Monday, November 8, 2010

Just Like Starting Over

  Last Saturday (October 30th), I ran my first tournament in Des Moines in over 2 years. Part of my assignment as the chess coach at St. Francis is to run 2 chess tournament at the St. Francis cafeteria that are open only to the students of the area parochial schools. I’d rather have tournaments that are open to all, but the Church is protective of their facilities and most of the parents don’t know me very well yet so this is a good proving ground.

Here's some happy prize winners.

  There were 25 players representing 5 schools at the tournament. My fellow St. Francis instructor Bill Broich helped me with the tournament, and he was a big help because while most of the kids in grades K-2 could play the beginning and middle of the game well enough, but when one kid would win all his opponents pieces, they wouldn’t know how to make a checkmate and the other kid would just keep moving into check, so Bill or I would have to babysit until the player with all the pieces eventually left his opponent with no legal moves and the game would be a stalemate or tie game. It was OK because as soon as the game was over, I could go over how to make the checkmate with the kids and parents, so everyone learned something.

  I had a good time hanging out with the kids and since the St. Francis chess club provided the trophies, I am going to be able to use the entry fees to rent a facility for the times that the St. Francis facility isn’t available for my open youth tournaments. I was surprised to see that many of the kids are members of the national chess federation, so they will be able to play in the open tournaments. Most of the kids aren’t ready for real tournament chess, but that won’t be an issue since I’ll be having companion beginner tournaments to help them get up to speed. There is nothing more discouraging to a beginning chess player than to meet kids their age that they can’t compete against, but the beginner tournaments tend to level the playing field.

  The best part of the tournament for me was when everything was put away and I was hanging out with some of the kids whose parents hadn’t come to pick them up yet. We had a great impromptu chess lesson where I played one of the kids while another wrote down the moves and then we would replay the game. We played 3 games which I won by getting more pieces out than my opponent, getting my king to safety, and then attacking the opposing king with the pieces I had developed while their defense was hampered by the fact that their pieces hadn’t moved and were unable to defend the king. In each game, the kids understood more and more about developing their pieces and I felt we connected with some one-on-one time. I wish I could give that kind of attention during the Friday classes, but with 35 kids, there is a bit more babysitting even with 3 instructors.

Intense concentration under some watchful eyes.

  My first open youth tournament is over 2 months away and I’m already wondering what kind of numbers I’ll get. Most of the Catholic School kids in Des Moines are kept busy on Saturdays with whatever sport is in season and their attendance can’t be taken for granted. My free tournament in Marshalltown drew 30 players. By comparison, a 2-day tournament in Ames drew 26 players who paid $30 to $50 each in entry fees. Of course there was a $1000 prize fund with $750 guaranteed. Last weekend’s Iowa State Chess Association (IASCA) Grades tournament in Williamsburg drew 84 players. The 2 Grades tournament I ran in Des Moines drew 111 and 131 and the 3 tournaments in Williamsburg have drawn 141,102, and now 84. Hopefully these numbers are more due to a decline in the enthusiasm for IASCA scholastics than a decline in the enthusiasm of scholastic chess players for chess. I’m just starting the publicity this week for the tournament. I’m budgeting for 25 players but I may just roll lucky 7's and get up to 50.