Sunday, March 26, 2006

Tournament Chess and Championship BBQ

At first glance, tournament chess and championship bbq seem to be at opposite ends of the sprectrum, but believe it or not the two have a lot in common.

The U.S. Women's Chess Champion, Jennifer Shahade, attributes her success in tournament chess to being willing to keep playing and keep competing, even when she wasn't obtaining the results she hoped for. She began playing at age 13 and within twelve years she has emerged a two-time national women's champion. At the age of 25, she's now a very prominent figure in the sport.

I think there's a lesson to be learned from Jennifer Shahade that directly equates to competing in bbq contests.

As anyone who has ever played the game of chess more than a few times can attest, it may take 10 or 15 minutes to learn the basics of the game,'s something that might never be mastered after a lifetime of dedication.

The concentration and dedication required are enormous. It's a game that you might be able to win against mediocre players, who haven't played much, but when you're up against more experienced players, it can be very, very humbling and very frustrating. It's possible to win or lose a chess game with just three or four moves on the board.

Competitive barbecue is very similar. It's a grassroots sport that is rewarding and fun, but long term success in the sport is not easy. I know more than a few teams that have been competing for years that have never won a grand championship or a reserve grand championship award. I know other teams that have won a few awards, but when the winning didn't continue, the teams chose to stop competing altogether. I know other teams that have had some success in specific categories here and there, but for whatever reason haven't been able to put together consistent results in all four categories enough to win consistently.

Some competitors seek out the biggest and most prestigious contests, while others prefer to cook in smaller, local events. The level of competition varies according to the size and stature of the event. A state championship bbq contest usually draws competitors from several states and some very experienced and winning teams, while a local or smaller regional event might have only a handful of top-notch teams.

As competitors, whether in a casual game of chess or in the professional sport of barbecue, we are confronted with choices to dedicate ourselves to improvement, to be satisfied with being involved in the sport as participants, or to passionately dedicate ourselves to pursuit of excellence.

Is it worth it to continue spending the time and money to compete in bbq contests? Is it worth it to cook every weekend to tweak a rub recipe or sauce recipe to improve the results? Or, is better to be satisfied with enjoying bbq with friends, family and neighbors in the backyard?

The answers are largely up to each individual, but I think I'll follow Jennifer Shahade's example and keep my nose to the grindstone.

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