Wednesday, April 24, 2013

2013 Okoboji Open – Part 1

Just like last year, the Okoboji Open kicked off with a simultaneous exhibition by
International Master and 2-time defending Okoboji Open champion John Bartholomew.

  I headed up to Okoboji, Iowa this past weekend to direct the tournament for my friend Jodene Kruse. Normally I help by directing and providing a little advance publicity but this year I did extra work because I had helped convince her to use the online registration website developed by Sisira Amarasinghe. The registration website (you can see it here) was a boon because in our instant gratification based society the same people who will procrastinate about writing and mailing a check to enter a tournament until the early entry fee expires and then pass on going because it’s too expensive have no problem with clicking a mouse and entering their credit card information because they can pay on a convenient monthly basis with no messy checkbook or bank balance to deal with. A super feature of Sisira’s website is that players can go there to see who has already entered. This can create a ‘snowball’ effect because when enough strong players are signed up, other strong players will notice and possibly sign up themselves.

  All this convenience ended up coming at a cost to me. While Jodene is more than capable enough to handle a computer and play chess despite having cerebral palsy, she didn’t learn to use the online registration website. This created a situation where if someone had a problem with their entry I would be called upon to help them. When Jodene got an entry in the mail instead of putting the entry in the website so other users could see the new participant, she would send me the entry and I would put it in the site and when she needed to get a list of the players who entered on line she would ask me and I would create the list and send it to her. These things are no big deal but I’ve been so busy at work that the extra duties were unwelcome and I’ll admit there were times I regretted recommending using the online registration site. I thought it would make it easier for Jodene to have people enter directly but I didn’t realize it would make it easier on her by giving me responsibilities that are best left to the tournament organizer. None of that really mattered because I am used to working pretty hard to help with the Okoboji Open and after a rough stretch at work and the countless emails of the past weekend with the IASCA, I was looking forward to having a great time with some great people.

  The tournament got a boost when Will Liang, the father of the youngest US Chess master in history wrote to say his two children (Awonder and Adream) Liang wanted to play at Okoboji. Once he signed up, I put up a blurb on the state website to announce their attendance. Ten year old Awonder is an amazing player (you can see here) and was going to be fifth or sixth highest rated player in the tournament. I’m not sure that his attendance attracted other chess players but it was a drawing point and got tournament the attention of an area newspaper who wrote a nice article about it along with Sam’s contact information. John Flores helped out by getting an article on the Susan Polgar website. I don’t know how much it helped, but I do know it didn’t hurt.

  By Thursday night, it looked like the tournament would have at least 53 players which would not only tie the record set in 2011 but would mean a full prize payout since they were based on 50 players. A bigger concern was the massive snowstorms that had hit the Okoboji area the week before and the 2-4 inches scheduled to hit Thursday night. I wasn’t worried about this year’s attendance since most everyone had already paid (another point in favor of online registration) but bad weather would probably keep people from attending next year. I certainly wasn’t looking forward to driving in the snow.

Cylinder, Iowa!
  On Friday, it was finally show time. With no classes at St. Francis, I had no need to drive to Des Moines for the chess club like the last two years and left from Marshalltown. Tim Mc Entee, the three time state chess champ and my co-coach at St. Francis was going to car pool with me. He arrived at nine; we headed over to Ames to pick up Tim Harder (who traveled with me to the Jackson Open last year) and were on the road to Okoboji by ten. It is always nice to have people to talk to on a long drive and it made the time pass quickly. I was worried about hitting slow traffic and snow as we got closer to Okoboji, but while there was snow in the fields and ditches, the roads were clear and except for being slowed by a road crew that was pouring tiny rocks from a small bucket into cracks in the highway for a five mile stretch, we made excellent time. I even had time to get out of the car in Cylinder, Iowa. Cylinder is a small town with about 10 houses, an RV and camper dealer, a bank, a restaurant with a Mountain Dew sign, and a boarded up Post Office. It may be the only town in the US with more campers and RVs than people. I’m sure Cylinder has a police officer that writes speeding tickets since there are 2 45 degree turns that have 15 MPH speed limit signs. I’ve always wanted to breathe the fresh Cylinder air and now that I have, as soon as I make a bucket list I can cross off at least one entry and if I had actualy found a Cylinderan (Cylindette?, Cylinderite?, Cyllys?) to talk to I could have crossed two entries off!!

  We arrived at the Arrowwood resort at 1:30 and Jodene was already there. I couldn’t get my room until four so Tim Harder took a nap on the floor while I set up my computer and then worked with Tim M. and Jodene to set up the tournament room so that there would only be one chessboard per table. A big part of what makes this tournament special is that the playing room is extremely quiet and extremely large, and that allows the competitors to have their own table which makes them feel like this is a big time tournament which it has become.

  The players slowly started filing in around 4 and then International Master John Bartholomew showed up for his simultaneous exhibition in which he would take on all comers. John was also planning on playing in the tournament and was the two-time defending champion (sharing the title with Matt Dahl last year). Not only does John bring some of his students to the tournament, he is a great guy who has time to talk to everyone. It means a lot to us lower rated chess players to be able to have a chat with a super chess player like John who is happy to have that chat. I'm no chess groupie, but I am a big fan of John's and I watch his games whenever he is playing in a big tournament and root for him.

  At first I was planning on playing in the simul, then some players who hadn’t registered showed up and I had to take care of them so I decided not to play, but then it quieted down so I decided to play at the last minute, but as it turned out I had plenty of time to take care of the entrants since I was the first to lose to the International Master.

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of

While everyone else was still playing against John,
I got to stare at my checkmate position for a long stretch.

  Bummer! Part of the problem was while last year I could set up right outside the tournament hall and was in the same room as the simul, this year I was as far away as I could be from the tournament room and in a different room than the simul. As soon as the new arrivals showed up I was going from room to room and I felt like I was giving the simul! The other part of the problem was that John is a pretty good player. He beat everyone except Sam Smith who played great and earned a draw. After my loss, I figured that since I had Riaz Khan take a picture of me and Sam after I defeated him at Jackson last year, I’d get him to take a picture of me after my defeat this year.

  After the simul was over for me, I resumed checking in the players and started to focus on directing the tournament. There was $2,000 in prize money and nine masters playing so I would have to be on my ‘A’ game anyway, but also in attendance was FIDE (the world chess federation) arbiters Bill Broich and Sisira, Minnesota’s premier tournament director Dan Voje, and Noel Skelton. Noel isn’t a tournament director – he is a chess player who funded his own tournament (the Noel Skelton Open ). And I didn’t even mention all the people that Riaz Khan and Sisira convince to make the long trip to play by telling what a great tournament site it was and what a well-run tournament it is. I’m a good tournament director but my strengths lie in my mad good computer skills, an ability to work harder than almost everyone else, remembering names, and getting along with the kids and parents that attend my youth tournaments. Those are great skills but in a tournament like this the central skills are making sure that the players are paired correctly, that all the pairings the computer software is making can be explained, and that any problems on the tournament floor are handled quickly. None of these are especially my strong suits, but at 5:55, I got a player from the two day section to do me a favor and play the odd numbered player in the three day open section, took a deep breath, printed up the pairings, and the 2013 Okoboji Open was underway….

'And here we go...' - The Joker from 'Batman - The Dark Knight'