e4 {[%clk 0:15:01]} c5 {[%clk 0:14:56]} 2.Nf3 {[%clk 0:15:02]} Nc6 {[%clk 0:14:57]} 3.d4 {[%clk 0:15:03]} cxd4 {[%clk 0:14:59]} 4.Nxd4 {[%clk 0:15:05]} g6 {[%clk 0:15:00]} 5.Nc3 {[%clk 0:15:05]} Bg7 {[%clk 0:15:00]} 6.Be3 {[%clk 0:15:06]} Nf6 {[%clk 0:14:58]} 7.Bc4 {[%clk 0:15:06]} O-O {[%clk 0:14:56]} 8.Bb3 {[%clk 0:15:06]} Re8 {[%clk 0:14:44]} 9.O-O {[%clk 0:14:59]} d6 {[%clk 0:14:39]} 10.h3 {[%clk 0:14:57]} Na5 {[%clk 0:14:30]} 11.Re1 {[%clk 0:14:50]} b6 {[%clk 0:14:13]} 12.Bg5 {[%clk 0:14:29]} Nxb3 {[%clk 0:13:51]} 13.axb3 {[%clk 0:14:28]} Bb7 {[%clk 0:13:49]} 14.Qd3 {[%clk 0:13:21]} Nd7 {[%clk 0:11:52]} 15.Nd5 {[%clk 0:13:13]} Nc5 {[%clk 0:11:46]} 16.Qe3 {[%clk 0:11:13]} Ne6 {[%clk 0:11:30]} 17.Nxe6 {[%clk 0:10:40]} fxe6 {[%clk 0:11:32]} 18.Nc3 {[%clk 0:09:46]} Qd7 {[%clk 0:10:31]} 19.Bh6 {[%clk 0:09:08]} Bf6 {[%clk 0:10:19]} 20.Qd3 {[%clk 0:08:28]} Qc6 {[%clk 0:09:51]} 21.Nd1 {[%clk 0:06:50]} Qc5 {[%clk 0:09:27]} 22.c3 {[%clk 0:06:38]} Qh5 {[%clk 0:09:21]} 23.Be3 {[%clk 0:06:27]} Rec8 {[%clk 0:08:01]} 24.Bd4 {[%clk 0:05:56]} e5 {[%clk 0:07:30]} 25.Be3 {[%clk 0:05:57]} Qh4 {[%clk 0:07:30]} 26.Bd2 {[%clk 0:05:52]} Rf8 {[%clk 0:06:50]} 27.f3 {[%clk 0:05:14]} Kh8 {[%clk 0:06:09]} 28.Ne3 {[%clk 0:05:03]} Bc8 {[%clk 0:05:10]} 29.Qd5 {[%clk 0:04:30]} Bd7 {[%clk 0:04:31]} 30.Qb7 {[%clk 0:04:30]} Be6 {[%clk 0:04:05]} 31.Rxa7 {[%clk 0:04:10]} Rab8 {[%clk 0:03:56]} 32.Qa6 {[%clk 0:04:10]} Bg5 {[%clk 0:03:37]} 33.Qe2 {[%clk 0:03:56]} Bf4 {[%clk 0:03:20]} 34.b4 {[%clk 0:03:30]} Ra8 {[%clk 0:03:06]} 35.Rb7 {[%clk 0:03:12]} Qg5 {[%clk 0:02:53]} 36.Kh1 {[%clk 0:02:51]} Ra2 {[%clk 0:02:52]} 37.Bc1 {[%clk 0:02:43]} Ra1 {[%clk 0:01:55]} 38.Bd2 {[%clk 0:02:16]} Ra2 {[%clk 0:01:55]} 39.Rb1 {[%clk 0:01:54]} Rfa8 {[%clk 0:01:40]} 40.Nf1 {[%clk 0:01:36]} Ra1 {[%clk 0:01:19]} 41.Bxf4 {[%clk 0:01:36]} Qxf4 {[%clk 0:01:17]} 42.Rxa1 {[%clk 0:01:11]} Rxa1 {[%clk 0:01:16]} 43.Rxe7 {[%clk 0:01:12]} Bg8 {[%clk 0:00:20]} 44.Re8 {[%clk 0:01:05]} Qf7 {[%clk 0:00:18]} 45.Rc8 {[%clk 0:00:49]} Kg7 {[%clk 0:00:17]} 46.Kg1 {[%clk 0:00:45]} Qb3 {[%clk 0:00:16]} 47.Rc7+ {[%clk 0:00:40]} Bf7 {[%clk 0:00:17]} 48.Qd2 {[%clk 0:00:34]} Qe6 {[%clk 0:00:07]} 49.Kf2 {[%clk 0:00:32]} b5 {[%clk 0:00:06]} 50.Ne3 {[%clk 0:00:31]} Qf6 {[%clk 0:00:07]} 51.g3 {[%clk 0:00:24]} h5 {[%clk 0:00:08]} 52.h4 {[%clk 0:00:25]} Kg8 {[%clk 0:00:06]} 53.Nd5 {[%clk 0:00:24]} Qe6 {[%clk 0:00:03]} 54.Qh6 {[%clk 0:00:19]} Ra8 {[%clk 0:00:03]} 55.Ne7+ {[%clk 0:00:16]} Qxe7 {[%clk 0:00:04]} 56.Rxe7 {[%clk 0:00:18]} Rf8 {[%clk 0:00:05]} 57.Rd7 {[%clk 0:00:15]} d5 {[%clk 0:00:05]} 58.exd5 {[%clk 0:00:15]} e4 {[%clk 0:00:07]} 59.Rd6 {[%clk 0:00:15]} Be8 {[%clk 0:00:04]} 60.Rxg6+ {[%clk 0:00:16]} Bxg6 {[%clk 0:00:05]} 61.Qxg6+ {[%clk 0:00:17]} Kh8 {[%clk 0:00:07]} 62.Qxe4 {[%clk 0:00:18]} Rf7 {[%clk 0:00:04]} 63.Qe8+ {[%clk 0:00:18]} Kg7 {[%clk 0:00:04]} 64.d6 {[%clk 0:00:18]} Kh6 {[%clk 0:00:04]} 65.Qh8+ {[%clk 0:00:15]} Kg6 {[%clk 0:00:03]} 66.Qe5 {[%clk 0:00:14]} Kh6 {[%clk 0:00:04]} 67.Qg5+ {[%clk 0:00:15]} Kh7 {[%clk 0:00:05]} 68.Qxh5+ {[%clk 0:00:16]} Kg8 {[%clk 0:00:05]} 69.Qxf7+ {[%clk 0:00:14]} Kh8 {[%clk 0:00:04]} 70.h5 {[%clk 0:00:16]} 1/2-1/2 [/pgn]
Here's Danny Rensch and Robert Hess watching the action unfold: https://twitter.com/PROChessLeague/status/958881567274881024 While the game had no effect on the match score (Windmills won pretty handily) My cheapo, 69...Kh8 was nominated for "Move of the Week". It ended up winning the Twitter poll ahead of Carlsen and Caruana and securing the $100 weekly prize. Not a bad way to end the trip... Follow IM Eric Rosen on twitter and his official website. 

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