Thursday, September 3, 2015

2015 Jackson Open - It Ain't Over Till It's Over But When It's Over It's Over

The new focus staple or the latest fad...
  You many have noticed that all through the past three posts about the Jackson Open I haven’t mentioned one word about AMP Focus Energy, my preferred beverage to meet my energy and hydration needs. That’s because the good folk at AMP Energy drinks redesigned their product line earlier this year and AMP Focus Energy has been discontinued. Taking AMP Focus Energy’s place in the AMP product line were fancy flavors like Strawberry-Limeade and Passion Fruit and zero calorie flavors Blueberry-White Grape and Watermelon. All of these new flavors have Caffeine and B-Vitamins but none of them offer the promise of increased concentration of AMP Focus Energy.

  I drank lots of AMP Focus Energy at last year’s Jackson Open and given my pedestrian play didn’t think it helped me much if at all. After my poor play at the Okoboji Blitz I paid a lot more attention to nutrition and sleep habits at Jackson – I drank water with lemon juice instead of energy drinks, got plenty of naps, ate an apple after each game, and snacked on a few almonds during the games. This was all as planned but I still wanted to have something for a little boost in case I needed it. When I got to the Casey’s at Marshalltown Iowa to fill up my car with $2.64 a gallon gasoline I saw a tiny bottle in a large cardboard container on a rack with the letters ‘FOCUS’ printed on the container in large letters.

  The two and a half ounce bottle was called REFocus. The RE stands for ‘Rushmore Essentials’ which is the parent company and the ingredients were 21 fruit juices that made up the product along with ginseng (and green tea to provide caffeine). There were no other extra sugars, sucralose, or aspartame to add sweetness but there were also no added chemicals like choline, taurine, guanine, or kerosene that went into most of the other energy drinks. The company also makes REVive, REShape, and REBuild and they all are in the same little bottles with green tea and 21 ‘all-natural superfruits’ with REFocus having added protein and ginseng, REShape having added Yacon Syrup and REBuild with added protein. If I owned the company I’d make a product called REIncarnate and watch the money roll in. I doubted the REFocus would help but since I wasn’t likely to find anything better between the Casey’s in Marshalltown Iowa and Jackson, Minnesota I plunked down $7 for two bottles and made my way to Jackson.

Ian Stone
  When I woke up from my nap after my game with Joe there was still one game finishing up on a lower board. Top seed Dan Voje won his game to maintain the only perfect score with three wins and there were four players a half point behind : myself, second seed Josiah Jorenby, Ian Stone (one of Riaz Khan’s traveling companions), and Minneapolis teenager Franklin Zhou. I expected Josiah to play Dan while I would play Franklin with Ian playing someone with in the next score group since he was the lowest rated player of the four. Once again my expectations were wrong but this time it had nothing to do with the pairing software. Franklin decided to go home instead of playing the last round which left me playing Ian Stone on board two in the quiet room reserved for the top players in the tournament.

  Ian is a college student from the University of Minnesota with a distinct Irish accent. I didn’t know anything about him but since he came with Riaz I assumed that he was one of the Chess Castle crowd and therefore as tough as nails over the board as I have found every Chess Castle player to be.

  My tournament situation was dependent on the board one game between Josiah and Dan. If Josiah won or drew I could sneak into a tie for first with a win. If Dan won a draw would assure me of a tie for second place while a win would give me second place and $200 all by myself. I was back in the extra quiet room reserved for the top players in the tournament and had earned the right for the final round instead of merely being a guest as I was in round two. I got myself a large cup of water and squeezed a half a lemon in it. I felt like i needed a little boost so I poured a bottle of REFocus drinkinto my lemon water and started my game with Ian.

Top board tension!! In the super quiet top board room I battle Ian while 10 yards away Josiah and Dan fight for first place. Notice how on each board the player have adopted the same placement of their hands. I don't know whether this is some sort of subliminal one-upmanship, psychic sympathetic stuff, or just my own psycobabble....

