Hello, Chess.com world! I am going to broadcast my tidbits of chess knowledge and unconventional ties to you for a spell now thanks to my good friend David Pruess (this is where we all fall to our knees and bow) for bringing me on to the scene. I am a born and raised, southern boy from Nashville, Tennessee that has found my niche teaching and training middle-Tennessee's school students, both priviledged and underpriviledged, in our ultimate mind-sport.
I hope to entertain you more than anything. If you learn something along the way, then that is just a bonus. I started learning chess when I was somewhere around 6 or 7 years old. My first chess teacher was the instruction manual from a Wal-Mart chess set. I came from a very strict religious upbringing on my father's side. And though we did not visit that side of the family very often, when we did, chess was one of the few activities that was tolerated. I even remember at times it being called "a game of war" and that we should stop playing, depending on their mood. Well, the comprehension level of my sister and myself was enough for us to figure out how all the pieces moved. Checkmate, en passant and castling were not to be learned until I was 12 years old. So we had our own version of the game where we played to capture all the pieces. We thought the king was one of the most worthless pieces in the world, only being able to move one square and all, and he would usually find himself captured by move 20. By the time I learned all the real rules, I already had the most important part figured out - how to avoid losing your pieces!
Going from beginner to expert is about this and only this: Being the one not to mess up the biggest! Being a tactical wizard, producing masterpieces that will immortalize you in time, does not come until well after this. You have to learn the chords and notes, before you can create music on the guitar. At the age of 12, my mother took my sister and I to the National Open in Las Vegas. We went only because it was a cheap deal on a cool vacation. It was my first real adult/serious tournament. Without opening any chess books or any formal instruction, I was fortunate to win the U.1200 prize (back when you got a 1000 rating just for showing up at the tournament). My first chess coach said "somehow Todd just reaches his hand out and puts his pieces on the right squares." I won $500 bucks and from there I was hooked, spending half of the winnings on a stereo system and half on chess books.
For hour upon hour, I studied chess and played on this sweet, new in-home invention called the personal computer in the early 90's. Within one year I had won every class tournament in site and increased my USCF rating by 1000 points. Just as a measure, not to make any formal statements, David Pruess went up about 500 points in one year and Hikaru Nakamura went up about 600-700 points or so in his big rise. And in the southland, tournaments are hard to come by, but the chess does not come to you - you have to go and get the chess.
I made master at the age of 15 and plateued out a bit (well permanently), making FM at the age of 19 and being 2300-2400 ever since. My path veered off to teaching more than playing. I get great satisfaction out of my own tournament victories, but I get a lot more from working with children.
One of those books I bought with my first chess earnings was a Benko-gambit book that I bought, because it had a tank and an army motif on the front. Never been the same since.