Sunday, January 6, 2008

For New Members

10/30/03, By Chuck Ensey, updated 4/10/08 

Information For New Members of the SDCC 

This page is devoted to new members of the San Diego Chess Club. This doesn't necessarily apply to all the website membership (the MSN Group known as San Diego Chess), which is free, and includes people from all over the world. This page is for players who have joined our club loacted at Sixth & Ivy in Balboa Park in downtown San Diego.   Think of this as an orientation session to go over the basic rules of the club, plus a few tips on how to do your best. The club meets Wednesday nights at 7 PM at 2225 Sixth Avenue, near Ivy Street on the edge of Balboa Park. You should get there at 6:30 PM if you are signing up for the first time, or if it is the first round of a new tournament and you haven't already signed up the previous Wednesday. Otherwise you can get there at 7 PM, but the earlier you come, the easier it is to park close to the club. The first person to see is Treasurer Tom Kuhn,  who will sign you up for the current tournament and get your memberships taken care of...

Join the USCF, SCCF & SDCC

 To play on Wednesday nights, you must be a member of the United States Chess Federation (USCF) so that the games you play will be rated. USCF membership is $41 a year (on sale right now). Multi-year memberships will save you money in the longer term if you can afford them. There are also discounts for seniors (over 65) and for youths (25 and under). See Chess Life magazine or the USCF website for details. Some players even splurge for a Life membership if they are really serious about chess (~$1,000). There's also a sustaining membership, which turns into a Life membership after 10 annual payments of $120, plus a surcharge of $22. That's really the best deal in my opinion, if you really love chess and plan to play chess in tournaments for more than twenty years, which almost everyone does eventually!

Once you are a member of the USCF you will be assigned an 8 digit number that will be on your membership card and on the monthly magazine. Keep that card in your wallet and always check the "wall chart" - the current standings of the tournament that are posted at the playing site - to make sure the organizers have entered your number correctly and spelled your name right. If you have an annual membership, make sure to renew it on time, it is very aggravating for directors to find out you are expired because it can keep the whole tournament from being rated or cost the director an extra fee for allowing expired members to play!

The San Diego Chess Club basic membership is $60 a year, but it is prorated throughout the year so that everyone's membership expires on December 31st. Again there are discounts for youths, seniors, active military and players coming up from Mexico. Membership entitles you to play in our local events, plus just hang out at the club for casual games. The club is Open every day from about 3 PM to 10 PM (and sometimes 1 AM on Wednesdays!). We have around 200 members, see the Pictures section of this website to get an idea of our diversity. Our current President is Ron Rezendes. He is also on the Board of the SCCF (Southern California Chess Federation), yet another organization that is on the state level. It is only $18 a year ($12 for juniors) and has it's own magazine called Rank and File.   Many of the larger weekend tournaments, such as the American Open in November in Los Angeles, will require membership in the SCCF. All serious players will want to join the SCCF - the magazine is loaded with games, pictures and articles from local events, including our club, whereas Chess Life, the USCF publication, is more focused on national and world events.   

Be There When Expected, or Call In!

Once your memberships are taken care of, there are several basic rules you should know about. The most important is that once you sign up for a tournament, which is usually five or six  consecutive Wednesday nights, you are expected to be there each week because you will be paired with someone close to the same score that you have. If you can not make it to the club on a particular night, it is okay, just PLEASE let the Tournament Director know. If it is a last minute thing, please call the club at (619) 239-7166 and speak to either the TD or the Club Manager, Master Bruce Baker, or leave a message, preferably before 6:30 PM so the pairings don't have to be redone. If you don't let us know, and simply fail to show up, then it is very annoying for your opponent, who may have driven all the way from North County or even Temecula, or Mexico, and then has no one to play once the pairings are made. This is very bad and will cause you to 1) forfeit the game, 2) be expelled from the tournament's subsequent rounds (we can't assume you will show up), 3) be ineligble for any prize money no matter how many games you have already won, and 4) possibly be fined or censured in some way.  

Also, if you are going to be delayed for some reason, and maybe be 15 minutes late, it is a good idea to call in and let us know. We may be able to persuade your opponent from starting your  clock right away. If you show up more than 15 minutes late without notice, you may find that the TD has paired your expected opponent with someone else, since you were late and didn't call in, and so you may not have anyone to play. If you haven't been re-paired, but are an hour late, you then forfeit the game. All this is rare with established members, they understand how rude it is not to show up for a round. When forfeits do happen it is almost always a new club member that doesn't understand, so that is why I am stressing it here so much. Enough on that subject!

Keep Records of Your Games 

One of the most basic rules is that you must record the game as you play it, that is, you have to write down your moves, along with your opponent's. You may use either descriptive (English) notation, such as 1.P-K4 N-KB3, or, algebraic notation (1.e4 Nf6). Descriptive notation is on the way out, most of the world uses algebraic, but it has only gained widespread acceptance here in the last twenty years. Sort of like centimeters versus inches, except algebraic has really taken hold here more than the metric system. Almost all chess books and magazines are written in algebraic style now, but most older books are in descriptive. Still, some players cling stubbornly to the old ways. I remember a big ruckus when USCF's Chess Life first switched over. Whatever works for you, but fewer ambiguities come up with algebraic, so it is generally considered superior. 

