Tuesday, August 28, 2012

2012 Jackson Open – Part 3 of 4

  When my second round game with Sam Smith ended, I headed back to the Jackson Econolodge to see if I could find my misplaced camera. I asked at the front desk and the clerk (who was the owner’s wife) had my camera safely tucked away behind the counter. It had fallen out of my pocket when I was using the lobby computer and her 4 year old son had found it. The Midwest is one of the few places where people are this honest but my camera may have been safe in New York also. In 1991, Kathy and I went to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. After the parade was over we went to the world famous Lindy’s restaurant for a slice of cheesecake and headed back to our car. When we got to our car, Kathy realized she left her backpack in the restaurant. I drove through the post parade midtown traffic as fast as I could and the backpack was still in the restaurant untouched. It seems the staff was afraid to move it because they thought it was a bomb.

  I had recently transferred the pictures from the camera into my computer, but I was still overjoyed at having my Nikon Coolpix camera back. It’s not a very expensive camera, but it has proven a durable companion on many chess tournaments and family outings and I’m so familiar with it I can operate it with one hand. As I was leaving the motel, there were a group of motorcyclists hanging out. When we were leaving for the tournament that morning, I noticed one of the bikes had a storage trailer that was shaped like an egg and had a sun roof. At the time I said that I thought the container may be for a baby and Tim and Jaleb both laughed at my naivete. Since the bikers were hanging by the egg shaped trailer, I confirmed my naivete by asking them if the trailer was for a baby. When they got done laughing, they told me it was egg shaped for aerodynamic reasons and not to hold a baby. Then one of the bikers told me his bike had broken down in Arnold Park (just south of Okoboji) the night before and asked me if I knew anyone who could give him a ride there. Flushed with my good fortune at my win against Sam along with the retrieval of my camera and having an hour or so to kill, I decided to give him a ride.

  The biker’s name was Paul and he was around my age. I stopped back at the Jackson Library, saw Riaz outside, and told him where I was going and headed 20 miles south on Highway 71. I told Paul a little about the chess tournament and he said he loved to play chess at family get-togethers but no one would play him because he would beat them so bad. Paul worked in the control room of an electric plant in Indianapolis and was taking a vacation just biking around the Midwest. He had biked in all 48 states in the continental US as well as Hawaii. I mentioned that there had to be plenty of chess clubs in Indianapolis and I had even played in the US Open there in 2009, but Paul was firm in his desire to only play chess with family members. Paul’s big hobby was model trains and he was a member of a train club that would get together every month at somebody’s setup (Paul’s was in a building off his house).

  It started raining halfway to Okoboji and the trip took a little longer than I hoped but in 25 minutes I was at Arnold Park and said goodbye to Paul. Paul asked me how much money I wanted for bringing him down to Arnold Park. I said I didn’t want anything, but Paul said that wasn’t going to fly so I asked for $5. Paul said “How about 20?” and I agreed. Paul opened his wallet (one of those wide biker wallets that attached to his belt with a chain) and pulled a 20 out of a stack of at least 30 bills and handed it to me. We said our good byes and I headed back up to Jackson.

  When I got back to the tournament and told some of the guys where I was, the reactions ranged from ‘Oh, were you gone?’ to ‘That was really nice of you’ to ‘Let me tell you about the game I just played.’ to ‘You're nuts. You could have gotten killed’. If I had gotten any idea in my head that there was a 1 in 100 chance that Paul was some sort of psycho, I wouldn’t have been giving him a ride, but I felt he was just a guy like me and if I had been stuck I know I would have liked a ride. And aside from all that, it was an excellent diversion after a tense chess game and if no one ever helped each other out I’d be shopping for a new camera. The only regret I had was that even though I had my camera, I forgot to take a picture of Paul or the egg-shaped trailer.

Eric Bell
  As I was heading back to Jackson, I started to consider who I’d be playing in the next round. I knew it would all depend on who else had 2 wins out of 2 games. If all 5 top seeds won I’d be playing my friend John Flores, who was the first player to win in the morning games and would be the highest ranking player with 1.5 points (having taken a half point bye in the Friday night round). If there was one upset I’d play one of the top 2 seeds; Dane Zagar or Eric Bell. As I rolled past the Jackson Pizza Ranch 2 blocks south of the library, I saw Jaleb walking on the sidewalk and stopped and asked him how he did. Jaleb told me he drew the 3rd seed Jackson Wahl and the top seed also drew, and Tim had lost to the second seed. Jaleb went to lunch and I went to the tournament site. There was a lot of carnage on the top 5 boards. Josiah Jorenby (the brother of my first round opponent, Destiny) indeed drew the top seed Dane Zagar, Jaleb drew the 3rd seed, and Larry Jefferson from Minnesota beat the 4th seed. That left Larry, 2nd seed Eric Bell, and myself with the only 2-0 scores. The 2 top-rated players would face off and that meant that I had the black pieces against Eric Bell. I knew nothing about Eric except that he must be a good guy since Riaz brought him and I figured I’d just try to play the same way I had the first 2 rounds by attempting to keep my mistakes to a minimum and striking hard if I got the chance…

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of pgn4web.casaschi.net
  This was the next to last game to finish. At the time, I thought I played really well, but a week later I can see it for what it was – a pretty lame effort. I played some decent defense and I did find 16…Ne5 in a tough spot, but I whiffed on 3 chances to put a lot of pressure on Eric. He outplayed me, but was hardly unbeatable. I saw a t-shirt at Church this past Sunday that said ‘You don’t get what you wish for; you get what you work for.’ Seeing that shirt made me think of this game. I went into the contest hoping for a chance to counterpunch, but during the game I was thinking mostly of defense. I defended d6 when I could have landed a knockout punch with Ne4, I didn’t take the rook on d5 because I was scared of the Queen invading my territory, and even in the beginning of the game I shied away from taking on c4 because I was worried about the havoc a Qa4 move would cause. I wished for counterattacking opportunities, but if I had been working for them, I would likely have noticed my possibilities. Having said all that, 2 or 3 years ago, I would have fallen apart against Eric’s pressure and lost to a 2 mover early on so I can see definite improvement and thanks to this game (as well as my March game against Jim Ellis) it is very clear that playing with the habit of ALWAYS looking for shots will pay dividends in the future.

  In the other contests, Jaleb beat Joe-Hall Reppen to get to second place along with 3rd seed Jackson Wahl and top seed Dane Zagar, all with 2 and half points. Tim beat Riaz to get his second win, but Sam gave up a draw and John lost to take them out of the prize money equation with one round to go…

As I left the library smarting from my loss, outside playing his guitar was none other that Austin Wahl. I was a little too depressed to catch exactly what he was playing but it sure sounded like the blues classic 'Cry Me a River' and then the Fats Domino song 'Ain't That a Shame'

Sunday, August 26, 2012

2012 Jackson Open – Part 2 of 4

Sam Smith
  Even though I gave Jaleb and Tim the beds in the hotel room and took the cot for myself, I got a good night sleep and was well rested when I woke up at 6:00 (90 minutes past my normal wake-up time!) for the final 3 rounds of the Jackson Open. I washed up and went to hotel lobby so I wouldn’t wake up my traveling companions. The EconoLodge we stayed at offered a free breakfast and I had a few glasses of orange and apple juice along with a poppy seed bagel with cream cheese. After I ate I used the computer in the hotel lobby to post my Iowa State fair blog, read about the Yankees win over the filthy Boston Red Sox on Friday Night, noted that the pesky Tampa Bay Devil Rays had come from nowhere to only a few games behind the Yankees for the division lead, and generally tried to relax for the big day ahead. In Friday’s first round the top seeds won on all 10 boards, which meant that as the 5th seed, I’d likely be playing the 10th seed who was none other than my friend Sam Smith, the Jackson Open organizer, president of Southwest Minnesota Chess, and a huge supporter of Jodene Kruse's Okoboji Open.

