Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Playing by the Rules

From the sights to the sounds to the smells,
outdoor chess (even under a covered shelter) is nothing like playing indoors.

  On May 18th I held my first outdoor tournament of the summer. The morning session only had 15 players in attendance (not helped by six no-shows) but everyone had a good time playing and with so few players I was able to talk with the parents and help show the unrated players how they could turn their stalemates into checkmates and develop their pieces towards the middle instead of the edges. If I had to pinpoint a reason for the poor attendance I’d have to say that having six weeks between tournaments gave enough people enough time to get out of the tournament habit but it could also have been a random occurrence.

  Once the morning tournament was over, it was time for my afternoon Time Odds Blitz tournament. I’ve wanted to have a tournament where everyone could play on a more or less equal footing for quite some time and when the outdoor shelter I use was only available until 3pm I decided to have a clock tournament where the higher rated player would have less time than their lower rated opponents and the greater the difference in rating, the less time the higher rated player would have.

  I’ve never held or played in a time odds tournament but having played all comers at the Marshalltown Mall at time odds of one minute to ten the past two years, I knew that one minute was not quite enough time to play a full game of chess against an experienced but lower rated player so I decided to set the minimum amount of time a player could have as two minutes. The tournament was set to take two hours and I wanted to try to get anywhere from five to eight games so I set the maximum amount of time a player could have as eight minutes so if two equally rated players met they would have eight minutes apiece and the longest a game could take would be 16 minutes.

  I had to have the time odds set when I announced the tournament but I didn’t decide on the other tournament rules until a couple of weeks before the actual date. My main considerations were 1) I was going to have a mixture of experienced and beginning players and I wanted them all to have a good time so they would play in future tournaments and 2) I wanted to play in the tournament so I wanted to minimize the number of times that I would be interrupted while playing. Since the tournament was not going to be USCF rated, I had the freedom to have any rules I wanted.

  The most common reason I am called over to resolve a dispute in my youth chess tournaments is when one player claims their opponent touched a piece and the opponent says they didn’t (in USCF tournaments a player must move the piece they touch or take the opponent’s piece they touch). Normally I resolve these problems by saying since I didn’t see the player touch the piece I won’t make them move or take it and closely observe the game from that point on. Since I wouldn’t be able to observe a game AND play I decided on doing away with the touch move rule and instead ending the move when the clock was pressed. This is called ‘clock-move’ and was the unwritten rule in force when I played speed chess for money in New York 30 years ago.

A tournament where everyone can play on equal terms.
Possibly a Quixotic quest but one well worth persuing.

  The most common reason I need to intervene in adult tournaments is when one player makes an illegal move. The penalty for making an illegal move in blitz tournaments is the loss of the game while in longer games the penalty is to add two minutes to the opponent’s time. Neither of these rules was suitable for my tournament. I didn’t want a beginning player (who would no doubt be nervous anyway) to lose a bunch of games because they made an illegal move in the opening. I also didn’t want two beginning players playing each other, making a lot of illegal moves, and then each having 30 minutes to play because of the added time while everyone else just watched. So my penalty for an illegal move was to subtract a minute from the offending player’s time and if they had a minute or less left they’d lose the game.

  There was one problem with this rule. Suppose I had a losing position with 3 minutes left while my opponent had a few seconds left. I could make two or three illegal moves in a row and press the clock. My opponent would lose precious seconds each time they stopped the clock to subtract a minute from my time and may lose the game because of it. If you think that is far-fetched you haven’t seen the depths some will sink to in order to win a chess game. This led me to make an addendum to the time rule that the penalty for an illegal move when the opponent had less than 30 seconds left to be the loss of the game.

  The only other non-standard rule I had was that a checkmate only ended the game if the player had pressed the clock with at least one second left. Normally checkmate ends the game, but I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t be called over after the fact to decide whether the checkmate came before the player’s time ran out or vice versa.

  I had a nice mix of 15 players for the tournament. There were some holdovers from the morning youth tournament, some parents, Mathew Jacob and Eddie Divanovic (who I played against in the Big Money Blitz tournament two years ago), me, and a few other assorted players. I had just paired the first round and was going to post them when I saw a group of people in cowboy hats heading over to the shelter. I immediately recognized them as the chess-playing Carson family including Bethany Carson, the five time Iowa Girls champion and fellow blogger who helps at my chess camp (you can read her account of the tournament here). Also along were Daniel and Sarah Faith who I hadn’t seen in almost three years (and were both taller than me now), Charity (who has beat me in two of our last three encounters in Marshalltown), father Tim (who beat me for the first time ever at our last chess meeting in September of 2012), and mother Betty (who wasn’t going to play). The family was on a day trip to museums in Des Moines and decided to spend a couple of hours playing chess. I repaired the first round, made a quick announcement to make sure everyone understood the rules and we were underway just a few minutes late.

  I had written the time odds on the pairing sheets and had all my clocks set at 8 minutes to 8 minutes, but I still had to set the clocks for each game individually. It only took a few minutes before the first round and even less when one of the players helped me set the clocks before each round. I got interrupted a couple of times when I had to take away a minute from a player who made an illegal move but other than that I was able to concentrate on my games. I played really well in my first two games and torched my opponents (chess parent Jason and Charity Carson) despite having two minutes vs. their eight. In round three it was my turn to have eight minutes against Eddie’s seven. Eddie won a pawn, I gave him another pawn for threats that made him use up some time, and the game boiled down to an opposite colored bishop ending where Eddie had three pawns to my two, but I had three minutes to his 90 seconds. I could have aimlessly moved my bishop around to win on time but instead offered Eddie a draw which he accepted. In the fourth round I played Daniel Carson at six vs. eight minutes. I won a pawn and boiled the game down to a double rook ending, but I remained two minutes behind and couldn’t make any progress. I tried to conjure up some checkmate threats, but Daniel managed a quicker attack and checkmated my king for my first loss of the day. Next I played my third two vs. eight game vs. Justin, an adult first time tournament player. I again won another pawn but got down to less than a minute. I launched a desperate attack which Justin repulsed with a nice tactic and was going to either win a piece or my queen. I went for a cheapo and made a move that threatened checkmate but allowed Justin to take my bishop and remove the mate threat or take my queen. Justin took the Queen and I got the lucky checkmate.

