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
  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'