Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Doggin' it

If there is a heaven on earth it may well be the QuikTrip convenience store.

  I’ve been working on-site at a bank the past four weeks and haven’t seen my cubicle in a while. Instead I’ve been sitting in a conference room sharing a long wooden table with two or three other programmers. So in six years I’ve gone from having my own office to a cubicle to a room that I never had to share to a cubicle to a corner of a long wooden table. As the Grateful Dead sang in the song ‘Truckin’, ‘What a long, strange trip its been’

  This year’s on-site excursion is much more pleasant than last year’s twice a week trip to far-away North Liberty. I only have to travel an extra seven miles, I get free coffee, and best of all the building next door is a brand new Quik Trip convenience store.

  When I created retail store software for 13 years, the building I worked in was a block away from a Quik Trip. I would walk there sometimes for lunch and get a hot dog or sandwich. Once I bought a breakfast sandwich – a greasy, gooey mess of egg, cheese, and sausage on a biscuit - it was awesome. The Quik Trip clerks are normally very pleasant and brightly say things like “Hi” and “Come back soon!” but on this day the clerk scolded me in a matronly sort of way and said “Don't you know it’s too late for a breakfast sandwich!” I wasn't pleased at being criticized for my sandwich selection and I replied in my best matter of fact east coast voice “Lady, I got out of prison just this morning and the only thing that kept me going all those years was the thought of getting this breakfast sandwich!” The clerk immediately went back into pleasant and bright clerk mode and said “See you soon!” but I don’t think she really meant it.

  Quik Trip stores have a wide array of prepared sandwiches, sodas, energy drinks, fruit, candy, snacks, beef stick treats, and a stocked soda fountain. You may recall that before I won my Iowa State Fair speed chess blue ribbon last year I stopped at a Quik Trip for a 32 ounce combination of Mountain Dew and Rooster Booster energy drink which helped propel me to victory. I offered Quik Trip my services as a spokesperson and even though we couldn’t agree on compensation (I wanted some and they weren’t giving any) I don’t mind saying that Quik Trip is one of my favorite convenience stores and I wish we had one in Marshalltown and I haven’t even mentioned the Quik Trip hot dog station.

The incredible hot dog station at the Quik Trip!

The power of the press!
  Every Quik Trip I’ve ever been to has a fully stocked hot dog station with fresh hot dogs, sausages, corn dogs, and tortilla wrapped meat items. Except for my late friend Ed’s Chicago style hot dogs, Quik Trip's dogs are the best I’ve had in Iowa on any number of levels. The hot dog bun is held in a plastic container in a tray of hot water to keep it warm and fresh. The dog is juicy and explodes with the flavor of all the meat and meat byproducts when bitten into. Aside from mustard and ketchup, there is a complete fixin’s area with sauerkraut, relish, onions, pickles, pico de gallo, tomatoes, and peppers. I’m a mustard and kraut kind of guy myself but I do load up my hot dog container with a load of pickle slices (real pickles sliced the long way and not those dyed-green pickle chips) along with my dog. If you try this, I advise putting the mustard on the dog first and covering it with the kraut so the pickles won’t get mustard all over them.

  Best of all is that all this hot dog goodness comes at the low price of $1.39 each and 2 for $2.22. On the first day I was at the conference room my coworkers started talking about lunch plans and I said I was going next door to the Quik Trip and get a hot dog. I got a lot of snickers at first but now most of us walk to the Quick Trip at lunch for a hot dog and head back to the conference room to eat it. Sometimes I get a Full Throttle energy drink to go along with my dogs (2 for $3.50) and one day I treated myself to a $1.49 bag of Cheetos Puffs but to my chagrin the puffs were stale and didn’t melt in my mouth like Cheetos Puffs should so I called the Frito Lay company to complain. I merely had to mention that I was an ‘national award winning blogger’ (leaving out the part about being having a self-nominated award winning CHESS blog) and the customer service representative had a coupon for a free bag of any Frito Lay product I wanted (up to a $4.29 value) sent my way before I even had to ask.

You can load up on the pickles but don't expect to escape the watchful eye of Manager Randy!

  The only time other time I had a problem at the Quik Trip was when Randy the manager noticed all the pickles I was putting in the hot dog container and asked me if I had a hot dog in there to go along with my pickles. I smoothed things over with Randy by buying only one hot dog at $1.39 the next couple of days and even started striking up conversations with him. Did you know that Randy has been a Quik Trip manager for almost 30 years, this particular Quik Trip store sells over 400 hot dogs (not tacquitos or corn dogs) every day, and each bun is placed by hand (a gloved hand!) into its plastic container for warming? I can see why Randy is a manager because this is a man that really knows his hot dogs and if I was working at the Quik Trip when I was a teenager I’d never quit and become a manager also so I could have one of those awesome hot dogs any time I wanted.