Why didn't I notice that Mathew Jacob and Daniel Carson had played (like in the picture on the left) before the final round? Because I was three feet away concentrating on my battle with top seed Eddie (right). One more example of why directing and playing at the same time is so hard to do. It is impossible to concentrate on my own game AND everything (or anything) else.

  In the last round Daniel Carson and Mathew Jacob were the co-leaders with 4.5 out of 5, but the computer had Daniel playing his dad Tim and Mathew playing me. I changed the pairings to let the co-leaders play each other, BUT since I was so busy playing I didn’t realize that they had already played and drew each other. Having them play each other again for the championship seems logical but it wouldn’t have been fair to the loser of the match since he would have lost out on second place money primarily because of having to play the champion twice. I let the original pairings stand. I played really well against Mathew and had a Knight and three pawns to his Bishop and one pawn when with a 1:17 on the clock I made an illegal move! I had to play by the rules I made, so I took a minute off my clock and just like that I only had 17 seconds left. I didn’t panic and quickly traded off Mathew’s bishop and pawn and stalemated his king with just a few seconds left on my clock for the draw. It was a lucky draw because Mathew could have kept his bishop or pawn to run me out of time and win the game. Because of my draw with Mathew, Daniel won first place and $42 and Mathew second place and $21. Eddie finished third and I was tied for fourth with a couple of other players.

  I had an awesome time playing and everyone seemed to have a lot of fun with the tournament format. There weren’t nearly as many upsets as I thought there would be and almost all of those were scored by tournament winner (Daniel Carson), a rapidly improving scholastic player whose rating hasn’t caught up with her ability (Ana Denison), and a first time tournament player who I gave too low of a rating to (Justin). The younger players generally had trouble giving time odds but also did not take their time when they were getting the odds. The result say the time odds could use a little tweaking, but I disagree. I don’t believe giving the lower rated players more time will help if they don’t use their time and while a higher rated player could conduct a game in 90 seconds, it would make setting the clocks more difficult and two minutes seemed about right since I saw more than a few games where the higher rated players beat their opponent with only a few seconds on their clock.

  If the lower rated players will learn to make use of their time there will be many more upsets in future tournaments. Regardless of how the attendance goes at the future time odds tournaments (I don’t expect the Carson family driving 100 miles for two hours of chess every month!), I think a tournament where the winning chances are somewhat equalized turned out to be a keeper of an idea and one that was well worth trying.

  Speaking of playing by the rules, on May 24th, the Chess Journalists of America posted on their website that the entries for the annual CJA awards are due by June 15th and referred the readers of the post to p.41 of the May 2013 Chess Life Magazine. The magazine gave information on what awards entries are being accepted for, how much the entries cost and the email address of the Awards Chairman in case of any questions. There was also a link to the 2012 awards announcement on the CJA website.

  Aside from the oddity of not having the awards announcement posted on the CJA's own website for nearly a month after being announced in the Chess Life magazine, for the second year in a row there are no guidelines on what should be included with an entry (except that six copies of the Best Book is required) or where they should be sent. Last year I submitted 3 links from Broken Pawn for the best blog award because with no guidelines to follow I went by the 2011 guidelines only to be told four days (and only then after I asked if my entry was received because I had gotten no acknowledgement) before the deadline that the judges were only going to consider one post for the best blog award.

  I would like to submit either of my four part Jackson Open or Okoboji Open posts for the best blog award, but with no guidelines for the submission, I have no idea if blogs will be judged on the submitted posts, the blog as a whole, or last year’s silliness of judging a year-long body of work by a single blog post (I wonder if the entries for the Best Book award will bave only a single chapter or page considered?).

  I’ve submitted entries for the last three CJA awards and was rewarded with the material for many blog posts about the process. My favorite part of the process was to see how my posts compared against the other entries in the voting but last year’s committee did not see fit to release the results of the voting. Last year the awards chairman resigned suddenly in April so it would be marginally understandable not to have any printed guidelines in 2012. With a whole year to prepare there should be no reason to not having the entry rules set before the awards announcement. There isn’t even any address listed for where to send an entry. In my Time Odds Blitz tournament I had the rules listed before the tournament started so everyone could play by them, but the CJA makes it impossible to play by the rules since the rules are unknown.

  When I pointed out the inconsistencies in the awards process last year, an awards committee ‘insider’ found the time to post an ‘anonymous’ comment on my blog to chastise me for criticizing the awards process while whining what a ‘onerous, time consuming, thankless and unpaid responsibility’ being on the committee was. It is telling that while time was found to complain about valid criticisms, there was no time available (with an entire year to prepare) to provide a set of guidelines for the awards submissions, release the results of the prior year’s voting, or even provide an address where the entries should be sent to. Maybe when time is found for these responsibilities to be fulfilled, I will find time to submit an award entry.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Half a Birthday is Better Than None

  After my 4 part blog about the Okoboji Open, I needed a break from blogging, so I want to thank my guest bloggers for once again stepping into the breach...

Daisy (l) and Baxter(r) Anzis. The most prolific Beagle bloggers in Marshalltown, Iowa, The United States of America, The Western Hemisphere, Planet Earth, and possibly the entire galaxy.

  Hi Everybody!! This is Daisy … and Baxter… with another guest blog. We were supposed to have our blog in the Broken Pawn over two weeks ago. But then Hank just kept writing on and on and on about this Okoboji place and he wouldn’t stop so we missed it!! What Baxter is talking about is we turned 2 and a half years old two weeks ago today. We wanted to write about what kind of presents we wanted from all our fans, but thanks to Hank and his Okoboji posts now we’re old news and we probably won’t get any presents at all.