  Since my computer had all the tournament data on it, Jaleb, Tim, and I checked out of our room and got to the Senior Center at 8:15 when the players were scheduled to arrive. Along with the 20 players from Friday, 6 more players arrived to start the tournament on Saturday: a father and son from South Dakota, 2 brothers from Minnesota, Joe Hall-Reppen from Algona, and my friend John Flores. I greeted John and introduced him to Jaleb and happily turned over the TD duties to him. Since it was my computer, I ran the pairings and sure enough, I was playing Sam in the library.

  I first met Sam at the 2007 Okoboji Open and I got to know him better in 2009 and 2010 when he and John put on chess camps in southern Minnesota featuring the High School champions of Iowa (Matt) and Minnesota to help with the expenses of going to the national tournament of high school champions. Sam was one of the last people I knew to not have email and every once in a while I’d get a letter in the mail from him to let me know what’s happening in chess in his part of the world and I’d send him a letter back. As cool as email and Facebook and the entire instantaneousness of the modern-day world is, it's equally cool to get and write the occasional a long letter. I’ve called Sam a ‘caveman’ because he didn’t have email and would write letters, but I also called him that since as a chess player he is constantly on the attack. I noticed at the last 2 Okoboji Opens that he would be winning his games in the ending, most likely because his opponents were exhausted after beating off his unrelenting attacks. Here are a couple of quintessential Sam Smith games:

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of pgn4web.casaschi.net

Sam Smith through the years.

  Sam took second place in the last 2 Okoboji Open Reserve (U1600) sections and entered the Jackson Open 2 points off his all-time high rating after gaining a hundred points earlier in August while winning a top prize at the big Catfish Days tournament in Franklin, MN. Excepting one tournament Sam has only played in the Okoboji Open, Catfish Days, and the Jackson Open; clearly this tournament was important to him not only as an organizer but also as a player since it represented one of only a dozen or so tournament games he gets to play in each year. Sam is a super good natured guy who is almost always smiling away from the board, but with his weightlifter build, shaved head, Fu Manchu moustache, and massive arms and torso he can be a pretty imposing figure over the chessboard. I have taken a number of pictures over the years showing him glowering at his opponent’s king across the chessboard. When Sam grabs a piece in his huge hand and shoves it towards his opponent’s army -- well I’m not a small guy but I have to admit I’m just a little intimidated. At breakfast, I resolved to do my best not to let Sam play any wild gambits in the opening, especially after he told me that he had gotten a winning position against a master in the Catfish Games using the Budapest Gambit. We sat down, made a little small talk, shook hands, and began our contest.

  What a battle! I felt like I was covering up against Sam’s punishing body blows the whole game until he let down his guard with his fatal pawn move and I was able to score the knockout with a devastating counterpunch. I was thinking about playing Qb3 on the 21st move and suddenly realized that Sam’s queen was guarding the square and only then did the Rc3 move to break Sam’s defense of b3 come into my consciousness. I felt like I played well and had anticipated most of Sam’s ideas except for the Nxe3 sacrifice and was happy to have found the knockout blow. I never considered my one sin of omission (not playing 18.Qb3). I think it is because it would have initially led to an imbalanced position with a rook and pawn for 2 pieces. I’m very uncomfortable playing those types of positions but clearly it is an area I need to get comfortable in if I am to advance my chess ability to a higher level.

  As cool as having a smothered mate in a tournament game felt, having such an intense battle end so suddenly was a shock to my system. There was part of me that was prepared for another hour and a half of mind-warping chess thought and that part was going through withdrawal because there was no game to think about. On the other hand I also felt a lot of sudden relief at having won the game and since it was the first game to finish amongst the top 5 boards, I was the owner of the first 2-0 score and had that happy feeling of a kid in school who is the first one to finish a test.

Rivals and friends!
  I’ve gotten in the habit over the last couple of years of taking a picture of my opponent when I’m playing a game that will appear in the Broken Pawn. At the beginning of my game with Sam, I reached into my pocket to get my camera and it wasn’t there. When I went to the Senior Center next door to use the restroom (the men’s room in the library was out of order), I checked my computer bag and tournament box and the camera wasn’t there either. After checking the car and coming up empty yet again, I figured I either left the camera in the hotel room or in the truck stop where we stopped for food last night. I used my trusty iPod to get my picture of Sam and also for some pictures of the checkmate position (to show the kids at St. Francis) and I even got Riaz to snap a picture of Sam and I shaking hands. Riaz looked like he thought I may have been rubbing it in, but once I explained it was for my blog both he and Sam understood where I was coming from.

  Jaleb was playing the #3 seed Jackson Wahl and Tim the #2 seed Eric Bell. Their games looked to have plenty of play left in them so I decided to drive back to the hotel to look for my camera. There were plenty of eating places within walking distance so I knew I wouldn’t be leaving Jaleb and Tim high and dry, but I let John and Riaz know I was heading out just in case they were looking for me. I headed out to search for my camera happy that I had a perfect record and glad to have given a good account of myself against my friend Sam, but I also knew that since I hadn’t played any of the top seeds I had a long way to go If I wanted to claim one of the top 3 places and win some cash.

When I left the library after winning my second game in a row, there was Austin Wahl playing his guitar. I'll never be asked to appear on 'Name That Tune' but I'm almost sure he was playing a medley of the Journey song 'Don't Stop Believin'' and the Motown Classic '25 Miles to Go'

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

2012 Jackson Open – Part 1 of 4

  I travelled up to Jackson, Minnesota last Friday to conclude my marathon of 5 chess tournaments in 10 days by playing in my friend Sam Smith’s Jackson Open. This year’s Jackson Open was limited to non-expert players (rated under 2000) and guaranteed the entire $700 prize fund. John Flores paid for advertisements in the Iowa and US chess magazines, and Riaz Khan promoted the event in the Minneapolis area. I wrote a pair of articles for the Iowa State Chess Association website to highlight a nearby tournament with a $25 entry fee and a $700 prize fund for non-expert players, which to me is the best bargain for a class player I’ve ever seen. I was hoping to take a carload of players with me and was taken up on my offer by Jaleb Jay, a product of the Marshalltown Chess Club who has just moved to Ames to attend Iowa State University, and Big Money Blitz organizer Tim Harder from Pleasant Hill.

  I was talking to a friend who knows me but is not a hardcore chess player about my chess slump the week before last and he told me my problem may be that I was trying to force the action. He considers me a counter-puncher in our common areas of expertise and saw no reason I wouldn’t be a counterpuncher over the chessboard as well. I have been trying to play more actively and I thought he was right in that I was trying too hard to push the action instead of letting it come to me. At the State Fair, I asked Joe Meyer and Tim McEntee if they thought I was more of a counter-puncher at the chessboard and they said yes. At Thursday’s Marshalltown blitz tournament, I consciously tried to just get my pieces out and be solid and be on the lookout for a chance to strike instead of trying to attack and expecting my opponent to fall apart. It seemed to work out well – all 3 of my opponents made mistakes in the middle part of the game and my pieces were in the proper position to take advantage and win. I managed to win the tournament, aided in no small part by the absence of Matt Kriegel and the Carson family.

