Last Friday I drove up to Jackson, Minnesota to play in the Jackson Open chess tournament and hang out with my friends Sam Smith, John Flores, Jodene Kruse, and Riaz Khan. The winner of the tournament has their name engraved on the Flores Cup. I had every reason to think I had a great chance to get my name on that cup and the $300 that goes with it because I have been on quite the chess roll lately. The week before I had finally captured the coveted blue ribbon from the Iowa State Fair speed chess tournament and also won my August time odds blitz tournament and I wasn't the top rated player in either tournament. It also didn’t hurt my chances that the Jackson Open was restricted to players rated less than 2000. On the other hand playing speed chess and blitz may not be the best preparation for a tournament where each three hour game will take longer than any tournament I competed in over the past year. I did feel sharp and rested since I took the week off from work to stay home with Daisy and Baxter while Kathy took Ben to his freshman orientation at the University of Idaho.
Two of my favorite scenes from two of my favorite movies!
No one took up on my offer to travel to travel to Jackson with me so at 11:30 I took Daisy and Baxter for one last walk before putting them in the kitchen to wait for Kathy to arrive home from Idaho later that night and started my 240 mile trek to Jackson alone. I gassed up at the Kum & Go and picked up a 79 cent 32 ounce ice cold Sprite for the trip. The Sprite lasted all the way from Route 30 to Interstate 35 to the last rest stop before the Iowa-Minnesota border. I kept on 35 North, made a left on Interstate 90 and decided to gas up again at a Blue Earth, Minnesota Shell station. Blue Earth is about 40 miles east of Jackson but it may well be the beef stick capital of the United States. Not only did this Shell station have a wide variety of beef stick products, there was a Jack Link’s (the preferred beef stick brand of Daisy and Baxter) super-sized trailer just outside the store.
After getting some apple juice and a tuna fish sandwich in Blue Earth I arrived at the Jackson Super 8 Motel at 4:30, checked in, took a nap, and headed down the road to the tournament site at 6. Sam and John were there and I recognized most of the other players as they arrived. Riaz Khan came with Eric Bell (last year’s winner) and Dane Zagar (2012 Minnesota Amateur Champion). Destiny Jorenby and her brother Josiah were there. I played Destiny last year and we had a great battle (You can see it here). Okoboji Open organizer Jodene Kruse was arriving the next day.
At 7, John posted the pairings. There were 16 players at this year’s tournament. I was ranked 6th and my first round opponent was Steve Heinisch. Steve is a 64 year old retired machinist from the Minneapolis area who came with his brother Mike and plays a four hour game each week at the Chess Castle. I didn’t know any of this when we sat down to the board but I did know that I out rated him by around 500 points and I remembered that Steve was the victim of the biggest upset at last year’s tournament so I decided that I would just play things close to the vest until Steve made the type of mistakes that allowed him to be the victim of last year’s upset prize.
pgn4web chessboards courtesy of pgn4web.casaschi.net“The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows...” - The prophet Rocky Balboa
I haven’t given up a draw to a player that I was so highly rated against since 2010. Not only did Steve not make any noticeable errors, I totally missed his Ba6 idea and looking at the game a few days later it seems obvious that Steve outplayed me and I was lucky to find the draw.
It was such a nice night after the game a lot of the players were sitting outside using the card tables and chairs Sam had set up to analyze games. Eric Bell’s game had finished and Steve and I were showing him our game. Eric immediately spotted Ne5 when I needed to play it. He wasn’t focused on the queen as much as taking over the c file. Josiah Jorenby thought that instead of playing Qc8 and forcing the draw I should have tried to play Ne5 with the idea that the threat to take on f7 may have spooked Steve into making a mistake. Since we each had 50 minutes left on our clock, I should have considered the idea but Steve didn’t panic the entire game and I doubt he would have gotten very panicky then either.
After spending my last two tournaments having anywhere from two to five minutes for the entire game I was afraid I’d be blitzing out my moves in this game, but I was able to slow down and take 2 or 3 minutes on almost every move after the opening. I even spent 10 minutes combined on the two spots where Ne5 would have caused Steve some trouble and I considered the move both times but didn't appreciate its strength. This game reminds me a lot of my game at the 2009 US Open against Tom Byers. In both games I played well, got a good position, but made some bad choices at the moment of truth. Steven had a pretty good tournament and won the U1400 prize when he beat John in Round 2, not that it made me feel any better. I hung around until the last game finished (a titanic struggle between Sam and 3rd seed Dane Zagar which looked to be a draw until Sam made a subtle mistake in time pressure) and left for the Super 8, stopping for a cup of coffee at the Casey’s.
Having the first round on Friday night allows Sam to have four games at longer time controls and I think it fits in with the traveling type of player the tournament attracts. I liked the idea a lot last year after I won my first round game and could bask in victory for a night, but this year I didn’t think much of having to sit around all night thinking about how I was the only one of the top seven players to not win their game. I plugged my game into my computer and it verified in all its silicone perfectness what Eric had seen with a glance - that slapping my knight on e5 was far superior to what I came up with. I put my on headphones to listen to music and tossed and turned seeing knights jumping to e5 in my sleep until it was Saturday morning and time to get ready for round 2.