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of

  I felt then and I feel now that this was an excellently played game on my part where I outplayed my opponent. Excellent but not perfect. I missed the way to win an extra pawn on move 30 as well as the Nc6 follow-up to winning a pawn on move 18. I was quite impressed with my REFocus drink – I spent plenty of time on the critical moves and although I didn’t come up with the right answers I never thought I was thinking in circles. Once Dan Voje won his game and locked me out of a chance to sneak into a first place tie I saw no reason to try to win this game but if first place was on the line Ian and I might still be playing. Objectively the game might have been a draw but with the extra pawn I would have been happy to keep playing to see if I could trick or exasperate Ian into making another mistake. As it turned out I only had one goal left to attain from the 2015 Jackson Open and that was to finish high enough to cash in which the draw made a reality.

  Slowly and surely the other boards finished up and when the dust settled I finished in a six way tie for second and collected $65 dollars which was half the price of my $131 room at the EconoLodge. Ironically if I had won my last game I would have collected $200 which was $135 more than $65 and just enough to have paid for my $131 room at the EconoLodge. I helped Sam get the tournament rated, Dan Voje and I helped Sam set the church hall for Sunday, and at 9pm Saturday I headed home from Jackson 35 hours after leaving Marshalltown.

I'm not often a winner in this world so it was a special pleasure to take a place with the Jackson Open prize winners!

  I drove through 80 miles of the worst rain I ever drove through on my way home which gave me extra time to reflect on this year’s Jackson Open. I met almost all my goals – I cashed, played aggressively, took my time, had excellent stamina, and as a bonus was undefeated. Part of the reason I had more stamina this year was that my games only lasted five and a half hours compared to nine like last year. I was far from perfect – I missed shots and drifted into a lost position against Joe but overall I was really pleased with my performance and especially how I took my time at critical points in the games.

  The Jackson Open is the only weekend chess tournament I’ve played in since 2012 so I treat it like a big deal to play in which to me it is. Sam ran a great tournament, the new playing hall was tremendous, and just like Okoboji everyone gets along great. I had a great time and played so well that the possibility exists that I may have hit another chess gear even though I’m barreling towards 55 years old. This possibility has me planning on playing in another weekend chess tournament later this month. The one goal I didn't reach was to win the tournament and get my name on the Flores Cup of Jackson Open champions but I’ve been at it just four years and the 2016 Jackson Open is only 50 weeks away!

Monday, August 31, 2015

2015 Jackson Open - If You Can't Be Good It's Good To Be Lucky

  After Josiah and I had finished going over our game and before my nap I hung out with Okoboji Open organizer Jodene Kruse and Joe Hall-Reppen for a little while. Jodene organizes the Okoboji Open each year and I see Joe at Okoboji and Jackson almost every year. Joe is in his 20s, works at a radio station, and is a volunteer chess teacher in Algona which is 20 miles east of Cylinder and 70 miles southwest of Jackson. Joe is a reader of my blog and when we get to Okoboji we generally talk about basketball but on this day we talked about who we thought we would be playing in the next round.

Joe Hall-Reppen
  Joe thought that we would play against each other. I hadn’t given a lot of thought to my next opponent but then I started thinking about it. Joe was one of the eight players who took a half point bye instead of playing Friday night. There were no draws Friday night so the players who took half point byes played each other on Saturday morning. Joe played the lowest rated player of the group and won his game. There were three players with two points and seven players with 1 and a half points including Joe and myself. I assumed that as highest rated player with a point and a half Josiah Jorenby would play one of the players with two points. That would leave six players in our score group and as the third highest rated player in that group I expected to play the lowest rated player among us who would have been Amir. Amir had the half point from the first round and collected a point in round two when his opponent failed to show up. The computer did not agree with my expectations. It kept Josiah from playing one of the 2-0 players because of color considerations and then did some more color magic to give him sixth seed Amir while making Joe’s prediction come true by pairing him with me.

  Sam asked me to look over the pairings which put me in a tough situation since competitively speaking playing the lowest seed would give me a chance at a very easy game and the chance for another nap heading into the last round. The thought crossed my mind because I thought that was the correct pairing but I didn’t want to write in my blog how I gamed the pairings in my favor. I did notice that Sam had put the results from the forfeits in the prior rounds as if they were played. That may have affected the color considerations the computer was using so I suggested he correct the results and do the pairings over. After all that was done nothing changed in the pairings so I sat down on board 5 to play Joe with the Black pieces. After playing my second round game in the quiet of the special room reserved for the top two boards, the main playing hall seemed like a blur of activity and noise. Actually the playing hall was quieter than most libraries but after spending my last game in the quietest room I ever played in every sharp inhale after a blunder, rustle of clothing as a player walked past my board to see the nearby crosstable, and gurgle of sipped water seemed louder than the music blaring from the passing cars during my daily walks with Daisy and Baxter.