When you're this cute,
what's a little gray?  
    I got a present – I found some gray hairs in my eyelashes. It’s a good thing I’m so good looking that I can afford a touch of gray. Speaking of afford, the veterinarian said -- and I quote ‘you couldn’t afford to gain another ounce’. She also said you need a muzzle because you’re so loud and yappy but somehow you left that part out probably because everyone says that. DO NOT!!! DO SO!! DO NOT!!!

I don't bark....much
  Anyway, we were deciding on what to write about since Hank ruined our half birthday by writing about the tournament that wouldn’t end. And then Hank started to talk about going to play chess at the Jackson Open on the last weekend of August. We thought this might be a lot of trouble because if he starts writing about the Jackson Open like he wrote about Okoboji we could miss our chance to write our birthday blog on NOVEMBER 8TH. We don’t want to miss our NOVEMBER 8TH BIRTHDAY blog post. So for our blog today we'll talk about what we would like for our BIRTHDAY on NOVEMBER 8TH.

Baxter searching the Internet
  I thought a lot about what I want for my BIRTHDAY on NOVEMBER 8TH and I decided most of all I would like Beef Sticks!!! YUM!!! I LOVE BEEF STICKS!!! Baxter – we get beef sticks every weekend except when Hank goes to Okoboji or the time when everyone went on vacation and they didn’t take us and we didn’t get beef sticks for three weeks. I was so sad. That’s my point, Daisy. If Hank and Kathy go away we don’t get beef sticks and don’t forget about the time it rained. I forgot about the time it rained. We didn't take a single walk. I was really sad that day. I want some beef sticks for my BIRTHDAY on NOVEMBER 8TH too! I’ve been doing some research on the Internet and I found a web site that will send us a pound of beef sticks every month for only $36. YUM!! I saw you 'researching' the Internet and I didn’t see any beef sticks on the screen. Uh...I did research on a lot of topics, Daisy and I did find a beef stick of the month web site (It's right here). If you say so, Baxter… Anyway, the site is called Fat Bobs and you can join the Beef Stick Club of the Month and have the beef sticks shipped to us. There is a one pound minimum per month but if you just send us the money, we’ll have Hank order the beef sticks and we promise to thank you while we're eating them. If enough people send us beef stick of the month birthday presents, we could have a pound of beef sticks every day, Daisy! I’d like that a lot, Baxter. YUM!! I LOVE BEEF STICKS!! YUM!!

We love Beef Sticks so much we lick our lips just thinking about them!!

  There are lots of different beef stick flavors and I want to try them ALL!!! I don’t think that we should get any of the HOT beef sticks, Baxter. Remember how sick you got last week when Hank gave you some Jalepeno Bologna? URP…I remember now. Maybe I’ll pass on the ‘Ring of Fire’ beef sticks and stick with Original and Turkey Mild flavors. And if you don’t have a credit card, you can go to the Kum & Go and get a convenient 36 pack of beef sticks for only $18. Kum & Go finished second in our beef stick taste test last year (Here is the link). YUM!!

  Another handy present would be some nice dog bones. Whenever Kathy and Hank leave us alone in the house, we each get a dog bone to bribe us not to tear apart the kitchen. Most of the time we get rawhide bones and we like them but they’re not very much fun. My favorite kinds of bones are real bones that used to have real meat on them. YUM!!! Yes, Baxter. When we get real bones we can chew them and chew them and they stay bones while the rawhide bones turn to mush. So when you go shopping for our birthday on NOVEMBER 8TH, get us some nice bones that will last a long time. We’ve included a picture of some ham bones that we like but there are lots of other kinds. I like the beef bones the best. I LOVE BEEF BONES!! YUM!!

  There’s one more present I want, Daisy. What’s that? I don’t like having to make Kathy have to feed us all the time. I know, Baxter. Sometimes she gets busy and we have to wait to be fed. And if she leaves for the afternoon, we have to wait for Hank and he is pretty lazy about feeding us. But I saw this feeder and it could feed us for a week at a time. That’s a nice thought, Baxter. Then Kathy would have more time to get us treats instead of having to feed us. And then I could eat ALL THE TIME!! YUM!! Uh – I mean then she wouldn't have the extra burden of having to feed us.

  There’s a present I’d like to get Baxter since he’s starting to get some gray hair. I don’t want to say this too loudly but Baxter is having a slight incontinence problem. I did some searching on the internet myself and found something called a ‘Washable Male Wrap’ (it’s really a diaper) that I’d love to give him on NOVEMBER 8TH. Just make sure you mark the package ‘ATTN: Daisy’ and I’ll be sure to wrap it up and give it to him.

What a beautiful sight!
  I’M RIGHT HERE, YOU KNOW!! I might have a few gray hairs but I don’t have any other problems, thank you!! As long as Daisy brought it up, there’s a present I’d like to get her – a muzzle to keep her from barking at everything that moves on our walks. Here’s a picture of the muzzle I’d like to get her and what it would look like on her. You don’t have to wait until NOVEMBER 8TH. You’d be doing all of Marshalltown a big favor by getting it to me as soon as possible!

  Dream on, Baxter. No way am I wearing a muzzle. I just hope Hank doesn’t spend two months writing about the Jackson Open so we have a chance to ask for presents again a little closer to our BIRTHDAY on NOVEMBER 8TH.   YES!!! NOVEMBER 8TH. I CAN’T WAIT!! YUM!!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

2013 Okoboji Open - Part 4

  As we were driving home from Okoboji on Sunday night, I had that rare satisfied feeling like I get sometimes after finishing a programming project or playing great and winning the last chess game of the day. A successful outcome with no immediate worries on the horizon gives me a feeling that is as close to being high as when I used to get high a half a lifetime ago. I think Jim Bouton put it best in his very funny (and very profane) baseball diary "Ball Four" when he talked about the stress of being a starting pitcher and knowing you would have to live with your performance until the next time you could take the mound:

"He [Johnny Sain] used to say a pitcher had a kind of special feeling after he did really well in a ballgame. John called it the 'cool of the evening', when you could sit and relax and not worry about being in there for three or four more days; the job was done, a good job, and now it was up to someone else to go out there the next day and do the slogging. The cool of the evening."