  I was wondering why there aren’t any Quik Trips in Marshalltown and came up with the idea that perhaps the convenience stores in Marshalltown already have such great hot dogs that Quik Trip doesn’t feel they can break into this market so I went exploring about town in search of Marshalltown's best convenience store hot dog.

  My first trip took me to the Kum & Go – winner of the 2013 Daisy and Baxter beef stick award. The Kum & Go has a small hot dog station with those dyed-green pickle chips and sliced jalapeños to go along with bottles and packets of condiments. The price of $1.59 is a little more than the $1.39 at the Quik Trip and instead of a 2 for $2.22 deal Kum & Go offers a $4 combo with 2 dogs, chips, and a medium drink which is a slightly better value than getting the same items at the Quik Trip. I talked to Joel the manager and he told me that this Kum and Go sells about 400 hot dogs a month in the winter and 600 in the summer.

Nothing wrong with the Kum & Go hot dog station, but it is clearly not in the same league as the Quik Trip when comparing selection, toppings, or price.

  Next I went to my favorite convenience store - the Jiffy where Kathy and I take Daisy and Baxter for their beef stick treats at 4:30am every weekend morning. Even though it was 5 in the morning on a Sunday, Vince had one of each variety of hot dogs the Jiffy offers all ready for me to purchase for $1.69 apiece. The Jiffy has no condiments except for packets of ketchup and mustard and a plastic container with some jalapeños of unknown origin. I asked Vince how many hot dogs he sold in a month and he said maybe one but he also is working the overnight shift which isn’t exactly prime-time for hot dogs.

Vince at the Jiffy keeps a clean hot dog station mainly because it is uncontaminated by hot dogs or toppings that don't come out of a tiny plastic pouch...

  For my final stop I went to the Kwik Star store on the corner of Anson and 3rd Avenue. The Kwik Star is the closest thing in Marshalltown to a Quik Trip with a wide array of sandwiches, drinks, fruit, and snacks. The Kwik Star has a hot dog station with a full supply of condiments but when I looked at the grill to see what the price of the hot dogs were I stopped my search for Marshalltown’s hot dog answer to the Quik Trip when I saw this disgusting coating of burnt grease all over the griller. I didn’t even check the prices because I have seen an episode of two of ‘The Walking Dead’ and was afraid Oscar Meyer was going to turn over in his grave and head towards the Kwik Star!

The Kwik Star has the best toppings in town, but the grill station is in a word....EEEEWWWWW!

  As a result of my research, I determined that not only is there not a disincentive for Quik Trip to put a store in Marshalltown, this is a town that is in desperate need of a Quik Trip. I would happily buy a franchise except all Quik Trips are corporately owned so until the corporate powers that be decide to put a Quik Trip in Marshalltown I’ll just count my blessings that I get to drive to Des Moines to go to work every day where I can partake of the best hot dogs in Iowa.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


  Based on the responses I’ve received and my own eyes, the Expert Open, Broken Pawn Reserve, and meet-up chess tournament in Marshalltown last week was so successful I’d put it on the top shelf with the Okoboji Open among the best and most memorable tournaments I’ve ever been part of. I think I did close to as a flawless job as tournament director as I've ever done. There were no mistakes with the parings, an even number of players in every section for every round, the rooms were arranged with enough space for the players, and except for starting the tournament with one player still en route and losing ten minutes off his clock there was no controversies and I didn’t have a difficult decision all day.

It was a great tournament and a successful day, but if I ever get a swelled head about it just mention this scoresheet on the left from the Broken 'Arrow' Reserve...

  A large part of the reason that everything ran so smoothly is that tournament organizer Tim Mc Entee and I have a good working relationship and our styles complement each other. Tim knew what kind of tournament he wanted to attract the expert and higher level players and I didn’t get in the way by making suggestions so I could have my fingers in the process. I trust Tim’s judgment and know he’s been organizing these elite types of tournaments for over ten years. When I offered the idea of having a reserve tournament for non-experts (which was meant for traveling companions), Tim knew I wouldn’t let the side tournament affect the playing conditions for the experts and masters (by putting everyone in one room, for example) or else he would have asked me not to have it.

