Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Watershed Tournament

  Last Saturday, I held my latest monthly youth tournament in the Des Moines area. In September I talked to Sheila, the St. Francis parish secretary about reserving dates for November and December. We decided on November 3rd but the only dates open in December were the 1st and the 29th.

  Having the tournament on the 29th would not only mean having it during the winter break when many of the chess families would be visiting or entertaining family, it would also mean that I’d have 7 weeks between tournaments. This made having the tournament on the first a no-brainer EXCEPT that the state association was scheduled to have a scholastic tournament in Ames that same day.

  The last time one of my tournaments conflicted with the state association was in May when my youth tournament was on the same date as their beginner tournament 100 miles away. The state clearinghouse director sent an email full of capital letters and red text talking about how he saw the tournament announcements on the website and he didn’t approve of the events and that the state association had a financial risk related to their tournament. This led to a series of 21 emails in one day (YES, 21 emails) between the clearinghouse director, the board, and me. I only contributed 2 emails to this morass, one to tell the state that I’d remove my tournament announcement from their website and another to let them know that I be sure to ask the clearinghouse director if I wanted to use the state association website in the future for my announcements. I did try to use the clearinghouse to have a tournament in Marshalltown in October of 2011, but instead of reserving a date making my intentions known merely served as a red flag for a competing tournament in Cedar Rapids to pop up.

  Most of these 21 emails (YES, 21 emails) were from board members wanting me to change my mind and put my tournament announcements on the state website and the clearinghouse director’s job IS to let organizers know which dates have been scheduled for tournaments, but the tone of the initial email and my already strained relationship with the state association made it an easy decision to not advertise my tournaments on their website. I have my own website for tournament announcements and the last thing I want is to get people used to looking for my tournaments on the state website and then having them removed because of a conflict. The president of the state association told me that he would put a link to my website on the state website but that was in April and it’s a good thing I didn’t hold my breath waiting.

  While my other conflicting dates with the state association were with tournaments over 100 miles away from Des Moines, having a tournament the same day as a state tournament in nearby Ames (a little over 40 miles away) was a completely different matter. I have 4 or 5 semi-regular attendees and another half dozen players I’ll see once or twice a year from the Ames area that can make up half of the rated tournament players in any given month.

  I knew when I accepted the tournament date that there would be no one from Ames heading my way for it. I’ve always maintained that chess tournaments that are heavily supported by travelling chess players will only survive until someone provides the travelling population a tournament closer to home. I’ve been having a monthly tournament in Des Moines for the last two years and it was as good a time as any to see if the area would support my chess series without the aid of out of town travelers.

  I had the tournament announced on my website in September and sent out invitations to my mailing list just like I always do. Normally when I send out a mass emailing, I get a few requests to be taken off my mailing list, a few email addresses that are no longer valid, people emailing me to sign up for the tournament, and once or twice a year an email from a parent to tell me their child can’t come to the tournament but to please keep me on the mailing list.

  This month I happened to get four emails from parents in Ames to let me know that they would not be attending my tournament specifically because they would be going to the tournament in Ames that day. Three of the emails were from people who go to one or two of my tournaments a year and have never sent me an email before to let me know they weren’t going to one of my tournaments. I imagine this was a way of letting me know that there was a tournament in Ames that day in case I didn’t already know.

  I had around 10 signups the Monday before the tournament and 20 just 2 days before the tournament. At the St. Francis Chess club on Friday, I was telling Tim how it was going to be a smallish crowd when all of a sudden my amazing iPod started dinging and by the time chess club was over I had another 10 signups. The signups continued all day and night and I even got 2 signups at 2 the next morning and by Saturday morning I was ready for a busy tournament day.

  While my November tournament was one of my more inept efforts (I wrote about it here), the tournament I ran on Saturday was as close to a perfect tournament as I've ever run. I remembered almost all the players and parent’s names (never underestimate the goodwill you get by greeting people by name when they arrive at a tournament), got the pairings done quickly and accurately, got to talk to most of the parents and players, went over games with the players, and even got to play 3 games in the morning parents tournament! Looking back a few days later, I attribute this to the hand of God reaching out to the tournament. I always had an even number of players so no one had to sit out. Whenever one game started running too long and threatened to get the players restless, it would suddenly end in a checkmate or a stalemate. When I had an odd number of players in the afternoon section, I got an email from a parent whose child hadn’t been to a tournament since February to let me know they suddenly had the afternoon free and could their son head over and play? I can't say for sure it was God placing his favor in my direction, but no one can say for sure it wasn't so I'll just stick to my theory.

  All told, I had 59 players at the chessboard for all or part of the day with the only people traveling more than 10 miles being me and high school kid I took with me to help set up. I even had 15 players from St. Francis come to play. You may think that’s not a big deal since the tournament was in the St. Francis school cafeteria and I teach there every Friday. To me it’s a very big deal because I don’t sell tournaments (or sugary cereals or candy) to the kids during the club – I just send the parents an email before the tournament to let them know about it. To have so many of them bring their kids to the tournament shows me that the kids are enjoying chess club and not just killing 45 minutes on Friday mornings and many of the parents told me as much. As a bonus, Tim McEntee, the three-time state champion and life master chess player who helps coach at the club made it down for the afternoon tournament. It was a good chance to introduce him to many of the St. Francis parents and he got to hang out with the players he helps coach. The St. Francis players did quite well for themselves as well. Three players finished in the top five in rated tournaments, one player shared the morning unrated championship, another finished in the top five in the afternoon unrated tournament, and two other players were playing for a share of the afternoon unrated championship in the final round. It was good to see so many kids have success since it may be the only tournament they get to this school year, and it doesn’t make the coaches look too bad either!

  To the untrained eye, it was just another youth chess tournament no different than any of the other 24 tournaments I’ve held over the past two years, but to me it was different from any of the others and very inspiring. This tournament was entirely Des Moines supported and the fact that it was successful showed me that the Des Moines area will support my youth chess tournaments. Up to this month, I didn’t know for sure if needed to have out of town players to make this tournament series work. Now the local community has shown that they’ll support the tournaments and I can work on tailoring them specifically to the Des Moines area.