Tag Archives: chess

My Chess Project Is Finally Over…

My Chess Project Is Finally Over…

This semester has flown by, and so has this learning project! As part of ECMP 355, a class about using technology in the classroom, I was required to use online sources to learn a skill of my choice and to blog about it weekly to share my progress.

I chose to learn how to play chess because it was a skill I had very limited experience with and I thought it would be nice to have something completely different to work on that still counted as homework. I also felt chess was a solid choice because it is one of my fiancé’s passions, so I knew he would be able to direct me to useful online sources and support me in the process.

So I bet you’re wondering how my epic chess quest turned out.  Was it a nice break from homework? Not at all. Was my fiancé helpful and supportive? Absolutely. Does that mean I enjoyed the process? Not a chance. This project really challenged me, and although I definitely feel I’ve grown in my chess abilities, I can’t say I enjoyed the whole process.

Now my negativity has you hooked!  Check out this recap of my learning project posts to find out more about the ups and downs of my journey:

Learning Project Recap

So I’m learning to chess…

  • Introduction, inspiration, and rationale for my learning project

The Opening (of my epic chess quest)

Valiant Knight Crushed in Grueling Battle (My First Chess Tournament)

Dropped Pieces + Shattered Dreams = Fresh Determination

  • Describing challenges:  finding motivation to play chess games when busy/tired, dropping pieces in my games
  • Video where I analyze one of my online games
  • New action plan:  play and analyze 4 games/week, continue doing tactics puzzles every day, watching instructional videos and live streams more often
  • Tools to share learning:  Screencastify

Chess Cognition (AKA Thought Process Boot Camp)

  • Description and key learnings from Chess Cognition video series by John Bartholomew
  • What I liked and didn’t like about this video series
  • Identifying specific chess skills to work on

Chess Games: The Ultimate Relationship Test

  • Picture and cheesy fast-motion video of me playing chess against my fiancé, Kelly, to show my progress
  • Video of our joint game analysis (with highlights provided) to show my progress and teach others about chess skills
  • Tools used to share learning:  Samsung video editor app (recommended by Curtis), phone tripod (borrowed from Curtis)

Curtis Reply on LP

S’more Chess Updates (not the graham cracker kind)

Tried-and-True Resources to Help You Learn Chess

  • Annotated collection of resources I have used to improve my chess game
  • Tool used to share learning:  Padlet

One Assessment of My Learning

It’s kind of tricky to show my level of mastery now vs. when I started this project. My Chess.com started me with a provisional rating of 1200, so I had to keep losing games until my rating became more accurate. My rating is now 980, and I’m still not sure how accurate that is.

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One aspect I saw definite progress in was my tactics! My goal was to reach a rating of 700 on my tactics, and I achieved that on April 4th! Here is a chart that shows my tactics ratings over the past three months:

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Reflections on the Process of Learning Online

What does learning online make possible?

  1. The ability to express frustrated and/or angry reactions without fear of being judged.

This was a huge difference I found between playing chess online and playing chess in person at the chess tournament. When playing online, I could moan, groan, pout, or yell at my computer screen without worrying about what my opponent would think of these (over)reactions. When I played in the chess tournament, I had to keep my emotions in check and be polite and courteous at all times.

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My face after every chess game…

Photo Credit: Scott SM via Compfight cc

  2.  The ability to play a chess game with little to no social interaction with your opponent.

This might sound like a negative thing, but I appreciated having no social interaction with my online opponents. At the tournament, I was annoyed at receiving a comment about my appearance, distracted by my opponents’ facial expressions during the game, and embarrassed to be seen losing to an 8-year-old. When I played online, I didn’t have to worry about any of those kinds of things.

   3. The ability to receive feedback and encouragement from others on your learning.

I received encouragement from classmates and people outside the class on my learning project:

Zach on Chess Cognition

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I also received feedback on the ways I chose to share my learning project:

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 12.51.35 AMScreen Shot 2016-04-14 at 12.51.41 AMT on Smore

   4.  The ability to learn from and feel connected to experts who are far away from you.

Had I not used YouTube as one of the main sources for my learning, I would not have been able to learn from International Master Daniel Rensch or International Master John Bartholomew, who are both professional players and coaches. I also found that after I watched several of their videos, I started to feel like I knew them personally.

