Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Idea Gone Wrong

  When I set up my summer youth chess tournaments this year and went to rent the big outdoor shelter at Pioneer Park I wasn't surprised to see that they were still renting the shelter by the half day which meant that my preferred morning and afternoon youth tournaments were out of the question. I set up the morning tournament and was thinking about repeating last years' time odds blitz tournaments but discarded the idea when I noticed that there were going to be adult tournaments in Des Moines on most of my summer dates. This left the options of leaving after the morning tournament or coming up with a new idea for the unused few hours I had the shelter rented for.

  I was watching the 2014 FIDE Candidates tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia during the period of time I was noodling around with ideas and a couple of games that world number 2 player Levon Aronian played caught my eye. Aronian lost to the tournament winner Viswanathan Anand in the first round and resigned when he was about to lose a piece. I saw how Aronian was going to lose the piece but it seemed he would get a couple of pawns. I set up the position against a chess computer and had a lot of trouble winning the game the first couple of attempts until I thought I got the hang of it. At the end of the tournament, Aronian lost yet another game, this time to Sergey Karjakin. This time it was clear to me why Aronian resigned - Karjakin was going to queen a pawn and even though Aronian's pawn was one move away from making a queen for him, some well-placed checks by Karjakin would be able to stop the pawn dead in its tracks. I played this position against the chess computer and easily won the game.

Left: Aronian-Karjakin with White to move and Black to win.
Right: Anand-Aronian with Black to move and White to win.
Aronian resigned both of these positions in the recent Candidates tournament but for lesser players they are worth playing out.

  Playing over winning positions is excellent for practicing what is commonly known as technique. What is easily winning to a grandmaster is not so apparent to a master and what is winning to a master is not so apparent to a class player. At my youth tournaments I often see some players expressing disdain when beginners play a game out to mate a queen or more behind, forgetting that maybe a year or two before they were the player playing the game out to mate because it wasn't yet apparent to them how their opponent was going to win. A so-called 'winning advantage' for one player may be the beginning of a complicated struggle for another.

  The two positions got me thinking I could spend the spare two hours after the morning tournament in the park by going over them for whoever wanted to show up. I called it a 'minicamp' and made a flyer with the positions and mentioning what I was going to talk about. My idea was I’d explain how to win the positions for a short time and then pair the players off to practice playing the position out from each side. In the week leading up to the tournament I got a lot of positive feedback from parents about the minicamp and finally it was time to see how the idea worked in practice.

  The morning tournament ran well enough. The weather was weird in that it was so cool under the covered shelter to the point of the players wanting sweatshirts and jackets from their parents but so warm when they left the shelter that they ripped off their sweatshirts and jackets. The tournament finished, everyone broke for lunch and at 1 I started going over the simple position where the queen had to stop the pawn.

Under the shelter the players were dressed for winter and ten feet away in the sunshine everybody looked warm...

  I had a lot more beginners than I expected so my explanation of how the queen would stop the opposing pawn from queening by itself took much longer than I intended. That was a small problem compared to the winds that had kicked up between the end of the morning tournament and the start of the mini camp. I've been in Pioneer Park for four summers and while there had been an occasional gust of wind, the winds this day were blowing the boards and pieces off the tables. I had a demonstration board set up on a shelter post which blew off almost as soon as I put it up. Luckily I've lived in Iowa long enough to know to always have a roll of duct tape at my disposal and I taped the board securely to the post and was able to get though my explanation of the position.

  Once we had finished our discussion of the position, I had the players pair off and asked them to try to win and defend the position from either side. A few players did just that but all of the beginning players had no interest in playing the position, they just set up the boards and starting playing chess. It wasn't what I had planned on, but I very rarely see a reason to force people to do things they don’t want to do and I didn't see a reason to do it here either. I went over the position with the more advanced of the participants, and then we went over the second more complicated position by ourselves as the beginners kept on playing. All the efforts at playing were complicated by the occasional massive gusts of wind that would blow all the pieces and the boards all over the shelter. As the ending time of 3pm approached, the players left, state champ Tim Mc Entee (who came by to visit) sorted out the windswept pieces back into complete chess sets and in no time my car was packed up and ready for me to head home.

