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. 

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??

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??

 

And then there was this game…

After an opening gone wrong, it was pure positional torture.

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.

Here’s Danny Rensch and Robert Hess watching the action unfold:

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. 

Comments

  1. 8 Takeaways from the Article
    1. Chess & travel definitely go together!
    2. Chess opens doors and builds friendships
    3. Animals and chess = good mix!
    4. Eric Rosen is a great photographer
    5. Eric is a modest player (plenty of wins during his trip, but showed us mostly losses)
    6. Eric brings the right attitude to the game
    7. Eric is one of my new favorite authors on Chess Life Online News
    8. US Chess has another great ambassador for the game who just brought our world a little closer together.

    Thank you Eric!

  2. I like what you’ve shared; I haven’t read it all yet, but I did read the 8 sub-plot’s.
    I will save it-go read later, & I too, believe that…too much of a good thing is too good to be true.
    “Burn out” does exist.

  3. […] The 2018 Amateur Team North broke another attendance record. 84 teams with 364 players came out for the National Event, held from February 17-19 in Schaumburg, Illinois.  Chess Weekend organizer Glenn Panner said, “It is great to see chess growing like this.”  The tournament has been growing for the past four years. Panner is working with the hotel to find more space for the event, since some teams had to play in another room. Of course, having more teams not only means the need for more space, but it also means it’s harder to determine a clear winner. If worse comes to worse, Panner said he is “considering making the top tiebreak method a dance-off.” The levity of his comment shows off the good nature of Panner and his co-organizer Maret Thorpe. Thorpe is a recently minted National Tournament Director (NTD), one of just 90. Notably, Thorpe is also just one of six females with this title. The small but growing sisterhood is made up of Susan Breeding, Carol Jarecki, Sophie Rhode, Maret Thorpe, Tracey Vibbert and this writer (Betsy Zacate).    When congratulated, Thorpe said of her achievement, “It is important to me to be an NTD because it is important for girls and other women it see they can be leaders in chess.”  Panner added, “It is harder for women to move up in chess as a player or official, because men have the tendency not to shut up and listen when they need to. We need to do better at creating opportunities.” Over the boards and off, players were at the tournament to win. Beyond top winning team and individual awards, they competed for prizes such as best team name and costume. Nine college teams came this year representing four different states. Several teams from the past came back as well. The long standing trio of Sam Schmakel, Eric Rosen, Michael Auger returned as No Pawn Intended, which included Jeff Paykin on board four. Here’s a fun game from Eric, who is back home from a whirlwind of travel in Asia.  […]

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