  I’ve seen Joe play at Jackson and Okoboji every year but didn’t remember any of his games. I did remember that he used to play in the open section at Okoboji and pull off some early upsets but couldn’t maintain his momentum. When I researched Joe’s chess tournaments for this post I saw that he had one of his best tournament results a few weeks ago when he finished second in the Missouri Class Championships, and gained almost 150 rating points. I also found out we were both in Skokie, Illinois for the US Game 60 and US Game 30 championship in 2008 which was years before we ever met. Before we started our game I reminded myself to be aggressive and take a minute before every move after the opening but my mind had a mind of its own.

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of

  Joe was disgusted with himself after this game. He completely outplayed me over the first 17 moves and just fell apart. I could relate because I’ve been there and done that plenty myself over the years and I’ll try to remember this game the next time I fall apart. For my part in this game I was awful and awfully lucky. I started off taking my time but as my position got worse and worse I lost my discipline and started moving really fast. I’ve been working with my students on a method of thought to help them decide what move to play. My mantra has been for them to look for ‘checks, captures, and undefended pieces’ but in this game I missed a simple double attack on two undefended pieces. Not only did I miss it during the game Joe and I both missed it again when we went over the game. I gave lessons on Saturday and showed the position to my students and they all found the double attack effortlessly.

  Our game took a little over an hour which meant that I had spent about as much time on the middle two games of the tournament combined than I did in my first round game. Depending on how the other games finished I would be no worse than a half point out of the lead heading into the final round. So far the tournament had broken perfectly for me. When I needed to grind out a win against Mark in the first round I was a grinder, when I needed to be at the top of my game against Josiah I was at the top of my game, and when I needed to be lucky against Joe I was lucky. I had been focused on trying to play good moves up to now and not thinking about winning and losing but as I found my way back to the recliner in the back of the church for another nap I knew that I could tie for first if I could find one more win in the last round.

Friday, August 28, 2015

2015 Jackson Open - Diary of a Wimpy Chess Player

  I had a great night sleep in my $131 room at the Econo(NOT)Lodge in Jackson, Minnesota after my round one victory against Mark Hansen on Friday night at the Jackson Open. I woke up refreshed and relaxed but it was only 4am – my normal wake up time. I didn’t have any beagles to walk and I had the potential of nine hours of chess ahead of me so I went back to sleep and refused to get out of bed until 7:30 which was the latest I’ve woken up in over 10 years.

John, Edna, and their 3D globe puzzle
  After waking up I headed to the EconoLodge’s complimentary breakfast but before I could get there this elderly couple called me over. The husband was named John and the wife Edna which I knew because they were wearing nametags that said so and I didn’t think they were identity thieves. Edna wasn’t much of a talker but John wanted to know where I was from and what roads I used to get to Jackson. I excused myself to get a small cup of coffee, two slices of toast, and some apple juice. When I returned a few minutes later I told John and Edna that I was from Marshalltown Iowa by way of New Jersey and mentioned in detail all three highways I took to travel to Jackson (Iowa 30 west, Interstate 35 north, and Interstate 90 west). Edna said that Marshalltown sounded familiar and wondered if she had heard about it in the news. I casually mentioned she likely had since Marshalltown is the corpse abuse capital of Iowa (you can read about it here) and made the national headlines last week yet again when a former resident was killed after an exchange of gunfire at a North Carolina Church (If you don't believe me, click here!).

  Edna’s eyes started to get a little glassy so John changed the subject by asking me what I thought of the 3D globe puzzle on the table. I mentioned that I prefer flat puzzles and John agreed with me, telling me ‘I was his kind of guy’. Then Edna squinted at me and asked who I came to the reunion with. I’ve never seen ‘Wedding Crashers’ or ‘Catch Me If You Can’ and told Edna and John I was in town to play in a chess tournament. They weren’t very impressed and I saw Edna reach into her purse for her pepper spray. I quickly mentioned that the tournament was at the Jackson United Methodist Church. Edna took her finger off the pepper spray trigger and they both warmed up a bit since they were quite religious. John told me that there were over 150 people in town for their every three year family reunion and that there were relatives from Florida, Nevada, California, and even Iowa but none from New Jersey. The reason they held the reunion in Jackson was because their genealogy goes back to a young girl that survived an Indian massacre of the 1800’s by hiding in a corn field in what is now Jackson County Minnesota.

