Planting the Seeds for Local Chess Players

I’m trying to squeeze this blog in as I’m working through my CPE (Continuing Professional Education) on a Sunday afternoon. I just finished hours and hours of CPE and have much more to do. I’m taking a short break to remind those players 50 years and older of an upcoming free chess tournament.

Free, what does that mean? Well for the players it means zero cost to play in the tournament. For my co director and myself it means lots of planning before the event takes place to acquire the site, promote the event, get players registered and more. Tournaments for players 50 and over don’t just happen but takes someone getting the idea and convincing other people it’s worth the effort.

My friend (Felix Fierros) and I were chatting a few months ago on how there should be a tournament for the more “seasoned” players. Both of us have put tournaments together in the past, we worked out the details and Felix managed to secure the playing location. We are in the last few weeks before the August 13, 2022 tournament.

If you are 50 and older, play chess and want to do your part to grow chess locally then please consider participating. If we have a significant turnout then we will likely consider planning another next year. If participation is low then it may be awhile before we decide to commit all the time it takes to run another senior tournament. There have been many players who grew up and played here in town. I’m sure quite a few moved away but that still leaves many more who are here and perhaps could use a non-rated senior’s only tournament to rekindle that old love of chess.

I’m looking to see what will happen and I’m willing to bet other tournament organizers in town are too.

Senior’s Chess Tournament (50yrs and older)
Julia Yates Semmes Library Branch
15060 Judson Rd, SAT 782475

Check In – 10:15am
1st rd begins 11am.
30 min time control each side
Ribbons for top 6 places.

Contact Felix Fierros at

Are We Experiencing a Golden Age in Our Local Chess Scene?

A few years ago, a chess friend of mine mentioned a book was written about the San Antonio scholastic chess scene set in the 1970’s. Players of that time were enjoying the ripples from the Fischer chess boom when people of all ages were flocking to chess. San Antonio was no different in the number of new players being drawn to the game. This was the era when I started playing in organized chess events.

Am I in the book? Yes and no. It turns out the author mentions my name but unfortunately the person he is covering is not me. I did not grow up in the same neighborhood with the author, go to the schools he attended or was a member on the same chess teams. I did enjoy the book mostly because he did a pretty decent job of capturing the era. I bought a copy of the book through Amazon and it is now part of my chess library. I lent it out to a gentleman I addressed as Mr. Mendoza who had put on scholastic chess tournaments for twenty years here in town. He loved the book, his mention in the book and had the opportunity to read it shortly before he passed away. It took a bit of time to recover the book I loaned him from his family following his passing. I had thoughts about writing a chess book of that time in my life. Those were magical years for me.

We are currently living in a time with so many places to play in San Antonio during a typical week. There is a tournament being regularly held with a round each week. You can go to meet ups at coffee shops, restaurants, local senior citizen places and pubs. We have an upcoming free chess tournament for people 50+ years of age in August which may expand in number depending on interest. In our recent past, we had unrated scholastic tournaments and rated ones which different people host. I think the sheer number of places chess is happening is a great indicator we are experiencing a golden age in our local chess scene.

Who will be writing in the future about what’s happening now? That writer may be in our scholastic chess community right now in elementary, middle school or high school. I hope to be able to read their book one day.

Playing in a Chess Tournament After a 30+ Year Layoff

This is not the version of the story I was expecting to write.  I had been studying chess books daily for going on six years.  Throughout that time, I had mostly been following the 20/40/40 rule in chess which is spending 20% of my study time on openings, 40% on middle games and 40% on endgames.  Before all that, there was a good 30 year gap since I played in my last chess tournament. 

I started a personal chess journal close to when I began studying chess again.  It covers a number of chess areas including the basic level books I read on my return to the game and my personal opinions on if I liked or hated whatever I finished reading.  It also contains a self assessment of my playing strength at the end of each year along with the rating justification. More recently, it chronicles my first tournament in multiple decades round by round.

I brought one of my old laptops because I wanted capture my own post round reaction of my tournament experience including a bit about my opponent, their study habits and anything else I felt might be interesting to me.  I knew I’d be likely to forget quite a few things if I waited to get home following the four day tournament.

