Wednesday, October 17, 2012

National Chess Day

The chess players crowd around the computer to see who they'll play next.

  Last Saturday was National Chess Day and for the third year in a row I had a free chess tournament. In 2010 I had an adult and beginner tournament at the Salvation Army in Marshalltown and the last two years I’ve had a free family tournament at St. Francis. Unlike the last two years, I didn’t have any donations from side programming clients to offset the costs, but I was able to use some of the profit from this year’s chess camp to cover the costs of having the tournament.

  The two kids from Marshalltown I normally bring to the tournaments didn’t get to club on Thursday. I didn’t have a chance to ask them if they wanted to play so on Saturday I packed up my car with my tournament supplies and headed down to Des Moines by myself.

  I was looking at a small crowd like last month’s tournament, but I caught a break when central Iowa had one of its rare (for this year, anyway) downpours, raining out soccer games, birthday parties, boy scouts activities, and covered bridge celebrations. This caused some parents to bring their kids over to play chess and other players to have a full day of chess instead of a half a day. I still have the same format of morning and afternoon tournaments since it seems to fit in with the more causal chess players of the Des Moines area.

Look closely..Halloween trophies!!
  This year’s tournament had 51 players, down from 68 last year. The difference was in the lack of players from the club I help coach at St. Francis. Last year, I had 19 players from the home school, but this year there were only four. I could have boosted the participation by sending flyers home with the chess players and I would have except for a lesson I learned at my chess camp over the summer. I mentioned to the kids that I was having a tournament the day after the camp. One of the St. Francis players immediately started asking his mother if he could go. She wasn’t especially receptive to the idea so I went over and told the young man that I have a tournament every month so if he missed one it wasn’t a big deal. The mom thanked me and told me that the family just has one car and activities requiring driving have to be scheduled very carefully and in advance. This never occurred to me. Kathy and I have always had 2 cars. I decided that day that I would just send the tournament announcements to the parents and let them decide whether to take their children to the tournaments. I missed out on a few players this month, but having these kids come to the tournament when they’re ready to will be better for everyone in the long run.

  I got to the St. Francis cafeteria a little before 8 and was setting everything up when the first player arrived and as it so happened, it was Augustus from Kansas City. Augustus’s mom brought him and his brother to play last year and I was happy to see that they liked the tournament enough to make the long trip again. Augustus and his mom Christine helped me finish setting up the boards and then the players started arriving. Among the players were my student Alex and 2 St. Francis players, Will and Steffen.

  Augustus outrated the rest of the field by 2 rating classes and won the tournament. But not without a few ups and downs. In the last round he called me over because his opponent was staring at him and he was being distracted while Ana (the opponent) said she was staring at him because he wasn’t moving! I explained to Augustus that I can’t stop people from staring but it was up to him to not be distracted. I even mentioned how the World Champion Mikhail Tal would stare at his opponents and distract them so much that they couldn’t function or wore sunglasses. I also told Ana that her opponent was allowed to use his time in any way he wanted and if he used up his 30 minutes, he’d lose the game. Everything got settled down and they got back to their game.

Some happy prize winners!!
  In the unrated tournament Will was winning his first four games. He knew he could have lost 2 of his games and was delighted to be having his best tournament ever. When Will lost his last round game, a four way tie was created for first place and one of the co-champions was Steffen, the other St. Francis player. Since I give out trophies to the top 5 players in each tournament, all the first place players got one. This was the happiest group of kids I’d seen in a long time and I got a great picture of them that I sent in to the USCF office as part of my National Chess Day report.

  It was a fun morning tournament and even though my camera broke when I dropped it (the battery latch was already being held in place by duct tape), I was energized for another tournament in the afternoon. Des Moines chess coach and 2012 state champion Jose Gatica came by to see some of his students play, I played a game of chess with Augustus, hung out with some of the other parents and players, ate the two BK Stackers Jose brought for me and before I knew it, the afternoon players started arriving.

  I guarantee a three round tournament and normally the players get to play four or five games as long as I can start a round by 11:15 or 3:15. In the afternoon’s third round, there were 3 undefeated players after 2 rounds. The third round started around 2:30. Two of the undefeated players were playing and after the numerous twists and turns of any youth tournament, the game had settled into a position where one player had a bishop and rook pawn, but the defending player had set up a blockade with his king to prevent the pawn from being queened. All the other games had finished. The other players wanted to know if they were going to get to play another game. It was 3:15 and I said we could have another game if this last game was over by 3:25. The defending player was just shuffling his king back and forth and he offered his opponent a draw. The attacking player said “I know it’s a draw, but maybe you’ll make a mistake” and kept moving his bishop to different squares. At that point it got to be 3:30 and I told everyone that there wouldn’t be another game. As soon as I said that there wasn’t going to be another round, the player who wouldn’t agree to a draw before suddenly agreed to a draw and asked me if we could please play another game, but by then it was too late.

  It’s the right of every player to play on in a drawn or losing game, but I couldn’t avoid the feeling that my tournament was being taken hostage. Since I had an odd number of players, the real losers in this scenario was the player in each round who only got to play 2 games instead of 3. It was a small setback to an otherwise great day. In the afternoon unrated section, there was another 3 way tie for first place. Two of the three champions were brothers whose father passed away last month in a car accident. I can’t imagine what these kids are going through, but they seemed pretty happy to be playing chess for an afternoon and I was happy to have been able to give them the diversion.

  There were a lot of positives to pull from the day even (or especially) though there were some events that could have been taken as negative. When Will lost his last round game, he gave three other players the excitement of finishing first in a tournament and still got to experience that excitement himself. My camera died, but when Madhan Prasath stepped up to take pictures in my stead, not only did I get some different ideas on how to take chess pictures, I got some cool action pictures of myself as well. When there wasn’t a fourth round game in the afternoon because one of the players stubbornly played on and on in a drawn position, another player got to win one of my tournaments for the first time and everyone got home a little earlier than they normally would have. I could go on and on but I'm sure you get my drift.

  I had a super group of chess playing kids and adults and there's no better way to thank the people that support my chess endeavors all year by putting on a free National Chess Day tournament for them. My tournament write up even got published on the USCF website (You can see it here.) which will give some publicity to the players and St. Francis. It was a tremendous National Chess Day and I’m already looking forward to the next one.


Happy Elf Mom said...

Hi, Hank! You put on a great tournament.

Some young man read your article and I think he realizes what things looked like from someone else's perspective. He says he is sorry, he had no idea about the children who got byes in the last round who were waiting for a game.

It's true he's very stubborn, but actually his chess coach encourages this because he sees far too many young players resign when they are a couple pawns down and so forth. My son just needs to learn that there are exceptions to the rule and I hope there are no hard feelings.

We really did appreciate our time in Iowa and wish you all the best always. :)

Hank Anzis said...

Hi Happy Elf Mom,
Thanks for following my blog.

There's no reason for the young man to be sorry. It is his right to play on in that position although once his opponent made it quite clear he was just going to shuffle his king between the 2 squares there was no reason to play on.

Part of it was that he did have a not especially obviously winning position a few minutes before, which I did go over with him.

I'm sorry if I made it sound like I was upset. Like I wrote, there were a lot of positives that came out of every situation last Saturday.

In September, one player was 2 rooks behind in the last game to finish in the afternoon and played it out until his time ran out. Now that was a problem!

I liked what you wrote about your playing experiences. You did play a very good first game from what I saw.

See you soon,