  I wish I could have heard more about John and Edna’s family history (and they had a lot of their own history since they are married 64 years and counting) but it was almost 8:30 and I had to get to the tournament so I said my goodbyes, checked out of my room, and headed back to the Jackson United Methodist Church for a full day of chess.

  I drove the mile and a half to the church, arriving just a little past 8:30. Sam and some of the other players were there. Sam was still waiting to see if any new players would arrive and hadn’t printed the pairings. Since I was the sixth ranked of the 10 first round winners I knew I’d be playing either top seed Dan Voje or second seed Josiah Jorenby depending on who had what color in the first round. Dan mentioned to me that if we played I could get revenge for my defeat to him at last year’s Jackson Open. I like Dan and really enjoy chatting with him. I said revenge wasn’t on my mind since I couldn’t do anything about last year but I wouldn’t mind another crack at him. Dan said that was very philosophical of me and I said it was just the truth. I was there on this Saturday to play chess and not think about what happened last year, last month, yesterday, or tomorrow. I just wanted to play a good game, make 40 or so good moves, and if I did happen to play Dan I would want to win for this year and this day.

Josiah Jorenby
  Dan and I both had the black pieces in the first round so I was paired against Josiah Jorenby on board 2 in the special room reserved for the top boards. I wrote about how Josiah scored 3.5 out of five in Okoboji this past April, scoring a win and a draw in his two games against masters. As if that wasn’t intimidating enough we’ve played six blitz games on and I haven’t beaten Josiah yet, scoring two draws to go along with four losses. I think Josiah is a great young man and I like him, his dad, and his sister Destiny but I wasn’t looking forward to playing this South Dakota State University student that was rated 200 points higher than me, had clearly found another gear, beat me like a drum when we played online, and was less than half my age! In my opinion there’s only one way to approach a game like this when you are outmatched and that is to not play like you are outmatched. Everyone is human and not above making a mistake or two. If you are an attacking player then attack. If you like to play for the endgame then by all means play for the endgame. I think players play better by playing to their strengths. If your opponent is better then make him or her prove it by playing your best instead of resorting to gimmickry. I was determined to stick to the goals I laid out by taking my time and being aggressive against the stronger player. If I played like the best me I can currently play like I would be happy to take my chances against Josiah and accept whatever result came my way.

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of

  This was one of the weirdest and wildest games I ever played. I’ve never played against the Dzindzi-Indian defense in a tournament but I’ve seen John Bartholomew play with and against it on his excellent YouTube channel so I wasn’t totally unfamiliar with it. I understood the e4 line better than any of the other white systems and as much as I hated being down a pawn it was an excellent practical decision to keep the initiative and try to bust Josiah up the middle of the board instead of meekly defending my weak queen side pawns. If I had gone on the defensive I would have been giving the superior player a no-risk position where he could try to outplay me. My moves seemed logical at the time and even though I spent over a minute a move after the opening I took only 20 minutes for the game (Josiah took 30 minutes for his moves). My longest think was when I spent four minutes deciding to trade knights on move 12. I spend two minutes deciding on 17. Bd3. I chose that move because I was worried about Rf5 but perhaps if I’d spent more time there I would have seen the strength of f4.

  Josiah and I spent an hour going over this game afterwards which was longer than the game itself lasted. We found 17.Bf1 for me and 11…Ne5 and 14…Qg7 for Josiah in our post-mortem. There were a lot of tricks that we both sidestepped. I thought it was a well-played game at the time and Mr. Fritz didn’t find much to quibble with when I got home.