During the mentioned 5 plus years of study, I played very, very few games against human opponents.  My logic was I wanted to avoid a confidence problem should I take a lot of losses.  This decision will come back to haunt me.

I live in San Antonio.  The tournament was in Irving if I remember correctly.  What I do know is I thought it was in Dallas but it turns out to be very near it. 

I agreed to split the travel and hotel costs with two other chess playing friends from my hometown.  I also bought about $40 of groceries (for breakfast, lunch and snacks) to take since I had no intention of paying hotel restaurant prices for all my food. It turns out that was a very good decision.

Here we go for a recap round by round.

Friday May 27, 2022

Round one in the books.  I was so unsure of how things were going to go.  I was really surprised at how the tournament started.  I arrived to my table and my clock began before I was ready to pull out my pen and pad. It took me more than 5 minutes before I was situated and that isn’t good.  For some reason I was confused at the time increments.  In the old days, I remember we’d make 40 moves and then get bonus time.  Because I didn’t realize it, I was in a bad way with my time.  I played pretty well for my first game back and had my chances late into the game.  The time (or lack thereof) really began worrying me and I began to rush…which is never a good thing when playing in a tournament. He wound up finishing me off in the endgame.  It was competitive and I’m thankful for it being so.

Before the tournament, I was worried I’d have to play a young kid.  I played a young kid.  He deserved to win based on his play. I’ll regroup and it’s on to round two.  So much playing rust!

Saturday May 28, 2022

Round 2 is in the books for me.  Another loss.  I was paired as white against a fellow rated 1782 named Steve.  I expected a lower rated opponent after my first round but that wasn’t the case.  He is probably late 30’s in age.  We played a 28 move game which was book for around the first ten moves.  He played the King’s Indian against me.  I enjoyed the game though I’d have been happier with a win.

We had a chance to go over the game afterwards in a makeshift skittles area.  He was friendly and kind.  He offered suggested moves on some of my more suspect selections.  I documented his suggestions on my notation.  I plan on studying my games when I return to San Antonio.

We chatted about San Antonio’s current chess scene and Austin’s which is where he is living.  I told him I am an amateur writer and will be blogging about my tournament experience.  He seemed eager to read my stuff.  I’m currently in my hotel room capturing as much as I remember.  I’m still not managing to ration my time well.  He played well with nice tactics displayed.  He deserved to win.  I could have managed to limp along a bit longer but my position was lost.  I didn’t want to be “that guy” who doesn’t recognize when it’s time to resign.

Round 3 just finished up about a half hour ago.  It’s now 10:55pm and I’m catching up on my journal before dinner. I played Ethan, a recent high school graduate who is fairly new to chess.

Our game was a draw though honestly he outplayed me for most of the game on an opening he said he knew fairly well.  I didn’t know his opening and played black mostly in the dark.  It was firmly in the middle game before I equalized and we were getting ready to enter the endgame in a drawish position though he was up a pawn.  I asked him afterwards how he improved so far over his current USCF rating.  He told me he plays a lot of practice games on  I have spent a great deal of time studying books with no practical over the board play. I’m certain my journey for improvement has been thoroughly proven wrong.  I need regular over the board play along with the study. It’s a brutal lesson to learn in a chess tournament.  On to round four on Sunday and hopefully wins for a change.

Sunday May 29, 2022

Round 4 for me is in the books.  I lost again on a blunder.  What improved for me was time management. I suppose it’s important to look for silver linings in disappointments. 

I had the opportunity to chat with my opponent after the round.  His name is Jim.  We had the opportunity to review our game outside of the playing hall where others gather to go over their games.  I asked Jim how he was introduced to chess.  It was through one of his math school teachers. 

I asked for Jim’s secret to improvement.  He told me he plays somewhere around 40 games of chess per week both at his Waco chess club and online through  I followed up with another question on what he recommends to get better at chess.  He told me a 55% study versus 45% play (my memory fails me right now.  Play versus study percentages might have been the other way around) would be a good ratio for improvement.  It has paid dividends for Jim with his victory against me and a draw against a 1900+ rated player in this tournament.