  I was very encouraged by my play this week but I also knew the Jackson Open and its time limit of game in 90 minutes was going to be a tournament unlike any I played in the past 5 years. Each game in the Jackson open could take over 3 hours as opposed to an hour for the ENTIRE Marshalltown Thursday Night blitz tournaments or 75 minutes for the ENTIRE state fair speed chess tournament or 4 and a half hours for an ENTIRE CyChess tournament. I have played exactly one game of chess that lasted more than 2 hours since 2008 and I was hoping my stamina was up to the task because I really wanted to play well. I’ve never played in a tournament with John, Jodene, Sam, Riaz, and the whole Okoboji Open crowd. They only know me as the guy who drives up to help direct the Okoboji Open and I wanted to show (to paraphrase the songs that blare out of the car stereos that drive past me when I’m walking my dogs) that I was a ‘playa’ and could ‘represent’ over the board as well as direct.

  I was looking forward to only playing chess in Jackson, but I was pressed into duty directing the first round when John Flores told us he could not make it until Saturday so on Friday morning at 11 I packed my computer and tournament box into my car along with some clothes, food, and a sleeping bag and made the 40 mile trip to Ames to pick up Jaleb and Tim (who was traveling 40 miles north and parked his car in the Iowa Memorial Union parking lot) and headed north on Route 35. I had a fun time talking with Tim and Jaleb on the drive, stopped in Albert Lea for gasoline, some awesome hot dogs, and 50 cent cans of Canada Dry Ginger Ale and headed West on Route 90 until we arrived at Jackson a little before 4.

Lunchtime in Albert Lea, Minnesota!

  With the first round starting at 7, I would have normally had a meal and then a nap to rest up after the drive and arrived at the tournament at a few minutes before 7, but since I had to get all the players in the computer, I just took a nap until 5:30 and then we all drove the 3 miles south to the Library meeting room where the tournament would be taking place. We got to the library and Sam arrived a few minutes later. I left Jaleb and Tim playing blitz in the library and went with Sam to the Senior Center next door where he would be taking registrations and the overflow games would be taking place. Sam was pretty stoked since he was expecting somewhere between 20 and 30 players (the previous top crowd was 14 players). A little after 6, the players started arriving. Sam’s sister took the money and I got the players checked into the computer. Riaz showed up with the top 2 finishers from the March Minnesota Amatuer championship, Dane Zagar and Eric Bell. Okoboji Open organizer Jodene Kruse arrived as well as Sam’s friend Joel Katz. In addition, there were last minute entries from South Dakota and Montana.

  At 5 minutes till 7 there were 19 players and I was planning on being the odd man out and not playing. I don’t like to play in tournaments I direct. As a player I want to concentrate on my game and find it very disruptive to be interrupted, but as the director I’m the one people are going to come to when they have a question. Another problem is that my games tend to be among the last to finish but as the director I feel I need to keep an eye on the games where one of the players is in time trouble and there is no way to do that and also play. A lot of the other directors direct tournaments mainly so they will be able to play in them. I admire them but I have always had a hard time wearing the player and director hats at the same time. I’ve always been very content to let someone else run the tournaments when I’m playing. I dont do any 'back seat directing', I just play and don’t even notice until afterwards whether the tournament is meticulously run in a machine-like order like Roger Gotschall’s CyChess or Ben Munson's State Fair tournaments, a shotgun scramble for opponents like Big Money Blitz, or whether there was a half hour wait for pairings and people were playing the same opponents over and over and the results were misreported like the afternoon blitz tournament I played in 2 Saturdays ago. You might say I’m able to compartmentalize, but I attribute this to my laser-like focus mixed with a touch of old age.

Destiny Jorenby
  I had made the pairings but not given them out and then one more player came bursting through the door and my desire to not play and direct took a back seat to not giving a player a game so I put myself back in the active player list, redid the parings, and sat down to play. I was the 5th highest rated of the 20 players and my opponent was a teenage girl named Destiny Jorenby. Destiny’s brother Josiah was also playing and the family had driven over that day from South Dakota on an impulse to play in the tournament. I’d never met Destiny before and we didn’t have a chance to talk but her rating of 1282 told me she was a skilled player and possibly several rating classes better (younger players tend to be underrated). Since she was a teenager I tried to keep in mind my guidelines about playing younger players that I mentioned in my May post from my game against Milind Jetty : a) Don’t let them attack - that’s likely what they’re best at, b) Use a lot of time and try to project an attitude of infinite patience because they tend to get fidgety and impatient waiting for their opponent to move, and c) An adult is more likely to outplay the child in the endgame because children tend to win their games with attacks, not endings and will not have the adult’s endgame experience.

pgn4web chessboard courtesy of pgn4web.casaschi.net
  I was only interrupted once during the game when someone gave me a cell phone that was left at a table. When the game was over I had 16 minutes left, Destiny 10, and our game was the next to last to finish. Looking over the game a few days later I feel now as I did then that it was a well played game on both sides and a textbook lesson in how to grind out a win against a less experienced opponent. I would have liked to have won sooner to conserve my energy for the 3 games on Saturday, but Destiny was a highly competent player and made no noticeable mistakes until deep into the ending. We talked after the game and she told me she’d been playing for 2 years. I encouraged her to keep on playing and showed her how I thought that by doing nothing instead of advancing her pawns she would have probably gotten a drawn game. Destiny lost her second round game, won her third round game against another junior player from South Dakota, and in her final round had won a piece for 2 pawns against a 1700 player from Montana, but she let the Montanan advance his pawns so far she had to give up her extra piece to stop them and then ended up losing the endgame.

  Jaleb beat Joel Katz in 10 moves when Joel walked into a checkmate and Tim managed to win his game against a young girl who ended up scoring the top upset in the final round. Tim’s game was the last to finish and we headed back to the motel, stopping along the way at the nearby truck stop for Jaleb to get some warm food (Tim brought his own food) and I rewarded myself for my victory with a strawberry ice cream bar before resting up for a busy Saturday.

Austin Wahl was constantly practicing his guitar outside the tournament. I'm no musician, but after my game I think he was playing the Bachman-Turner-Overdrive classic 'Takin' Care of Business'

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Ups and Downs at the Iowa State Fair

Left: David Skaar and I play once a year at the state fair. Here we are preparing for this year's slugfest. Right: Joe from Waterloo and I have played 14 tournaments games in the last 12 months (I've won one of them).

  On Wednesday, I continued my stretch of 5 chess tournaments in 10 days by heading to the Iowa State Fair for the annual speed chess competition. I came very close to winning the coveted blue ribbon the last 2 years, finishing second in 2010 and third in 2011 and even though I had lost 50 points off my quick chess rating in the last week I was optimistic that I had righted my ship and was ready to earn a place among the Iowa State Fair speed chess champions.

  I left work at 4:30 and made my way across town to the state fairgrounds. There was hardly any traffic this year and the people who rent their front yards for parking on state fair week were all sitting forlornly in their lawn chairs staring at their ‘Parking $5.00’ signs and empty lots. I paid my $10 to park in the main lot, paid my $10 to get in the fair and was on my way to the tournament when I saw a sign in front of a tent proclaiming free soda and energy drinks. I was armed with a shot of 5 hour energy and a travel cup of ice water with lemon, but was happy to get a free bottle of HyDrive. Next to the free drink tent was a tent proclaiming ‘Older Iowans Day’ that looked like they were also giving away free stuff but not only was I not an ‘Older Iowan’, they were only giving away sips of water, so I waded through the fair goers to the administration building where the state fair speed tournament was being held. I arrived at the building and greeted Ben Munson, who was presiding over the remnants of the afternoon scholastic tournament. He told me that there were only 12 scholastic players this year. I was disappointed at the small number since I had send out a mailing about the state fair and last year there were at least 30 players.

