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

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'