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