  Despite the title of this blog post (which I couldn't resist using) I believe this was one of the best games I’ve played in years and despite its shortish nature one of the more intense games I ever played. I didn’t back down, stayed on the attack, and made no serious errors. The only thing I didn’t do was win the game which Josiah had quite a lot to do with. I would have liked to played on in the roughly equal endgame to see how I matched up against a top flight player like Josiah but in the larger context of my goals for the tournament a win wouldn't have helped nearly as much as a loss would have hurt my chances so if taking the draw was a wimpy move, call me wimpy! The draw meant that if I wanted to win a cash prize I needed to get at least a win and draw in my last two games and I’d have to go 2-0 to have any chance of winning the tournament (Dan Voje and two other players were perfect at at 2-0) but at least I still had chances which I wouldn't have had if I'd lost. The Jorenbys left for lunch and I ate an apple and took a nap on a recliner in the church’s kiddie room to rest up for the second half of the tournament.

Monday, August 24, 2015

2015 Jackson Open - The Econo-NOT-Lodge

  I headed to Minnesota last Friday to play in Sam Smith’s Jackson Open Super Reserve. This was the fourth year in a row I’ve played in this tournament which is only open to non-experts. I don’t drive 240 miles to Jackson for a chess tournament every year because I have a better chance of winning a top prize with no experts around. I come to Jackson every year because I get to hang out with Sam, Jodene Kruse, Riaz Khan and the rest of the crowd I only get to see once or twice a year and because I feel welcomed. And the fact that I have a better chance of winning a top prize because there are no experts around doesn’t hurt either!

  In my previous three attempts to win the Jackson Open and get my name inscribed on the Flores Cup I’ve won five games, lost three games, and had two draws. Every year the pattern was similar – I’d play lower ranked players in the first two rounds to be among the leaders and then lose to one of the top seeds in round three. In my first two Jackson attempts I was so exhausted after my third round game I withdrew from the tournament and took a nap before heading home. I broke that string last year when I played in the fourth and final round after losing to a top seed in round three.

  Last year at Jackson I had only one goal - to play in all four rounds of the tournament. I had slightly more ambitious goals this year:
  1. Play all four rounds It's good have an attainable goal and keeping it in mind would help remind me to conserve my energy for the long haul.
  2. Be aggressive against the stronger players Last year I had cramped positions in my games against Sam and top seed Dan Voje. This year I wanted to make sure I had active positions.
  3. Take at least one minute on each move after my opening knowledge was exhausted I wanted to avoid playing in the too fast fashion that led to a blunder that cost me second place last year.
  4. Win a cash prize I’ve never won a cash prize at Jackson which requires finishing in the top three. Winning three out of four games has historically been good enough for a top three finish.
  5. Win the tournament and get my name on the Flores Cup A long term goal but well within my capabilities any year with good form and the right breaks.

On the left is $2.64 Casey's gas in Marshalltown, Iowa - home to a Republican Governor that accused his opponent of plotting to raise the gasoline tax during his last election and then raising the tax himself months after his reelection. One the right is $2.59 gasoline at a Casey's in Jackson, Minnesota - a state that elected profession wrestler Jesse 'The Body' Ventura as Governor and Saturday Night Live writer Al Franken as Senator. Is it any wonder that Donald Trump is so popular with Republicans?

  I woke up at 4am as usual and after going on walks with Daisy and Baxter at 4:30 and 9:00 left for Jackson shortly after 10am. I didn’t want to get loaded up on coffee too early in the day so I stopped at the Casey’s General Store on my way out of town to fill my Chevy Spark with $2.64 a gallon gasoline (THANK YOU GOVERNOR TERRY BRANSTAD, REPRESENTATIVE MARK SMITH AND ALL OF THE OTHER LEGISLATORS WHO RAISED THE GASOLINE TAX BY ANOTHER 10 CENTS A GALLON THIS YEAR!) and got a Naked Juice Blue Machine drink which I sipped all the way to Mason City. I didn’t want to load up on a bunch of food like I did in April by wolfing down a fried egg cheeseburger and plate of rueben bites at Cylinder Iowa's famous Rack Shack like I did before going 0-5 at the Okoboji Blitz. Instead of stopping at some diner or restaurant to load up on more calories than I can burn in a month I packed a bologna sandwich along with apples, lemons, grapes, and almonds. I munched on the almonds until I got to Mason City and then stopped at a rest station and ate my bologna sandwich.