  There’s also some planning involved in having a smooth tournament. For example, we arranged to have a house player for the expert section to ensure an even number of players and I imposed on Jon McCord from the Marshalltown Chess Club (who has been coming to club for over 12 years) to be the house player in the reserve and sections. Jon was the perfect house player for those sections because while he can play with anyone below the expert level he is equally happy to hang around and watch all the games. Kathy and I arranged the playing rooms the night before so on the tournament day the only thing I needed to do was put tables and chairs in the hallways for parents to hang out and players to go over their games after they ended.

Most tournaments in Marshalltown end up being special (click here for the account of my last one), but when the World 10-year old champion Awonder Liang(l) and the Team Iowa group from (admins Sir Benjamin, Spacebux, and Merlin-Pendragon are shown on the right) have a meet-up, you have a truly memorable occasion.

  I've run plenty of smooth tournaments but for a tournament to be memorable there's probably going to be some luck involved and this tournament got lucky on a number of counts. First, we lucked into the Team Iowa group wanting to have a meet-up dinner and/or tournament and willing to have it with the reserve tournament. Not only did it open up a new avenue of players, it gave me an unrated section which was perfect for some of the players from my club who didn’t have USCF memberships or the ten dollars for the reserve entry or the desire to play in a rated tournament. Ben Tessman and the rest of the guys were great to have around and since a lot of the players in the other sections were also members it gave a commonality between the sections that wouldn't have been there otherwise.

  Another lucky break came 10 days before the tournament when Will Liang told Tim and I he wanted to bring his son Awonder to play in the tournament. I wrote about Awonder at length when was at Okoboji last April. At that point he was the World age 8 and under champion and in December he successfully defended his title and is now the World age 10 and under champion. His participation made the tournament a lot more interesting but the lucky part was that since we were having the reserve tournament Will’s three other children were able to come and play. They all had a great time playing chess and hanging out with the other teenagers and younger children that were playing in the reserve tournament and all the players got a kick out of how pleasant and affable the whole Liang family was.

  I don’t know if having the ten year old world champion at the tournament attracted a lot of players but I know it got the Marshalltown chess players pretty hopped up to come and see him in action. Chris used to come to my club when his mom worked at the Salvation Army and he’d play chess while she was working. When his mom changed jobs eight years ago Chris stopped coming to club but returned two months ago because he’d been playing chess with his fiancée’s 12 year old son and caught the chess bug. Chris played in the tournament but when it ended at 6 he stuck around to watch Awonder’s last game against Rob Reynolds. The game was a fighting draw that lasted until 10:30 at night and Chris stuck around to watch every move. There's an 11 year old player that comes to club but his family doesn’t have a car so he walks. If the Salvation Army building was more than the three blocks away that it is from his house I doubt we would have ever have met. So how cool was it for this kid whose family doesn’t have a car and walks to chess club to be playing in the same building with the best 10 year old player in the world? Pretty cool if you ask me and I know all the Marshalltown players felt it was pretty cool having this champion playing chess in the same building where we have our club every week.

  I’ve seen Awonder Liang play in two tournaments (three if you count the 2009 US Open where I played his brother Adream in the last round) and the thing that strikes me most is he is a fighter who was able to battle his way out of inferior positions in Marshalltown just as he did in Okoboji. I don't know what makes a prodigy or world champion but I find Awonder's fighting spirit and resourcefulness more impressive than if he was some sort of opening book automaton that gains an advantage out of the opening and presses it home for his victories. Will pointed out after the tournament that playing three long games in one day against strong players is a brutal schedule especially for a young player but Awonder went through almost 10 hours of chess only surrendering a final round draw en route to a first place tie. I don’t know what the future holds for this young player but I know almost all the players at the tournament will be following his progress and wishing for his success and won’t soon forget playing with the world champion and his family.

  Among chess players, the predominant images when it comes to chess prodigies is either the Polgar sisters who were trained to be chess masters from a young age by their father or the insular Bobby Fisher who seemed to only live for chess. The Liangs seem like a normal family who just happen to have a super chess talent as one of their members and have embraced that responsibility. I tried to treat him like the rest of the chess players but I fell short when Andrew Potter from the local paper came and wanted a picture of Awonder in front of a board for his story (You can read it here). The only problem was that Andrew came in between rounds so Awonder wasn't at the board. Will had Awonder pose at a chessboard that we set up but he didn’t seem too happy about it and I wasn’t either although I suppose it comes with the territory of being a world champion.