  Enjoying my own ‘cool of the evening’ didn’t mean I was done with the tournament, however. The week before the tournament a reporter from the Worthington, MInensota Daily Globe (Alyson Buschema) picked up on a press release Sam had written about Awonder Liang’s appearance at the tournament and called Jodene for more information. Jodene was still cleaning up from the snowstorm and asked me to talk to Alyson. We talked for about a half hour about chess in general, the tournament in particular, and especially Awonder Liang.

  Alyson could not attend the tournament because she had to cover a gun show but sent a photographer to get some pictures and asked if we could talk on Sunday night after the tournament so she could put the results into her Monday article. I told her that I’d ask Jodene about having a gun show along with the chess tournament next year so maybe she could attend and on the way home I borrowed Tim Harder’s phone (because my Virgin Mobile phone didn’t work in Okoboji) and called Alyson to report the results. She seemed disappointed that Liang lost his two games on Sunday after starting 3-0. I don’t know if any chess players decided to come to Okoboji to see the 10 year old master in action, but his attendance raised the visibility of the tournament to the non-chess playing public beyond everyone’s wildest imagination. I got to see the article on Tuesday (you can see it here) and I may possibly be the most quoted person in Worthington, Minnesota. It was a good article and Alyson made sure to mention Sam’s Jackson Open in August so hopefully some of the area's casual chess players will take note and play.

  I dropped Tim Harder off at Ames and arrived at Marshalltown a little after midnight. Tim Mc Entee headed back home in his car and I brought my computer inside and turned it on to be greeted by an email from Sisira congratulating me for the tournament but also letting me know that I had the results wrong in two of the extra games (the players would have pointed out an incorrect result in the main sections as soon as I posted the next round's pairings). Ironically, both games involved Tim Harder – I had the game he won marked down as a loss for him and the game he won marked down as a loss. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time this happened so I was well prepared to write to the USCF office and ask them to correct my mistake. After that, I put the pictures of the prize winners on my web site and called it a night around two.

  I had arranged to take Monday off from work, but Daisy and Baxter didn’t know that I went to bed at two and so I woke up at 4:30 as normal, took them for their 5:00 walk and then took a nap until around eight. When I got up, I spent the morning writing the final article for my website and the first part of my blog and taking walks with Kathy to take Daisy and Baxter for beef stick treats. I spent the afternoon napping and putting more games in the computer. I added a few games each day and was finished by Saturday, letting Okechukwu Iwu know so he could reformat the games with the proper names and opening notation for me to repost.

The heart of the Okoboji Open: John Flores, Jodene Kruse, and Sam Smith. What these three have gone through on and off the board would make lesser people quit on the idea of having an annual chess tournament, but these are NOT lesser people.

  If these last few posts sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it was a lot of work. But if helping Jodene, John, and Sam wasn’t something I wanted to do I wouldn’t be doing it. When I stop and think about what they have created in a very sparse area I have to say ‘WOW’. There just aren’t very many chess players in this area and while most tournaments in Iowa get over a third of their participants from within 30 miles and over two thirds from within 100 miles, the Okoboji Open gets over two thirds of their participants from over 100 miles away! And they come year after year. When I see how hard these three work and how much they have overcome I can’t not want to do as much as I can to help them succeed. And people like Riaz and Sisira and many of the players see the same things and feel the same way.

  Four years ago, Sam tried to get a write-up of the Okoboji Open printed in the USCF’s (United States Chess Federation) Chess Life magazine. Sam is an very talented writer and his article had a great story line that read almost like a mystery story. The USCF had him do some rewrites and then they had him get some games and then they had him get some of the games annotated and after all that it never got in the magazine. The story of his article would make a great blog post in a ‘Catch-22’ sort of way. This year Sisira said I should write an article not for the printed Chess Life magazine, but for the USCF’s website news portal ‘Chess Life Online’. Sometimes when people tell me I ‘should do’ something, I reply in my very nastiest New Jersey sneer honed from over 30 years of practice ‘Yeah, and if you think of anything else I should do, I’M SURE YOU’LL LET ME KNOW!’ , but this was a really good idea so I said I would when I got some time.

  I thought about what kind of story would work for a national web site on my hour long commute for a couple of days. My normal tournament reports are in the Dragnet vein (‘just the facts, ma’am’) and I’ve had three of my National Chess Day write-ups make it into the USCF web site as part of larger stories using that same style but I didn’t think that would work for a ‘feature’ article. When I blog about tournaments I try to write so non-chess players can feel a little of what the chess players find so great about the sport, but this would be written for chess players. I looked on the USCF web site to see what kind of tournament reports get used and it seemed to me that most contained a short summary of the tournament, a picture or two, and games with analysis by players much stronger than me.

  Eventually, I decided to write about what makes the Okoboji Open special - the people. I wrote about Jodene, John, and Sam and their ups and downs over the seven years of the tournament. Then I talked about Riaz getting so many top Minneapolis players to come to Okoboji and Sisira’s help this year with his online registration website. To finish, I talked about Russ Swanson and how his widow donated two of his chess sets. Once I was all done, I mixed in a condensed version of my normal ‘Dragnet’ style tournament report (including the final round game for the championship between John Bartholomew and Andrew Tang without analysis) and I was done. I picked out nine pictures and emailed the whole package to the Chess Life Online editor on Thursday night.

  I didn’t know if the article would get on the website and I didn’t worry about it either. I considered it a long shot because of the US Championship starting on the same weekend I submitted it. But on Monday afternoon, there it was - an article about the Okoboji Open on Chess Life Online, neatly sandwiched between stories about Gary Kasparov giving out trophies at the National Girls Championship in Chicago and a 93 year old chess teacher in Reno, Nevada. The article included three of the nine pictures, the game, and was lightly edited in a way that showed me how to make my writing a lot more readable. It was cool to have a byline on a national website and I hope the 26 players whose names I got in the article will think having their name on the national chess website equally cool.