  After eating my sandwich I drove the additional 100 miles to Jackson non-stop and arrived at the EconoLodge in Jackson, Minnesota at 2:30. I’ve stayed at the EconoLodge in Jackson, Minnesota twice before and found it to be a clean, quiet, inexpensive motel. I made the reservation last week over the phone and didn’t think to ask about the price. This was a big mistake since the room for one night in 2015 cost $131! I asked if there was some sort of mistake and the owner/clerk said I could have gotten 3% off if I asked for the AAA discount when I made my reservation. I checked my credit card bill from last year and the same room at the same time of the year for the same Friday night cost $93!

Rusty refrigerators and water in place of juice at the breakfast bar - and all for $131 a night at the EconoLodge in Jackson, Minnesota

  I got to my room which was #23 of the EconoLodge in Jackson, Minnesota. I saw nothing worth an additional $38 except the racks on the refrigerator were all rusted out and the toilet barely flushed. I did notice at the complimentary breakfast the next day that there was no bowl of watermelon in the little refrigerator and that the cranberry and grapefruit juice slots in the juice dispenser had been replaced by handwritten signs that simply said ‘water’.

  I didn’t really care as much about the rusted refrigerator racks or watermelon or cranberry juice in the EconoLodge in Jackson, Minnesota as I cared about the extra $38 dollars I had to pay for the same room as last year. I made a mental note to make mention of the 'EconoLodge in Jackson, Minnesota' in my blog post as much as possible so it will get on all the Google searches and took a nap at 3. In April I didn’t take a nap before the Okoboji Blitz which (in addition to my 3,000+ calorie lunch) contributed to my Olympic ring (5 zeroes) performance.

  I woke up from a great nap at 5:30 and headed over to the playing site. In past years, the tournament was held in the Senior Center and Library with the courtyard in between the two buildings serving as a skittles area. The library is undergoing construction this summer so Sam held this year's edition at the Jackson United Methodist Church. When I got to the church, Sam was setting up and I was the first player to arrive. I liked the playing hall a lot. In prior years the top five boards would play in the library and the bottom boards would play in the Senior Center. The church hall had enough room for all the players with the top two boards having their own large quiet room with glass walls that allowed for the other players to admire their top two board-ness and view the games without disturbing them.

  Sam was excited and rightly so; the tournament had 24 players signed up which would make it the second biggest Jackson Open ever. Sam doesn’t put the tournament on to make money – he puts the tournament on because he loves chess and wants to show off his town to the chess players and vice versa. Sam showed me the entry list and it looked to be a pretty strong crowd despite the absence of three time defending champion Eric Bell due to his passing the 2000 rating mark and being no longer eligible.

  There were five players rated higher than myself and two more that were among the eight players that were arriving Saturday and taking a half point for the Friday night round. Then players started arriving for Friday night’s round one, including Riaz Khan. Riaz is a big supporter of the Jackson Open and brought two other players from Minneapolis’ Chess Castle crowd with him. Riaz asked me where I was staying and I recounted my tale of the unexpected $131 bill from the EconoLodge in Jackson, Minnesota. Riaz had a laughing fit and told me that he paid $150 total at the Earth Inn for three separate rooms (one for him and one each for his two traveling companions). Riaz was really enjoying my unsavvy consumerism and called me Hank Moneybags or Hank the Bank – I forget which. I was making a mental note to call the Earth Inn next year and when my facebook and friends Destiny and Josiah Jorenby showed up to register on site. I excused myself and chatted with the Jorenbys and their dad, being careful not to mention anything about lodging or the $131 I paid for a room at the EconoLodge in Jackson, Minnesota.

On the left is the church hall at the Jackson United Methodist Church. On the right is my round one opponent Mark Hansen.

  Sam waited to make sure all the players had arrived and we had the final pairings at 7:10. With Josiah’s arrival I became the 7th seed in the evening session and was scheduled to have the black pieces against Mark Hansen. Mark is a short muscular guy in his 40s who moved and talked slowly like he maybe had suffered a stroke. Mark was rated 1435, 250 points below me and likely more than capable of beating me if I wasn’t on my game. Two years ago I gave up a first round draw and was still able to play the top seed for the third round but with so many higher rated players this year I had to win this game to have a chance to cash in the tournament. A must win game fit nicely with my goal to be aggressive. Mark and I shook hands and my 2015 Jackson Open was underway.

