Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Women In Chess

Yes, believe it or not, there are women who play chess! Some might not believe it but that's not surprising. Visit your local mall, and you'll find a group of old men playing in the food court. Your local chess club will be mostly male. Out in the park on sunny days... same.

Being that I'm more into chess, I could name at least one female chess player, but not much more (I don't pay too much attention to names anyway, but those who are mentioned frequently in terms of brilliancy, great games, and chess theory are almost exclusively men).

Why is this? What is it about chess that attracts men more than women? Or are men simply better at the game?

Instinctively, my thoughts are that women in general are just not as interested. For one, it's a "war" type of game. Maybe guys enjoy the competition, the feel of control, being the leader of an army all your own. And maybe they just enjoy game over a coffee (without the need to make conversation). I also thought that being a thinking game (nothing physical required besides pushing wood pieces), that this would be a prime area for men and women to compete on the same level where they cannot in regular sports.

A recent article on ChessBase features a number of short interviews with competitive female chess players to ask why they think women aren't at the same level in chess as men.

You can read the article yourself, which has some very interesting comments, but one I want to comment on:

"Z.A. Why do you think women perform poorer than men in chess?

L.J. I think it is linked with their physical power?

Z.A. Physical power? But chess is about thinking?

L.J. Right, but female players become exhausted more quickly than men because they are weaker. That is why they may fail by the end of the game. Physical power may be decisive in many games. Take any game you want. For instance, in tennis women can never compete with men…"

I wouldn't have believed this unless I'd played in the Langley Chess Open at the start of this month. Let me assure you, compared to casual games, tournament play is much more stressing and energy consuming. It takes a lot of mind power, concentration, and it also takes physical stamina to maintain that load for two, three, or four hours at a time. By the end of three days and six games, all I wanted to do was go home, make myself a tasty supper, and relax for the rest of the evening. In fact, I took a full week off chess (with the exception of one quick game) to give my brain a rest. Going into the tournament unprepared, I had to work extra hard to keep up, and it took its toll.

So, chess does require good physical stamina. If you're in good physical shape, your brain tends to work better as well.

I would be quite pleased if more women played chess, though. Simply for the fact that that there would be more players, and more in terms of acceptance and popularity of the game. Maybe one of these days, I will even convince Natasha to learn...

Post your thoughts, comments, and why you do or don't play chess!


Monday, September 24, 2007

Moving: Got A Townhouse

Good news to report tonight. We met with our new landlords this evening and signed our lease agreement to rent their lovely townhouse in Surrey. It's a nice place, spacious and in good shape, and in a location that is convenient both for work, church, friends, and most other things.

The last week has been a struggle, going from one place to the next, mostly walking away disappointed by what we saw. But this was a really good match, and they chose us over a number of other people who were also interested.

We get the keys on November 1st and will move in shortly after. That will mean computer downtime and the blog may not display correctly for a day or two (I'll put up a notice during this time), but we'll be back up and running as soon as we can, along with some new house pictures!

We're excited to move on to a bigger place where we can spend the next phase of our life!

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Moving Onwards And Upwards

After two years of living in our current place, we are preparing to move on to something else. Unfortunately, the city is cracking down on our landlords because of the illegal nature of the suites he has available. There's nothing really wrong with them, except for the fact that they don't comply with the rules for only having two suites in a house, one for the owner, one for a renter. Currently there are two renters, and we are the ones who have to deal with it because technically ours is the illegal suite.

We're not exactly happy with this as we really like our place, but there's nothing we can do about it. On the other hand, we could use a place that has a little more room, and that is a bit closer to family, friends, church, etc.

The search is on, and we've spend a few evenings looking at places. Prices vary as greatly as the quality of the suites themselves. Some have been absolute dumps, others quite nice. But so far nothing has stuck out as exactly what we want.

We have until the end of October, so the search continues...

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Canadian Dollar Hits Par With USD

It's a day many have been waiting for, and most thought would never come. The Canadian dollar reached parity with the US dollar briefly yesterday afternoon, something which hasn't happened in over 30 years.

So will it go higher? At this point, I don't really see why not. Some financial people are predicting it to rise further, and with the current financial issues in the States and worldwide, I think it's quite possible.

