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.