What might the process of learning online make impossible?

  1. Private one-on-one learning sessions with another person.

Choosing to learn a skill online usually means that you learn from a variety of sources, which might reduce the possibilities for intimate learning sessions and one-on-one relationship-building with a teacher. For example, if I had learned piano from online sources rather than through private lessons growing up, I wouldn’t have developed such a close relationship with my auntie/piano teacher.

   2. Using all the free time you have to focus on learning the skill.

The process of sharing about your learning can be time consuming. Throughout this project, I sometimes felt like I was spending just as much time writing blog posts about learning to play chess as I was actually learning to play chess.

I can’t think of anything else that learning online makes impossible. Feel free to drop me a comment if you have any ideas!

Final Thoughts

My biggest challenge throughout this learning project was getting frustrated when I lost games. I took my losses really personally, especially at the beginning of my project. As I began to learn more about chess, I discovered how technical it is and found that even really talented players can learn sometime from each game they play. After my losses, I had to constantly remind myself to say “I made this mistake” instead of “I suck at chess,” which was something I really struggled with.

I think the negative self-talk I fell into often happens to students in the classroom when they make mistakes. When I have my own classroom, I really want to emphasize that it’s okay to make mistakes and that mistakes are a necessary part of the learning process. This is definitely easier to say than to put into practice, but I think I could share the story of this learning project with my students to show them how negative self-talk detracts from learning and how adults also struggle with it.

I definitely see the benefits of learning a skill online and sharing that process with the world. Through this project, I was able to: learn from and critically evaluate a variety of online resources; share my progress openly through my blog and Twitter using the hashtag #learningproject; receive encouragement and feedback from my PLN; and explore new tech tools to document my learning. Although attempting to learn chess was challenging, I’m glad I took it on and I think I learned a lot more than chess skills from this project.

Learning to Code: empowering myself and my students

Previous Experiences With Coding

I’ve been hearing about the benefits of coding in the classroom for a while now, mostly through talking with my co-workers from EYES Camp, where I worked last summer. At the end of each week of camp, I got to see the amazing projects campers in the E-Design Codemakers program had come up with. David Brown, my amazing colleague and friend, is an avid supporter of coding and teaching logic in the classroom.

Hour of Code

At David’s advice, I decided to start with Hour of Code. Since I’m a very easily frustrated person, I was a little nervous to try it because I didn’t want a negative experience to potentially discourage me from bringing coding into my classroom. To my surprise, my first Hour of Code was a fantastic experience! I chose the Make A Flappy Game activity and had a lot of fun with it.

I was impressed with how accessible the activity was. It walked me through every step, using a series of puzzles with clear instructions to introduce me to the different aspects of the game. I learned to drag and drop blocks that represent computer commands to change the parameters of the game and finally got to put it all together by creating my very own flappy game! You can try it out here. (Warning: it’s surprisingly addicting.) I think students would have a lot of fun making their own games and trying out each other’s game creations.

Since I enjoyed my first Hour of Code so much, I decided to try another activity! This time, I chose the Classic Maze activity. In these puzzles, I had to drag and drop blocks to build code that would get my character (which ranged from angry birds to a zombie to Scrat from Ice Age) to move through the maze successfully.

Here is what puzzle #17 looked like:

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I had to drag and drop the blocks like this in order to get Scrat to his acorn:

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 6.58.54 PMDuring and after completing the puzzle, I could click and view the actual code. I appreciated this because it made it feel more like “real coding” for me.

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Here is a short video of me completing the final puzzle in this activity:

Why Teach Kids To Code?

After these positive experiences, I did a little reading about teaching students to code because I definitely have a lot of learning to do in this area. Through reading and reflecting, I came up with a few potential reasons to teach kids to code. (This list is a work in progress.)

  1.  It gives them a deeper, less-mystified understanding of the world around them.

I find this reason really interesting because I think this is something I don’t personally value enough. To give an example, my fiance loves taking things apart and putting them back together. He finds it really satisfying to figure out how things work and why they work the way they do. I, on the other hand, can barely sit through an episode of How It’s Made. I’m not sure why, but I find it really easy to just accept that things work and I don’t often wonder about the why or how behind it.

