Monday, October 11, 2010

Sometimes it just all works out…

  On Saturday I held my free chess tournament at the Salvation Army. I was originally going to only make it free to the participants of my local blitz tournaments, but when my friend David Coppedge gave me some extra money for some computer work I’d done for him, I removed the entry fee to see how many people I could attract with a free tournament. I had 35 signed up, but one of our local blitz players and a fellow from Iowa City didn’t show and a father who was going to play with his 2 sons called to let me know that he had scratched his cornea the day before and couldn’t drive down. I was still charging $10 for anyone who decided to play without pre-registering, so that left me with 30 players. When my youngest blitz player left for his football game, I pressed comic-magician Lee Cole into service to play in his first tournament so I’d have an even number of players.

  The tournament had 2 sections. 12 advanced players were playing in the library and beginner/intermediate players were in the bigger fellowship hall where I could set up some extra tables so the parents could keep an eye on their children. I set up my computer in a hallway in between the 2 rooms and after spending the first hour of the day moving tables and chairs into place and the second hour checking in the players and showing them to their respective playing areas, I spent the next 6 hours walking around and between the 2 rooms, answering any questions and talking with players and parents alike.

  The only major issue came up when one of the advanced players was so upset after his first round loss where he threw away a drawn game he was going to withdraw. I didn’t want to leave a player without a game for each of the 3 remaining rounds, but I managed to talk him into playing. He won his next game but then lost to Iowa Girls Champion Bethany Carson and withdrew for real with one game left. Luckily, by that time the other tournament had finished and I got one of the intermediate players to fill in for a game.

When a third grader left early to play in his football game, I pressed comic magician Lee Cole ( into service to play in his first tournament so I'd have an even number of players. Lee won 2 out of 3 games and here is displaying the first tournament pawn he has ever captured.

The beginner/intermediate section was a great group of players. There were 3 chess parents playing in their first tournament and 4 other adults along with 13 school age players. Sometimes this can be a problem because some adults hate playing kids (if they lose they feel humiliated and if they win it was just a kid…) and some kids get intimidated by playing adults or even older kids. I’ve even seen parents go nuts and start yelling at adults for playing in a 'kid’s tournament'. Pure nonsense, but it serves to get everyone upset. If I don’t want adults at a tournament I specify an age limit, but there are always those parents who need an excuse why little Billy didn’t win first prize.

  In this case, the chess parents of course knew how good the kids are and the other adults all play with kids at my club and also knew how good the kids can play. Most of the kids had already played adults before and weren’t bothered, either. When a kid comes to me with his or her worries about playing someone older, I ask them if the older player got any extra pieces to start the game and when the kids says no, they start to understand that it is the ideas you bring to the board and not the age you bring that matters. And once they beat an older player, they puff their chests out like a superhero. I also try to point out to the adults that many of the kids they will play have been in many more tournaments than them and in this tournament chess situation the kids are really the adults and the adults are really the kids. Not only is it true, it also seems to settle the adults down.

Beginner tournaments are more casual. You don't normally need a clock or even write down your moves. Lee's son Sam Cole is at the front right. His opponent Dan Troxell was playing in his first tournament other than our Thursday night quick chess matches. Sam has been playing in these types of tournaments for 6 years. In this matchup, tournament experience won out as 6th grader Sam defeated the 50+ year old computer programmer.

While the beginner games rarely took more than 40 minutes, the advanced section allowed each player 1 hour to make their moves so the game can last 2 hours. Even this is a fairly quick time limit as some of the tournaments allow each player 2 and a half hours and you can easily play chess for 15 hours in one day! In this picture, Iowa Girls Champion Bethany Carson (back left) took all 2 hours to beat Tim Crouse who is 2 rating classes above her. Bethany's dad Tim Carson (front right) also pulled off a 2 class upset over Tim Harder while sitting at the same table. The intense concentration you see here is commonplace at advanced tournaments.

  The tournaments went very smoothly, with Daniel, Charity, and Sarah Faith Carson finishing in 3 of the top 4 spots of the beginner/intermediate section. They had to play each other, but that was only after they had beaten all the other top players in their section, some of whom were higher rated than they. In the advanced section, experts Dr. Bob Keating and 13 year old Kushan Tyagi tied for the first place trophy. I had planned for a playoff game in case of a tie, but Kushan wanted to go to a party in Ames and so abdicated his playoff rights, leaving Keating with the trophy. When I mentioned that I had turned 50 the day before, the players and parents sang happy birthday to me after the awards ceremony.

  Once the tournament ended and all the prizes were given out, I had a whole new set of tasks. I cleaned up the rooms (but forgot to throw out the garbage – oops), packed up the sets and boards, and entered the tournament results with the national office to get rated. I took a break after that to watch the end of the Yankees sweep of the Twins.

  The next morning, I entered the game scores from the advanced section into my computer and loaded the games and the pictures onto the internet. Finally, I wrote a tournament summary and posted it to the state’s chess web site. And then I was almost done. I had originally scheduled the date at random and the point of the Open section was to give my son Matt a chance to play in a tournament close to home, but Saturday was the only day he could take the SAT test this month. Saturday also happened to be National Chess Day and the USCF was soliciting stories of the day’s chess events so I repackaged my article and submitted it in the hopes of getting some publicity for our chess club. Not only did USCF web site put my submission in their National Chess Day article today, my picture of Keating and Tim Killian was on the banner of the article, and there was even a picture of me way at the bottom.
You can see the article here.

  Running a tournament is a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun for me because everyone except the guy who withdrew had a good time and it is an excellent way for me to use my talents to help others. The players and parents were very appreciative and a freewill donation to the Salvation Army was well received. And getting my 15 minutes of fame on the national web site was an extra bonus. I don’t run tournaments for my personal benefit, but it was pretty cool to show my wife when I got home.

Nothing like the happy faces of the prize winners at a chess tournament.