Left: I like FREE. Right: What are the benefits of being an Older Iowan?

  After chatting with Ben, I went over to check out this year’s competition. My longtime friendly state fair nemesis and defending co-champion David Skaar was there as well as reigning Marshalltown Blitz champion Joe Meyer (AKA Joe from Waterloo). 3 time Iowa champion and life master Tim McEntee was there along with his fellow Ankeny resident Cub Noble. Cub has been studying with Tim and shown vast improvement as most of Tim’s students do. Caden, a player from my scholastic tournaments passed on playing in the scholastic tournament to try his luck with the adults. Just before the 5:30 start time, the other defending co-champion George Eichhorn arrived. Since we had 7 players, Tim decided not to play. Ben told us that with only 6 players, we would play each of the other players twice. He also told us that unlike years past we would have a 2 second delay in addition to the 5 minutes we normally get to play the game. This was a big boost to my chances since I have always been behind on the clock at the state fair but with a 2 second delay, I would never run out of time in a winning position as long as I could make each move in the 2 second delay before the clock started running.

  I was paired with Caden in the first round and as soon as we started, tournament veteran Greg Ward showed up. I’ve seen Ben turn away players who were even a minute late, but he made an exception for Greg and told us that instead of playing each other twice, we would play each other once and each have one round off, with Greg taking the first round off. I beat Caden fairly easily in the first round with the Black pieces and had the second round off, which I spent playing a warm-up game with Tim. I played the Boris against Tim, who crushed it effortlessly.

  In the third round, I had white against George. I had a mate in 4 against him last year but lost when I ran out of time. I didn't even have a phyrric victory this year as I moved too fast in the opening and forgot to play the Boris, which allowed George to play the dangerous Albin Counter Gambit. I took the pawn but wasted so much time trying to keep it that George got a crushing bind on my queenside. I got down to 1 second on my clock, but with the delay was able to make 20 moves within 2 seconds and even managed to win a piece from George before running out of time looking for a way to stop his passed queenside pawns.

  With one loss under my belt, I sat down to play Joe with the black pieces. I’ve only beaten Joe in one of 13 tournament games (with 6 draws) but the game I won was with the Black pieces so I was confident I could win if I played well. Joe played a line against my Center Counter defense that led to a quick trade of queens and open lines for the rooks. I had 2 bishops against a bishop and knight and was pushing the action throughout, but couldn’t get Joe to fall for any tricks and we agreed to a draw when we ended up with only bishops of opposite colors. I was behind 2 minutes to 1 but with the delay there was no reason for Joe to play on. My next game was with the White pieces against Greg. Last year Greg had me beat, but ran short of time and made several poor moves in time pressure to lose so this year I wanted to stay even on the board, get ahead on the clock, and let nature take its course. I played a heady game and established a strong grip on the board against Greg’s Dutch Defense. We had even material with 6 pawns, 2 rooks, and a knight each and I was ahead on the clock with one minute to Greg’s 10 seconds when I suddenly lost my head and attempted some dubious tactics that should have lost my knight. Luckily for me, Greg missed winning the knight in his time pressure and ran out of time, giving me an undeserved win for the second year in a row. I looked up after the game was over and standing there watching was 2009 state fair champion Jon Narcisse, who was manning his Iowa Party booth and had wandered over to catch the action. Jon pointed out to Greg how he had an easy win, but when you only have a few seconds on your clock, nothing is easy.

  Feeling lucky indeed, I sat down to play Cub with the black pieces. We played a complicated game in which I wrecked Cub’s pawns to get an advantage in any endgame, but Cub used the open lines the wrecked pawns gave him to generate dangerous piece activity around my king. We were each maneuvering around and I was behind on the clock 2 minutes to 3 when Cub offered me a draw. I spent a minute looking for a way to try to get an advantage, found none, and accepted the draw.

Left: 3 Years of Iowa State Fair speed chess champions (from left) George Eichhorn, Cub Noble, Jon Narcisse, and David Skaar with tournament organizer and Des Moines chess legend Ben Munson. Right: Tim Mc Entee, Iowa's best chess teacher, observing Cub battle Joe.

  For the last round, I had white against David Skaar. The other 2 games from the last round were still going on and one of them was using my clock. We were at the table where Cub’s clock was and I asked Cub if the delay was set and he said no, his clock didn’t have a delay. I should have waited until my clock was available but I made a hasty move and decided to play using Cub’s clock. We played a complicated King’s Indian Defense and David found a tactic to win a pawn. I was behind on the clock and traded down to a Queen and Bishop ending where I was still the pawn down but while my king was safely tucked in behind my pawns, David’s was in the open and I was able to threaten it with my queen. I finally managed to win my pawn back and with each of having seconds left we had only 2 pawns each and were frantically racing them down the board. I queened my pawn first and then David queened his pawn, but I was able to force a queen trade on the next move. My king was closer than David’s to the last 2 remaining pawns and I won his with 2 seconds left on my clock. I raced my pawn down the board and made a queen and was in the process of forcing David’s king into checkmate when I stole a glance at the clock and saw I had 8 seconds left. When I checkmated David, I had 13 seconds left. I figured the clock was adding time after each move but as David and I were discussing the game afterwards, I realized that when you ran out of time using that particular clock, it starts to count up the time! I felt bad about winning that way, but it was up to David to make the claim. I could have and should have avoided the whole mess by using my clock in the first place. Anyway, it was another great game with David. We only meet this once a year, but when we battle we’re like 2 heavyweights in the middle of the ring trading blow after blow until the bell rings and this year I managed to take the split decision.

  Once I lost to George, I figured I was out of the running for a blue ribbon and when I drew Cub and Joe, I assumed there was no way I could even get third place and I watched the last game of the tournament between Cub and George. Cub was being beaten badly over the board but won the game when George ran out of time. It turned out that Cub and George were tied with 4 points apiece and by winning Cub took the tournament and I had tied for second with George. If I could have beaten Cub and if everything else has remained the same (2 very big ifs) , I would have tied him for first.

Left: The look of a champion. Right: Number 2 and Number 1, but there's always next year...

  We all talked a bit after the games were over. Caden didn’t win any games, but he had a chance to beat Greg in their matchup. We all congratulated him for playing, encouraged him, and reminded him and his parents that the best way to get better at chess is by playing stronger players and he left eager for my next youth tournament. I snapped some blog pictures, said my goodbyes, and wandered around with Tim looking for something to eat. We found a Gyro stand and I thought I had 5 minutes of incredible Gyro worker interviews, but my camera only captured a few seconds of Gyro Action! We ate under a tent while talking about the speed chess tournament, last weekend’s youth tournament, Tim’s chess plans for the area, and it was time to go home and say goodbye to State Fair speed chess and my chance at a blue ribbon for another year.

  I’m happy to have gotten my second second place ribbon, but I still covet that blue ribbon more than anything I’ve coveted in quite some time. I don’t know why I want that blue ribbon so badly. Maybe it’s because I’ve come so close or that both my children have one, but if I had to pick a reason I have to go with the totally irrational belief that the championship the blue ribbon signifies would confer a kind of Iowan chess immortality above and beyond my 2 CyChess co-championships and even the Broken Pawn’s best chess blog award. I admit it’s silly, but it’s my silliness and nothing else makes sense as to why I want to win this little blue piece of cloth so badly.