The link below is to a CBC article that covers the topic, noting that much of the rise is due to a declining US dollar as opposed to a strong Canadian dollar.

This is not going to impact most people on a daily basis. However, we have a number of relatives and friends in the US, and it will make traveling much more affordable. Any cross-border trips will be cheaper as well.


U.S. dollar 'the real story' behind soaring loonie, Flaherty says
Currency converter

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Our Big News

The news is traveling fast now that we've let our family and close friends know, so it's time to post it to the blog.

We're going to have a baby!

Natasha at 6 weeks (due date May 14, 2008)

The evening we found out, we decided to bake cookies in the shape of a baby carriage as a way to tell my parents. So, we were up late baking and came up with what you see in this picture:

The way we told our parents

The adventure begins! Lots to think about, lots to do, and a lot of new experiences for the next 8 months and beyond. We're excited, and look forward to it and all the fun it will bring.

More reports to follow periodically!

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Loonie Hits 30 Year High

The Canadian dollar continues to go up and has nearly reached the same value as the US dollar, which hasn't happened since before I was born!

"The Canadian dollar traded near the 97-cent US level Thursday as it rode record oil prices and a weak U.S. greenback to levels not seen since the disco era.

The loonie was quoted at 96.73 cents US at 10:35 a.m. ET, up .21 cents from Wednesday's close.

Some analysts see the loonie reaching parity with the U.S. dollar by the end of this year. The last time the two currencies traded at par was in 1976. Currently, a U.S. dollar can be bought for a little less than $1.04 Canadian."

Read the full article on cbc.ca: Leaping loonie! Dollar hits 30-year high

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Elliott Ray

Susanna has pictures of our new nephew, Elliott, on her blog. Click here to view her post which displays a few photos and links to a gallery with a bunch more.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 11 - Six Years Later

Six years ago today, two planes, hijacked by terrorists, smashed into the World Trade Center buildings in New York City. A lot has happened since that day, and a lot has changed. Has enough been done? Are things safer today than they were six years ago?

I think lots of things have been done, but not all of them have been done correctly nor have they addressed the root of the problem. Are we safer? I honestly believe that things are not safe and as long as there is hate towards western culture, there is a constant threat of attacks. Airplanes might be safer, but there are a thousand other ways to wreak havoc and destruction, and new plots are being discovered and thwarted every few months.

Be vigilant, be informed, and be ready to stand up for what you believe. Never apologize for the freedom and lifestyle we have. Never forget.

Update: Tuesday

I thought something was familiar about Tuesday, and when I went to check it out on a calendar, I discovered that this is the first time September 11th has fallen on a Tuesday, as it did in 2001.

Update: CoxAndForkum.com

These guys come out with some very impressive and powerful drawings, not the least of which are for September 11 memorials.


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Monday, September 10, 2007

It's A Boy!

Natasha and I have another nephew today! My sister, Stephanie, gave birth to Elliott Ray Fowler on September 10, 2007 at 11:04am PST at the Arkansas Methodist Medical Center. He was 9 lbs., 1 oz and 20.2 inches long.

Arkansas Methodist Medical Center

Looking forward to seeing him and the whole family at Christmas!

Congratulations, Terrill and Stephanie! Natasha and I wish you all the best!


Sunday, September 09, 2007

BBQ-ing A Tasty Steak

Those of you who know me, know that I am nearly always hungry for tasty food, and am a decent cook myself. This week, I decided to make myself a tasty steak dinner, and thought I'd share it with the world.

To make your own tasty steak:

First, buy a good quality steak. Top Sirloin is good but if you want T-bone or prime rib I'm sure that'll be great. I recommend it be at least 1 inch thick, especially if you want it rare or medium rare.

Take a sharp knife and poke through the steak in about ten places, flip and do the same on the other side. I don't know if this is the "right" thing to do but it works for me. Then, brush all sides of the steak with extra virgin olive oil. This helps the seasoning stick, and will prevent it from sticking to the grill. I've noticed that since doing that, my BBQ meats have been much better.

Season the steak with whatever you have available. Seasoning salt would be good. Salt and pepper perhaps. I recommend Montreal Steak Spice. Coat it... make a crust of seasoning.