So despite my lack of curiosity and sense of wonder, I want to spark my students’ curiosity and encourage them to investigate and make discoveries that lead them to a deeper understanding of the world. Coding could be a really valuable way to do that. Maybe it would also help me develop my curiosity and appreciate a less mystified understanding of the world!

2.  It can make students more expressive by giving them a new way to understand and describe their world.

“If you think computer programming is all about math, you’re wrong. It’s about describing a situation precisely, and giving good directions for what to do when conditions change.” -Tom Igoe

I’m starting to think of coding in a broader way – it’s more than just math or stringing together a bunch of symbols in computer lingo. It’s a different and precise way to expressing oneself that can widen students’ view of the world and positively contribute to their development.

3. Coding can be empowering (but it is also shaped by wider issues of power).

In this article, Ben Williamson problematizes the current the current preoccupation with coding, noting how if we elevate coding activities and ways of thinking to a dominant position, we may marginalize other forms of educational activity and thought. He asks: “What assumptions, practices and kinds of thinking are privileged by learning to code? Who gains from that? And who misses out?”

I definitely agree that those are important questions to ask; however, I believe we need to ask those questions of everything we do in the classroom. Whose voice are we privileging? Whose voice are we leaving out? What are we making possible/impossible? It’s important that we constantly reflect on these in order to be as anti-oppressive as possible.

This actually reminds me of Foucault’s idea that we gain agency by taking up particular discourses (becoming a subject) but we are also constrained by that discourse (become subject to it). Similarly, coding is an empowering activity but it is also shaped by wider issues of power in educational technology. I think it’s important to remember that and to keep educating myself on the reality of activities associated with coding (ie. the incessant updating of skills and fluency in different programming languages, operating systems, etc.) and on the issues with our increasingly algorithmic culture.

Coding and Chess

Interestingly, when I was doing my Hour of Code activities, I was struck by how much it reminded me of playing chess. Oftentimes when I play chess, I can come up with a plan that I want to put into action, but struggle with what order to play the moves in to make the plan work. John Bartholomew describes this challenge in this video, advising players to get used to changing move orders in their calculations and to look at different permutations of a good idea in order to implement a plan successfully. Similarly, I noticed that sometimes in the coding activities I knew what I needed to do but would put the blocks in the wrong order and have to run my program a few times before it would work.

I am not the first to notice similarities between coding and chess! They both involve patterns, logical thinking, tactics and strategy, and beauty. This interesting article outlines some of these similarities.

Final Thoughts

I think learning to code would be extremely beneficial for my students and for me! This is definitely something I want to continue to learn about and practice with. I see that coding has the potential to help my students and I develop a deeper understanding of the world, teach us a new way to express ourselves, and empower us as 21st-century learners.

If you have any resources, activities, or suggestions for learning to code, please comment below! I would love to hear from you.

S’more Chess Updates (not the graham cracker kind)

This week, I decided to use Smore to show my learning project update! Smore is a website that allows you to create beautiful flyers and share them online. It was really easy to use and I love the way it turned out! I will definitely use this tool in the future.

Unfortunately, due to security reasons, WordPress will no longer display content embedded in WordPress posts unless it comes from “whitelisted” sources. So I can’t embed my Smore, but please click this link and check it out:

SMORE – Chess Update March 15th

I’d love to hear what you think of my chess Smore and my learning project progress. Comment below!

Chess Games: The Ultimate Relationship Test

Yesterday, I took the opportunity to challenge my fiancé to a chess game! This is a rare occurrence, as he is a much higher rated chess player than I am, so I always lose to him. Being a competitive and easily frustrated person means that I generally do not enjoy the experience of Kelly crushing me in chess games. However, my determination to improve and my idea of making a cute little video to share made me bite the bullet and request a match.

Just to give a little context, Kelly’s rating on Chess.com is approximately 1600 and my rating is around 900. Statistically, this means he should beat me every time. (A 400 point rating difference means that the higher rated player should win 10/10 times. We have a 700 point rating difference so that basically means that the person that can beat me 10/10 times, Kelly should be able to beat 10/10 times.)

So the gap is significant. To close this gap, we usually play with a handicap, which means he takes a piece off the board before we begin the game. For the purposes of the video, I chose to play against him with no handicap this time.

Kelly’s roommate and our long-time friend, Curtis Bourassa, captured a moment early on in our chess game.

