I love tournaments. As I look forward to the MVCC this weekend in the Obenchain Building, I begin experiencing olfactory memories. Tournaments are always looking for cheap or affordable venues which frequently end up in cramped rooms with very little ventilation or air circulation. To add to the stagnation, flow is further reduced when doors are closed and windows are kept shut to reduce distractions to the players.
For me, smells are frequently distracting in positive and negative ways. In fact, my wife buys me jasmine or gardenia candles because they calm me during high stress days at school. Odors certainly affect emotions and thoughts, and definitely my chess game.
Every time I light an incense stick at home or in my classroom, I am reminded of Barry trying to "air" out the Obenchain room in between rounds. Or, how we lit incense and it diffused throughout the whole SUB at Idaho State University during the Eastern Open. It made the atmosphere tolerable and indeed, I won all 5 rounds.
Hotel ballrooms or meeting rooms tend to have chemical or cleaner smells that will sometimes tingle your sinuses when the air does turn on. Some places even have that familiar cherry, bathroom smell that comes from a can. I can smell it all while I struggle to focus on the game.
Universities and old schools offer their own odors. The odor of age, old carpet, aging infrastructure, and parchment. Tournaments in these places remind me of old book smell. Sometimes a waft of mold or mildew pierces my sinuses. Consequently, asthmatics, such as myself are constantly coughing in these tournaments. I have been offered cough drops more than once and my opponent sometimes covers their mouth, thinking I have H1N1 virus or some other contagious disease.
Over-the-board tournaments also allow opponents to smell one another, unlike my on-line games. Imagine about 50 people of varying age and hygeine sitting in a closed up room for twelve hours a day for two or three days. The room becomes rank with the smell of adrenalin, stress hormones, old socks, dirty pants, and soiled physiques. Who has time to shower?
On more than one occasion while moving my bishop or rook, I suddenly remembered my grandparents and my childhood visits to their house. My opponent is much older than me, of course. While playing one older gentleman in a friendly club match, I had to cover my nose and occasionally stuck my lower face in my shirt in thought because of the smells emanating from him. He must have eaten sardines or kippered snacks for dinner, and he certainly hasn't showered recently! Old people don't shower as much as the younger crowd, but I will when I get that old.
At a tournament in Boise, my younger opponent sat for a significant time pondering a move. Suddenly, his flatulence stirred him into a move. The reverberation off the plastic chair was enough of a distraction while I contained my laughter as an adult should. What was worse was the smell that I endured while pondering my own move . . . something akin to cabbage and a wet dog.
I have seven cats at home and they will be mad at me if I don't get to their litter box as often as I should. I don't know how they do it, but they will pee in my shoes without me catching them. So I have no clue whom the culprit actually is. Cat pee has a unique smell that cat owners come to know very well. At the Idaho Closed a few weekends ago I was playing Caleb Kircher and I suddenly became aware of that familiar smell when my feet began sweating. Not your usual litter box pee, more of a sweet but acrid odor. I hope Caleb didn't think it was me, even though it was.
Being a school teacher, I frequently get to play students in the mornings before school. At least two kids exhale deeply after they move. So I suddenly am in cloud of unbrushed, morning breath. Egads! Try and think of your next move smelling somebody's expiratory reserve volume.
When I enter the chill and air freshner atmosphere of the Obenchain Building this weekend, I will try to maintain my focus as the air becomes more familiar . . . warm, stagnant, and foul with determination.
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