Once the last game of the first round finished I went to the now empty tournament room and took a half hour nap. When I woke up I found I was playing black against Lyle Hanson. Lyle looked a lot like me except he had more hair, more gray hair, and an NRA t-shirt while I was wearing my Waffle House t-shirt (I did wear a Yankees shirt on Sunday in case any of my fashion minded readers were curious). The round was delayed for a few minutes because two of the players who traveled together a few hours to the tournament were paired against each other. They asked if Alex Yemolinsky (the tournament director and grandmaster) could change the pairings. Alex is an excellent tournament director. He is tough about keeping the room quiet and starting the rounds on time but fair when it comes to traveling companions playing against each other and changed the pairings. Lyle arrived a few seconds after Alex instructed us to start our clocks so we shook hands and sat down to play without any of the occasional chit-chat that you get before tournament games.
Yes, that’s how the game went. I got crushed from the sixth move on, Lyle hung a rook, I took it and offered a draw even though I had a fairly straightforward win. Why? I defended enough that getting a win wouldn’t have been undeserved and if a guy loses a rook he likely deserves to lose. I’ve never met Lyle, didn’t know about his South Dakota urban legend status as a two time (and current) South Dakota state chess champion, and his draw in round four against the super tough Josiah Jorenby despite being two exchanges down hadn't happened yet. So to repeat myself, why offer the draw?
To be clear, I didn’t offer the draw out of some sense of sportsmanship or honor. I offered the draw because I played this game so poorly I was disgusted with myself. Now that my opponent was sinking to my level I just wanted to forget about it and get on to the next game. If Lyle had given me a rook early in the game or was outplaying me in a well-played game and then hung a rook that would be a different story. I wonder if I would have done the same if Lyle had an 1100 rating like my first round opponent and I really doubt it.
Lyle and I went over the ‘game’ and once the last game of the round finished (an epic draw between Sam and Charles Dibley) I took another nap in the tournament room before the 5pm third round. My opponent in round three was expert player Jerome Mitchell who was the third seed in the tournament behind Women Grandmaster Camilla Baginskaite (Alex Yermolinsky’s wife) and multiple time South Dakota champion chess master Nels Truelson. I sat down at the board and Jerome wasn’t at the table. Alex instructed us to start our clocks so I made my first move and started my clock. A few of the players arrived late and I noticed that two of the players started a game on the next row. They played a few moves and then one of the players got up, looked at the pairing sheet, went back to his board shaking his head, gathered his belongings, and sat down across from me! Jerome had started playing on board 13 instead of board 3. Jerome made his first move and our game began.
Jerome was very nice after the game and said I played well up to 27.Nxd4 and he had just been maneuvering to try to get me to make a mistake and if I had played 27.Nc1 he couldn’t find a breakthrough and probably would have offered a draw. I thought at the time Jerome would have kept me cramped for another hour (we each used an hour for this game and each had a half hour left) or so to squeeze the win out but now I’m not so sure. Jerome is not a tournament regular. The Sioux Falls Open was his first tournament since the 2006 World Open in Philadelphia. Jerome ended up finishing second in the tournament. I ran into him after his last round game which was a draw against WGM Baginskaite. He was almost floating and told me “I drew the GM”. I told him that he could tie for first if Truelson failed to win his game but Jerome couldn’t have cared less about winning the tournament – he was thrilled to have played a really good game.
While gasoline may be more expensive in Iowa than Minnesota and South Dakota at least there are some bargains to be had in the land of corn. This 16 ounce 'frosty cool' Coke is 10% more expensive at this Sioux Falls, South Dakota BP station than the same can at the Casey's in Marshalltown Iowa...