My article on the USCF website.
And for inquiring minds...YES, I did get permission to show it on my blog!

  The 2013 Okoboji Open was the biggest ever with 63 players. Where will it go from here? Jodene already booked the Arrowwood Resort for next year and the Iowa State Chess Association (IASCA) has scheduled their annual meeting for three weeks before the tournament instead of the week after. If the IASCA Class Championships are held with their meeting it should be a big help for the Okoboji Open. While most everyone was very happy with the tournament, I saw half a dozen young players from the Minneapolis area less than happy when they had to play mostly against people they compete against in local tournaments. I don’t expect the entire IASCA membership to all of a sudden head to Okoboji en masse but even an extra five players as well as the maturation of the players from Jodene’s monthly tournaments at the Sibley Pizza Ranch would go a long way to alleviating this problem. The visibility afforded by having the country’s youngest chess master compete has opened the door to donations from local and statewide businesses so there should be plenty of money to work with. It is great to see the hard work of Jodene, Sam, and John pay off but at the same time it’s a little scary to see this tournament heading into the unknown as they attempt to figure out where it goes from here. When things seem to be going great the quote ‘Nothing recedes like success’ always comes to my mind, but I think that the best chapters of the Okoboji Open story have yet to be written.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

2013 Okoboji Open - Part 3

  After the Saturday night Okoboji feast, I got to bed around midnight and without any beagles to walk I was able to stay asleep two hours past my usual wakeup time of 4:30 and at seven I was back in the breakfast room of the Arrowwood Resort enjoying a free breakfast of free coffee, free fruit juice, and free English muffins with free butter and free jelly. In between free sips and free bites (did I mention the breakfast was free?), I continued entering games in the computer and posting them on line. Even though many of this year’s players were entering their games in journals and not providing me their game scores and there are always plenty of unreadable scoresheets, all told I was able to enter in 97 of the 154 rated games.

  While I was at my computer, many of the players came wandering in and out of the breakfast room. I got to talk to Lynn Adams, Dave Wagle (the father of the father/son duo I had mistakenly paired on Friday Night) and Dan Buck, the father of the young man I played an offhand game with on Saturday, Luke. Whenever someone talked to me, I stopped entering the games since that was mostly busy work for me and there was no way I was going to get them all in by the end of the day anyway. After a bit Luke, his mom Lynna, and his older brother Finn came to the breakfast room and joined me at my table. Finn was one of two players (Dave Wagle was the other) in the reserve section with perfect 3-0 records and would clinch a tie for first if he could win his fourth round game. Finn didn’t show any signs of nervousness and he reminded me a little of my son Matt. Finn was rated a little higher than Matt was in the fifth grade, but in the summer before he went into the sixth grade, Matt had a breakout tournament at the 2003 Western Open in Milwaukee; beating a 2100 and a 1900 and drawing a 2000 rated player to finish 3rd in a very strong tournament as the lowest rated player (you could look it up). Before I knew it, it was after eight and time for me to get back to the tournament room.

The 2013 Okoboji Masters (l to r) - Front : Jodene Kruse, Awonder Liang. Middle: Okechukwu Iwu, Tim Mc Entee, John Bartholomew, Andrew Tang. Back: Prasantha Amarasinghe, Bob Keating, Jim Ellis, Kevin Wasiluk.

  The fourth round of the tournament was paired the night before and with no one withdrawing from the tournament we were able to start almost on time after letting the three tournament organizers in attendance promote their tournaments and continued the tradition Sam Smith thought up last year of taking a picture of all the master chess players in attendance. The round itself was uneventful with no problems of note. Finn Buck won his game to clinch at least a share of the reserve championship and John Bartholomew drew his game with Prasantha Amarasinghe while Andrew Tang won to go 4-0 to set up a final round matchup where top seeded John Bartholomew had to win against Tang in order to finish first.

  In the reserve section Finn Buck had four points and there were 5 other players with three points, 2 of whom Buck had already defeated. I expected that Buck would play the highest rated player he hadn’t already played but the computer spit out different pairings. Normally I let the computer make all the decisions but in the final round of money tournaments closer attention is required. I was tempted to change the pairings but I was lucky enough to have Tim Mc Entee nearby. In addition to being a master chess player, Tim is a senior tournament director, has always done his pairings by hand, and understands the rules about pairings better than anyone I know. I explained the situation and what matchups I thought were correct. Tim looked everything over and said my pairings seemed reasonable and didn’t have any mistakes (like having a player with the same color three times in a row or matching the same opponents twice) so I made the adjustments and posted the Reserve pairings. I then printed out the Open pairings, saw no problems with them and put them up also.

  I didn’t have the Open pairings up more than a few minutes when Sisira told me the pairings were wrong and I needed to turn off the teammate feature. I took the pairings down and removed the games from the computer, turned off the teammate feature, redid the pairings and sure enough the pairings were different. BUT on further review I noticed that when I removed the games I also removed the players who told me they were leaving early and they were included in the new pairings. So I then removed the early leaving players, redid the pairings without the teammate feature, and they were exactly the same as before. I told Sisira, thanked him for the heart attack (which got a laugh out of him), and put the pairings back up.

  Since most of the players had a long trip home, having the pairings for the final round available as soon as possible allowed some of the games to be started early, which the players appreciated since it meant a little extra daylight on their drive home and a little extra sleep that night. Even so, most of the games ended up starting at the regular 2:30 time.

Show me the Money!!

