Thursday Night at the Marshalltown Chess Club wasn’t one of my better days. The club started OK when 2 of the scouts showed up to finish up their merit badge requirements and one stuck around to play a game with Seth, a 9 year old who showed up at club last week for the first time and enjoyed himself so much his mom bought him a membership so he could play in our weekly tournaments. Then it got even better when the 2 Mormons who came to visit me on Monday decided to accept my invitation to play chess. I sat down to play with Elder Shoenfeld while the other Elder watched. When we used to have our club at the Wal-Mart in the summer, 2 of the Mormon elders were chess regulars one year while they were in town on their mission trip. Ironically, one of the elder’s favorite chess variation was called suicide, where you have to take your opponents pieces if possible and the winner is the player that loses all their pieces first.
The elders and scout left when it was time to start the tournament and my day took a sudden nosedive when I played Matt Kriegel from Tama, who was playing in Marshalltown for the first time since last December. I played Matt in the second round, went pawn grabbing in the opening before castling and went down in flames in an attack to my uncastled king when I defended poorly trying to hang on to my extra pawn. It was the first time I’ve lost to Matt in 12 tournament games (10 wins and 1 draw). I felt pretty crummy about losing to Matt, but I’ve beaten better and lost to worse and hopefully I’ll learn to look more carefully the next chance I have to grab a pawn with my king in the center of the board, although this game seems eerily similar to the pasting I took from Tim Harder at Big Money Blitz last September.
On Friday morning, I left the house at 5:40 and headed off to St. Francis for chess club before work. After an entire school year of attendance between 40 and 60 kids, there were only 2 classes during the 5 Fridays of March and last week’s attendance was a year low of 36. Since a lot of the parents would no doubt be travelling for the Easter weekend, I wasn’t expecting a huge crowd but that doesn’t matter to me. The kids and I have a great time, teaching the club provides a venue for my monthly tournaments, and having fewer players gives me a chance for more individual instruction.
I got to St. Francis at 6:45 and started setting up the room for the chess club, which involves putting away round tables, wheeling out the square tables, setting up 25 to 30 boards, and laying out the pens, scoresheets, and other materials for the players. It takes me about a half hour. While I was setting up, a well-dressed vaguely familiar guy came in the room two or three times. The first time he looked at me, the second time he asked if there were classes on Good Friday, and the third time asked what time the kids would show up for chess.
It turned out the guy was from KWKY, the Des Moines Catholic radio station. The station was broadcasting in the next room over. They had done this earlier in the school year (that’s where I remember the man from) and invited all the kids to come over to be on the radio just before the 8:00 break where they had them say a ‘Hail Mary’. He must have been waiting to see if the kids were going to show up before extending a similar invitation. At 7:15, Will showed up. Will is a very talented 8 year old player who beat the top player from SE Polk High School at my March tournament. We sat down to play but then Ryan showed up so I had Will and Ryan play. As more players started showing up I paired them off to play against each other, trying to avoid mismatches. When we had 10 or so players, the radio man came back and asked if I’d be willing to talk about the chess club on the radio at 7:55 and bring the players in to be on the radio also. That was OK with me.
More and more players showed up and there were 32 players by the end of the club. With so much time off in March off, I’ve gotten lax about having the kids write down the moves and now only one or 2 players are doing it, but that’s going to change next week. I’ve been reviewing the games that have been written down and posting them on the internet along with my comments, so hopefully that will be an incentive.
At 7:55, the radio man called us in to the room they were broadcasting from. When the hosts were back on the air, they said the chess club was there and asked me to talk about the club. I mentioned that these kids all get up early on Fridays to play chess and then asked the kids to shout out what times they got up. I talked a little more about the chess club and then the host told the kids that he played chess also and encouraged them to keep playing. The hosts had the kids say an ‘Our Father’ and then it was back to chess. We finished the club and then the radio man came back in with a station banner and wanted to take a picture of the chess club. Some of the kids were so wrapped up in playing that they finished their games, but the rest of the kids and I managed to get the picture taken and a picture was emailed to me within an hour.
Like almost every Friday, I had a great chess club and was so energized that I breezed through the day at work. I’ve made every St. Francis chess cub so far this year and with only 7 Fridays till the end of the school year it looks like I’ll have perfect attendance 2 years in a row. It’s a lot of fun and I can see the improvement in many of the kids. I hope to be asked back again next year to coach, but with 60 kids in and out of the club in a year, there’s always the chance I’ve offended the child of some influential parent and there’ll be a ‘thanks but no thanks’. Irrespective of what the future may hold, I've had a blast teaching chess at St. Francis this year.