Round 5 has been completed for me.  I played Gurugraham, a second grader.  He played white.  He was very polite.  His parents gave him encouragement before the match began and I wished him well on our game.  We wound up playing to a draw.  Afterwards I asked his approach to chess in one of the adjacent meeting rooms.  He has been playing since 2020.  His dad mentioned he takes lessons as well as a membership to  He plays a lot of chess weekly. I wished him well on the remaining games of the tournament.  I still am taking to heart all the ways my opponents study.  I should mention his rather impressive knowledge of chess openings.  I should also note he played out the game in review largely from memory.

Monday May 30, 2022

Round 6 My hotel roommates had mentioned they could hear me wake up and move around at my normal 3:45am time.  I wanted to be asked to join next year’s trip to the tournament so I purposely slept later than I normally would.  That was a mistake.  Bryan, one of my chess playing roommates sleepily asked what time the round 6 was scheduled to begin.  Angel, the second chess playing roommate said 9:30am.  It was 9:30am.  Ugh! I threw on my clothes from the night before and made a beeline to the playing hall where my clock was started.  I played as white so it had already cost me 5 minutes.  Luckily my opponent also arrived late so our time when we began was about equal.

I’m writing this on Tuesday which is the day after the tournament.  Rounds 6 & 7 I’ll be covering from my middle age memory…which isn’t very reliable.

I was debating with myself if I’d be happy to win by a no show.  I was more on the side of no though I’d honestly become comfortable winning that way to get into the full point column.  I noticed a father and son headed in my direction of the playing tables. The father sat on the second to the lowest board while I was clinging on to the absolute last board of the amateur section.  This was not how I imagined my return to tournament chess.

I faced off against a likeable second grader named Curtis.  Like all the rounds of the tournament, I fell badly behind on the opening.  My good fortune was finally equalizing and then having Curtis hang one of his knights in an attack I could see developing. He managed to recover and we played on where eventually I was fortunate to come off with a win.  My first win of the tournament.  I spoke afterwards to the young boy and his dad asking what they did to improve.  Again I heard they play a lot of chess rather than heavy book study.  He was match tough while I was not.  My luck was he liked to play fast and that was his undoing. He definitely could have beaten me had he taken his time.  Everyone is a tough out for me in my return back.

Round 7 I had forgotten late checkout of 1pm from the hotel.  I grabbed a courtesy cart and loaded it up with our traveling bags and such after round 6.  One of our other San Antonio chess players (who was staying an extra night) graciously offered to let us store our bags in his room until the completion of the last round.  We did exactly that.

I faced my last round opponent who was having the same rough tournament results as me.  We both wanted to win.  Like all the other rounds before, I was outplayed in the opening and slowly had fought to equalize though it cost me a pawn and a bad endgame position to boot.  We played to a 79 move stalemate which I achieved thanks to my repeated study of Silman’s endgame course and DeLaVilla’s 101 endgames you must know.  2 and a half out of 7 for my tournament result after more than 30 years away from competitive chess.  That’s one win, three losses and three draws.  I lose over 50 rating points but gain a brutal lesson that I NEED to play more chess to make me match tough.

What’s funny is how many people gave me the same advice over the last five plus years.  The advice was to play a lot of practice chess.  Who offered this advice?  A good friend who is a national master, class level players and my wife to name a few people. I was so hard headed that I didn’t listen.  I stuck to reading books on chess, doing tactics puzzles on my copy of chess mentor, playing perhaps 30 games over five plus years on Fritz 15 chess program set to friendly mode.

This tournament did not go as I expected.  What I expected was to outplay my rating and shock my opponents with all my chess study.  If I had to pick, playing chess in the volume of 20 to 40 games a week over those five plus years would probably have given me far better results.  It was a convincing lesson which will definitely change my chess study approach.  Initially, I plan on mixing study and practice games over the next year with the hopes of much better 2023 results.

I had planned on asking a master chess player or higher to evaluate my games and give me a study plan.  No need for that as my experience and the questions I asked all but one of my opponents after my games has given me the blueprint for improvement.