Shout-out to him for letting me borrow his tripod and for letting us play at the kitchen table, giving him limited room to eat lunch. Check out his learning project, focused on learning to paint here.

Now for the video you’ve all been waiting for…

I needed some time after the game to pout about losing and how long it took and how much my brain hurt, so we took a break and made some delicious spaghetti and meat sauce for supper. Afterwards, I was ready to learn!  In this video, we go through the game move by move, with Kelly analyzing our blunders, identifying weak moves, and suggesting better moves for next time.

This video turned out to be longer than I had hoped. Here are the highlights:

  • My first mistake – playing b6.  (2:08)
  • I miss the opportunity for a queen trade.  (7:18)
  • I drop a pawn and am down material.  (8:00)
  • I move the same piece twice in a row (not usually the best idea).  (10:44)
  • Kelly’s blunder – playing Nd5. I missed the opportunity to fork his Queen and King!!!  (13:04)
  • I drop my bishop. (15:11)
  • Kelly gives a quick recap of the game. (18:15)

I hope that gives you a good idea of where I’m at in my chess learning and what kinds of things I’m working on! I’d love some feedback on the videos I created and some tips on how to make my learning project posts more engaging. Chess might seem boring to the average person, so I’m always looking for ways to spice it up!

Chess Cognition (AKA Thought Process Boot Camp)

I’ve been working through a video series by John Bartholomew called Chess Cognition. This series consists of short clips where John goes through parts of games he has played against national and international masters. He analyzes the games, talks through his thought processes, and emphasizes important learning points from each game.

I’ve been trying to train my thought processes by watching/learning from John. I call this learning “thought process boot camp” because it’s hard work! Even though I’ve learned some of the basic principles of chess, every game is unique and there are so many options/possibilities in every position. It’s boot camp because chess makes my brain sweat.

How I imagine I look when I play chess: confused and concerned but overall majestic.

Hardcore brain sweat happening here. Stefan Barna via Compfight cc

Learning from Chess Cognition Videos

There were 9 videos in this series. I’ll just embed the ones I found the most helpful here.

The main thing I learned from this video was that undefended pieces (pieces that can be captured by your opponent without any opportunity for you to recapture) are magnets for tactics (short sequences of moves that involve an attack/capture). This was helpful for me as I am working on always keeping my pieces defended; however, I often slip up and leaving pieces hanging and then my opponent is able to use tactics against me.

This video shows John’s opponent missing the best move because he assumed he should immediately recapture. The takeaway here is that moves that may seem good can actually backfire if you calculate further on. This one is important for me because I really struggle with calculating more than 3-4 moves ahead. There are just so many options! I find it difficult to predict how my opponent will respond to my moves, so lines I calculate in my head often work out differently when I go to play them out.

This video was full of new lessons for me! The first was that the number one rule of rook endings is to activate your rook (makes sense). John emphasized the need to play aggressively by finding counterattacks rather than trying to defend in positions like this. He also showed that when advancing pawns it’s best to keep them connected and move them in unison. Promoting passed pawns is definitely a skill I need to work on.

What I liked about these videos:

  • The videos are short and interactive.

I’m still working on building my chess attention span, so I like that these videos are only 5-15 minutes long. I also like that he asks the viewer to pause the video and try to find the best move. It’s helpful to compare my thought process to his as he talks through positions.

  • Watching is easier than reading.

I find it much easier to follow “chess talk” when I can watch the pieces move. He uses arrows and moves the pieces through multiple lines while he explains, which is super helpful. I sometimes struggle to follow the written portions of the mini chess lessons I do because I have to think really hard about notation in order to understand what they are talking about.

  • He talks through his thought processes.

He’ll say things like “I looked at this line first but rejected it because it was too simple and white had a defense against it.” Hearing these thoughts helps me figure out what I should be thinking as I play my own games.

  • The videos are based on real games he played.

He usually starts off by identifying when, where, and against whom he played each game. He also doesn’t win all the games, which is encouraging for me to see that even IMs make mistakes.

  • The videos are connected.

I watched the videos in order from 1-9, which was beneficial because they started a bit easier and got more challenging. Also, he makes connections between the videos and pulls ideas together to reinforce important concepts.

What I didn’t like about these videos:

  • These videos were above my level.

