Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Chess Obituary

  3-time Iowa chess champion Tim Mc Entee recently announced his resignation as Iowa State Chess Association president and his semi-retirement from competitive chess in order to concentrate his energies on a food bank project in Des Moines.

Tim Mc Entee after winning his 3rd straight Iowa Chess championship in April 2008

  I first met Tim at the Iowa Open in late 2003. My kids were playing and Tim was going over the games of the lower rated players. Shawn Pavlik from nearby Green Mountain had shown me his first round tournament win and I watched Tim go over the game with Shawn. You would have never thought that Shawn had won this game from how Tim went over it with him. I remember Shawn missed the win of a piece (he was already up a couple of pawns) and Tim just kept saying ‘No, we don’t want to win any material, do we?”. I understand that Tim thought he was helping by pointing out all of Shawn’s mistakes, but Shawn’s confidence was devastated by the critique and didn’t win a game the rest of the tournament. I got to see Tim in action 3 weeks later in Ames at a CyChess tournament. This time the subject of his analysis was my then co-worker’s Rusty Davis’s round 1 loss. Tim’s analysis had almost everybody but Rusty in stitches. While his chess mastery was undeniable, based on my first 2 observances of him arrogant would have been one of the first words I’d have used to describe him.

  I got to know Tim a lot better in 2004 when the Iowa players would congregate on the US Chess Live internet site’s Iowa channel. He would go over all of our tournament games if you asked him to and he wasn’t nearly as caustic as I’d observed before. It was very nice to see a master’s thought process.

  When Tim was elected president of the IASCA in 2005, he did a lot of things for Iowa chess. Together, we ran a couple of the state class E championships and Tim would spare no expense for a quality event. He paid the state membership dues for new members in both of the tournaments and we signed over 40 new members between the 2 events. I’ve also seen him pull money out of his own pocket to ensure that the organizers of an event didn’t lose money.

  Tim has also taken a number of players under his wing for training sessions. He spent 8 Sundays with Matt last year to help him prepare for the National High School championships.

  I think the closing of US Chess Live reduced Tim’s interaction with a lot of Iowa’s chess players and the return of his training partner Pete Karagianis from Arizona in 2007 gave him more of an impetus to resume an active playing schedule and less desire for the administrative details of growing chess through the IASCA. I served on the board of the IASCA and found that most of the other board members’ behaviour ranged between indifference, non-cooperation, and just plain obstructionist.

  I played in a 4 man quick chess tournament with Tim in 2006 in Grinnell. He was the highest rated player in the section and I was the lowest. Tim had clinched the tournament by winning his first 5 games and in his last game, he was in a drawn endgame against the second seed when he sacrificed a rook for 2 pawns. His position became objectively lost, but he managed to win a couple of more pawns back and eventually turned his extra pawns into a new queen and won the game. I asked him why he made the sacrifice and he said ‘I’d rather have lost the game than tied it’. I’m looking forward to Tim’s eventual return to competitive chess (it is too addictive to stay away from forever), but if he brings even half that combativeness to his food bank project, hunger in Des Moines had better watch out!