Saturday, November 21, 2009

A new era...

  After being a punching bag for our last few Marshalltown Thursday night blitz chess tournaments, I was happy to win last Thursday's tournament. I had to beat my son Matt in the last round. He has won 4 of the tournaments and had won his first 16 Marshalltown blitz games. He outranks me by 300 points and is 2-0 against me this season, but I got to play White and 'dulled' the game down until he gave up a pawn for the attack. Something went wrong with the attack, I managed to trade queens and won the ending with my extra pawn. A big weapon when playing a stronger player is the threat of a draw game. The better player will usually give up something to imbalance the position and hope to outplay the lower-rated player from there.

  I was sad to see that this year's edition of the Iowa State Chess Association (IASCA) grades chess championships draw 102 players, the 3rd lowest total since at least 1998. I took over the Iowa scholastic chess in 2006 after the lowest attendance of 82 players, down from the decade high of 187 in 2000. There were many reasons for the decline, most notably the disintegration of the Regina(Iowa City) and Center Point chess clubs. The tournament director (Steve Young) didn't help matters by taking it upon himself to berate the parents who did bring their kids when attendance was poor and this tended to derail the fine organizational work of Don Ronnfeldt. Traditionally, the scholastics are handled by someone who has a group of players in their town to provide an attendance base. Since I had no such base, I worked on communications by publishing a monthly web column, and sending e-mails to all the schools to let them know about our tournaments. This would get me in touch with schools and individuals interested in chess programs and I would get 3 or 5 or 7 players from these schools to come to the tournaments. The next 2 years, attendance at the grades tournament reversed the freefall, going from 82 to 111 to 131 players. Of course nothing recedes like success and quickly traditional tournament sites started drying up. The Iowa City scholastic contact (Steve Young) would not get me any tournament dates there for IASCA events (although he could find dates for his tournaments). To be fair to Steve, I wouldn't let him help with events after the money disappeared from the 2 events I did run with him in 2006. I helped with a tournament in Ames and the scholastic chess contact there told me point blank that Ames was his territory and he would fight me tooth and nail to keep me from running IASCA tournaments there. This left me running the main IASCA events in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids with the smaller tournaments in Creston, Marshalltown, Ankeny, or whoever would host them.

  The last straw for me and IASCA scholastics was in January 2008, when Jim Hodina decided to run a tournament in Cedar Rapids the same day as the state High School championship in Ankeny. Normally this tournament loses money and so to compensate, I'd hold a youth trophy tournament that would get me to the break even point. Jim and Eric Stumpf from Cedar Rapids had asked me if I would mind if they held an unrated tournament with minimal prizes on that date for kids in their K-4 school and I said that was OK with me since that type of player doesn't travel. Then Jim started sending me flyers from the tournament and lo and behold, it was the exact same format as my youth trophy tournament and was open for players in grades K-12. I had helped Jim out by directing the Iowa Open for him just 4 months prior and now he was running a competing tournament in terms of format and audience. It was one thing for the Steve Youngs of the world to run competing tournaments, but to compete against people who I do favors for? No thanks. Jim replaced me as Scholastic Director and has accomplished his main goal, which was to bring the Grades tournament to The Iowa City/Cedar Rapids area. The tournament drew 141 players last year due to repeated urging of the area chess players to support the tournament that had been wrenched from the Des Moines area. In the meantime there has been no IASCA scholastic events scheduled for this year in Des Moines and another rich vein of players has been lost. I also don't see the smaller groups I had cultivated continuing to play in the chess tournaments.

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