  I have one special memory of the tournament from after it ended. Tim was helping me put away the tables and setting up the rooms for the next day's services and all the Liangs were helping. I had moved two large round tables from the meeting room where the experts were playing over to the lobby where the parents were hanging out. I folded up one of these tables and was rolling it on its edge over to the meeting room. Adream and Awonder were fascinated by the sight of me rolling this five foot round table on its edge and wanted to try it. I didn’t think too much of it since Adream is pretty big and seemed well able to handle the table. We put the table on edge, folded it up, and I watched them roll the table through the hallway. Then I saw the table start to wobble one way and then the other and Awonder was on one side of the wobble. I had visions of the next issue of Chess Life with the headline ‘World Champion injured in Marshalltown’ and ran over to steady the table saying ‘Sorry guys, this isn’t the way you want to get on cover of Chess Life!’ They thought that was pretty funny and started laughing and if Awonder Liang becomes THE world champion I am going to claim some of the credit for not letting this big round table in Marshalltown, Iowa fall on him when he was ten years old.

  Aside from luck and stories to tell a big thing that makes a tournament or event memorable is when people step up and invest their unique talents in unexpected ways. Cliff Yates’ wife works at the Salvation Army and Cliff is a chess player who came to my club once ten years ago. Cliff keeps up with chess and knew about the tournament and decided to get a USCF membership and play in the reserve section after a 15 year hiatus from tournament chess. Cliff is also a photographer and brought his camera (which had at least a three foot lens). After his games, Cliff took pictures of the players and that night assembled this incredible video of the tournament. I’ve never seen anything like it and think Cliff could make a living making videos of chess tournaments. His video captured the main thing of what made this tournament so memorable - a great bunch of people getting together having a good time at a chess tournament!

The first thing my wife told me when she saw this video was 'Where are you?' and then Cliff told me on Thursday that he wished he included a picture of me in the video. I told them both the same thing - 'I'm all over it'.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Reelin' In The Years

  I tried to get to bed last Friday but tossed and turned all night anticipating the next day’s three chess tournaments at the Salvation Army: the $1150 Expert Open I was directing for Tim McEntee, the Reserve tournament for non-experts which I named the Broken Pawn Reserve, and the meet-up tournament I offered to host for the Team Iowa group. I wrote about how rare it is for plans to work out last week but the one thing I did not plan on was not getting much sleep before I rolled out of bed at 4:00 to take Daisy and Baxter on their beef stick walk to the Jiffy.

  Normally I only shave on Friday mornings before I go to teach chess at St. Francis but I had cancelled chess club because it was the weekend of the parish auction and there weren’t going to be any tables and chairs available for chess. I was looking pretty scruffy and I wanted to be clean cut for the tournament so I broke out a brand new BIC razor from its package and started to hack away at 10 days of beard. I don’t whether it was the tiredness or the newness of the razor or both but in the process of shaving I proceeded to slice away enough of my face that I could be an extra in a chain saw massacre movie so if you know of anyone that is making a chain saw massacre movie in the next week or two please pass my name around.

  While Kathy and I were taking the beagles to the Jiffy in single digit temperatures, my face stopped bleeding but the very light snowflakes glittering in the night air started getting thicker and thicker as we arrived. I got my coffee and beef sticks and paid Vince my $2.06. When Vince saw my face he said “You should sharpen your lawnmower before you shave with it, Hank!” I thanked him for his advice, fed the beef sticks to Daisy and Baxter, and Kathy and I made our way in the ever thickening snow back home.

  When someone wrote that Yogi Berra was ugly he replied “It don’t matter if you’re ugly in this racket. All you have to do is hit the ball and I never saw anybody hit one with his face” and the same could be said about directing a tournament with enough cuts on your face to start a blood bank so I stopped worrying about whether people would think I lost a fight with an electric mixer and started thinking about the tournament. The snow on the ground was a more serious matter since all but a handful of the players were traveling anywhere from 40 to 300 miles to get to the tournament. I only had three blocks to travel so I checked my email for the last time (I would have no internet at the Salvation Army building) and slid the three blocks over to the Salvation Army building at 8 to get ready for the tournament’s 10am start time.

  I had a small group of Marshalltown players that I knew would be there and Will Liang emailed me to let me know that he and his four children had made it but other than that I had no idea how many people the weather would keep away from the tournament. A few minutes after nine I had my first player arrive: Joey Kelly from Kansas. Joey’s dad Mike said they had driven four hours and all the roads he went on had one lane clear and the traffic was going a little less than the speed limit so I stopped worrying about the weather. Tim had asked for the players to arrive at 9:30 so even though I got a few calls from players saying they were running late and one cancellation the tournament started right on time.

