Sunday, September 2, 2012

2012 Jackson Open - Part 4 of 4

  After my third round loss against Eric Bell, there was still one game going on and I finally had a chance to chat with some of the other players. I was pretty ‘chessed’ out and I hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast except a couple of apples so I was pretty hungry also. I talked John Flores into skipping the last game and having dinner with me at the Chinese restaurant a block away from the tournament.

  I took John and myself out of the tournament and set up the pairings for the last round. The 2 players that Riaz brought (Eric and Dane Zagar) were scheduled to play each other as well as the 2 players I brought (Jaleb and Tim). Tournament directors normally try to avoid pairing traveling companions, but in this instance not pairing them would have made for some drastic swings in the level of competition among the top boards. Since John was the TD and Sam the organizer, I got them and Riaz together and explained the ramifications of pairing and not pairing the 4 players. They all agreed that the traveling companions should play each other. I gave Sam the pairings, the final round got underway, and John and I left for dinner with Sam in charge of the tournament.

Sizzling Chinese Steak!
  At the time I thought it was OK to skip the final round but now I think maybe I shouldn’t have talked John into it because he had already missed Friday’s first round. But John is a generous guy, a good friend, and one of my favorite people in the world, and like the good friend he is he decided to give me some of his time and give up one of the few tournament games he gets to play in to share a meal with me. On the other hand, the food at the New China Buffet of Jackson, MN was OUTSTANDING. I ordered the Sizzling Chinese Steak and I wanted a pot of Chinese tea to go along with it. I was a little put off because they only had coffee, but was happily surprised when the waitress brought out some crab rangoons for us to munch on. After just a few minutes, the chef came running out with the Sizzling Chinese Steak and it was sizzling and tasty! I had a great time catching up with John and letting know where my youth chess program in Des Moines was at. After eating the sizzling steak (John had a peanut/cashew/chicken concoction), the waitress then brought out some watermelon slices for us to eat.

Joel Katz (right) in battle
  Once we were done feasting on Chinese food, it was back to the tournament to watch the final round games. Tim had Jaleb in a bad way but only had about 20 minutes left compared to over an hour for Jaleb, while Eric looked to have Dane Zagar all but beat on the top board. These games were interesting but the game that caught my eye was in the Senior Center next door where Joel Katz was a piece ahead against his teenage opponent. Joel is Sam’s friend from nearby Worthington who has leg problems and gets around on crutches. I’ve written before how Joel played over 50 tournament games before winning his first but he never gives up (in no small part to Sam’s encouragement) and I’ve never seen him lose his enthusiasm for chess. I’ve played Joel and he’ll make around 10 good moves in a row but then he’ll make a move that loses a piece and has a hard time coming back from it. It would be easy to dismiss Joel as just a bad player, but he normally plays against players 4 or 5 rating classes ahead of him that he isn’t expected to beat but 1 in a 1000 times. If he played people who were just a class or 2 ahead of him, he’d score a lot more wins. Joel was psyched for this game because he just earned a hard fought draw against the very underrated player who almost beat Tim Harder on Friday night. I was rooting for Joel not just because I knew that a win would make his day, week, and month; but also because I happened to see him pick himself up on his crutches and make his way to the men’s room earlier in the day. It struck me how something that would take you and me 30 seconds takes Joel at least 5 minutes and I found myself thinking how me and many people I know would just be in a wheel chair and hardly ever leave the house with that affliction, but Joel gets around under his own effort and plays tournament chess to boot!

  Before I knew it, all the games were finished and Sam was figuring out the prizes. Eric Bell won his game to win the tournament with a perfect 4-0 score, and Jaleb managed to stage a comeback in Tim’s time pressure to win his game and tie Jackson Wahl for 2nd and 3rd place with 3.5 out of 4 points. Unfortunately, Joel made a mistake, lost his queen to a knight fork, and lost the game but was as enthusiastic as ever and wanted to talk about his draw, his winning a piece, and even the mistake that cost him his last round game. I told Joel about my mistakes in my game against Eric and Joel was encouraging me and telling me that he was getting better all the time and so was I.

Left: Sam unveiling the Flores Cup'. Right: John presenting the first place prize to Eric Bell.

  Sam and John allowed me to give out a couple of the prizes to thank me for helping them by directing the first round, which was an honor. John gave out the rest of the prizes but before giving out the first prize, Sam wanted to make a speech and a special presentation. This tournament is Sam’s baby and after 6 years he finally has broken through with 26 players (The previous high was 14 in 2009). Jackson has a population of 3,500 and there are barely 100,000 people within 60 miles of Jackson. In chess terms, this is a very small population base to work with (Marshalltown has 600,000 people within an hour drive). It would have been easy for Sam to have given up his idea of an annual tournament but he has persevered and this year he was rewarded with not only a well-attended tournament but a tournament where everyone had a good time and would want to come back to.

The Flores Cup!
  John, Jodene, and Sam have played in all 6 Jackson Opens. John has been the tournament director every year and this year he told Sam to guarantee the entire $700 prize fund and he would make up for any shortfall in attendance out of his own pocket. The guaranteed prize fund no doubt lured some players, but John also paid to advertise the tournament in the IASCA and USCF magazines and got it advertised on Susan Polgar’s popular chess website. Now these are only the things I know about and I’m sure John has done a lot more in the past to help chess in the area. The climax of Sam’s speech was the unveiling of a cup that would have the winner of each Jackson Open inscribed on it and he named it the Flores Cup after John. The cup has pictures of John playing on 3 sides and already had the first 5 winners of the Jackson Open inscribed (including John who won the tournament last year). It was a neat moment and a very cool cup. I know John would rather have his good works stay in the background but we all were happy to see him get recognition for the great things he’s done for chess along the western Iowa-Minnesota border.

  I submitted the tournament to the USCF office before I left so it would be rated by the time we got home, said my goodbyes, and headed home with Jaleb and Tim. I played good if not great and as a bonus found out I had gained 3 precious USCF rating points for my weekend efforts to nudge my rating to its all-time high of 1712. It was great to finally get to play in a tournament with Minnesota-Northern Iowa crowd and I think I showed that I could play a little bit even though not at the top-shelf level like Jaleb played at.

Jodene Kruse, John Flores, Sam Smith:
The movers and shakers of chess in the Northwest Iowa - Southwest Minnesota border region.

  The ride home was uneventful and I was pretty tired when I rolled home around 12:30 in the morning, but it was a good kind of tired because every time I head to northwest Iowa/southwest Minnesota, I come back as inspired as I can be. It’s so great to be around a group of people that support and help each other. Sam, Jodene, John, and Joel have dealt with job changes, medical afflictions, and personal issues and yet they have created a chess culture in a very sparse area. There’s just no quit in this group and I won’t quit heading to Okoboji or Jackson, either.

Special thanks to my personal 'chess troubador', Austin Wahl, who graciously allowed me to make use of his image and musical skills for these last 4 blogs. I've never played any instrument except the kazoo, but as I was leaving I could have sworn he was playing the country classic 'We'll meet again'