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of
  Mark used 53 minutes and I used 60. I felt like I pushed the action for the most part and except for my soft Be7 move was fairly aggressive throughout. Mark played well but was unfocused about where to put his pieces in the beginning of the game and wasted time with h3 and f3. I spend the bulk of my time deciding to take on g2 and got it mostly right. I missed the timing and nearly got my knight trapped but in the end a pawn is a pawn and the extra pawn ended up winning the game for me.

There's no better treat than an Old Trapper beef stick from SuperAmerica (Home of $2.59 gas)!

  All the top seeds except one made it through the first round with a win and I was happy to have my first point. In my previous Jackson Opens I started as the fifth seed. The difference between being the fifth seed and the seventh seed was that instead of playing a lower rated player in the second round I’d be playing one of the top seeds. I played the top seed in the third round in my three previous trips to Jackson with a 0-3 record so I thought it might help to play the top player first thing in the morning. None of that mattered until the next day so I headed back to my $131 room at the EconoLodge in Jackson, Minnesota to get a good night’s sleep. I felt like I deserved a reward for my victory so I stopped at the SuperAmerica convenience store for a snack. The BrokenPawnophiles amongs my readership will remember that last year I was able to purchase two Old Trapper beef sticks for a dollar from the Jackson, Minnesota SuperAmerica convenience store and that Daisy and Baxter were soon hoping we’d all move to Minnesota. The SuperAmerica still had the Old Trapper beef sticks but at a 38% price increase of 69 cents apiece. I bought one Old Trapper Beef Stick and ate it while sitting in my $131 room at the EconoLodge in Jackson, Minnesota. The Old Trapper beef stick was as awesome as the two I had last year and I was soon fast asleep with the prospect of three long games of chess on Saturday.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Understanding Participation and Winning

  After a summer off from running youth chess tournaments the school year has started and I am slowly getting my fall schedule of tournaments set up. I didn’t run summer tournaments for a number of reasons. There was the (unfulfilled) possibility that I would have to make trips to California for the project I was working on, the ever increasing cost of renting the outdoor shelter I had been using for my summer tournaments, and the poor attendance of my summer tournaments last year at a church on the south side of Des Moines.

  I was talking with a sponsor about my lack of summer tournaments and they offered me the use of their company board room. The board room was a great playing site with leather chairs and rectangular wood tables that were perfect for chess boards. There was only room for about a dozen players and parents so I had a free invitational tournament that gave eight former champions of my youth tournaments the chance to play a one day tournament in really nice conditions.

  The tournament was a success. The players and their parents all appreciated the great playing conditions and everyone got along before, during, and after the games. As a bonus the company bought Subway sandwiches for all the players and parents. I didn’t offer any prizes for this tournament – not even the participation medals I give to everyone who attends my regular youth tournaments. Before the tournament started one of the players asked about prizes and I told them that the Subway sandwich was their prize which got a good laugh from the players.

  I didn’t give too much thought to not having prizes for the invitational tournament and I didn’t give too much thought to having trophy prizes and participation medals for my fall tournaments until I saw this story in USA Today sports section about how NFL football player James Harrison is returning the participation trophies his 6 and 8 year old sons received for a summer youth activity.

  Harrison wrote "I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies! While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. I'm sorry I'm not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I'm not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best...cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better...not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy. #harrisonfamilyvalues".

  I especially liked the reference to ‘#harrisonfamilyvalues’ which I hope doesn’t include his 2008 arrest for domestic violence. It probably doesn’t since the charges were reduced to simple assault and criminal mischief after Harrison agreed to undergo domestic abuse counseling. What Harrison does in his spare time is no business of mine – I was just letting my mind wander and wouldn’t have brought it up until I saw the ‘family values’ phrase.

  Two years ago I wrote about the Keller Youth Association Football League’s decision to do away with their participation trophies and the reaction to that decision. The decision didn’t bother me as much as the derision that accompanied the entire concept of participation trophies. This year’s reactions were no exception. USA Today columnist Nancy Armour wrote about Harrison’s decision this week and came down hard against giving out participation awards saying “If we're honest with ourselves, the trophies, ribbons and medals we hand out so willingly are more about us than the children getting them. It's affirmation that our kids are as wonderful as we think they are. It's also a way to fool ourselves into thinking that we're sheltering them, at least temporarily, from the cold, cruel world.The accompanying rebuttal piece quoted trophy manufacturers asking that they not be blamed for fostering an 'entitlement mentality' along with a HBO Real Sports video showcasing how much money is in the trophy business.

  Conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh took to the airwaves to compare participation trophies to 'Political Correctness', saying “There are no starters and there are no bench players because everybody plays. You get trophies for simply showing up. We are never allowed to crown champions because not everybody can be one and to do so humiliates those who lose, and we will not do that… Look! It's a perfect example of what I'm saying! Here you have a series of leftists all over the media agreeing? You would think they would back up the PC version. You would think these are the people that would rake Harrison over the coals for being insensitive and not understanding the plight of children, how they all can't be champions and so forth, and yet everybody falls in line.

  I have to admit the trophies Harrison’s kids received were pretty nice and far beyond what I would expect of a participation award. Its even called a 'student-athlete award' which sounds like more than a participation award. Since Harrison references that kids shouldn’t ‘cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy’ I wonder if his kids cried and whined until someone gave them these trophies to shut them up. If that’s the case then I’m with Harrison – he should have taken those trophies away. But perhaps these are merely participation trophies which were earned by participating. They don’t say ‘WINNER’ or ‘CHAMPION’ or ‘FIRST PLACE’.

  When I first wrote about this topic I saw no reason to stop giving out participation medals at my tournaments and two years later I still see no reason to stop. I don’t know if Nancy Armour has ever given anyone anything but I have given out almost two thousand participation medals at my youth chess tournaments over the past five years and I am not trying to fool myself or shelter children from the cold cruel world – I’m just giving participants a memento of a tournament. A chess tournament where winning and losing can turn on the smallest of oversights or a tiny lapse of attention is plenty cold and cruel with or without a participation medal or trophy. I admit that Armour is a little right when she says the participation medals I give out are about me. They are about me in the sense that I design a different medal for each tournament and assemble them myself. It is my way of thanking the participants for participating.

  Rush Limbaugh equates participation awards with not being allowed to crown champions because the losers are humiliated. I still crown champions and kids know who the best and worst of them are at any activity before any championship awards are given out, The kids that are going to get upset by losing are not going to feel better by receiving a participation award and the kids that don’t worry about losing aren’t going to get upset because they don’t receive an award. They are just kids playing a game and recognizing their participation is not a life changing event one way or the other.

  I believe that you should get what you earn and if a participation trophy or medal is earned by participating that sounds reasonable to me. The South Snohomish, Washington softball team earned a playoff spot in the softball Little League World Series by winning their first three games in pool play, including a win over the Central Iowa Little League team. The South Snohomish team then lost 8-0 in the final pool play game to North Carolina. The win created a three way tie between North Carolina, South Snohomish, and Iowa with Iowa losing out on one of the two playoff spots by tiebreak.

  The Iowa team filed a protest, saying the South Snohomish team did not use their best players and bunted on every at bat in order to lose the game and deny Iowa a playoff spot because they did not want to meet Iowa in the playoffs. The protest was upheld and a playoff game was ordered between South Snohomish and Iowa. Iowa won the playoff game to get into the Little League World Series in which they were promptly eliminated.

  The same USA Today newspapers and other media pundits that lauded James Harrison’s decision to return his children’s participation trophies with proclamations that you must earn what you get in life and only winners should be rewarded are silent when it comes to the losing Iowa softball team getting another crack at the Little League World Series by complaining and protesting about a game that they weren’t even competing in. Silence also accompanied the South Snohomish softball team being penalized for clinching their spot in the playoffs so early that they could choose to not compete in their last game and influence the competition they had to play.

  I don’t understand South Snohomish purposely losing a game because I think it’s better to maintain momentum just like I don’t understand NFL teams with 13-0 records resting their players instead of trying to go undefeated but I believe they earned the right to conduct their final pool play game however they wanted by virtue of their dominant play in the first three games. I don’t understand why James Harrison would have his children participate in an activity that gives out participation trophies if he doesn’t want his children to get participation trophies. And the thing I really don’t understand is why so many feel so much anger towards participation awards.