  A few minutes before the tournament started Major Paul Fleeman arrived. Major Fleeman is the district commander of the Salvation Army for Iowa and Nebraska and is also a chess player and a chess blogger who wrote a series about comparing correct chess play and Christianity called ‘Life Lessons From Chess’. I had invited Major Paul to attend the tournament and maybe even play. When he arrived I took him around to introduce him to Tim and Bethany Carson (who recently wrote her own blog post comparing bughouse chess principles to Christianity. Paul wanted to meet Awonder Liang but the 10 year world champion was getting ready to play so I introduced him to his father Will and they chatted for a bit. Major Paul thinks chess is a great activity for both kids and adults and was so taken by the sight of 40+ chess players he called the Marshalltown Majors Ben and Beth Stillwell to come over to the building and check out the action and stayed around to watch most of the first round before leaving for other meetings he had scheduled for the day.

  This was such an interesting day and tournament that I could probably write for three months about it but I’ll limit myself to two or three posts. One thing that struck me the most was that there so many players who I first met years and years ago when they were just kids and here they were all grown up and playing chess in Marshalltown. It was brought back a flood of memories and was almost like being in a time warp.

  Years and years ago Iowa’s high school championship was a 2-stage affair – first there was a qualifying tournament to determine the top six high school players who would play in a round robin with the winner being the high school champion who would represent the state in a National tournament of High School champions. Ten years ago the qualifying tournament would have dozens of players and being in the top six was a big deal but as time went on it was difficult to get six players to the qualifying tournament so the round robin went away and the championship became a single day. In 2006 the organizer of the round robin went into radio silence and as the serving state scholastic director I piggybacked the round robin onto the State Championships in Grinnell. Only four qualifiers were willing to play so I made the tournament a double round robin over two days. Two of the players were Jeremy Madison and Daniel Brashaw.

Dan Brashaw through the years.

  Daniel (he went by Dan then) was always the strongest player for his age in the state. He is two years older than my oldest son Matt and they would play in a lot of the same tournaments and had epic battles for the High School Championship (Daniel winning in 2008 and Matt in 2009). During these and other tournaments I got the chance to get to know Daniel and his mom Jeanette. I got along real good with both of them because we’re all pretty direct people that say what we think. I remember Daniel watching me play a blitz game where I gave up a piece for an attack that didn’t work. After the game Daniel was almost laughing as he said “You gave up a piece to give ONE CHECK”. I wasn’t especially pleased at the time but I knew the teenager was right and I always tried since to get more than ONE CHECK when I give up a piece. Daniel hadn’t played in Marshalltown since the 2007 High School Championships but in the meantime he started and finished his studies at the University of Iowa. After only playing in a handful of tournaments each year Daniel started playing more frequently in 2012 and is now the state chess champion. We got to talk quite a bit on Saturday and he has the same sharp memory and fun-loving self-confidence. He asked me if I had still had the pictures of him eating a Sub City sub at the 2007 Marshalltown tournament and I did still have the pictures of Dan wolfing down this giant sub during a game! On Saturday, Daniel insisted on playing a game in the tournament and it didn’t matter to him that he was playing Tim Mc Entee in the expert section so I just paired him up and he spent the next hour walking between rooms playing two games at once. I offered to put him in the Reserve section so he could play three games at once until he pointed out that he was rated too high to be in that section. Daniel won his game and lost to Tim but he had the same fun loving attitude after the games that he had before.

The many looks of Jeremy Madison.
If you look closely you can see Dan Brashaw and his Sub City sandwich!

  Jeremy Madison is almost Daniel’s chessic polar opposite. While Dan was always the best for his age, Jeremy didn’t start playing in tournaments until he was in High School and had to climb up the ladder to become one of the best scholastic players in the state. He went to many of the same tournaments as Matt and I got to spend a lot of hours outside the playing halls of chess tournaments with his parents Steve and Diane. Jeremy always struck me as pretty shy but he knew how to stick up for himself also. In 2005 he missed out on being in the final six for the High School championship by the slimmest of tiebreak margins and went on the message board decrying the process by saying he lost out on a ‘coin flip’ which was metaphorically if not factually correct. This ruffled just a few feathers but Jeremy stuck to his guns and it got the people talking about and reforming the process. Jeremy has had epic battles over the board with Matt, Ben, myself, and Dan Brashaw for that matter and won the Iowa State Fair speed chess championship in 2007. After graduating from college, Jeremy found himself working in Wisconsin and didn’t play in a chess tournament for a year and half. Since his comeback he attained the expert rating and I barely got a chance to talk to him because his games are hardly ever the first to finish and he hardly ever left the tournament room where he was one of the four players to not have a loss.

