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.