  Despite not coming home with the coveted blue ribbon yet again, I was in a pretty good mood heading home with a belly full of Gyro. I couldn’t say whether it was from the release of good feeling endorphins after the intense 5 minute battles with my fellow chess players, the realization that despite not playing especially well I was able to battle my way into second place, or just another great day playing chess and hanging out with great people. I was pretty hot and thirsty so I stopped at the Git’n’Go in Bondurant for a soda. You may recall this was the site of my June post in June about a 20 ounce soda refill costing $1.06 while a 32 ounce new soda cost 42 cents. There at the counter filing her nails was the same clerk who was on duty when I asked for a 32 ounce cup, poured the contents of my refill cup into it, paid my 42 cents, and then poured the soda back into the refill cup and left (taking photos each step of the way). As I filled my refill cup with a soda, she warily said ‘Are you going to take pictures today?’ I couldn’t believe she remembered me and I told her that I was a journalist (leaving out the chess journalist part) and that she and the 40 cent Git’n’Go anniversary 32 ounce soda figured prominently in an award winning blog. She loosened up after that, smiled, and said she told all the other clerks about me and they all have a good laugh when the subject of my taking pictures of the soda switch comes up. Then she only charged me 73 cents for the soda instead of the $1.06. So even though immortality in the world of Iowa State Fair speed chess still eludes me, I have made my mark at the Bondurant Git’n’Go. Until next year I’ll take whatever immortality I can get.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


  I’ve been busy lately and if you don’t believe me here’s a summary of my last 4 weekends. On Saturday July 21st I ran a youth chess tournament following 2 days of running a chess camp. On July 28th and 29th we drove to New Jersey for a family vacation and spent Saturday August 4th driving back to Iowa. Last Saturday I had another youth chess tournament in the morning and played in a quick chess tournament in the afternoon. Tonight I’m at the State Fair speed chess tournament and this weekend I’m off to Jackson, Minnesota for Sam Smith’s Jackson Open. I played in last Thursday’s Marshalltown Blitz and will probably play in tomorrow’s also. And I’ve been working, writing my blog, walking Daisy and Baxter, and eating Cheetos Puffs whenever I get the chance!

  How do I keep up this pace? I don’t know, but I’ve been able to do it for years. Of course there are times when I get tired of dragging myself to work an hour early on a Thursday so I can get back to Marshalltown to run the chess club by 5pm or answering dozens of emails about an upcoming chess tournament. I’ve been through it enough to know that the weariness is only temporary and that helps me to fight through it, but it also helps when I see the fruits of my labors like I did this past weekend.

  On Saturday, I had my last outdoor youth tournament of the summer. I originally planned a morning youth tournament instead of the normal doubleheader because I was playing around with the idea of a handicap tournament where stronger players would have to play without a pawn or a queen against less strong players, depending on how wide the gap in their USCF rating was. Before I got that idea finalized, I ended up giving the afternoon at the shelter to IASCA board member Bill Broich to run a free quick chess tournament as a fund raiser for a chess player/organizer who was moving to Washington DC. His fund raiser was originally scheduled to be the same day as the Jackson Open and I let him use the shelter in the hope of helping get Sam that extra one or two players to Jackson that make the difference between taking a loss or a profit on a tournament.

  My outdoor tournament last August was the most poorly attended of all my 19 monthly tournaments with only 10 youth and 2 parents for a grand total of 12 players. My outdoor attendance has been up this year (29 and 30 in June and July 2012 vs 21 and 23 in 2011) and I wasn’t expecting a large crowd by any means. But I kept getting entries every day and by the end of the week I had 32 entries. I even got 4 entries from people that had never come to my tournaments before which is very unusual for the summer.

  I picked up Chandler and Dalton, the brothers from the Salvation Army club who help me set up in return for a ride and free entry at 7:30 and we were off to Pioneer Park on the south side of Des Moines. We got set up by 9 and slowly but surely the players started to arrive. The new entries came from a referral from the parent of one of Matt’s students and Sam Cole, solving that mystery. I had a few no shows, but I also got a few walk-ups and by the time I got everybody settled in at 9:35, there were 33 players with the only odd number of players in the parents section. I was going to play in the parents section against Kiran (the last arriving parent), but his son was playing next to him and finished so early we decided to call the game off in order to allow him to give an improptu lesson to his son and his son’s opponent.

  Not playing gave me a chance to take pictures of most of the players, observe the games, and talk with the parents. I had at least a dozen parents come up to me to say that their children really enjoyed my tournaments because they are low pressure and that they had fun coming to them. They thanked me for putting on the tournaments, one of the parents insisted on paying me more money than the entry fee, and another got a cool gift for me. I don’t run around solciiting compliments and maybe everyone was being so nice because I didn’t have any future tournaments to announce (St. Francis hasn’t given me the dates for my fall tournaments yet) and were wondering if I was giving up on my efforts to have monthly youth tournaments in the area, but I don’t think so. I think after 20 straight months of tournaments I have a core group of players and parents who get it like I get it, that chess is for fun and making friends and it's building on itself. Every tournament is going to have that player who doesn’t beat anyone, but I think as long as they can walk away with a medal, make some friends to hang out with and see every month, and play some chess games without the pressure of skipping other activities or high entry fees, there’s a much better chance of them playing until something clicks and they see that sudden improvement that most young players do see eventually.

  Speaking of clicking, something has clicked with Dalton. Months ago, Jaleb and I worked with him on how to checkmate his opponent’s king with a king and a queen. We went over it for at least a month, but Dalton would still get a queen ahead and stalemate his opponent. At the July youth tournament, Dalton was a queen ahead twice. He stalemated one opponent and checkmated the other. 3 Thursdays ago he checkmated Eric while a queen ahead, last Thursday he got Zack, and in today’s tournament he got a queen ahead twice and got 2 more checkmates for 4 in a row without a stalemate. He hasn’t done it exactly the way Jaleb and I taught him, but he’s finally figured it out and now I can feel comfortable in teaching him something else. People (not the same ones that tell me I'm hyper-critical and also hold grudges too long) tell me I’m an extremely patient person, but I didn’t know if Dalton was ever going to figure out this checkmate pattern and it gave me a great feeling to see him learn and execute something that we invested a lot of effort in showing him.

  While one of state champ’s Jose Gatica’s students was romping through the unrated section by winning 5 out of 6 games and only giving up a draw to the incredibly talented 5 year old who beat my top 7 and 8 year old St. Francis players in April, 16 players were battling it out in the rated section. 16 is the perfect number of players for a 4 round tournament since there can be at most 1 player who wins all their games and also only one loses all their games, so at least 15 players will have something positive to take from the tournament. The tournament was in the third round and Alex, the player I’m giving lessons to in return for his mom serving as the chess camp nurse was playing Chandler, who has won 2 of the 6 tournaments held this summer. They were among the last 4 players with perfect scores and Alex won after a long struggle which almost didn’t leave time for a fourth round and then he sat down with the black pieces against Jasper from Ames (who takes lessons from my son Matt) to battle for the championship.

  I don’t really teach chess to Alex, rather I try to have him learn chess while I teach him the benefits of not worrying about winning and losing, not to be afraid to make a risky move if he thought it out and thinks it will work, and some basic endings. He is eager to improve and likes to think for himself and that is a great combination of qualities for a young chess player to have. Matt saw Alex’s aptitude immediately at last year’s chess camp and moved him to the advanced group even though he had never played in a tournament game. I think Alex stuggled with nerves in his first few tournaments and had mixed results, but in February he hit a new gear and has gained 100 rating points in each of his last 3 tournaments, including a second place finish in the June afternoon tournament (well before our first lesson). After the normal back and forth of a youth chess game, Alex managed to snare a rook and win the game for his first championship. He was really happy to have won the tournament and I felt great for him, but I had to mention at our Monday lesson that just because he won the tournament he didn’t need to think that now he had to win every tournament. He told me that he thought was lost in every game so he knows he didn’t play perfect. That was just the answer I wanted to hear because if Alex could only learn one thing from me it would be that the most important thing is to work on playing better and not worry about wins and losses.