Aaron Anderson(l) and Andrew Smith (r) - The team picture is from the 2005 High School team championships.

  While the experts were battling it out, two of the Marshalltown High School chess legends from the past decade were ten feet over in the reserve section. I wrote about Aaron Anderson and Andrew Smith at length in my Christmas post so I won’t belabor the point except to say that except for Andrew heading to Ankeny for a quad in 2010 and a handful of my blitz tournaments the last time these two played in a rated tournament was when the three of us and Jaleb Jay headed to Des Moines in 2008. We had a great time playing and when I lost to John Herr in the last round I was harassed all the way home by being asked ‘How could you lose to HER?’ It was a fun day with a fellow group of chess players and I was glad to see these two playing again. Aaron was lights out and won his last three games after losing to Edin (NOT EDDIE as I learned during last years’ Time Odds Blitz tournaments), the top ranked player in the first round while Andrew is working the third shift and arrived halfway through the tournament after getting his sleep, winning both his games to leave these two friends with a combined 5-1 mark.

Bethany Carson - A perennial champion.

  Another pair of players in the Reserve was Tim Carson and his daughter Bethany. I first met the Carsons (there are 6 including mom Betty and chldren Daniel, Charity, and Sarah Faith) when I ran an AmericInn tournament in Grundy Center in the fall of 2003. They started coming to my chess club in Marshalltown shortly thereafter and in 2006 Bethany played in her first rated tournament in Marshalltown when I hosted the state Girls Championship. Bethany finished second that year but went on to win the title five times and almost beat Matt for the High School championship in 2011. Bethany is not only a champion chess player – she is a great writer who writes for as well as her own blog, Liberty or Death. I consider Bethany’s father Tim a friend and when he says something I listen carefully. When I was running youth chess tournaments at the Golden Teapot in West Des Moines half a decade ago, Tim mentioned that while he liked the tournaments for his children it wasn’t much fun for him because he wanted to play also. So at my next tournament at the Teapot in May of 2007 I had what I believe to be the first parents and friends tournament ever held in Iowa and I have offered one in every youth tournament I’ve ever run since.

Tim Carson likes watching his children play chess but he likes playing just as much himself (that goes for Ping-Pong too!).

  The Golden Teapot had a ping-pong table and I played Tim a few times in between rounds at the tournaments I held there. On Saturday, Tim asked me if there was a ping-pong table in the Salvation Army building and I said I believed there was one in the gym. Then Tim pulled out a pair of paddles and a handful of balls out of his coat pocket and asked me if I wanted to play. After the reserve tournament ended us two 50+ year old men snuck into the gym like a couple of 8 year olds and turned the lights on. The gym wasn’t heated so it was freezing but we headed over to the stage and moved this incredibly heavy pool table to the middle of the stage and put the ping pong table top over the pool table and proceeded to play ping pong in the freezing cold of the gym for about 45 minutes. It didn’t matter that we couldn’t find a net – we were having a blast just batting the ball back and forth. I think Tim got the better of me but I gave it my best shot and it’s lucky I’m almost bald because I wouldn’t have been able to lift my arm over my head the next couple of days to comb my hair if my life depended on it! By the time we were done playing I was a sweaty mess and when we got back to the playing area people were staring at me because I looked like a piece of wet laundry that just got pulled out of the washing machine but I didn’t care because it was the most fun I had in a long, long time.