  On each the first seven boards of the Open section, one or both of the players were competing for some of the cash prizes and all of the games were still underway at 4:30. Tim Mc Entee commented to me that he had rarely if ever seen a tournament where all the top boards were still playing well into the third hour of the final round. The Reserve section was also going strong. Finn Buck lost his final round game to Gokul Thangavel (a sixth grader from Iowa) to create a two way tie and also gave four other players a chance to claim a share of the championship by winning their last round game. Two of the players (Dave Wagle and Louis Leonard) did indeed win their games to force a four way tie. There was only one game left in the reserve that had no bearing on the prize money, so I figured out the prizes and Jodene gave out the cash while I got pictures of all the players with their awards. Many of the prize winners were kids who weren’t used to getting cash instead of trophies, so instead of telling the kids to say ‘Cheese’ or 'Smile' I told them to say ‘Show me the money!’ which got them all laughing. The last game to finish was going to have an impact on who was going to get the trophy so we had to wait to give it out. The Bucks decided not to wait and headed back to Madison, Wisconsin while the other three players hung around.

  After getting a draw in the simul, Sam was having a sub-par tournament and in the last round was in all sorts of trouble against this little seven year old girl that beat a 1400 in the first round of the tournament. Sam was had 2 pawns and a knight to his diminutive opponent’s 3 pawns and a bishop, but had managed to a neat blockade to create a drawn position, except that his opponent wouldn’t agree to a draw and wanted to keep playing. Sam caught ahold of me ourside the tournament room and explained that he had a dead drawn game but his opponent wanted to play. I told him (and he already knew) that he had no legal claim to a draw and had to keep playing until he had a valid claim by the 50 move rule or a repetition of position. Sam went back to battle and the little girl’s parents asked me if they should instruct their daughter to accept the draw. I advised them to let her play and not offer any advice and she did offer a draw a few moves later. All’s well that ends well, but I hope I don’t see her across the board from me at the Jackson Open!

  During the next to last round, Lynn Adams brought over two nice wooden chess sets and told us that Paulette Swanson, the widow of 2011 Reserve Champion Russ Swanson wanted these sets to go to the winners of the Open and Reserve championships. Russ passed away suddenly in October of 2011 and Jodene named the 2012 Reserve trophy after him. Lynn was Russ’s good friend and was happy to drop off the sets to keep Russ’s memory involved in the tournament. Lynn left early but gave me free reign to decide who was going to get the sets in case of a tie with his only wish that the Open champion get his choice of the sets. The Open wasn’t going to be decided anytime soon and I needed to decide which Reserve player was going to get a set so I made up a 3 man blitz tournament between Gokul, Louis, and Dave, which Gokul won handily. I then challenged Gokul to a couple of blitz games. I won a pawn in each of the games but then faded fast and barely managed to get a draw in the second game. I was enjoying myself playing but had to excuse myself when I was called into the tournament room to solve a dispute on the last game still going on in the Reserve section.

  In the last game of the Reserve section the player of the black pieces was a pawn down in a rook ending with 40 minutes on his clock while the player of the white pieces had 36 seconds on his clock. The player of the black pieces claimed that his opponent’s available time was going up instead of going down (the clock belonged to White). I handled the situation as poorly as I possibly could have because I had seen this model of clock in action (Saitek) and thought I knew how it worked. At first I thought that White had run out of time and the time was running up instead of down (this situation occurred to me at the State Fair speed chess tournament). I started punching the clock and the time wasn’t running up. Then I thought the clock was set to add the delay afterwards and if the player only used two seconds, two seconds were added back to the clock so I started punching the clock again, but no it wasn’t that either.

  So after playing with this clock for a couple of minutes, I realized that it was indeed set to add five seconds back after each move (Saitek must have added this feature recently). I got one of my clocks and set it to 36 seconds for White and 40 minutes for black with the proper delay and told them to continue. The Black player was very upset and thought I should at the most forfeit White since he would have run out of time if the clock had been set properly and if I was going to continue the game Black should have had no more than 26 seconds. At this point White decided to offer Black a draw, which was accepted and the situation was over.

  I made a number of mistakes in this situation. First, I should have gotten both players to agree on what was on the game clock and written it down before I did anything else. Then, I should have gotten the rule book out instead of relying on memory so I could explain why I had made my decision. And third, I should never have touched that game clock unless I knew exactly how it worked instead of thinking I knew and then continiued guessing even after I had convincingly demonstrated that I had no clue how this clock worked.

  Having said all that, after looking up the situation in the rule book I think I got the call right. I could have disqualified White if I thought the clock had been intentionally set wrong, but I believe it was an honest accident. I suppose I could have given Black a couple of extra minutes but since he already had a 40 minute to 36 second advantage it probably would have been more insulting than anything else. Getting the correct decision is important but getting it in the way a school child gets that two times two is four because they don’t know how to multiply and will tell you in the next breath that three times three is six is less than optimal. The Black player seemed quite unhappy with me, but having someone upset with you is as much a part of directing a tournament as people telling you what a great time they had and what a good job you did.

John and Gokul
  As soon as that situation got resolved, Gokul came up to me and wanted to know when he could get his chess set and go because he and his dad had a long ride. I told him that once John’s game was over they could get their set and go. I had looked in on John’s game and while it looked like he was winning against Andrew Tang, Andrew had some passed pawns so I couldn’t tell for sure. I took a walk into the tournament room and John’s game had just ended and he was walking to the pairing sheets to post his score. I asked him if he had won and when he told me he did, I explained Gokul’s problem and asked if he could pick out his chess set. It could have been seen as a pretty rude request coming immediately after a long struggle, but John once again showed why everyone thinks so highly of him. He smiled and came into the room where the sets were. I introduced him to Gokul and John told Gokul to pick out the set he wanted and started comparing notes with Gokul about their respective tournaments, making Gokul feel like a million bucks! Then a young player from the reserve section who was playing in his first rated tournament and lost all his games came up to John and asked him to autograph his chessboard. John signed his board and stuck up a conversation with this young player and started encouraging him and made him feel like a million bucks also. I’ve seen a lot of GM’s and IM’s at a lot of tournaments and I’ve rarely seen them treat lower rated players like that, but for John it’s just a natural part of who he is.