Don't be shy. A little Spice never killed anyone!

Now prepare your side dishes. Slice up some potatoes and wrap them in foil with a spoonful of butter. A little salt and pepper is good too.

If you have zucchini or anything else handy that goes well on the BBQ, make a few slices, brush with olive oil, salt and pepper. If they're large enough to put on the grill without falling through, do that.

Turn your BBQ on medium heat and put the potatoes on the upper rack. Give it about 5 minutes to heat up and let the potatoes get a head start. Then when you're ready, turn one side down to low and move your potatoes and veggies to that side.

Throw on the steak! Let one side really sear for a good five minutes, then flip to the other side for five. This will help it cook through more on each side. Depending on how you want it cooked, flip it a couple more times for up to five minutes each. This should give you a decent medium rare steak. Still pink inside but not bloody. Use your judgment here. It takes some practice to know when a steak is ready.

Put it all on a plate, top with green onions, sour cream, etc.

Your tasty steak dinner

And that's all there is to it. No need to go to The Keg anymore! Let me assure you that you can make the best steak you've ever tasted right at home.


Saturday, September 08, 2007

Natasha's Trip: Day 8

After many days of adventures, Natasha spent today mostly relaxing. They did go out and do a bit of shopping (I even hear she bought a shirt for me!). Beyond that they made a trip to Walmart, and spent the rest of the evening around the house.

No pictures to display today. The vacation is wrapping up with no big events planned, so there are less photos being taken. Check back tomorrow for the final vacation report.


Friday, September 07, 2007

Natasha's Trip: Day 7

Today was a quiet day at Rachel's house. We all slept in quite late as we were exhausted from our trip to the big city. Rachel left about 1:30pm to take her cousin, Amanda, to the airport as she flew home today. I had the afternoon to myself (as I opted out of the long drive) so I spent some time organizing my purchases, doing some tidying for Rachel, laundry, and reading. It was great to just relax and go slow after four busy busy days.

This evening Rachel and I went to a Sight and Sound Productions. Sight and Sound is a Christian Theatre company that puts on Bible based plays. Tonight was the play "In The Beginning". The theatre itself is huge and beautifully built with high ceilings in the large auditorium. I don't have any pictures of the play as cameras weren't allowed but I have a picture of the booklet for the play so you can get an idea.

Sight and Sound Productions -- In The Beginning

The story was based on Adam and Eve and the fall in the Garden of Eden. The actors, costumes, backdrops, and props are very elaborate and well made and extremely professional. The actors were attractive and very skilled in voice, acting, and dance (although there wasn't much dance).

Included in the play were many live animals (some included doves, horses, goats, sheep, ducks, a cow, a dog, a skunk, and a zebra). The electronic animals looked very real and moved as well (these included a woolly mammoth, dinosaurs, the Serpent, a large snake, elephants, giraffes, gorillas, apes, antelope, bears, polar bears, an armadillo, and many more). The play was very well done and very entertaining with a Godly message about Christ dying on the cross and the way to salvation at the end. I was really impressed.

I would highly recommend it to anyone! Oh, and by the way, if you're looking at the front of the booklet and wondering if Adam and Eve were "naked" in the garden, they weren't. Christ clothes them in his "glory" at the beginning when he forms them, the "glory" is a gauzy white sparkly like material through which you can just make out the shape of legs and nothing else (and I believe they are also wearing skin-colored leotards).

Well that's it for tonight folks. This is Mrs. Trooper signing out!

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Natasha's Trip: Day 6

Today was our last day in New York City. We got a late start, had breakfast at Starbucks, and headed out to see Grand Central Station.

Front of the Grand Central Terminal

Grand Central is huge and very beautiful. It is all ornately decorated from floor to ceiling. It was really awesome to see inside the place where many movies have been made and people have been traveling for likely more than a century.

Grand Central itself!

Row of ticket booths

One of the passages leading to a set of tracks.

I'm sorry to say that I didn't get any more pictures other than the ones here. We went in search of New York hoodies after we left GC and it took hours to find some that fit well and were cute. However, we persevered and found what we wanted, and at the right price!

Good bye, Times Square!