  I think it was the most positive tornament I ever ran and I’ve run more than a few of them. Everyone had a great time. When the kids weren’t playing in the tournament, they played chess for fun or tag in the parkland surrounding the shelter while the parents were hanging out under the shelter talking to each other and watching their kids play. I felt proud and satisifed that I was able to play a part in providing this chess opportunity.

  After the prizes were all given out by the 3 time state chess champ and life master Tim McEntee, it was time to get ready for Bill Broich’s quick chess tournament. There were 13 holdovers from the morning tournament, 10 youth players, myself, and 2 players from the morning parents tournament. We were joined by 6 more adult players and Matt Czizek, a teenager who has started playing in adult tournaments after winning 6 of my youth tournaments this year to make a field of 20 players. I got off to a good start by beating one of the youth players (I mistakenly took the white pieces instead of the black pieces I was assigned to, but Bill said not to worry about it). Then I played second ranked Eddie from Croatia in the second round, who I beat twice in Big Money Blitz last September. I had White and played the Boris. Eddie tried to attack my king, but I found a nice counter to win a piece and force an exchange of queens. Then Eddie switched his attentions to my queenside. I defended poorly and went down in flames. Tim had watched the game and told me I was moving way too fast. It was good to hear that from someone else and I made sure to take my time in the remaining games. I beat youngster AJ (who upset Des Moines chess coach Dan Troxell) in the third round fairly easily. In the final round, I played IASCA president Eric Vigil. I played quite well in winning, but there were a number of times in the game when my hand had a mind of it’s own and tried to make a move without consulting the rest of us. I remembered what Tim had said and each time my hand shot out, I pulled it back, took a deep breath, considered my options, and won what I think is the best game I’ve played in a couple of months.

  It was a great afternoon of chess with the kids from my youth tournaments getting a rare chance to try their luck against some of the area’s best chess players and to get exposed to a more adult tournament atmosphere. And after running a tournament in the morning it was my pleasure to point to Bill whenever anyone asked me a question about the afternoon tournament.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Can’t Win For Losing

  This past week I couldn’t win. On Thursday, we started our fourth Marshalltown Chess Club blitz season. I was hoping to get off to a good start but we had eleven players so I was ready to sit out. The tournament started and then Matt Kriegel showed up. Normally I would have not played Matt so early in the tournament, but since we were the only two players not playing I sat down with the Black pieces, failed to make any dent in Matt’s opening, tried to push the action, missed a 2 mover, lost a rook, and lost to Matt for the second time ever and the second time in our last 4 meetings. Then in the last round I sat down against Tim Carson, patriarch of the famous chess playing Carson family. I’ve known Tim and his family for almost 10 years and I had never even given up a draw to him. I’ve had dead lost and dead drawn positions against Tim before but always managed to win. I even beat Tim in an offhand game before the tournament when he fell for an opening trap. We repeated the same opening from our offhand game in our tournament game but Tim avoided the trap and we headed to an even ending with 7 pawns, 2 rooks, and a knight apiece. I thought I had a slight edge, but just as I did against Matt Kriegel, I pushed too hard to win, lost a pawn, and then lost to Tim for the first time ever.

  Tim played mistake free and deserved his win, but I wasn’t very pleased with my contribution to the cause and it was an ominous beginning to a stretch of 10 days in which I’ll play in 5 chess tournaments. Late Friday afternoon the Chess Journalists website announced their annual award winners and this Broken Pawn was nowhere to be seen. I don’t know whether this blog finished second or third since as yet there hasn’t been any disclosure of the judging as in years past, but I know I didn’t win and there are very few times in this world where not winning can be confused with winning.

  In professional sports, not winning or not making the best attempt (or any attempt) to win is generally viewed as an acceptable practice when a goal bigger than a single game is in sight. When a baseball or football team clinches their playoff seeding, they normally try to protect their best players from injury by allowing the backups to play in their place. The Indianapolis Colts started 13-0 and 14-0 in the last decade and stopped playing their All-Pro quarterback Peyton Manning and the rest of their best players, trading away their chance at perfection in order to have a better chance at a Super Bowl championship. In both years, the decision was controversial but understood and there were no sanctions by the NFL to force teams to play their best players in every game.

  When losing in order to win works too well, rules have to be changed to prevent the practice from being repeated. In the 1983-1984 NBA season, the Houston Rockets were still struggling despite adding the top pick in the NBA draft (7’4’’ Ralph Sampson) to their roster. Over the last month of the season, the Rockets stopped playing their best players at the end of games. They lost 9 of their last 10 games to beat out the LA Clippers for last place in the Western Conference and the right to participate in a coin flip against the worst team in the Eastern Conference for the top draft pick. The Rockets won the flip, drafted Hakeem Olajuwon and were in the NBA Finals 2 years later. Coincidentally, the next year the NBA instituted a draft lottery that gave each non-playoff team an equal chance at the top draft pick.

  In the 2012 Olympics, 4 women’s badminton teams were disqualified for attempting to lose their final match in pool play. All the teams had qualified for the quarterfinals and were trying to avoid playing the second ranked Chinese team in the quarterfinals, but they were disqualified for "not using one's best efforts to win a match" and "conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport". The 4 teams were more than overt in their attempts to lose their matches by serving into the net or out of bounds and making little or no attempt to return the occasional shuttlecock that was hit in bounds. In my opinion these players should have faked injuries to give themselves an excuse to play poorly or the organizers could have set the quarterfinal brackets based on any means other than the pool play results, but the teams had no business being booted out of the Olympics. If one of the players had broken their wrist diving to make a play in a meaningless match, the Badminton pundits (if there are such things) would have clucked their tongues and noted how the competitors had no business risking injury in a meaningless match. When super-Olympian swimmer Michael Phelps finished 8th in the qualifying race for the 400 Meter Individual Medley, he correctly noted that "The only thing that matters is just getting a spot in," he said. "You can't win the gold medal from the morning.” The top 8 finishers made it to the finals and Phelps made sure to finish in the top 8. Phelps finished fourth in the finals, but there was no inquiry as to whether he or any of the other swimmers had not tried their best in win a qualifying race. It appears the badminton and swimming (and most other Olympic sports) have a different definition of what trying to win is.

  In chess, there is a tactic known as the ‘Swiss Gambit’ in which a strong player will give up an early draw in order to play relatively weaker opposition (tournaments normally pair players who have the same scores) throughout the rest of the tournament, beat them, and hopefully win a top prize. When I researched this topic I was found out the Swiss Gambit is well known in other tournament sports like bridge that pair opponents using the Swiss system. I don’t know about bridge, but the rare times I’ve seen the Swiss Gambit played in chess tournaments it was met with an amount of disdain mixed with a certain admiration when the trick succeeds. I’m sure if this strategy was really effective, the rules would have been changed long ago to give an extra reward to the winners of earlier rounds.

