I headed to Jackson, Minnesota last weekend to play in my friend Sam Smith’s Jackson Open for the 5th year in a row. The first two years I played in Jackson I was so tired after the first three rounds that I skipped the last round of the tournament. I managed to play all four rounds the next two years and accomplished one of my Jackson goals last year by tying for second place and collecting a cash prize. Now that I finished in second place I had one unfulfilled goal in Jackson which was to take first place, a lofty goal that would require a lot of good play and a lot of luck but not entirely out of the question.
I had an excellent warm-up at the Twin Ports Open in Duluth two weeks ago and spent the time between tournaments doing tactics puzzles and reviewing my games from Duluth. As usual the Jackson tournament had one game on Friday night and three games Saturday, all at a time limit of 90 minutes per player with a five second delay instead of the 30 seconds added to each move like in Duluth. Not wanting to drop $131 at the EconoLodge like I did last year I booked a room at the Earth Inn Motel online. There was the possibility that Sam’s friend Joel was going to be sharing my room on Friday so I picked the ‘Queen Room’ which had a picture of 2 beds for the incredibly low rate of $49. I also asked in the special request section of my order to have 2 beds in the room.
I left the house at 10am and started the 240 mile trek to Jackson. To the delight of my beagles I made a bologna sandwich to take with me as well as some excellent red grapes from the Wal-Mart which were underpriced because they inconveniently were not seedless. I stopped for gas at Albert Lea where gasoline cost $2.15 a gallon which was 6 cents more than Iowa on Friday but 4 cents less than Iowa’s tax inflated gas prices by Saturday afternoon.
I made good time and arrived at the Earth Inn Motel in Jackson around 2:30. The Earth Inn Motel isn’t the kind of place with a front desk so I rang the bell and was soon greeted by Joe Manger (whose was wearing a shirt that said so). Joe Manager gave me a room key. I headed to the room and found there weren’t two beds in the room as I had requested so I headed back down the hall to talk to Joe Manager. Joe told me that I needed to have ordered a room with two double beds from the web site or better yet that I should have called the Inn directly because if I had called him he would have 'had control'. I didn’t want to discuss control issues with a guy whose shirt said ‘Joe Manager’ so I asked if I could switch rooms and Joe said that was fine as if I hadn’t ‘dirtied up’ my room. Joe Manager said I was lucky that he had one room with a double bed left and switched me for an extra 10 dollars. I thanked Joe and moved my bag over to the next room.
If you have a problem at the Earth Inn Motel in Jackson, Minnesota Joe Manager will take care of it!
The church was less than a mile away from the Earth Inn and the only two people there were Sam and his wife Ana. There were only six players signed up in advance for the tournament but 13 more players decided to travel to Jackson to play on the day of the tournament with six players taking a half point bye instead of playing on Friday night. Sam doesn’t charge extra for not registering in advance and while that practice encourages people to make a last minute decision to play it also encourages long distance travelers to wait until the last minute in case bad weather makes the trip impractical. One of the late arrivals was Joel so I knew I was going to have a roommate at the Earth Inn Motel.
Some late signups and pairing problems caused the first round to start about 20 minutes late. When I arrived at Jackson I was the highest rated player but by the time the tournament started I was the fourth highest rated player and had the White pieces against Steve Heinisch. My more avid readers may find that name familiar and it should be because I played Steve in the same Friday night game of this same Jackson Open with the same White pieces in 2013. Three years ago I drew Steve despite being rated over 300 points higher than him and I was lucky to get the draw. As it happens I had reviewed our game in the week before the tournament and felt fairly prepared as we sat down to play.
My game was the second to last to finish and it was a little after 10 when Joel and I left the church. Two years ago Joel and I roomed together and headed to the SuperAmerica convenience store for a snack but Joel said he needed a meal this night. Joel’s legs don’t work so he gets around using stick braces that hook over his arms. This puts a lot of stress on Joel’s back and he had to undergo back surgery last year and is still on pain medication that has to be taken with a full meal. The problem I had was trying to find somewhere to eat in Jackson, Minnesota after 10pm. The only place still open was the Burger King drive thru so we ordered some food and ate it at one of the picnic tables outside the restaurant. At 11 even the drive thru closed and the Burger King staff turned out the outside lights. We finished our meal in the darkness and headed back to the Earth Inn Motel for a good night’s sleep to prepare for the next day’s three long games.
I woke up at 4am like normal but forced myself back to sleep until 7am since I had no beagles to walk at the Earth Inn Motel in Jackson, Minnesota. The low priced room at the Earth Inn Motel did not provide for a free breakfast so Joel and I checked out and headed to the Embers restaurant next door. Joel had this big breakfast of eggs, toast, and bacon. Eggs tend to get me sick so I decided to have a Reuben Sandwich with hash browns. For the uninitiated, a Reuben is a corn beef sandwich with swiss chess, sauerkraut and Russian dressing (which I skipped). I must have been pretty hungry since I devoured my sandwich and hash browns in record time and had a couple of cups of coffee and then it was back to the tournament for the second round.
I was the fourth seed out of 19 players but with six players taking a half point bye instead of playing the Friday night game I found myself having the black pieces against top seed Dan Voje in the second round game that started at 9am on Saturday morning. My more avid readers may find that name familiar and it should be because I played Dan on a Saturday game in this same Jackson Open with the same Black pieces in 2014. In that game I was getting crushed by Dan until his attack went wrong when I found myself a pawn ahead. Dan had less than a minute left on his clock but I made several substandard moves to cost myself the game and a chance at the championship. I got myself a big cup of cold water, squeezed a lemon into it, and sat down for my second round game.
After that game I was sick of my playing and sick to my stomach and sick that I had no chance to win the tournament. There was an odd number of players so I decided to call it a day and withdrew from the tournament and headed home around 1. I made the long defeated drive home with another gas stop in Albert Lea at which point my stomach started feeling a lot better and at 5:30 I was greeted by an enthusiastic pair of beagles that were delighted to see me and couldn’t care less about whether I lost to Dan Voje or beat Steve Heinisch or anything else unrelated to the refrigerator or an afternoon walk.
I felt kind of crummy bailing out on Sam and the tournament but ultimately I go to any chess tournament to have a good time and if I’m not feeling good I’m not having a good time and if I’m not having a good time there’s no reason to stick around. In reviewing my games in Duluth and Jackson the two trends I noticed is that my play got noticeably weaker into the third hour and I used way less time than my opponents. There’s a good reason for using less time – I run out of things to think about. The poor play late in games is more worrisome, especially if I continue to play in these longer time control tournaments. If I’m not spending time thinking I should have more energy later in the game and I don't. These aren’t new problems – they’re as familiar as the people I played in Jackson last weekend and it is a little discouraging to see that I have made little to no progress in solving them. I don’t have any more tournaments on my schedule and after a decidedly lackluster 2016 I should have plenty of time to work on these problems.