Goodbye New York! Goodbye Times Square! Goodbye Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We have made many wonderful memories during the last three days, now it's time to rest and relax and have some "vacation" before heading home on Monday.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Natasha's Trip: Day 5

Today was a long, exciting day. We left the hotel about 9am and our first stop was Starbucks for my breakfast and then the girls got some donuts at Dunkin Donuts.

Natasha enjoying her morning Starbucks

We then headed downtown to Ground Zero. It was very sobering to read about the destruction and see the construction site - sorry no good pictures as it is just a construction site. They plan to build a Freedom Tower there and it is under construction now. There is a memorial set up that you can go through on tour but it was $10 and took 1 hour so we opted out.

Ground Zero

Next we walked down Wall Street where we saw the American Financial Museum and the Wall Street Bull on our way to Battery Park. In Battery Park is the what remains of the Monument that used to sit in front of the World Trade Centre.

The Wall Street Bull

At Battery Park we embarked the ferry to Liberty Island. The Statue of Liberty was our first stop. It was beautiful and huge! We were disappointed, however, to find that you have to book two days to one week ahead to enter the Statue of Liberty, so we weren't able to go up to the top.

Natasha, Amanda, and Rachel on the Ellis Island Ferry

Natasha on Liberty Island. NYC as a backdrop.

Natasha posing with the Statue of Liberty

Next we hopped the ferry to Ellis Island where we wandered around for quite a while reading stories and looking at pictures and watching a short documentary on the Island and the 12 million immigrants that passed through on the way to living the American Dream in the approximately 100 years it was open. I believe it closed in 1954.

I found Hoyers, Griffiths, and other family members names on the Wall outside which lists every single person who registered at Ellis Island. Of the 12 million that arrived at Ellis Island only 2% were turned away and shipped back to their homelands. The two main reasons for denial into the country were incurable disease and criminal record. It was very informative and interesting to see Ellis Island and the best part is, it's free.

We headed back about 5pm and then took the Subway to Little Italy where we found a charming Italian restaurant called Amica II Ristorante. We enjoyed delicious food and great company as the three Italian men, the Host, the Waiter, and the Owner, were very charming and entertaining. God bless Italians!

Natasha savoring Lobster Ravioli

Rachel and Amanda devouring the Lasagna

We then left Little Italy and wandered around Chinatown before heading back to the hotel for the night. However, our evening didn't end there, we did still a little window shopping and stop into Starbucks for a late night drink. I just finished my Venti Wild Sweet Orange Tea... YUMMY!

That's all for tonight folks. Tomorrow is a visit to Grand Central Station and then shopping on the agenda and hopefully getting home to PA at a decent hour.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Natasha's Trip: Day 4

Today was such a busy day! We were up at 6:30 am to get ready to leave for the bus. The bus ride was good, about 2.5 hours and then we arrived at Port Authority in NYC. We walked to our hotel, wandering around for a little while until we found it... Times Square is really confusing!

We got checked in, to the 37th floor of the Hilton on Times Square! (Pretty Sweet View! See it here and here.) Then we freshened up and went out to hit the town (this was about 2pm).

Times Square

Natasha in Times Square, New York City

Our first stop was Ripley's Believe It Or Not, which was right beside our hotel. It was really interesting and lots of fun.

Ripley's Believe It Or Not

Our next stop was Central Park. We walked for a while but ended up renting a pedicab to take us through as the park is huge and our feet were tired. This park is beautiful! We especially liked the lake and the Bethesda Fountain!

A lake in Central Park

Bethesda Fountain

Our Pedicab driver was very friendly and helpful and took some pictures for us too. We also saw Trump Towers (the one in The Apprentice), it is at the edge of Central Park. We saw the building where Yoko Onno lives and where John Lennon was assassinated, as well as the buildings that Celine Dion, Bill Gates, and Al Pacino live. They are all surrounding Central Park and cost millions of dollars. Bill Gates apartment is four stories!

After Central Park we headed downtown to Bloomingdale's and Tiffany & Co. We took a short jaunt into Bloomindale's but after seeing the $1195 purse decided to vamoose on to less expensive territory. We went into Tiffany's and looked all around. It was less intimidating as there were no price tags on the jewellery. :).