When John gives time to pause the video and find the best move, I would try to calculate but my ideas were often far off or I just wasn’t able to calculate far enough to come to the ideas that he was looking for. Although this was a bit frustrating, I think it was still good for me to hear the tips and to figure out what I should be thinking.

  • He does a lot of recapping.

Sometimes his recaps are helpful in reinforcing concepts but at times, I found them repetitive.

Some things I need to work on:

  1. Thinking about the purpose behind each of my moves
  2. Keeping my pieces protected
  3. Promoting passed pawns
Taking this journey one step at a time...

Taking this journey one step at a time…

 

I’m excited because I found a new video from John that I think is more at my level! It’s called Climbing the Rating Ladder (up to 1000). It’s an hour long video of John playing a bunch of games against lower-rated players and discussing his thought processes as he plays. I only watched about 5 minutes so far, but the positions already look very similar to what I see in the games I play, so I’m hoping this video will be more applicable and helpful!

 

 

p2-r2 via Compfight cc

Dropped Pieces + Shattered Dreams = Fresh Determination

My chess quest is proving to be quite a struggle.

Chess

The white king is me… #defeat

There is just so much to learn and so little time! This post will provide a quick update on my progress, a description of the challenges I’m facing, and my new action plan.

An Update on My Progress

  1. I have been doing my Tactics Puzzles almost every day.
Tactics - Daily Activity

Tactics – Daily Activity

This chart shows how many tactics I have completed and how many I passed/failed on a given day.  As you can see, I’ve been pretty consistent with doing 5 per day (you get 5 for free with a basic membership). I have been contemplating upgrading my account to a Gold Membership so I can have access to 25 tactics per day (and other perks), but I haven’t fully decided yet.

Tactics - Progress

Tactics – Progress

This chart tracks my Tactics Rating. It fell at the beginning of January because Chess.com started me with a super inaccurate rating of 850; therefore, my rating had to fall until it settled into a more accurate reflection of my ability.  It has been steadily climbing since January 18th and I’m hoping to bring it up to 700 soon!

2.  I have not been playing games online as much as I should be.

Record of Chess Games Played

Record of Chess Games Played

I know I need to play more in order to improve and to find my legitimate rating, but I’ve been struggling to find the time and motivation to sit down and play with so much other stuff going on!  As well, playing games can be draining and difficult.

Check out this video, created with Screencastify, to get an idea of what my online chess games are like.  In it, I analyze one of my games on Chess.com and outline my major blunders.

Things I’m Working On

  • Recognizing my opponent’s forcing moves (especially checks, captures, and threats)
  • Finding/setting up tactics
  • NOT DROPPING MY PIECES

Continually dropping pieces in games and just being a disappointment to myself in general has led me to make some new chess resolutions!

Action Plan

  1. Play (and analyze) at least 4 games online per week.
  2. Continue doing Tactics Puzzles each day.
  3. Watch instructional videos as well as LiveStreams from Daniel Rensch and videos by John Bartholomew.

Is anyone else struggling to find the time or motivation to stay committed to their #LearningProject?  What barriers have you faced in your quest? Any suggestions for overcoming these challenges are welcome and appreciated!

 

Valiant Knight Crushed in Grueling Battle (My First Chess Tournament)

We arrive early. I breathe a sigh of relief as I escape the frigid winter air, the warmth of the university washing over me. We make small talk with some of the tournament organizers – Kelly’s friends from chess club – and begin to help with set up. I move from table to table, placing pieces on their appropriate squares. Rooks, then knights, then bishops, I tell myself, moving from the outer edges inward. Queen on her square, I think as I place the white queen on the white square. A little voice in my head tells me I’m probably not ready for a chess tournament if it requires such intense focus for me to put the pieces in their correct starting positions. I ignore her; it’s too late to change my mind now.

“How did you get your girlfriend to come?” Tom asks Kelly incredulously. “I can never get mine to come, and she actually plays chess!”

“Really?” I ask nervously. “How good is she – I mean, what’s her rating?”

“About 1300,” he replies nonchalantly.

Great. I privately wonder what I’ve gotten myself into, as my rating is approximately 800. Still, there’s no turning back now. I’m not sure what else to do to help with set up, so I find a spot just to the left of the registration table and try to stay out of the way.

More people are starting to arrive: moms with young sons, uncertain about the age restrictions of the tournament; some guys from Saskatoon who look like they’re in their twenties; and a few older gentlemen. It strikes me that I’m the only female registered so far. A well-dressed man with a white beard approaches the registration table.

