Sunday, November 6, 2011

Attitude Adjustment

“Living well is the best revenge” – Lenny Blumenthal

The intense concentration of the chess players made a good impression on the visiting teachers and parents who were visiting the basketball tournament next door.

  It was a contentious week of time-wasting emails concerning my monthly youth chess tournament being scheduled in West Des Moines on the same day as the IASCA tournament 140 miles away in Cedar Rapids. The emails finally came to an end Thursday when I asked the 64 thousand dollar question: Would the IASCA prefer that children in the Des Moines metro area not play chess on Saturday at all unless they travelled to Cedar Rapids? The tone of the IASCA this past month would lead me to believe the answer to that question is an emphatic YES, but since a question like this cannot be answered that way, the emails have come to an end for now although I’m sure veiled threats of ‘backlashes’, accusations of ‘competition’, and being singled out for ‘special attention’ in broadcast emails will resurface as soon as another of my monthly tournaments is scheduled on the same date as an IASCA scholastic event. It is ironic to even have this sort of issue with the same people who had no problem running events (and even asked me to proofread their flyers on occasion) on the same dates as IASCA scholastic tournaments held under my stewardship. I don’t feel like I ‘won’ anything since I had a lot of my time wasted, but I limited my losses by not taking the bait and responding in kind to the email sent to all the chess parents trying to portray me and my tournament in a less than flattering light. It could be argued that writing about it in my blog is tantamount to the same thing and I would counter by saying that my efforts to energize youth chess in the Des Moines area has been a central theme of my blog for over a year, these sort of nonsensical incidents have interest to any youth chess organizer and give an inside view of the process to non-chess organizers, and even I can’t write about Cheetos ALL THE TIME!

  The IASCA and I used to get along better (I served on their board for 2 years and was the 2006 member of the year), but these days I don’t get them and they don’t get me. On Monday, I typed the quote from my old friend and co-worker from 20 years ago at the top of this article, sent it to myself as an email, and looked at it as often as possible this week. Dealing with nonsense of this sort takes away a lot of my enjoyment of chess and I needed to remind myself to not let anyone steal my happiness or put me in a sour mood with pointless emails and minutiae all because somebody got upset that 2 or 3 people might not travel 140 miles to Cedar Rapids to play chess because I was having a chess tournament in Des Moines.

Final round action at last Thursday's Marshalltown Blitz.

  I was looking forward to blitz on Thursday night and when Joe Meyer of Waterloo came down to play I was hoping to exact revenge for my loss of 2 weeks ago. We played 4 offhand games before the tournament and I got pasted in each one, only managing to win the last 2 when Joe had cases of temporary blindness going in for the kill. Dan Troxell from Des Moines and Matt Kriegel from Tama also travelled for the tournament to join local players Scott, Jon, Zach, Dalton, and me in the 8 player field. I had just started the tournament when Dave the barefoot chess player raced into the room. That left us with 9 players so I sat out, but the tournament was so much fun to watch and the games so interesting that I agreed to hang around for an extra hour to let the out of town guys get some extra games in before a long drive back. I even managed to get some video of the final round action. The Thursday Night tournament restored my good mood because a we had great mix of adults and kids and everyone got along great.

  I had another great chess experience on Friday morning at the St. Francis Chess club where I teach and coach. After 9 weeks the club has coalesced to the serious players competing in a ladder tournament on one side of the large meeting room and the casual players (about a dozen) giggling, socializing, and maybe playing a little chess on the other side. In addition to the ladder tournament, the players write down the game results each week and for the next meeting, I make up a printout showing the players’ won-loss records. When most of the serious players arrive at the club, the first thing they do is to check their position on the ladder and their won-loss record. The club now requires very little supervision even though we have over 50 players every week, so I have time to start teaching chess. There’s enough time for a classroom session but these kids will be sitting in a class all day and I want the club to be fun, not work, which led me to couch the lessons as a set of challenges. The first 2 challenges are to checkmate with a queen and king against a king and to learn how to play both sides of a king and pawn vs. king ending (either making the pawn a queen or keeping the opponent from doing the same). The players have to demonstrate their skill by playing out the positions against me or the other coaches (Chris and Eduardo). Once a player demonstrates their knowledge, they receive a button to reward their accomplishment. I don’t know how Chris and Eduardo are handing it, but when I accept the challenge, I talk through the position for the other players that are watching while waiting for their turn to challenge me. This way I can have a semi-classroom setting with the students that want to learn and the others can play chess without worrying about a lesson. I had run the king and queen vs. king challenge last year and was expecting the older players to easily checkmate me with the queen this year. I was amazed by how many of the players forgot how to do the checkmate, but I’m sure they’ll get it back after a while. It was great seeing 50 plus kids enjoying chess before school and getting to hang out with the other coaches and share our enthusiasm for the kids learning and enjoying chess put me in an even better mood.

