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.