Kushan Tyagi - A testament to talent, persistence, and hard work

  When I first started running scholastic tournaments one player that I could always count on to attend was Kushan Tyagi from Ames. His brother Nirvan is Matt’s age and they would have an annual battle in the state grades championship but while Nirvan would only play in the official state scholastic tournaments, Kushan really loved chess and his parents would take him anywhere and everywhere to get games in. He played in almost all my Golden Teapot tournaments and had the bad (or good) fortune to play the top seed in the last round of almost every one of them for a chance at first place. It was just the luck of the draw but Kushan never hesitated to let me know about it. I don’t think he won even one of those last round teapot matchups but he kept coming back to play which told me he was going to be a really great player since I do believe that in the words of the prophet Rocky Balboa “It’s not how hard you hit…It’s how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward…cuz that’s how winning’s done!”. I’ve seen a lot of young players that get off to great starts in competitive chess but are kind of like bicycles in that they are easily knocked off balance by a bump in the road and fall and fall down hard while Kushan was more like an all-terrain vehicle that can handle any road conditions. Combine that mentality with supportive parents and a lot of brains and chess ability and you have the makings of a champion which Kushan has become. He is the state high school champ three years running and came with a hair’s breadth of winning the state championship as an eighth grader in 2011. In the Expert Tournament on Saturday he tied for first. I didn’t get to talk to Kushan very much on Saturday but I did get to spend some time talking with Akhilesh, with whom I’ve had many long conversations at tournaments while our kids were competing. Akhilesh is savviest traveler I know and whenever we found ourselves at the same tournament he always seemed to pay half of what I paid for a room. We got to spend some time talking and Akhilesh was nice enough to help me put away a lot of the tables after the Reserve tournament ended. Kushan hadn’t played in Marshalltown in three years and as long as I’ve known him he would write down ‘No Idea’ in the part of the scoresheet reserved for marking down what opening was played (a rarely if ever used part of the scoresheet). After his first game ended I made it a point to look at Kushan’s scoresheet to see what he wrote in the box and sure enough it said ‘No Idea’.

  It was an amazing tournament for a lot of reasons and I’ll get into some of them next week but having said that it was so cool to see so many of the players I’ve known for years and who I consider friends playing in Marshalltown after 3 or 5 or 7 years I wanted to make sure I got it written down before the good memories of the weekend and the past got washed away by the grind of daily living.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The best laid plans...

  I had planned on writing a celebratory blog about my astute football picks this postseason but instead I get to write about how after being ahead $380 mythical dollars after the first two playoff weekends I failed to pick a game correctly the rest of the way while limping to the end of the season with only $50 on the plus side. I was not alone in picking the Denver Broncos to defeat the Seattle Seahawks but I don’t think anyone expected the Broncos to suffer one of the more notable meltdowns in Super Bowl history. After seven offensive plays the Broncos gave up a safety, had a three and out series, an interception and were fortunate to only be behind 8-0 but at that point their defense wore out and the rout was on. It was reminiscent of the beatdowns the John Elway Broncos suffered at the hands of the Redskins and 49ers in the late 80’s. I know this was not how Elway (who now runs the Broncos football operation) planned on having his team’s season end.

  I don’t know much but I’ve learned a few things over the years and one of the things I learned early on is how rare it is when everything goes as planned.

  I’m sure a lot of people that work at banks plan on someday being a vice-president or better because there are a lot of vice presidents at banks. I’ve been on site at a bank the last week and there are vice presidents everywhere. There are so many vice-presidents that not only are there vice presidents in all the offices with windows, there are vice-presidents in the cubicles and even the receptionist is a vice-president! When I was involved with little league there were quite a few bank vice-presidents volunteering and I wish that I knew then what I know now so I could have asked them whether they were cubicle vice-presidents or receptionist vice-presidents or maybe even a bathroom attendant vice-president.

  I researched bank vice-presidents to see if this was a widespread trend and indeed it is. The best explanation I found was by Jerome Tiller on gsxblogs where he explains that the title of Vice-President confers the ability to sign loan and other documents on behalf of the bank. This makes a lot of sense to me but if I was a Vice-President I doubt working as a receptionist or in a cubicle would be what I planned on.

  I’ve been helping my friend Tim Mc Entee (Life Master and 3 time state chess champion) with a chess tournament he is organizing. Tim got some sponsorship money to run a chess tournament tasked to get people interested about Iowa chess. Tim asked me what kind of tournament I thought would get people interested in chess. I think a knockout tournament like the FIDE World Cup is the most exciting tournament because of the sudden death aspect and the anticipation of the top players meeting as the tournament nears its conclusion. I can use the Salvation Army building in Marshalltown anytime for Saturday tournaments but on Sunday the facility is not available because the Salvation Army is a place of worship and naturally church services take precedence. When we worked through the logistics Tim and I uncovered problems getting a tournament site for multiple days and staying within the budget so we went back to the drawing board and tried to think of other ways to have an Iowa chess tournament that would get people interested.

  I had recently received a hundred dollars for helping an old retail customer with a software problem which I found both interesting and exciting (receiving the hundred dollars, not the software problem) so I proposed a tournament where the top 10 or so players would each get a hundred dollars. I liked that idea and would have called it the Ben Franklin Open but Tim didn’t think that format would attract the top players in the state to play. He wanted a tournament that would get the top players in the state playing top competition with longer time controls so we came up with a tournament that would only be open to players who had at some point in their playing careers attained expert status as recognized by the USCF (a 2000 rating) with 3 games at a time limit of 90 minutes per player per game.

