Sunday, September 4, 2011

Big Money Blitz

Left: Dan Vasto and the Big Money Blitz Scoreboard.
Picture courtesy of Cub Noble - Professional Photographer.
Right: Cub and Tim played in the tournament as well as ran it.

  I played in the Big Money Blitz tournament at the Dahl’s supermarket in Ankeny yesterday. Dahl’s has a meeting room that they make available for chess tournaments and at least one tournament a month is held there. Most of the tournaments have been 4 games at 75 minutes per player per game. A 12 or 13 hour day of playing chess was a lot more fun when I was in my 20’s but now that I’m in my 50’s chess stops being fun and starts being work after 6 or 7 hours so I’ve passed on these longish tournament. I am planning on playing in the Ames Chess Festival weekend tournament in late October which may mean a 17 or 18 hour chess day on Saturday, but I can sleep over in Ames and take a round off if I am tired going into the night session.

  Big Money Blitz is the brainchild of Cub Noble and Tim Harder. In this tournament, you play 2 games with every other player (1 as White and 1 as Black) with 5 minutes per side (with a one second delay before your clock runs down). The quick time limit means you can play 3 opponents in an hour and since the tournament advertised 16 players, there would be 5 hours of chess play. 5 hours of chess is a good amount for me and I signed up myself and Jaleb Jay from our club in Marshalltown in June via Paypal.

  The only prize in the tournament was for first place (90% of the entry fees) and predictably it attracted a lot of the area’s top players. Dan Vasto (who won the top prize at both of my outdoor quick chess tournaments this summer) was there, along with fellow expert Joe Knapp from Nebraska. There were 3 class A players (Eric Vander Linden, Mark Kende, and Eddie Davinovic), 5 B players (Mathew Jacob, Eddie Divanovic, Jaleb Jay, Tim Harder, and myself), D player Cub Noble, and 2 beginners Josh and Jonny. I’ve beaten Dan once out of 4 games and drawn with Mark and Eric in the only games we had played in tournaments so I figured I could have a real good tournament with a little luck. First place would probably be out of my reach, but stranger things have happened. My main goal was to play good and stay away from the time trouble that plagued me at the Iowa State Fair speed chess tournament.

  I got up at 4:30 on Saturday as usual, and Kathy and I took Daisy and Baxter to the Jiffy for a beef stick treat. We got back around 6 and I took a nap, watched TV, and relaxed till 9:30. I picked up Jaleb a little before 10 and made the 50 mile trip to Ankeny. We had to go through about 5 miles of blinding rain but arrived at the Dahl’s 15 minutes before the 11am start time. I was pleasantly surprised when Cub gave me a snack bag of Crunchy Cheetos. As I found out later, Cub’s mom is a big crunchy Cheeto fan and buys them in volume, but she disagrees with my opinion that Puffy Cheetos are superior to the crunchy kind.

  Cub and Tim went over the ground rules before the tournament. Since it wasn’t rated, USCF rules didn’t have to be followed. For example, there was no touch move rule. Your move wasn’t complete until you hit your clock. The other major difference between Big Money Blitz and a rated tournament was that instead of posting pairings, the players were expected to find someone they hadn’t played, play their match, and mark it down on the scorecard each player was provided. Cub and Tim would then mark down the results on the Big Money Blitz scoreboard. I thought this kind of shotgun start would lead to everyone having to wait to play one slow player, but it worked out great and when Joe Knapp and his friend Johnny were delayed by the weather, they didn’t forfeit any games and caught up to the rest of the crowd in short order. Another benefit was that we could take a lunch or snack break whenever we wanted without making anyone wait.

Finding a different opponent each round is almost the chessic version of speed dating. But it helped the tournament handle a couple of late arrivals and I got all my games done in 4 and a half hours including a lunch break.

  I started off losing 2 quick games against Mark, but rebounded by drawing twice with Mathew Jacobs and then beating first time tournament player Josh twice to even my score at 3-3. I then played Tim Harder. I had a good game as Black, but I butchered the ending and found myself 3 pawns down when Tim ran out of time. Tim then crushed me when he had Black and I decided to take a break for lunch with a 4-4 score. Since the tournament was held in a supermarket, I could have anything I wanted. I wanted to get some Cheetos, but knew I needed a sensible lunch and settled for a cup of Yogurt and a can of Coconut Water (with Pulp). I had a nice conversation with the Dahl’s Checkout Lady.