I wonder if the 'Blue Ribbon' contibutor felt like a winner.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

  We got back from vacation on Sunday at around 1 in the morning after leaving New Jersey at 7 in the morning on Saturday and 18 hours of driving and breaks. By Sunday night we had Daisy and Baxter back from the kennel and were settling back into our normal routines and one of my routines is to watch the TV show ‘Falling Skies’ on TNT every Sunday night at 8. Ben told me what a great show it was last summer but I spent my Sunday evenings watching reruns of ‘Law & Order : Special Victims Unit’ on the USA network until I happened to catch a rerun of Falling Skies one Saturday morning and got hooked. The show centers on the adventures of a group of survivors from the Boston area in a post-apocalyptic United States after an alien invasion has destroyed most of the world’s population. A typical episode shows the band of survivors forage for fuel and food and attempt to retain their humanity while they battle the aliens who have superior firepower and technology and the ability to turn the younger humans into aliens. This season, the group has been attempting to make their way to Charleston, South Carolina where there are rumors of an organized government and resistance movement.

  Even though I doubt the survivors would have any chance against these aliens (especially since they unleashed their new flesh eating spider type creatures 3 weeks ago), I still find myself carried along in their weekly fight for survival. This past week as the group made their way to Charleston they had a choice of 2 roads to take. Captain Weaver (played by Will Patton in his best role since Quentin Glass in the epic 2004 film 'The Punisher') decided to take the East road. I wondered why and the writers anticipated my question by having the Captain's driver ask him. In answer, the Captain asked his driver if he could smell the sea air. It was an easy decision for the Captain to make since he had no way of knowing if either or both roads would lead them into an alien ambush, but having made the decision, there was no turning back. Even heading to Charleston instead of hunkering down in Massachusetts for the winter was a big decision, probably made easier by the fact that without the road trip there wouldn't be any more episodes.

  I’ve never had to make a decision about which road to take to avoid hostile aliens. At work I make plenty of decisions about how to solve programming problems but the only consequence of making the wrong decision is spending some extra time getting things right later on. On Saturday, I had to make a more important decision. We were driving to Iowa from New Jersey and ran into some rain halfway through Indiana. The rain quickly turned into a downpour with wind, lightning, and bending trees. Motorcycles and some cars took refuge under every available underpass to wait out the storm. It was hard to see and there were drivers with their hazard lights on going 20 miles an hour in the right hand lane, effectively rendering Interstate 80 into a one lane highway. Then Matt called a friend in Iowa and told me there were tornado warnings right where we were in Indiana. It was pretty hard to see even with wipers on full blast, but I decided to keep on going. After a half hour of traveling at around 40 MPH the storm broke and I was back traveling at 75 miles an hour.

  I didn’t really have to think about this decision since I’ve driven through a lot worse going back and forth from work. I’ve worked from home because of snowstorms a lot of times, but in 16 years, I’ve only stayed at work one time after I had already made the drive to Des Moines. One of Newton’s laws is that a body in motion tends to stay in motion (unless acted upon by an outside force) and I think that applied to my decision to keep driving through the storm on Saturday. I wasn’t too concerned by the threat of a tornado since I figured we were equally likely to be hit by a tornado no matter where we were, but I wanted to keep getting closer to home.

  I made a much more questionable decision on Sunday. After getting a few hours of sleep, I turned on my computer to work on my emails, get the vacation pictures loaded, and get my blog posted. I wrote my blog on Saturday in the car when it wasn’t my turn to drive. I was working through my tasks when I went to print an email and my computer went into a major slowdown. My email froze, Word froze, Excel froze, Internet Explorer froze. Everything froze. I rebooted my computer and it took 20 minutes to reboot. I could go into safe mode and things would be fast, but in safe mode I had no access to Word, Excel, or Outlook. I backed up my computer and then I went back to non-safe mode and was back to waiting 5 minutes between I clicked on an icon and the program to appear on my desktop. I was about to bring the computer to a friend of Matt’s to look at when Ben came downstairs looking for breakfast so I asked him to look at the computer. Ben asked me if I had changed anything and I couldn’t recall anything.

  I was pretty upset at this HP computer. I had 2 Dell computers for 4 years each before they died and here was this HP computer broken after less than a year. I had the computer for a year before that as a backup but it mostly had sat in a box. I realized I should have had a backup computer ready when I put the HP into commission, so I went to Staples and bought an inexpensive Dell computer to at least have for my youth tournament on Saturday. When I got home, Ben had the computer running a little faster by disabling the anti-virus and some Windows services, but it was still nowhere as fast as it was before it froze at 8 in the morning. Meanwhile I loaded my tournament software and Microsoft Office on my new computer. As my new computer was loading, I realized I did change something on my computer on Saturday. Since I was using it in the car without a plug, the battery was being used up quickly and I changed the power settings to conserve my battery by dimming the display. I went to the HP computer, reset the power settings to not dim the display, and ‘Viola!’ – everything was working like it was before. After everything was all said and done, Matt chided me for running out and buying a computer at the drop of a hat just because I was having problems with my old one. I had to agree that it was a pretty panicky move, but after looking at it, the poor decision was made months ago in not having a contingency plan in the case of a computer crash.

  Next week I’m heading to Jackson, Minnesota to play chess at my friend Sam Smith’s Jackson Open. Jackson is 20 miles north of Okoboji and Sam has run this tournament for 6 years. He has never had more than 14 players and made some big decisions this year to try to boost attendance. The first big decision was to make the tournament open only to players under the expert level since he has rarely had more than 1 or 2 expert or better players each year. The other big decision was to guarantee the $700 prize fund which represents a major financial commitment. As a tournament organizer I’m not sure I like the idea of excluding players based on rating, but as a sub expert player I like the idea of being able to have a realistic chance at a big money prize. I’m sure these decisions were difficult for Sam to make, but in my opinion well worth the risk to boost attendance and regain momentum for his signature tournament.

  Sam has always been a big encouragement to my chess efforts and ran a couple of chess camps with John Flores on Matt’s behalf to help with the travel expenses of representing Iowa at the National High School championships so it was an easy decision for me to head up north to support his tournament. I have no idea what to expect from my first chess tournament in Minnesota. I’ve played in 2 tournaments this year. In the March CyChess I felt as sharp as I ever have only to have a bad tournament in which I was lucky to draw 2 of the 3 games to go along with a painful loss, while in the week before the May CyChess I couldn’t stop giving away my queen yet played exceptionally well in winning the tournament with only one mistake in 100+ moves. I may be heading into a Minnesota-Iowa border buzz saw with the 3 prime movers of chess in that area enjoying big successes in 2012. John Flores win the Okoboji Reserve in April, Jodene Kruse (the Okoboji Open Organizer) won $1200 at the National Open at Las Vegas in June and Sam just picked up 100 rating points and $165 at the Catfish Days chess tournament 2 weeks ago . In any event I hope I won’t be preparing for the tournament by hanging my queen every chance I get from now until next Friday.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Geek Hunting - Jersey Style

Mike the Geek owner!
  We took our semi-bi-annual family vacation to the Jersey Shore last week. We had gone every odd numbered year until we skipped the 2009 trip and now we have been going every even numbered year. We stayed at the Toms River Holiday Inn just as we have every time we went to the shore. The hotel is about 5 miles from the shore, but renting a house or an apartment for a week at the shore is pretty expensive and even if you rent the a really nice space there’s no guarantee that next door there won’t be a bunch of drunken kids or adults having loud parties every night.