“Do good-looking people get a discount at this tournament?” he asks, eyes twinkling. He looks up from the table. “You’d qualify!” he tells me teasingly. I laugh but feel a prickle of annoyance at his apparent entitlement to comment on a complete stranger’s appearance. I brush it off.

Soon, one of the organizers announces that they are almost ready to begin the tournament. He explains some of the details:

“This is a Swiss style tournament, which means that our computer program will pair you based on how well (or how poorly) you perform. There will be five games played, each game beginning on the hour. We’ll break for pizza lunch at noon as well as for a 15-minute break before the final game. A few reminders: If you touch one of your own pieces you must move that piece; if you touch an opponent’s piece and you can capture it you must do so; castling is the king’s move so please move your king first, followed by your rook; and finally, talking during games will not be permitted,” he states clearly. He starts to call out the pairings.

I am thankful that Kelly has already explained most of these nitpicky rules to me before now; otherwise, I would be extremely overwhelmed. I am quickly learning that playing chess in person is much different than playing chess online. Suddenly, the sound of my fiancé’s name jerks me out of my swirling thoughts.

“Kelly is white against Collin* on board two; Jared* is white against Steven* on board five…” the organizer calls out.

“Of course,” I whisper to Kelly with a smile. Collin has won the last three tournaments the Chess Club has held. He rolls his eyes, but I can see that his jaw is set, determined. He’ll put up a good fight.

“Mark is white against Raquel on board nine…”

I take a deep breath, grab my water bottle, and sit down at the table where board nine sits. Even though Mark is a really strong player, I am glad I am paired with him. He’s the president of chess club and is very encouraging to new players. He won’t judge me for my inevitable blunders.

The game begins. He plays e5. I match it with e4. Remember to hit the clock, I tell myself. My hands shake. Knight to c6; knight to f3. Hit the clock. I wipe my sweaty palms on my jeans. It is quiet, save the sounds of pieces moving and taps on the clock. Goals of the opening… develop, develop, develop, control the centre, castle early, pay attention to threats, I chant in my head. Hit the clock. I remind myself that there is lots of time, but I still feel pressured to make my moves quickly. Deep breaths, I tell myself, hyper aware of how fast my heart is beating.

Ah, I just dropped my knight! How did I do that? Crap. I need to pay more attention to threats. Oh well. Keep making moves… I have no idea what I’m doing.

Mark’s expression is puzzled, which makes me very self-conscious about the move I just played. He takes my bishop, and I accidentally utter a mixture of a nervous laugh, a groan, and a sigh. Ugh! The game is almost over. Should I just resign? I wonder. I’m down so much material. We play a few more moves, and then he takes my queen. I extend my hand to shake.

“I think I’m done,” I whisper. “Good game.”

“Good game,” he whispers back with a sympathetic smile.

He tells me I actually played the opening really well, until I dropped my knight. He’s very kind. I check my phone – it reads 10:20 AM. Forty minutes until the next game starts. I leave the room to take a walk; I need a break from the intense stares, the tapping of clocks, and the tension that hangs in the air.

I take a deep breath. Only four more games to go…

***

I hope that little narrative gave you a small glimpse into my experience at the Queen City Chess Club’s tournament on January 16th. The chess world is very new to me, and stepping into it was nerve-wracking and interesting and frustrating and challenging and exciting and exhausting. Overall, I’m glad I participated and I definitely learned from it; however, I wish I had been able to gain a bit more experience playing chess before jumping into a tournament with such skilled players.

If you are wondering how the rest of the tournament went, I lost my next two games – one of which was against an 8-year-old. Laugh at me if you must, but that 8-year-old had game! …Plus I’m super new to this. So yes, an 8-year-old beat me and as many times as Kelly has told me that chess is independent from age, it still felt embarrassing. It was my toughest loss to muster, as it was the first game I actually expected to win. After that, I won my fourth game (against a different 8-year-old) and lost my final game. By the end of the tournament, I was mentally exhausted. I guess I need to keep working on my chess stamina!

Have you ever tried something new and completely embarrassed yourself trying it? Please comment below if you can share a story that will help boost my crushed self-esteem after the events of the tournament!

 

*Names have been changed.