Tiffany & Co.

Next we took the subway about 15 blocks further downtown Manhattan to reach Macy's (where I bought a NYC shirt for $4.50!), Madison Square Gardens, and the Empire State Building (although we decided not to take the elevator to the top).

Inside the 57 Street subway station

[Click to see what else you can find in a New York Subway station -- Editor]

Macy's Department Store

The lobby of the Empire State Building

It was getting dark by this time so we grabbed some tasty pizza at Sbarros and started the long walk back to the hotel. Times Square is amazing at night! Unfortunately most of my nighttime pictures turned out blurry :(. Where's a tripod when you need one?

Natasha eating a stuffed pizza [At my favorite, Sbarros -- Andrew]

It is now about 12:39am and my hotel buddies have been in bed for more than 1.5 hours and here I've sat uploading videos and sending pictures for the blog... so I'm off to bed so I can rest for another exciting day tomorrow!

Tomorrow we go see Ground Zero, The Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Natasha's Trip: Day 3

From: Natasha

Today we took a ride through Amish country. Our first stop was Kitchen Kettle Village where lots of Amish arts and crafts are sold. I bought a lovely candle and candle wreath, and some presents for family.

Natasha and Rachel in Amish country

Kitchen Kettle Village

On our next stop we visited a family from Rachel's church, Jody Sanger and her children. We had lunch and some fun playing with the children at their house. We then went over to an Amish farm of friend's of Jody & her family. The family was very kind and hitched up the buggy and took us a ride. It was lots of fun. We discussed their speaking of some high German, but a variation referred to as "Pennsylvania Dutch", and I told her that my husband's family all speak high German.

A view of the Amish farms

An Amish boy riding a horse and buggy

These are the Amish friends we went to visit...

... and the buggy we rode in ...

Natasha in the front seat

Amanda and Rachel in the back

And lastly, some cute Amish sheep!

Our last stop of the day was for ice cream at the Lapp's Dairy (I forgot to take pictures! Sorry!). The ice cream and waffle cones were homemade and very tasty!

[This video was taken at their friend's place. -- Editor]

Natasha on the zip line

Now we are at home for the evening and packing up for New York City tomorrow! I'm going to the Big Apple! Woohoo!


Langley Chess Open: Day 3 & Conclusion

Today was a good day in terms of play, and success. Both of my games ended in draws, meaning they were tied, and got me half a point each. I played against two younger guys, probably 12 or 13 years old, who are quite good, and possibly more experienced than I am. I played as best I could, and am happy with the outcome. At least I'm on the scoreboard.


This tournament has been a great experience for me. I must admit, it was nothing like I expected, and the competition is way beyond what I thought it would be. I was playing in the same room with (but not against) people who are ranked in the top 15 in BC, as well as a bunch of young kids who are all wearing shirts from their trips to national tournaments, youth chess championships, and the like. I was constantly amazed at seeing a complex chess position, with a middle aged man on one side, and a child on the other... looking as confident as can be.

So, while my expectations were wrong, and my overall score lower than expected, I am coming away with a lot of experience as far as gameplay goes, and in terms of how to prepare and actually play in a tournament itself.

As for whether I'll play in another tournament... I hope so. I don't know when or where it will be, but when I have the opportunity again, I would like to have another shot at it.

Score after Day 3: 1.0 / 6.0

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

Natasha's Trip: Day 2

I talked to Natasha on the phone this evening, and she's having a great time. Unfortunately, she didn't take any photos of her activities, which happens at times depending on what you're up to.

Most of her day was spent with her friends, going to church, having a cook-out, and all sorts of socializing.

Tomorrow is the day trip to Amish country, and Tuesday begins the trip to New York City, so there will be a lot more to show as the week progresses.


Langley Chess Open: Day 2

Today I had to ask myself, why do I play Chess? And why do I enjoy it? It's hard work, takes a lot of time, practice, and study, and is disappointing when you do badly. Really, it sounds like almost any other sport or activity, including a career (with no income to go with it).