Left turns - Jersey style.
  5 years ago, we arrived at 1pm and the Holiday Inn wouldn’t check us in until 3pm because we weren’t ‘Priority Club’ members. I signed up to be a Priority Club member and 2 years ago not only were we able to check in early we got 2 free breakfasts a day. This year we didn’t arrive in time for an early check in but on Monday when I tried to get my free breakfast I was told that the free breakfast weren’t being given to Priority Club members any more, just to Gold or Platinum Priority Club members (You have to stay at a Holiday more than 14 days a year to be a Gold member). I had to make do with my consolation prize of free coffee and newspaper and forage for breakfast at a nearby Dunkin Donuts. There’s been some noticeable slippage at the Holiday Inn in other areas this year. While they were able to give us a small refrigerator like last vacation, we couldn’t get a cot and even though we tell the front desk that we’d like 4 towels every day, we still had to make a nightly pilgrimage to the front desk to get 2 extra towels.

The day clerk at the Holiday has an act that you could take on the road!

  Even though I’m on vacation, I still wake up at 4:30 every day (5:30 on the east coast) by force of habit. Everyone else is still sleeping so I head to the hotel lobby and play on the computer until the rest of the family is awake. The early morning hours at the hotel lobby is a nest of predictable activity. At 6:00, the 2 person crew arrives to open the restaurant for the Gold and Platinum Priority club members to get their free breakfast ($11.95 for vanilla Priority Club members like myself along with the rest of the general population). The night clerk, who I’ve seen for at least 10 years, checks people out until her shift ends at 7am, fending off complaints about the noise or shoddy quality of the room with the inevitable request for a discount with a counter offer of a complimentary breakfast. There was one customer who had apparently been through this drill before. He arrived at the lobby 10 minutes after the night clerk left and immediately complained about the kids running up and down the hallways overnight and how he called the front desk and the clerk told him she was only one person and he shouldn’t have to pay for a night at the hotel where no one got to sleep and by god he was a GOLD CLUB PRIORITY MEMBER but he and his family were never staying at a Holiday Inn again unless they got a free room. As the line queued up behind him, the day clerk gave him a free room at 25 after 7, whereupon the customer asked for free breakfasts for the rest of his family beyond the 2 free one afforded by his gold priority status. As his family suddenly appeared from the hallway to eat a free family breakfast, it was all I could do to not stand up and applaud. The next man in line, also having witnessed this award winning performance, lodged a protest at the absence of any carts to take his luggage to his car. He then listed off a list of ailments that would fill 2 episodes of House, and asked for a free room. He bypassed the offer of a free breakfast, claiming he had to leave early to go to the doctor, but all he could get from the day clerk was a helper to serve as his personal bellhop to bring his bags to his car. I was very impressed with the day clerk. She always had a smile on her face whenever anyone was looking at her and engaged her customers in animated conversations. I managed to capture a few minutes her performance art on my camera. I tried to make it look like I was fiddling with my camera, but if anyone had asked I was prepared to say I was filming auditions for the next big reality TV show and then ask for a free room or at least a complimentary breakfast. Unfortunately, I was too circumspect and my talent search went unnoticed.

2 sides of the Jersey Shore. The beach on the left and the bay on the right.

Patrick Stewart
contemplating his next big role.
  There is nothing quite as relaxing as a week at the Shore. We’d head down to the beach around 11, splash around in the ocean for a half hour once or twice and sleep or read on the beach the rest of the day, with an occasional walk along the boardwalk to get something to eat or look at the games. There was a pizza stand that gave away a 12 ounce soda with their pizza slice which was the favored eating place. I had a couple of Italian ices at one of the many Kohr ice cream stands. On Thursday, we rented a boat and a driver and had a 2 hour cruise around the bay that separates the tiny strip of land that contains the beach and shore towns from the rest of New Jersey. We got soaked from the boat bouncing up and down, but the ride was even more relaxing than the beach and on Friday Kathy and Ben went back and rented some jet skis for an hour.

Food, sun, sand, candy, and games. The Jersey shore has it all!

  Kathy won a box of candy, a Yankee sign, and a basketball jersey at the spinning wheel games, while the only amusement game I played was a basketball pop-a-shot game. You have around 30 seconds to make as many baskets as you can using the 3 basketballs that slowly roll down to you. If you get 50 points, you win a cheap ball as a prize. The second time I played I got 62 points and was called a ‘god ‘ by the worker who got my prize because he hadn’t broken 60 points all summer. My secret is a quick release, where I reach into the machine to get my ball and toss it into the basket without standing back up. I don’t make a higher percentage of shots than anyone else but I take many more shots. The next day, a ball got stuck on the rim, so I used a basketball from the next machine over to free the ball and I played the game with 4 balls. I got 52 points and the same guy gave me my ball but told me I cheated because I used 4 balls instead of 3. So I played one more game with 3 balls, scored 56 points to prove I didn’t need a fourth ball, and took another ball as a prize.

  My brother Ed came down on Friday to spend the day on the beach with us. While we were hanging out on the boardwalk, an old guy caught my eye as he kept on screaming at every passer-by to ‘Shoot The Geek’. That game has been on the boardwalk for years. I remember the ‘Geek’ having a giant head with glasses in years past and I thought I remembered this same stand offering to let me shoot ‘Saddam’ or shoot ‘Osama Bin Laden’ with their paintball guns in years past. I think the Geek was lucky Clint Eastwood wasn’t at the shore (‘Shoot the Geek…Sure, I’ll Shoot the Geek’ and out comes the 44 Magnum!). I got a few minutes of video of this guy (whose name was Mike) exhorting everyone to ‘Shoot the Geek’ and offering a free bottle of water to anyone willing to fork over the $10 for the chance to ‘Shoot the Geek’. Once I got done filming, Mike managed to talk an older lady out of a cigarette and then started yelling at me to ‘Shoot The Geek’, saying things like ‘C’mon I see you watching’ and ‘C’mon buddy, you know you want to’.

  As we walked up and down the boardwalk, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Mile the barker. He was 3 times the age of the other barkers (who are mostly kids with vaguely Eastern European accents), but he was also 3 times louder and 3 times as hard working. No halfhearted ‘c’mon dad…win the kid a prize’ from this refugee from a Rodney Dangerfield lookalike contest. He made it sound like shooting the Geek was going to be the highlight of your life and all for a measly 10 dollars…and you got a free bottle of ICE-COLD water to boot! As we made our way back down the boardwalk, I decided that even though some of my best friends are geeks (really they are, really!) I was going to take the ten dollar plunge and shoot a Geek.

  I tried to get Matt, Ben, or Ed to join me in shooting the Geek, but they just wanted to be voyeurs and live vicariously through me. I gave Mike my 10 dollars and asked him if this guy had suited up as Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden in years past. Both Mike and the Geek denied ever allowing people to shoot Saddam or Osama (which made me question their patriotism), but they admitted to letting customers shoot Snooki (of Jersey Shore fame) and Barack Obama! At that point my gun was loaded, the Geek had his body armor on, and I fired 100 pellets of paint into the Geek as he drunkenly tried to avoid my marksmanship.

Left: How to talk people into shooting a geek. Right: My turn!

  Before Mike gave me my bottle of ice-cold water, he asked me if I would tip the Geek. The Geek looked at me with disgust as I removed all the loose change from my pocket and dropped the 35 cents in his jar. I then fished out a dollar bill which turned his look of disgust into one of mere disdain. I wasn’t interested in seeing how much it would cost to get a thank you out of the man I just shot, so I asked Mike if I could get a picture of him giving me my ICE-COLD water. He said sure and as Ben took the picture, Mike asked me if I wanted a picture with the Geek. I said ‘No’ and Mike put on his biggest smile yet and said, ‘Yeah, ‘F*** the Geek!’.

Bring on them GEEKS!