Friday, August 20, 2010

Iowa State Fair Chess

  I had been planning to go to the Iowa State Fair on Wednesday to play in the annual State Fair Speed Chess Tournament, but our church’s fall festival committee meetings have been on Wednesdays this year and I forgot to reschedule it at our last meeting. I was resigned to not going, but then fortune smiled on me when committee stalwarts Monica and Eldon Schneider were not going to be able to make it to the meeting and Monica told me there was going to be a church affair that would occupy a couple of other members. I jumped at the chance to cancel the meeting and made my way to the State Fair after work last night for the tournament. I missed it the last 3 years due to family vacations and working in Marshalltown and not wanting to drive down for the afternoon.

  Most people go to the fair to see the bands, livestock, the butter cow that this lady makes every year, or to be able to eat anything that can be put on a stick and smothered in grease, but I am there to play chess and try to win the coveted blue ribbon for winning first place. In 2005, I tied for 3rd with David Skaar, but lost the tie break game and had to console myself with yet another participant ribbon instead of the 3rd place white ribbon. In 2006 I did manage to win the 3rd place ribbon but it was a hollow achievement because my youngest son Ben (10 at the time) won the blue ribbon for first place, and my oldest son Matt (13) won the red ribbon for second place. So even though I could claim I was the 3rd best speed chess player in the state, I was also only the 3rd best speed chess player in my own home. When I mention this to some people they say I should be happy I’m such a good teacher, but I’d have felt a lot better if I finished first and people thought I was less of a teacher for only having the 2nd and 3rd best chess players in Iowa (and my house). Most of the best players in the state are not competing at the State Fair, but I don’t think that diminishes the bragging rights for winning a statewide tournament.

  I drove down after work, parked and paid my fair entry fee. It was over a mile walk from my car to the administration building porch where the tournament was. There were 8 people signed up for the tournament. Since Ben is retired from chess and my wife couldn’t take Matt, 2 of my biggest competitors were already out of the way. I caught another break when Tim Harder, a strong player from nearby Pleasant Hill, showed up after 5:30 and wasn’t allowed to enter. There were 2 little kids, an adult who was quite a beginner, my nemesis from 2005, David Skaar, class player Dr. Carl Peters, and rising scholastic player Cub Noble. The 8th player was Jonathan Narcisse, who is running as an independent candidate for Governor, is a successful businessman, has been on the Des Moines school board, and is on the Steve Deace show on WHO 1040 talking politics on a regular basis. It is vitally important not to get too far behind your opponent on the clock. In this tournament, each side gets five minutes for the game and there is no delay, so if you get really low on time, a lost opponent can beat you by just making random moves that don’t immediately lose and make you waste valuable seconds taking pieces they just shove in the way of yours.

  In the first round, I was able to beat one of the little kids fairly easily with the black pieces and then managed to outplay Dr. Peters in Round 2 with the white pieces and wrap the game up fairly quickly. I outrate Dr. Peters by 200 points and he is not as good in speed chess as in regular over the board chess. I got to play the other little kid in round 3 and beat him with black. At this point the only undefeated players were Skaar, Narcisse, and myself. Next up was Skaar and I had the black pieces again. David takes care of his elderly father and this is the only chess tournament he plays in except for internet chess. I’ve never beaten him with Black, but this time I won a piece right in the opening, won another piece and was cruising to victory when he started making some random moves with his rook. That got me looking at the clock and I saw that I only had 45 seconds left while he had 2 minutes. I went into overdrive, made a queen and started checking David because if I could get him to make an illegal move I’d get an extra 2 minutes as his penalty. He didn’t make any illegal moves, but used up so much time making sure his moves were legal that I was able to collect my wits, capture his remaining pieces, and checkmate him with 3 seconds left on my clock.

  Now I had the white pieces against Narcisse. We started right away after my game with Skaar finished, which was a mistake on my part. I should have taken a minute to take a few deep breaths and slow my mind down after the frantic finish of the previous game. Also since we were playing on an outdoor porch, it was very hot and sunny and I could have used the iced tea I had brought with me. I started OK against Jonathan, but moved too fast, got too fancy for my own good and missed a check that lost me a piece and went down quickly. As it turns out, Jonathan outrates me by 200 points but hasn’t played in a tournament in 13 years. He just plays at the Borders Book Store club in Des Moines on Tuesday mornings. I managed to beat the adult player who was just a beginner and then played Cub Noble from Ankeny in the last round. We played a few quick games in Des Moines last November and I beat him a couple of times, but lost the last game we played when I got more involved with giving him pointers than just playing chess. During the middle of the game, Cub attacked my bishop with a pawn and I completely forgot about it, made an inconsequential move, and lost my bishop for nothing! What a maroon (as Bugs Bunny would say). Luckily, I managed to keep his king from castling which kept one of his rooks from getting in the game so I wasn’t really behind a piece as long as I could keep the rook in the corner. Cub got very low on time, gave me back the piece, and I checkmated him just before he ran out of time. Jonathan beat David to go 7-0 and I was in second at 6-1. David and Cub tied for 3rd, but David won the tiebreak game to take the white ribbon.
From Participant to 3rd to 2nd.
There is only one step left in my Iowa State Fair Chess Journey.

  I was disappointed at not finishing first, but happy to get the second place ribbon. One problem with playing chess is that if you don’t get the desired result, you can only place the blame on the guy looking at you in the mirror. But I had a great time playing and catching up with tournament organizer Ben Munson, Skaar and the other players, and meeting Jonathan Narscisse in person. Jonathan outplayed me and deserved first. I told him I’ll vote for him for governor and I’ll put up a yard sign for him if he’ll give me one. It would be great to have a chess-playing governor. And if he wins, he might be too busy to play in next year’s tournament!