  On Saturday, I was ready for the tournament. Because of a high school math meet, Chandler wasn’t available to help me set up so I took the trip to Des Moines at 6:30 by myself and listened to some music on the trip down. There was a basketball tournament in the adjoining gym and one of the kids whose dad was setting up concessions for the tournament asked me if he could help me set up the chess sets. I was happy for the help and we had the hall all set up by 8:15. I got to talk to his dad and invited them to come to the club on Fridays and offered to allow him to play in the unrated tournament, but they had to leave for basketball practice and I never saw them in the afternoon. A number of the basketball parents and the lady who assigned the rooms for the chess tournaments also came by and were very impressed with the level of concentration of the children playing chess.

  I had about a dozen players in the rated section in the morning and afternoon sessions and only a few of those were staying all day. Most had soccer or cub scouts or other errands taking up half the day and I had a lot of parents come up me to tell me how much they appreciated their children being able to combine chess with their other activities. The unrated section had a lot of repeat customers from last month’s free tournament and I had about 20 players in each session, with a number of the morning players having such a good time they decided to stick around for the afternoon. I had almost a dozen kids from St. Francis playing in the tournaments. Many of them had excellent performances. One player signed up for a USCF membership and played in his first rated tournament on Saturday. He won one of the 3 games, but in his 2 losses went toe to toe with some players stronger than any he had ever played before and had the second-seed on the ropes in the final round. I was really happy to see him play well and even happier to see that his dad got the fact that even though his son didn’t win the game he played fantastic and was proud of the effort instead of being mad at the result. 3 of the other St. Francis players got in the top 5 of the 2 unrated tournaments and their parents got to see some fruits of our work with them on Fridays. With so many beginners, I had to a spend a lot of my time monitoring those games, but I still had plenty of time to hang out with the parents and when the morning unrated tournament ended at 11 instead of 12, I went to my parlor trick of playing the kids with 1 minute on my clock and 5 minutes on theirs. I played for almost an hour and only lost one game when one of the St. Francis parents beat me when I ran out of time. He then told me that in his home country of England, he was a county champion. This new rivalry will be continued another day....

  Almost everything went perfectly, ALMOST. I had a problem with the unrated kids playing so quickly in the morning that the tournament was over in less than 2 hours. I’ll address that by allowing for an unlimited number of rounds as long as they are started an hour before the scheduled end of the tournament. Kind of like a little league baseball game when an inning can’t start before 7:00. I want to make sure the parents get their money’s worth and not travel 10 or 15 miles for 90 minutes of chess. Another problem I had was of my own making. I mistook a late arriving unrated player for a rated player I was expecting and put him in the rated tournament. By the time I realized my error, the game was over and I had to get the unrated player a temporary membership. Normally I am awesome at remembering names and faces, but middle age has started taking some of that ability away. Those few problems were trifling. The kids had a great time, the parents were very vocal in telling me how great they thought the monthly tournaments were for their kids, and I solved the problem I had with the kids scratching the facings of my custom medal inserts off by designing an equally custom plastic insert cover. I even made around $50 dollars which I will put toward getting some chess clocks so I can have the top boards start with clocks instead of rationing my few clocks for the slower moving games.

  I even managed to hold a parents tournament in the afternoon. Last month I had exactly one parent wanting to play and when Christine Denison signed up for yesterday’s parents section, I enlisted Dan Troxell to help me out and head over so Christine would be sure to have some competition. They played a match in the morning, but 4 other parents, including my fellow St. Francis coach Chris, joined in the afternoon for a real tournament. Christine swept the tournament and Chris was thrilled after winning his final round game. He told me it ended up just like the challenges we are giving the kids. He had a King and a Pawn against a King, made his pawn a queen like we are teaching the kids in the one challenge, and then checkmated his opponent with the queen and king like he is teaching the kids in the other challenge. I told him I will present him with his buttons on Friday!