It’s not the story I expected to tell pretournament but one which I think will be helpful for those players like me who may be contemplating a return to chess tournament play in the future.

It’s been a couple more days since the tournament.  I’ve had time to reflect a little bit more on my tournament experience.  Yes, I was outplayed in every single opening.  Thanks to my book study, I was able to have a playable game in each of them.  I also was saved in the final round thanks to my book study on endgames.

I spoke to my friend who is a local National Master this past Saturday.  I thought I’d get his take on how sound is my new modified plan for chess improvement. It was good to know he said it is a sound plan.  That made me feel good to know I’ll be following a more correct path.

I’m posting this so you can see what happens if you think books alone will be your key to chess mastery.  I’ve learned my lesson and share it now with you.

San Antonio’s Outdoor Chess Destinations

Being a bicyclist, I have traveled nearly every nook and cranny of downtown San Antonio and surrounding areas. There’s really nothing like pedaling downtown in the early morning as I breathe in the smell of meat being cooked while passing restaurants along the way. The same goes for areas which ring the downtown in ever larger circles around the heart of San Antonio.

The early bird gets the worm is an expression and for me represents I get to pretty much have the roadways and points of interest to myself before the city is fully awake. Two of my favorite points of interest are Yanaguana Park and The Pearl. I like Yanaguana Park for a number of reasons; there is a large, clean public restroom available for men and women and there are a number of tables with chairs to sit and enjoy a few hours to study/play chess. You can eat a packed meal then take in the beautiful sights the park has to offer including the Hemisfair Tower; a water relief around said tower, outdoor art to stroll by an area for children to play (swings, climbing equipment, etc.), a nearby Italian restaurant to grab a slice of pizza if you didn’t pack a meal, free games of ping pong, a large floor chess set, a stone table imbedded with a chess board (I believe the city has plastic chess pieces but you can bring your own) and much more.

As it gets later in the morning, this park has a good number of people who use it. I like The Pearl just as much as Yanaguana Park. You can find restaurants on the grounds, tables and chairs to relax a bit on, tables imbedded with chess boards with chairs if you have chess pieces and wish to play a few games, clean public restrooms for men and women, pop up shops, brick and mortar shops, a place to rent bicycles, the San Antonio Riverwalk near the edge of this place and much more. You could easily spend the entire day taking in all The Pearl has to offer. I myself have been meaning to stop in to the nationally renowned Hotel Emma to enjoy a cup of coffee and drink in the hotel’s amazing atmosphere.

Do you know of a place here in San Antonio where chess players gather outdoors to play?

Anything for Us Older Chess Players?

Pro golfers hit a point in their careers when their ability to play at the elite level is compromised. World class boxers reach a point when their reflexes just can’t match their younger opponents. NBA players are said to reach a point where their bodies tell them it’s over. What about how age impacts chess players? If you look at the world class chess players, you may notice how young they are. I recently read an article by Peter Doggers on dated October 21, 2020 which reported player’s peak between 35 and 45 years of age.

What’s it like being a player older than 45? From a personal experience, I know I get tired much easier. I’m fine with what I do for a living since I’ve long adjusted to that grind. However, playing a game of chess requires me to adjust my day to stay fresher energy wise. I need to be rested in order to concentrate for the extended period which a game of chess demands from me.

So, is there anything we can offer locally to even the playing field for older players? Yes. In cooperation with the San Antonio Public Library, those of you 50 years of age and older are invited to play in a FREE 5 round non rated Senior’s Chess Tournament. It will be held at Julia Yates Semmes library on Saturday, August 13, 2022. See the attached flyer for more information.

There are a number of chess tournaments held in the local area for our young scholastic players. There are chess tournaments for players of all ages. This tournament is a way of leveling the playing field for those of us who are of a more advanced age. If this tournament generates enough interest, we can look at adding more senior chess tournaments in the future. Support your local chess community by taking part. It should be fun. Those of you who meet the age criteria and haven’t played in years, you have time to knock the rust off your game to be ready by mid-August. You will be expected to provide your own chess sets and clocks.