  Slowly but surely, the top boards finished up and the last game to finish was Eric Bell’s big upset over the youthful Awonder Liang. As soon as the game was over, I quickly had the prizes calculated and had Tim double check my work. Sam and Jodene counted out the cash and gave it out, the remaining players said their goodbyes and filed out and at 7:15 Sam, Jodene, Tim, Tim Harder, and me were the only ones left. I told both Tims when we started out to Okoboji that Jodene and I were the last ones to leave so it was no surprise to them when I sat down at the computer to put a small blurb about the final results on the website and send the ratings in to the USCF office so the tournament would be rated before most of the players got home. Normally getting the ratings into the USCF office is a no brainer, but they upgraded their website and because the tournament had two and three day schedules with different time controls, I had to enter the time control for each round in each section and enter which schedule each player competed in. My tournament software was no help meeting these new requirements so I had to enter in which schedule each of the 63 players competed in manually. It took me an extra 20 minutes to do this and at 7:50 I said goodbye to Jodene and Sam until August when I'll see them at Sam's Jackson Open, loaded up my car with both Tim’s help, and left Okoboji 55 hours after we arrived.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

2013 Okoboji Open – Part 2

  The Friday Night round of the Open passed by uneventfully with only one problem. I forgot to turn on the feature of the pairing software that tells it not to pair ‘teammates’ unless necessary. I try to assign traveling partners and family members to the same ‘team’ so they won’t have to play each other unless it is for first (or last) place. A father was paired against his son in the reserve section and the father asked me if something couldn’t be done about it. I agreed that it made no sense for a father and son to travel four hours to Okoboji to play each other so I turned the feature on, redid the pairings, and the round started right on time. The first round is a quiet time for me since many of the players opt to play in the two-day section, playing two shorter games on Saturday to make up for missing a game on Friday night. I have time to watch the games and chat with the players that arrive late Friday night. The last games finished around 10:30 at night and I was alone in the tournament room.

I received many compliments for quickly having pictures of the players available on line. The kids enjoy it and for the adult players it is a rare chance for them to see themselves as their fellow competitors do. And believe it or not, a timely news item (mentioning as many names as possible) is always welcome.

  One of the things I like to do to give this tournament a ‘big-time’ feel is to post small round by round reports along with the pictures and games on my chess website (, so once the games were over I sat down at my computer and started working. Whenever I have my monthly youth tournaments I don’t go to bed until I have an article written for my website including links to pictures and the results. Then the next morning I send the participants an email thanking them for attending the tournament and a link to the article. For a day or two after I send the email I get hits on my website from all over the country as grandparents and aunts and uncles get to see their relative at the chessboard. It would be easy to put this task off till the next day but things that get put off for a day tend to get put off for a week and then two weeks and then not done at all.

  I quickly wrote a small tournament update and uploaded that to my web page. I had already taken some pictures of the players so I loaded them to my computer from the camera, cropped them, shrunk their disk space size (an important step – if the pictures are too large, the web pages take a long time to load), transferred them to the internet, and updated my database to reference the pictures to the web pages. Then I started entering games and uploading them. While I was doing this five or six players came in to sign up for the tournament so I got them entered. I was all done around midnight, but the extra players meant that there weren’t enough tables set up so I took around 30 minutes to set up some more tables and rearrange the playing room. I’m not mentioning all this so I can look good; I’m mentioning it because that was how my I spent my evening and it is a good example of one of my strengths as a tournament director that I talked about last week -- an ability to work harder than most. If you ever go to a tournament and wonder why there weren’t enough tables set up or why you can’t find the results or an article or a picture afterwards the answer is that someone didn’t do it and it probably wasn’t a tournament I had much to do with.

  I got to bed around one on Saturday morning and since I didn’t get to walk Daisy and Baxter in the morning I managed to sleep in late, wake up at six, and was in the hotel lobby by 7. The Arrowwood Resort has added a continental breakfast room this year so I got a free breakfast of juice, toast, and coffee which I ate with Sisira Amarasinghe and Bill Broich. I’ve known Bill for about 6 years and I first met Sisira when his son Prasantha and Matt were the High School chess champions of Minnesota and Iowa in 2010 and helped with a ‘champions chess camp’ that Sam Smith and John Flores put on. Sisira and Bill are both accredited tournament arbiters by the International Chess Federation (FIDE) and Sisira is also an accredited tournament organizer, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that we talked mostly about organizing and directing tournaments. By 7:30, I was back in the tournament room for a full day of chess.

Luke Buck
  Saturday is the busiest day of the tournament for me. There were four separate tournaments going on in the morning: the continuation of the three day Open and Reserve sections from Friday and the start of the two day Open and Reserve sections. I had three main concerns : a) make sure I didn’t miss anyone who signed up and that I got everyone in the proper section (something that eluded me last year) b) make sure I didn’t overlap board numbers on the sections so that four people wouldn’t try to sit at the same table and c) try to get games for all the players in the sections with an odd number of players. Somehow, I had all the players assigned to their proper sections and even got the board numbers right (including making sure the top players in both open sections had the roomier tables by the windows), and when there was an odd number of players in each open section I got them to agree to play each other. That left only one young player in the reserve section without a game. Jodene had agreed to sit out if there were an odd number of players but since she had won her first round game I wanted her to keep on playing. The young player without a game was seven year old Luke Buck and I had him wait with his mom while I took a walk around the tournament room (taking pictures of all the players I’d missed so far) just in case a late arriving player needed a game. When no one arrived, I decided to play Luke an unrated game for fun. Luke and his brother Finn (who tied for first in the reserve section) are from Madison, Wisconsin and study with Will Liang, the father of the youngest US chess master ever, Awonder Liang. Here is our game:

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of

  Luke was pretty impressive. He kept looking for the initiative even when he was behind and only made the two mistakes. I expect him to be rated higher than me in a short time and in a few years he may be giving the simuls at the Okoboji Open! It was nice to take a break, play some chess, and talk with Luke and his mom Lynna. As the tournament director and more specifically a tournament director that normally doesn't play when I direct, I'm always the one person not playing so part of my job as I see it is to be available for the other players or parents to talk to or play a quick game of chess with. While Luke had a good nature about the bye and was happy to get the free point (He got a win and a draw from his other four games to get 2.5 points and win a $50 class prize) I think this way he and his family had a better experience at the tournament rather than if I had just left him as the only player without a game. I got some help from my travelling companion Tim Harder in the other two rounds when he played some extra games to even things out in the sections.

