Sunday, July 22, 2012

Not a 'AAA' Chess Camp

The 2012 West Des Moines Chess Camp!

  After a couple of months of organizing, advertising, and preparing lessons, we finally held our West Des Moines Chess Camp last week. Last Sunday, the family took a trip to the Wal-Mart to get the camp snacks. I packed 144 pudding cups, 14 gallons of Sunny D, 4 gallons of Apple Juice, 144 packs of cheddar chess crackers, 144 fruit cups, and a couple hundred plastic spoons and cups into my groaning shopping cart and found an empty checkout line. The checkout lady noted that I sure had a lot of stuff and started asking what I needed it for, so I asked Matt very loudly, ‘Matt, how long do we have to keep them locked in the basement?’ That was the end of any Wal-Mart cashier questions, but I did mention to her that I was buying supplies for a chess camp after I was well on my way to getting out of the checkout in record time.

  I had arranged to take Thursday and Friday off from work and on Thursday morning I packed up my car with all my chess stuff and snack items under the confused, bleary-eyed gazes of my next door neighbors, who apparently were up all night assembling Marshalltown’s largest empty beer can pyramid. We greeted each other with nods of feigned indifference and I was on the road and at the Learning Resource Center in West Des Moines at 8:30. I started dragging all the supplies in when Frank Li and his dad Jingyang arrived. Frank is a talented 8th grade chess player from West Des Moines and his parents offered his help at the camp because they wanted him to be involved in some volunteer efforts and I was happy for the help.

  Jose arrived around 9 and we decided on how we wanted to split the big meeting room into 2 and arrange the desks. Then Bethany Carson arrived. I was extremely lucky to get Bethany to my guest instructor this year. She knew many of the kids already, was as excellent with the kids as I thought she would be, and as the 5 time state girls champion had their respect as a chess instructor. Jose is awesome with kids, had many of his students in attendance, and as the state chess champion had plenty of credibility with the other kids. I felt I would have my hands full not being the weak link! The campers started to arrive at 9:40, so Jose and I started greeting the campers as they came in and got them in their proper rooms. We had 35 campers and put one third in an advanced group and the rest into a beginner section. In no time, it was 10 and we were ready to start.

  Bethany was going over some of her most instructive games with the advanced players while I was giving a lesson to the beginners in how not to lose in 4 moves. It sounds like a silly topic, but at my tournaments and at St. Francis I see so many players lose to the 4 move checkmate that I thought it would be good for these campers to learn some chess ‘self-defense’. When I give a lesson, I like to engage the kids and make them speak up and share their ideas. Out of the 2 dozen kids arranged in a semicircle around me, there were 5 or 6 kids that wanted to sit on the edges and talk with their friends, 10 or 12 kids sitting in the middle that were interested in the lesson and would contribute, and the rest of the kids would drift between goofing around and paying attention. The lesson went really well and after an hour and a half we gave the kids a break and let them either play outside or stay in and play chess.

Left: I wore my cool Marvel Comics T-Shirt on Friday. Center: Frank and Bethany enjoying a rare free moment.
Right: Jose keeping an eye on the day ending tournament.

  After the lunch break, it was my turn to work with the advanced players while Jose was going over some puzzles with the beginners. I had prepared a lesson on looking for discoveries where one piece moves to discover an attack by a piece in back of it. I like to call these moves ‘ninja moves’ since the piece hiding in back gives the visual impact of a ninja appearing out of nowhere to make an attack. The lesson was going OK, but it was taking a lot of time to switch the puzzles on the demonstration board and that slowed the pace of the lesson with a delay after every puzzle. I was trying to engage the campers in sharing their ideas and it was going well, but Frank kept on finding tricks for the defender in the positions that I hadn’t looked at when I was preparing the lesson. None of the tricks made the answers to the puzzles wrong, but it made me have to think while giving the lesson and that slowed down everything more. Next year, I’m going to make sure Frank reviews my puzzles before the camp! After the lesson, we decided the kids needed to play and gave them a choice between playing a team chess game called bughouse and a speed chess tournament. It was a good idea and except for one of the campers having to visit Julie the nurse when her finger got bruised by being caught in chess clock the day ended on a good note. We cleaned up and tried to vacuum the floor to pick up what seemed like millions of cheese cracker particles, but the vacuum cleaner's filter hadn’t been emptied since the Stone Age and the motor overheated so the vacuuming had to wait until the next morning.