I even thought about quitting chess altogether. But that didn't last long. My love for the game goes beyond winning or losing games at a six round tournament. I play the game because I appreciate its complexity, its ability to keep ones mind active, and for the beauty of the game itself. People who do not play chess cannot understand how interesting, exciting, inspiring, and beautiful a game can be.

I did not win either of my two games today. The first game, much like the day before, was a great battle right down to the end when the tide turned against me and my seemingly solid attack fell apart. The second game was a good example to me of unpreparedness, lack of self control, and utter stupidity. Neither myself nor my opponent had a board or clock (unpreparedness). After about 10 minutes of searching out a board and clock, and having it set, I was slightly frustrated instead of being calm and collected (lack of self control). I was black, and my first move was one that is okay, but that I rarely play (stupidity). After a few moves, I was caught in an opening position I wasn't familiar with and that didn't favour me at all. I didn't stick with my plan, and it cost me the game, or the chance at winning.

I am not ashamed of losing, only of playing badly. I have two more games to play, and will do my best, even if I lose them all. When I came into this tournament, I thought I was a pretty good player. I still do, but realize that I am a mere minnow in the vast lake of the chess world. I'll just have to have fun in the shallow water most of the time, and swim with the big fish every now and then.

Score after Day 2: 0.0 / 4.0

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

Natasha's Trip: Day 1

Natasha seems to be having a great time on her trip, and she's sent a few pictures to share. I wanted her to write up a story along with the pictures, but she is too tired to do it this time. I don't blame her really, she flew all night, only had a few hours sleep, and spent the whole day touring the countryside. So, I'm going to make stuff up as I go along and hope it fits.

A quick trip to Starbucks before going through security

I took Natasha through the check-in, and for a Starbucks™ iced tea before she went through to the gate.

Their first stop was a park where there are wild horses running free. Apparently some of them are quite tame and will even allow you to pet them.

Assateague National Park

Rachel petting a wild pony

After that, a trip to the beach. I believe this is actually in the same park.

Amanda, Natasha, and Rachel wading in the Atlantic

Natasha wading a little too deep

Hmm, she's looking pretty good for someone who's been on the go for well over 24 hours!

That's all I have for now. Check back tomorrow for the Day 2 report.

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Langley Chess Open: Day 1

Day 1 of the tournament is over. I got there on time but the first game didn't start until about an hour late due to setup issues. However, both games got played and everyone seemed to have a good time.

How did I do? Well, before I get into that, some details. There are somewhere around 50 people playing in this years tournament, quite a few more than were on the website list. I was surprised to see a lot of younger kids there, looking to be between 10 and 12 years old.

I was a bit nervous at the start, not knowing how things worked, and only a few people who were there. But eventually things got underway and it was fine from there.

So, I sit down at the board for my first game, and it's a young Chinese boy, I'm guesing he's about 10 or 11 but I'm not much good at ages. The bottom line is, he's the youngest person I've ever played. I'm fairly certain he's younger than I was when I first started playing Chess.

Anyway, I said hello, asked him if he'd played in tournaments before, etc. That turned out to be a foolish question which you will see. The game started off well, and it was obvious he knew what he was doing. Actually, he was really good and I found myself putting much more into the game than other casual games I play. The game went on for about two and a half hours, and after much play, I was ahead by a pawn, and had two passed pawns. The game seemed to be in hand, but I was getting worn out and wasn't playing as well as at the start. I missed a defensive move, got caught off guard, and the game fell apart within a couple of moves. I played on for a few more but when I began to lose huge material, I resigned.

I was feeling disappointed, but after reviewing the game, realized I'd played really well, just miscalculated on a move. Later I asked him what his rating was. When he told me it was 1800, I felt even better because I figured I would be playing below 1500 but I was able to manage against an 1800 player.

The second game was a bit shorter, and I wasn't completely focused. I didn't take the initiative when I could have (we analysed the game afterwards) and after 23 moves, I was in an impossible situation and resigned. However, I learned a great deal from that game which I hope will help me for the next few I have to play.

One thing I wasn't expecting from this tournament was the amount of pressure when in a serious game. The battle that takes place on a chess board is one of very equal forces that even the slightest mistake can topple, and it's quite draining, mentally and physically. But it's very exciting and I look forward to the remaining four games.

Score after Day 1: 0.0 / 2

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