Wednesday, April 30, 2014

2014 Okoboji Open – The Journey

  This past weekend I headed up to Okoboji, Iowa for the sixth year in a row to help my friend Jodene Kruse by directing the 8th Annual Okoboji Open chess tournament. With nearly $2,000 in prize money, many of the region’s top players in attendance, and Open and Reserve sections with two and three day schedules the tournament is my busiest and most pressure packed weekend each year. Having said that, I get to hang out with a bunch of great people I only get to see once or twice a year who appreciate my help and running a monthly youth tournament with anywhere from four to six separate sections is great preparation for Okoboji and helps keep me at the top of my game.

  I didn’t have a traveling companion this year and I had chess club at St. Francis in Des Moines on Friday so I packed up my car with my clothes, computer, and tournament directing stuff and left the house at 5:30 for the hour drive southwest to St. Francis for chess club. It may appear that it would be easy for me to beg out of club this particular Friday because of the Okoboji Open but it wouldn’t have been easy at all. Working with the kids and my fellow coaches is one of the highlights of my week and if everyone else can drag themselves (and their parents) to school an hour early I can spend an extra couple of hours driving to show them that their commitment is not only appreciated, it is matched. I had a great time at club and at 8:30 began the 240 mile trek northwest to Okoboji.

From the Kum & Go in Des Moines to the Casey's in Mason City, beef sticks are 2 for $1 everywhere except the Casey's in Marshalltown, Iowa.

  The trip was uneventful and I was able to take the opportunity to do a little beef stick research for my beagles, Daisy and Baxter. I’m happy to report that the beef sticks at the West Des Moines Kum & Go are still 2 for $1 and according to the manager there are no plans to raise the price. When I got to Mason City I stopped for gas at the Casey’s General Store and the Old Wisconsin Beef Sticks were also 2 for $1 and NOT 2 for $1.08 like the Casey’s in Marshalltown and the manager said it must be some test marketing because they had never heard of such a thing.

  My route to Okoboji is to take I-35 from Des Moines (or Ames via state highway 30 if I leave from my house) to Mason City where I stop for lunch and gas and then make a left turn onto state highway 18 which turns into Route 71 that I then take north to Okoboji. Route 18 is a two lane road and it seemed that I was stuck behind every grandfather and grandmother slowing at every corner to see if this corner was the turn they needed to take for their overdue eye appointment. Then I got stuck behind two different planters or fertilizers or whatever kind of farm equipment takes up more than an entire lane of road. After I finally got some clear space near Britt, Iowa a road crew that was pouring goo into each crack in the road had the highway down to one lane and just as I was about to take my rightful place in the caravan following the pilot car I was stopped by ‘Slappy’ the road guy who held up his stop sign right in front of my car with one hand while talking on his phone with the other. The stop sign meant that I had to wait until the caravan traversed the one lane stretch in single file AND the eastbound caravan followed the pilot car back past where I was before I’d be able to go so as soon as I saw the pilot car in view I turned my camera to video mode and prepared to record Slappy in action or at the least some Slappy inaction.

Slappy in action or Slappy inaction - you make the call!

  After the pilot car rolled past me, Slappy got off his phone and went into overdrive. He guided the entire lane of cars safely past my tiny Chevy Spark, rarely using more than two fingers to give his directional guidance. Once that line was over he expertly helped the pilot car turn around and then went to work on instructing the cross traffic to safely make a left turn on to Route 18 West. This task must have been more challenging since Slappy occasionally had to use both hands to signal the proper direction. After what seemed like an eternity but was only a minute or two it was finally my turn. Slappy looked at me and I looked at Slappy and Slappy looked at my camera. Realizing he was on camera, Slappy pointed at me with both index fingers and torqued his entire torso in the direction of Route 18 West. What an artisan. I was so overcome with the pride Slappy took in his work that I almost had to pull over to the side of the road to get my bearings but I quickly thought WWSD (What Would Slappy Do?) and decided to channel my emotions into running the best tournament I could in the event I ever actually got to Okoboji.

Welcome to Cylinder!

  Once I got past Britt, the traffic resumed at a normal clip and I didn’t get behind any other farm devices, pilot cars, or lost grandparents. I made such good time that I decided to take my now annual pilgrimage to Cylinder, Iowa. Cylinder has fallen on some hard times and it appeared that one of their two RV sales businesses has closed. I stopped at the Post Office on Main Street to get a stamp or some other souvenir but the Post Office was locked even though the sign said it was open. There were no Cylinderans available to ask so I got back in my car and continued my journey, arriving at the Arrowwood Resort around 1:15.

  I got to the tournament room and arranged the tables in what I thought were a suitable fashion. Last year there was a record 63 players but this year only 46 players were signed up. I wasn’t expecting a large walk-up so I set up 25 tables in as spacious a manner as possible, got my computer set up, and checked into my room. Last year there were two incidents that happened in the playing room when I wasn’t around because I was set up in an adjoining room so this year I put a table inside the playing hall by the door and set up my computer right there. This meant I wouldn’t be able to play any offhand games and since any conversation would have to take place outside the playing hall I couldn’t talk and work on the computer at the same time but it did allow me to see the tournament room and I was able to keep up entering games and getting them posted on line. I still had time to hang out in the hall and talk to players and parents so in the end I believe it helped the tournament run much more smoothly than last year.

  46 players might be seen as disappointing after last year’s record turnout but it would have been the fourth most players ever and well within historical norms. This years’ tournament happened to be on the same weekend as the national K-8 tournament which meant that the top scholastic players that attended in years past would be absent this year. I wasn’t especially concerned with the turnout since these things are very random. There is a group of 90 or so players that come to Okoboji and on any given year between 40 and 60 will attend. I can’t directly control who comes and who doesn’t – all I can do is the best job I can to provide a smooth running tournament to make the players want to come back. Jodene gets a great room rate and makes the players feel at home and even the players contribute to the feel-good spirit by getting together on the tournament's Saturday night to eat at the local Mexican restaurant and have a great time.

  This year’s field was especially strong in the open section with almost a third of the players being masters and half over expert level strength. The beautiful weather led to a lot of players to decide to head to the tournament on the spur of the moment. Five players from Nebraska decided to drive up and play, Tim Mc Entee brought my former Marshalltown traveling partner Jaleb Jay from Iowa State, long time regulars Joe Hall-Reppen and Alex Fuhs headed over. All told there were 57 players which was the second largest attendance in the eight year history of the tournament. For my part, despite the delays I had an entertaining drive to Okoboji and when I immediately recognized Roger Hale (who I met one time when he played at Okoboji a couple of years ago) in the hotel lobby and was able to greet him by name I felt that I was going to be on top of my game this weekend and that this year's Okoboji Open was going to be unforgettable.

My favorite weekend of the year...The Okoboji Open weekend!