  There were a couple of problems on Saturday morning. While I was playing Luke, a player’s cell phone started ringing in the tournament hall and another player came to get me. Since one of the selling points of the Okoboji Open is the quiet playing hall, I take advantage of the USCF rule allowing me to proscribe penalties for cell phone use in the tournament hall. I came into the hall and was about to take 10 minutes off the clock when Sisira’s son Prasantha told me he already had enforced the penalty. Sisira had asked me if Prasantha could serve as assistant TD in order to get some experience and I was OK with it. Even though I wanted him to concentrate on his playing, I was glad that he took charge of the situation. The other big problem was when a little girl (who beat a 1400 rated player on Friday night) made a blunder that cost her a piece and started crying uncontrollably. Her opponent asked me to see if I could find her parents. I went to the front desk and they called the parents room. The parents came to the tournament room, settled their daughter down, the opponent told me what a great tournament director I was and the games continued. I moved my computer into the tournament hall and entered games until the end of the round. Then I paired the second round of the two-day section and got to spend some time catching up with my friend John Flores after his game ended.

  Once the second round ended it was time for me to merge the two and three day sections. As adept as I am with a computer, I find this particular operation scary because any mistake that I may have made in the previous rounds are magnified and difficult to undo. I backed up my data, did the merge, triple checked everything and printed up the pairings.

  I posted the pairings, the players all started filing in and sat down, and then I heard my name being called by Awonder Liang’s dad Will. I came over and Will told me the pairings were wrong and that Awonder should be playing the higher rated FIDE Master Kevin Wasiluk instead of the National Master Okechukwu Iwu. I looked over the pairings and Liang was right except that I had set up the 2 players who traveled together 350 miles from Duluth (Dane Mattson and Okey Iwu) to not play each other unless necessary. These two would have had to play each other in this round, but because I had set the ‘team’ feature after my first round misadventure the computer switched Liang and Mattson. No one had to play White or Black twice in a row so I explained the situation to Will and I also said that I didn’t consider it any different than not having his two sons play each other unless necessary. Will accepted my explanation and play resumed, with Awonder winning a thrilling game against Okey as Black. Awonder had just a few minutes on his clock with a cramped position, but he kept on blitzing out moves, Okey got in time trouble and made a few mistakes, and the ten year old master won the game with a couple of dozen chess players looking on in amazement.

I used to be able to fit the Okoboji feast in one picture, but not this year...

  After the last games ended, it was time for the traditional Okoboji feast at a nearby Mexican restaurant. When Riaz Khan first instituted this tradition, there were only a handful of us and we just sat at a table like a large family. This year, almost thirty chess players descended on the restaurant and the staff had to rearrange almost the entire restaurant to fit us all. I sat by Tim McEntee, Drake law student Nathaniel Arnold, and Minnesotans Eric Bell, Louis Leonard, and William Murphy. I met Eric at last year’s Jackson Open when he defeated me in the third round en route to his victory and $300 prize but only got to exchange a few words afterwards when we were both still wound up from our game but this day we got to relax and talk (Eric makes a living as a piano teacher!) and have a great time.

  Once the feast was over, we headed back to the resort and I saw some of the players checking out the next day’s pairings. There was Sisira, Will Liang, and John Bartholomew among others. We got to talking about my decision to not have Okey and Dane play each other unless necessary. Sisira stated that this is not allowed under FIDE rules where you must play who the pairings dictate, while some of the other players thought it was difficult decision for me or maybe I was even pressured into it. I surprised some of them by saying there was no pressure and that the decision was a no brainer for me.

  At last year’s Open I didn’t know (or maybe I forgot) that these two players travelled together and I had them playing in the third round. The result of the game was a three move draw. I didn’t like it but once I knew they were traveling partners I understood it (even though I still didn’t like the short draw). When I went with Jaleb from my chess club to a CyChess in 2009 and we were paired in the first round, I took a zero point bye since there were an odd number of players. That was only a 40 mile drive but i didn't see the point in playing someone I play every week while another player sat out. In 2010, we were paired in the last round and we went at it hammer and tongs because there was money on the table and we each really want to win against each other. Last year we were scheduled to play in the first round but the TD switched the pairings around so we didn’t have to. It seemed like the right thing to do then and it seemed to me the right thing to do now.

  There’s also another solid reason that made this a no-brainer to me. The last five years attendance at the Okoboji Open was 41, 38, 53, 44, and 63 this year. That is a total of 239 players, but there was at least one free entry each year so let’s assume 230 paid entries. Okey has played all five years and Dane has played in three of the five, which means they represent 3.5% of all the paid entries over the last 5 years and at least $400 in entry fees over the same period. If I make them play each other and they decide to not come to Okoboji any more, where will those entries and that money be made up from? It’s not my tournament but it seems the idea behind any venture is to keep the customers happy and these are two good customers. Just because there were 63 players this year is no guarantee that there will be 64 or even 34 players next year and in 15 years of working with shoe store owners I've learned that it is easier to keep an existing customer that to get a new customer. It would be a tough decision if I had a group of players tell me they wouldn’t play unless I allowed travelling companions and family members to be paired against each other, but I haven’t had anyone tell me that and if they did I’d pass the buck to Jodene to make the final decision. I didn’t see any unfair advantage and if there were no valid alternatives I would have paired them against each other and I think they would have understood. I understand that the international rules are very firm and they exist for legitimate reasons because there are a lot of unscrupulous people that do manipulate pairings and results for their own benefit. In the tournaments I direct I prefer to think that the human element can come first and anyway I wouldn't enjoy being an automaton with every move governed by rules and regulations.

  It was a healthy discussion to end a long day as we all got ready for the final day of the tournament.