You can be penalized for not recording the moves. Usually two minutes are added to your opponent's clock by the TD if a complaint is lodged, but it can be more if you are a chronic offender. Only when you, or your opponent, has less than five minutes left before a time control is the requirement waived. You can't can't claim a win on time unless you have an accurate scoresheet to prove your claim. The same is true of triple-repetition draw claims and several other situtations I won't go into here, but suffice it to say, you well be well served to learn how to record your moves so others can reconstruct the game. Also that way, you can review your game with a higher rated friend (or a computer) for insights into where your weaknesses are. Personally, I enjoy studying my games afterwards even more than playing them!   

Touch Move, the most basic rule

Another well known rule that beginning players sometimes forget about is "touch move". Most players are familiar with this rule, but just in case, here it is: If you touch a piece when it is your turn to move, then you must move it! Once your hand leaves the piece, you can't change the square you have moved it to. As with all rules, there are exceptions, one here would be inadvertant touching, for instance, you knock over your king while reaching for your knight. Or if you touch a piece that has no legal move, such as the rook in the opening position, then obviously you are okay. The point of the touch move rule is to prevent people from trying to "take back" moves after they notice it is a blunder. If you want to adjust a miscentered piece, don't forget to say "Adjust" or "J'Adoube" to notify your adversary that you are not making a move, just straightening things up. 

One of the worst situations is when you don't notice you are in check. If you make an illegal move, then you must correct it by moving the piece that you illegally moved, assuming it has a legal move! I have lost my Queen a couple times like that,  having to interpose it to cover a check that I hadn't noticed - it is usually "game over" at that point. That is why friendlier players will announce "Check!", but they are not required to do so, and most players won't ; it is up to you to notice. 


                 SDCC Vice President Chuck Ensey with a blunder-free position.... so far!!

Avoid Blunders and Your Rating Will Soar!

A blunder is when you give your opponent a big advantage for no reason...usually by "dropping" material, but it could be more subtle. In any case it is an error that was easily avoidable with a little more careful thought. It is not necessarily from moving too fast, sometimes you just don't see a threat, or you spend twenty minutes on one variation, and then make a totally different move after only a minute's thought!  There is no sure fire way to eliminate blunders, but it helps to have a checklist, just like a pilot before he takes off. Are all your pieces adequately defended, or are some of them so weakly defended that they are subject to being lost in an unexpected combination? See if there are any pieces or squares you are "undefending" by making your move, or if there are any surprising pawn moves you haven't considered, or any checks you have overlooked. What will the best response to your move be, and how will your opponent try to counter your plans? Develop your own checklist, and try to categorize the blunders that you do make so that you can avoid repeating them.

One of the main differences between A, B and C class players is that the higher rated players make fewer blunders. They don't give material away, and they are always on the lookout for surprising moves to help their position. Consider everything at first, then concentrate on a few "candidate moves" that look the most promising. Of course you have to learn to budget your time, but also be aware of when you are in a critical position that requires more analysis. Be especially careful when making exchanges, and triple check that great combo you are considering - is there a flaw in there somewhere? Another good maxim is that if you see a good move, don't rush to play it, look for an even better move!   

Draw Offers

Another important thing to know is how to correctly offer a draw - it's not as easy as it sounds! The correct way is to make your move, then say to your opponent "Would you like a draw?". It is one of the few times when you are legally allowed to speak to your opponent during the game. The main point is to offer the draw before you press your clock, so that it is still your turn. You can't offer a draw when your clock isn't running. Also if you incorrectly offer the draw before making your move, your opponent may ask to see your move first and then decide. If it is a weak move, he can refuse the draw. Many draw offers are turned down, and the most usual method is just by making a move and ignoring the draw request. This is not considered rude, the opponent is just making it clear he wants to keep playing (and he thinks he can win!)

Once you have offered a draw and it has been refused, especially by a higher rated player, it is then considered rude to continue asking for one. He knows that you want a draw and will let you know when he is ready to accept one. Also keep in mind that if someone offers you a draw, the offer is in effect for just that one move. If you refuse the offer, you can't claim it a few moves later after you blunder away the win by saying, "But you offered me a draw!" Each move changes the situation on the board, so once the offer is rejected, it is off the table. However there is no time limit as to when you accept the draw as long as it is still your turn and you haven't moved. In other words, lets say you have ten minutes on your clock and you think there might be a winning combination, but you haven't fully worked it out. Your opponent offers you a draw and you think about it for nine minutes without moving, and then finally you decide the win is an illusion, and so you accept the draw. He can't now refuse it just because you have used up most of your time. The offer is good as long as it is still your turn.  

Another important point is that when you are claiming a draw by 3 move repetition, don't make that move, just write it down and tell your opponent you believe the position will be exactly reproduced for the third time if you make your intended move. If he doesn't agree, then stop the clock and get a TD. But if you have already made the move, then it is too late to make the claim! Any claim you make must be made on your time, so once you press the clock it is no longer your turn and you can't make a claim! Even high rated players mess this one up all the time.

As you can see there are many rules and complications in the simple game of chess. Get a rule book and familiarize yourself with the basics. Ask more experienced players to explain the rules if you are unsure of how to handle certain situations. The main thing is to always be a good sport and treat everyone with respect. It is never fun to lose, but always shake your opponents hand and congratulate him on a game well played. Good manners are essential in our sport, no one likes a sore loser.     


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