Checkout Lady: Coconut Water?
Me : No. Coconut Water with PULP, m'am.
Checkout Lady: I didn’t know coconuts had pulp.
Me: I suppose anything can be beaten to a pulp, m’am.
Checkout Lady: Even us, I guess.
Me: I certainly have been.
  Checkout Lady declined to mention if she had ever been beaten to a pulp or maybe her supervisor was watching, but I got my change in record time, ate my yogurt, drank my coconut water (with pulp), took a walk, and got ready for the rest of the tournament.

  While I was drinking my coconut water with pulp, I decided that I was having a lot of trouble with the White pieces and would play the Boris (1.d4 2.f4) as White for the rest of the tournament against all the top rated players. I started the second half of the tournament against Cub and played my best two games of the day. I won a pawn or 2, smoothly traded down, and nailed the 2 points to go to 6-4. Next up was Dan Vasto. I had Black, he followed the same game we played last April, and I got a piece trapped and went down in flames. As White, I got a good position with the Boris and had a pretty even game. We each had about a minute left when I made my first horrible mistake of the day and hung a rook to a backward moving bishop to go to 6-6. Next up was the other expert Joe Knapp. Joe beat me pretty convincingly in both games and smashed the Boris convincingly to put me at 6-8. Next up was Eric. As White, I played the Boris for the 3rd time in a row. We got into a wild position when I found a perpetual check with my rook and knight, but we both went momentarily crazy and thought it was a checkmate. Eric resigned and afterwards we realized it wasn’t a checkmate. Eric beat me easily with the White pieces but the first game, combined with Tim’s running out of time earlier, gave me a point and a half I didn’t deserve.

  Next up was Eddie, who plays a wild and crazy style that gives me fits and has beaten me in both tournament games we have played. Today I caught Eddie in a tactic as Black in the first game to win a piece and crushed him in the second game with the Boris to get my record back to 9-9. Next up was Jaleb. Jaleb and I play 5 minute games almost every week at club and are pretty even. I started as White with the Boris, but Jaleb came up with some great ideas and beat me badly. As Black, I was up a pawn in a rook endgame, but I got over aggressive in trying to push for the win and managed to lose the game to drop my record to go to 9-11 with only 2 games left against Johnny B to try to even my score. Johnny B was not used to 5 minutes chess and got very low on time in both games so I did manage to get 2 wins and salvage an even score, which tied for 7th and 8th with Jaleb. I didn’t have the tournament I wanted, but did have the tournament someone of my ability could expect in this crowd.

  With my tournament over at around 3:30, I watched the rest of the games finish up, but first I got another yogurt and coconut water (with pulp). I also bought a big bag of Cheetos Puffs to share with the other chess players and had another great exchange at the checkout counter, this time with the Checkout Dude.

Checkout Dude: Will plastic be all right today, sir?
Me: Sure
Checkout Dude: That will be 6.82, sir.
Me (taking out some cash): Will paper be all right today, sir?

An informal show of hands showed a landslide in favor of Cheetos Puffs.
No one tried to take a swig of my coconut water WITH PULP.

  I put out the Puffs with the Crunchy Cheetos that Cub had given me and invited the other players to have a snack, but everyone who wanted a snack stuck their hand in the Puffs bag. No offense to Cub’s mom, but in my opinion comparing crunchy Cheetos to Cheetos Puffs is like comparing beef jerky and prime rib. But don’t take my word for it, just please consider that I took home the entire bag of crunchy Cheetos, but only a quarter bag of the Puffs.

  I watched Dan and Knapp battle it out in the finals (Dan winning to take the $90 cash prize) and hung around chatting with the other players till 5 and then went home. Cub and Tim even got some videos of the players in action. Here is a montage where you can see me going down in flames to Dan followed by a couple of other games. All the videos are on Cub’s page. I wish they’d gotten a video of me winning a game, but I turned that into a 50/50 proposition by winning half my games. I’ve never seen myself play before and think I’d go nuts if I had to play somebody chomping their gum as much as I do!


I've never seen myself play before. Pretty fidgety!

  Big Money Blitz was a lot of fun and a great tournament, mainly because of Cub and Tim’s innovative thinking. I got to play 22 games (some against the best players in the area) in 4 and a half hours for just $10. I’m sure some players stayed away because they don’t think 5 minutes a side is 'real' chess, but they missed out. 5 minutes is a lot of time for a game and the chess was as much fun and just as cutthroat as any I’ve ever played. In an age where innovation seems measured by how many people a government can get to believe it’s cutting their deficit at the same time it is borrowing $5,000 per year for every man, woman, and child in the country, it’s nice to see some really creative thinking and I'm looking forward to their next tournament.