  I got home at 6:30, went with Kathy to walk Daisy and Baxter, watched Burn Notice and slept like a baby until Friday morning. It’s amazing how exhausting it can be working with almost 3 dozen young chess players. I was hoping to be back at the learning center at 9am, but since we couldn’t finish vacuuming the night before, I was out of the house at 7:30 with the plan of arriving at 8:45. I was halfway between Des Moines and Marshalltown (otherwise known as the middle of nowhere), when I noticed the low tire pressure light come on. I was 15 miles away from a gas station with an air pump so I just kept going along until I felt the familiar shimmy of a flat tire. I pulled over, found the little donut spare tire, tire iron, and jack in the bottom of the trunk, and changed a tire on my Kia Rio for the first time since I bought the car 2 and a half years ago. I couldn’t go more than 50 miles an hour with the little donut tire, so instead of getting to the learning center at 8:45, I arrived at 9:10. I have an AAA card and called them to see if could get someone to come out and fix my tire. They told me they didn’t do that sort of thing. I put out the day’s snacks and started vacuuming the room when Jose and Bethany arrived. I told them the story of my flat tire and Bethany’s dad Tim offered to take my tire to get fixed. I gave him directions to the Freedom Tire shop I used to get my tires at and within an hour, he was back with a new tire which I put in my car with the idea of replacing it after the camp.

  The second day of the camp went much the same as the first day. In the morning, Jose went over his instructive games with the advanced players while I spent the morning teaching the beginners some simple endings. After the lesson, I’d let the players demonstrate what they learned by trying to win against Bethany, Frank, or myself from the lecture positions. Around the hour and a half mark they started getting noisier and noisier so I took them outside to the nearby playground to work off some energy for a half hour and then took them back in for lunch. In the afternoon, I went through an endings lesson with the advanced players and just like the day before, Frank kept on trying to find tricky ideas. But this time I knew most of the positions cold and didn’t have to spend as much time working the solutions out and I got through the lesson at a nice pace. We closed out the camp with a bughouse tournament, gave out participation certificates, and said our goodbyes to the camp for another year.

  As we were cleaning up the room and packing up from the camp (the fruit cups were a big thumbs down this year with over 100 left!), Jose and I were talking about what changes we’d make for next year’s camp. Unlike last year, I‘m planning on having a camp next year because when I talked to many of the parents, I see there is a need for an inexpensive chess camp. There is no question that a lot of the families can afford a week of their summer and hundreds of dollars for chess camps like the $400 one in Des Moines in August, but there are also a lot of families that can’t. The feedback I got from the parents was outstanding and the low-cost camp is a perfect complement to my low-cost chess tournaments.

There's always some clean up, but I wasn't expecting donuts to be on the cleanup docket!

  Filled with the great feeling of a well-run camp, I went out to my car to finally replace my donut with my new tire and found out that I left my tire iron out in the middle of nowhere when I put the donut on in the morning! I called AAA to see if they could get someone to change my tire and after punching my 16 digit membership number into the phone and then having to repeat the number to 2 operators (why do they make you punch in the number if you have to repeat it to the operator anyway), I was told that since I didn’t have a flat tire, they wouldn’t be able to help me. I asked the operator if that meant that if I punched a hole in my tire with a knife, AAA would send somebody? The operator said ‘Of course we would!’ I’ve been paying these clowns for 15 years, but at that point I hung up, loaded up my car with the leftover fruit cups and other snacks, and drove to the Target store to buy a tire iron. I didn’t realize that the Super Target’s idea of an automotive department was steering wheel covers and car wax products and so I left empty handed. I got on the highway and heard on the radio about a traffic jam up ahead so I pulled off on Hickman Road to find an auto parts store. I saw an Advance Auto Parts and pulled in to get my tire iron and next door I saw a Freedom Tire shop! I pulled in and saw they were closing in 15 minutes. I asked if they could change my donut out for the spare tire and not only did they stay open late to do it they did it for free since I had bought my tire from another Freedom Tire. If I do decide to rename next year’s chess camp, the ‘Freedom Tire Chess Camp’ wouldn’t be a bad name. It would surely be a better choice than the ‘AAA Chess Camp’.