I hope I am not the only one who gets butterflies the day before a tournament. For me, my thoughts start to wander as I lie in my bed and ponder over the possibilities of the next day. “How will I fare? Who will I play? Oh, I hope I do well!”
Everyone always recommends a good night’s rest before an event, but how can I do that when I wait with bated breath for morning to come? How can I fall asleep when my stomach churns with anticipation?
I am sure that most (if not all) players have experienced what I am describing here, at least once in their career. However, what I endured on my last chess outing was something quite different…
On the eve of the tournament, I, as usual, was unable to fall asleep. The struggle to stifle my excitement was akin to the typical night of a child on Christmas Eve – no matter how much their parents tell them to go to bed, they are simply unable to.
The anxiety permeated through my body like a teabag diffuses in a cup of hot water. I tried everything I could to quiet my mind. I strolled up and down the corridor outside my room, in an attempt to tire myself. I drank a glass of warm milk.
I prayed several times, but every time I started, my mind would interject, “What if my opponent surprises me with…? What if I forget my preparation? What if…? How will I…?” Oh, what a struggle it was!
I finally took a deep breath and started to count sheep: “One. Two. Three; Did I remember to…? One. Two. Three. Four; What if I win the tournament? What if…? No. Start again. One. Two. Three… One… Two… One…”
The next thing I knew, it was morning, the day of the tournament. The sounds of birds tweeting, and cars racing, alighted upon my ears as I opened my room’s window. The fresh breeze entered the room as though it were an old friend. It greeted me as pleasantly as one can greet another, and I remember repeating to myself, “What a beautiful day to play chess!”
As I returned to my bedside, I noticed the time on the clock hanging above my bedroom door. It was eight-thirty (8:30am). It took me a while to realise the significance of the clock hands, but then it dawned upon me: the tournament starts at nine o’clock. My restless night had caused me to oversleep!
I rushed over to my phone to make sure that I was not mistaken. I was not; I was truly late. I sprinted into the bathroom to get myself ready. When I had finished, I bolted into the kitchen, put together a little something to munch, ran out to my car, and raced to the tournament.
I arrived at the playing venue just in time to confirm my participation. I was drenched in sweat, but I made it. As I calmed down, I noticed that everyone was looking at me. This did not bother me in the slightest; if I were them, I too would be intrigued by the man drizzling the floor with his sweat!
However, as I looked up into their faces, I realized something strange. They were all wearing masks. I turned around; the people behind me were also wearing masks. I looked down the end of the hall and the blitzers were also wearing masks. What was going on?
One of the organisers walked over to me and asked, “Do you have a mask?”
“Do we need to wear a mask?” I replied slightly perplexed.
“Oh yes. Don’t you know? We are in a pandemic. You will have to get yourself a mask or else you cannot play.”
The pairings were already out, and the round was about to begin. How was I not aware that we were in a pandemic? How did I not know that masks were mandatory? The organizer recognized the surprise on my face and put two and two together – I did not have a mask.
He politely asked me to leave the event. After all my hard work, after a rocky night, after I hurried to arrive at the tournament on time, I was now being asked to leave…
Suddenly, I woke up covered in perspiration, with a slight fever. Had it all been a nightmare? I looked over at my phone; it was seven o’clock, the morning of the tournament. I had been dreaming! “Phew! I still have time before the tournament” I exclaimed with relief. I walked into the bathroom and splashed my face with water just to make sure that I really was awake – I was.
I calmly prepared myself for the day and set off to the actual tournament.
When I was about to enter the hall, I was shocked to see the ‘welcoming committee’ dressed in masks. I started to panic; I had not brought a mask. Was my dream a warning to bring a mask? Was it a prophecy?
I turned to one of the members of the committee and asked, “Do we need masks?”
He saw the concern on my face and replied with a smile, “No need. We have a whole box full of extras right over there,” as he pointed towards a table just off to the side. He proffered a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer and added, “Welcome to a new era!”