  I didn’t think this would be a very attractive tournament with over 9 hours of chess in one day but I’m also not a master or expert chess player and have no idea what would attract them to a tournament. Tim structured the prizes so there would be a top prize of $500 which is a lot of money for one day of chess, especially with no entry fee. Since the tournament was open only to Experts I coined the catchy phrase Expert Open, we picked the date of Feb 8th for the tournament and it was off and running.

  We were hoping that the Minnesota players that come to the Okoboji Open would head to Marshalltown for the one day tournament but those hopes were dashed when the Rochester Open was scheduled for the same weekend. Tim has recently played in Nebraska, Missouri, and Iowa City and did some recruiting at each stop and we have almost 20 entries including six current or former Iowa state chess champions. Last week Will Liang, the father of ten year old World Champion Awonder Liang wrote to us to say his son would like to play in the tournament. I met Will when he brought Awonder and brother Adream to last years’ Okoboji Open and was both surprised and delighted by his interest. I was surprised because I thought Will disapproved over the way I did not pair traveling companions against each other at Okoboji but delighted to have Awonder play in Marshalltown. I know that Awonder is only ten years old but his career arc is such that being the World Champion is very possible if not probable and if he were to attain that kind of success his visits to Marshalltown in 2014 and Okoboji in 2013 would be something that would acquire a historical status like the small towns where Bobby Fischer gave exhibitions in the 1960’s. The arrangements were quickly made and barring unforeseen circumstances, Marshalltown will be host to a World Chess champion for the first time ever which is not something I ever planned on when I started the Marshalltown Chess Club at the Salvation Army in 2002!

  Since most of the players would be driving a considerable distance to Marshalltown for the tournament I wanted to try to entice the expert players to carpool with some other players. To that end I got Tim’s permission to have a separate tournament for non-expert players and set it up so the non-experts would play 2 games at 45 minutes a side while the experts played a 90 minute per side game so traveling companions could have lunch and dinner together and the travelling partners could hang out and relax for the drive home. That WAS the plan but so far none of the experts have said they are traveling with any other players. I have a nice mix of out of town players and players from the chess club so it should be an interesting and fun side tournament if it isn't what I planned it to be initially.

Ben Tessman's renderings of Magnus Carlsen
and some other guy... (c)
  In December, I contracted with my friend Ben Tessman to make a drawing of the new World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen for the medals at my January tournament. Ben is a talented artist and you can view his work at Ben is also a computer whiz who is extremely talented in SEO (search engine optimization). And if that wasn’t enough, he's in the rock band Pat1ent Zero and is a chess coach and player and an administrator of the Team Iowa group on The group plays matches against other states and clubs on and has a message board and forum. While we were working through Ben’s medal art, he mentioned that the Team Iowa group was looking to hold a get-together and Marshalltown’s world famous Zeno’s Pizza came up in the conversation. Ben wanted to know if Zeno’s could accommodate 30 chess players and if they couldn’t would I know of a place in town where they could have a meet-up and play chess. I mentioned that we were having the chess tournament this Saturday and that if Ben was interested I’d ask Tim if we could add a section. Ben said sure and Tim said OK and some of the 170+ members of the Team Iowa group on will be heading to Marshalltown this Saturday to play chess, hang out, and in many cases meet face to face for the first time.

  So instead of a fairly sedate chess tournament with some expert and master chess players, the Salvation Army in Marshalltown will be hosting the 10 year old World Chess Champion, a side tournament meant for traveling companions of which there are few to none, and a group of chess players who mostly know each other from online. The day could end up anywhere between a normal chess tournament to a three ring circus – not exactly what was planned. I’m not complaining – just saying it wasn't what I planned on. My monthly youth tournaments have three separate sections in the morning and afternoon so if there is one thing I’m used to it is being the ringmaster. Unlike the Denver Broncos or the bank vice-presidents I expect the end result will be much better than planned.

  Last Saturday morning I played this one minute game on the Internet Chess Club after taking Daisy and Baxter for a mile and a half walk in two degree weather for a beef stick treat at the Jiffy. My opponent blitzed out each move instantaneously and was playing trappy chess in the hopes I would either pre-move my way to a disaster or run out of time. I don’t think this game is what he had planned…

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of