Sunday, June 19, 2011

A day of outdoor chess

Chess in the great outdoors!

  I held my first outdoor chess tournament yesterday at Pioneer Park in Des Moines. Because the kids got cabin fever after a few hours at the May tournament, I designed this one to start at 11:00 and be over by 1:30 with the kids getting 3 games in. Since I had the covered shelter rented for the entire day, I held a cash tournament in the afternoon.

  It was nice being able to leave for the tournament at 8:30 instead of 7. It was barely raining when I got to the park. Half of the picnic benches had been moved from the shelter to some trees over a hundred yards away, but enough tables were left for the players that signed up. I got someone to help me carry one table back and it was heavy enough to convince me to leave the rest alone. Most of the parents were prepared for a picnic lunch anyway and had brought the lawn chairs that parents bring to watch their kids play sports.

  I quickly set up the tournament and the players all arrived between 10:30 and 11:00. There were just 17 players and 4 parents and I got them all signed up and playing just a few minutes after 11. When the kids were done playing, they’d head over to the nearby playground area and enjoy themselves in the sight lines of their parents. The tournament was over by 1 but some of the kids and parents hung around and played until 2. An adult player from Illinois, Guy Kittilsen came over between 12 and 1 for the adult tournament that was going to start at 2:30. He was on a business road trip in Iowa and decided to get in a chess tournament while he was in the area. Guy played chess with some of the parents and kids, giving impromptu lessons while playing them. Then Jose Gatica showed up. Jose lives in Kansas but taught chess at 2 of the local schools this year and is in the process of moving to Des Moines to be a full time chess teacher. I am working with Jose on a chess camp in July and he came up to play in the adult tournament and iron out the course curriculum.

The cash tournament was mostly adults. It was pretty quiet until the family with the ATV showed up.


  I had only 6 players signed up for the adult tournament, but when Guy and 2 other players came to play I had 9. I was planning on playing, but with an odd number I was out. But the top seeded player, Dan Vasto hadn’t arrived by 2:30. This put me in a quandary. Dan has been late to every tournament I’ve ever run, but he’s never been a no-show. The strictly 'by-the-book' thing to do would have been to pair Dan and start his clock. But with only 15 minutes for the game, I felt this would have been a severe handicap. I like to think common sense and courtesy should prevail over the rules. Since I was available to play, I put myself in the tournament. I sat down to play Black against Mark Kende, a law professor at Drake University who is rated a class ahead of me. A few minutes after the game started, Dan showed up. I played most of a really good game against Mark and was a pawn ahead in a Queen and Pawn ending but I miscalculated the King ending by refusing Mark’s offer to trade Queens and had to settle for a draw. As soon as I had agreed to the draw, a couple of the other players came up to me and told me what an easy win I had. Where were they when I was playing??? (Just kidding, they’re not allowed to say anything). Dan took my place and was undefeated in winning the tournament.

If I had traded Queens on the position on the left, I win. On the right, I just move my king over and trade queens next move to win. I played a great game but missed these two Endgame 101 positions, kept avoiding the Queen trade and the game ended in a draw. At least I only gave away half a point.

  When I was playing I didn’t notice any noise, but when I stopped I couldn’t help hearing the refugees from a trailer park that had congregated at the benches that had been taken from the shelter and left by the tree. Their continual feeding frenzy was interrupted by various curses, proclamations of how loud and odoriffic their last gas was, and the arguing every time a little kid had to go to the bathroom over who was going to take them. They also had an ATV that some lady was riding on at top speed with different small kids in her lap and no one had any helmets. If the ATV had flipped over the trailer park family would have sued the ATV maker, the park, and probably me for having a distracting chess tournament. I don’t think the players noticed them too much, but that is the risks of playing outdoors.

Just as the Brontosaurus had to eat 23 hours a day to maintain it's weight, the pride of the Des Moines trailer park community's 'need to feed' resulted in an occasional respite from the loud cursing and reviews of the most recent 'gas' attack. I used super zoom on the camera because I was afraid if I got too close, my camera would have been stuffed between 2 slices of bread and eaten.

  The tournament finished around 5:30, I packed up and had dinner with Jose while we hashed out the rest of the camp curriculum. The tournament went well enough that I am going to go ahead and have the same tournament next month (I already have the shelter reserved, but I am going to make sure to get all the picnic benches in the shelter to encourage the trailer park family to go elsewhere). The 3 round tournament idea was well received and I think it may be worth a try even when I have winter tournament in the school. A drawback is many parents won’t travel for only a few hours of chess, but it may help to keep the local parents involved knowing that their child’s tournament won’t be an all day affair.

A model spectator at a chess tournament. Quiet, unassuming, and well behaved.
This fellow is welcome back anytime.