  It was great that most of the kids had a couple of extra hours to play chess but a week later I have to say that the idea of having a group chess lesson was an idea that just didn't work for the players that come to my tournaments. I don't think it was a bad idea but it was certainly poorly executed. The windy weather didn't help but leaving the mini-camp open to all left me open to exactly what happened – a majority of beginning players that didn't have the patience to sit and listen to a talk on a position for 15 minutes or play test it for a half hour afterward. And having made the decision to have an open activity, having a fallback position would have made some sense. For example, having some puzzle sheets on hand to illustrate some of the key points I was trying to make in the lecture may have kept the beginners engaged and made everything run smoother.

  I suppose it's a case of live and learn but in any event since a local church has offered to host the youth tournaments for the rest of the summer I'll be mothballing the mini-camp idea and getting back to an idea that has worked out spectacularly – the morning and afternoon chess double header tournaments. Trying out new ideas is important in all walks of life but it is equally important to recognize when an idea is not a keeper or just doesn't work. I think the minicamp idea is a good concept but it clearly requires a lot more work than I'm willing to put into it at present to make it a successful idea.

My tournament/minicamp may not have gone as planned, but don't cry for me since as this video clip shows I have been officially labelled a WINNER by the Iowa Lottery Commission and the Bondurant Git 'n' Go!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Shine On


A warning light! Uh-oh...
  I’ve had my 2013 Chevy Spark for almost a year now and so far it has been a dependable car. It hasn’t broken down and it gets 37 miles per gallon. I do have a couple of quibbles. Even though my Spark is a 4-door sedan, it's so small that I can’t take my chess tournament stuff AND 2 passengers so when I take anyone to one of my youth tournaments I have to travel in my trusty Kia Rio instead of my new Chevy Spark. About four months ago the low tire pressure light started coming on in the middle of my drive to and from work. The light blinks for a minute and then goes steady but turns off after around 10 minutes. The blinking light means a tire has low pressure but when it turns steady after a minute it means the sensor that tells me a tire has low pressure is malfunctioning. I called the dealer and they said to bring the car into the service department when the light is on but by the time I get to work the light has already turned off so after every drive to and from work this blinking light comes on and I am left to wonder if I have a tire going flat or if I have a malfunctioning sensor which it has been so far.

  My other problem with the Chevy Spark isn’t a problem with the car per se but it is a problem nonetheless. Ben’s Tires, the place I've used to get my oil changes, tires, new clutches, and routine maintenance in all my cars over the past 15 years cannot get the oil filter for my car from their usual oil filter supplier. They have to get it directly from the dealer. The first time I went to get the Spark’s oil changed at Ben’s they took the oil out, realized they couldn’t get the filter from their supplier and that the local Chevy dealer was closed on Saturday, and put new oil back in the car while replacing the old filter. They ordered the filter from the dealer and the next week put the new filter on the car with some new oil. Kelcy the owner told me she would always keep one or two of the filters in stock so I could keep getting my oil changed there and I didn't have a problem until this February when I went to get my oil changed on a Saturday only to be told they didn't have a filter and the dealer's parts department was closed but would order some and I could come back next week for my oil change.

  I like and trust Ben’s Tires so I didn't get too upset over them not having the filter in stock but all the same I decided to call ahead the next time I was going to get the Spark’s oil changed. I had to work late a couple of days the next week and found myself leaving work at 12 for a rare afternoon off. On the way home I mentally took stock of the things I could get done during the afternoon and when I got home at 1pm I called Ben’s Tires and asked if they had a filter in stock for my Chevy Spark. The owner told me she did so after a quick lunch, I found myself at Ben’s Tires at 1:30.

  Ben’s Tires is not known for their quick service – in fact the owner Kelcy likes to take pictures of the customers who fall asleep waiting for their cars and post them on facebook (you can see them here) – but I have never waited more than a half hour for my oil change. There are a lot of old barber chairs to sit in and free coffee and donuts. I gave Kelcy my keys, got a semi-stale donut and fresh coffee and sat down in a barber chair watching a rerun of Will & Grace on the TV and the ensuing hilarity of best friends Will (single and gay) and Grace (single and straight) sharing a New York City apartment as best friends and the odd situations they encounter due to their unconventional living arrangement with a convenient laugh track provided so you will know when it is OK to laugh without seeming politically incorrect. I don’t care much for the Friends and How I Met Your Mother buddy-buddy types of shows and I don’t care much for Will & Grace either but I sat down and watched all the same since I didn't plan on being there long anyway.

  After the first episode, another episode of Will & Grace came on and in the middle of the second episode, a mechanic came out and told Kelcy that the dealer sent the wrong filter for my car. Kelcy called the dealer and after the beginnings of a civil discussion she started yelling that they must have send the wrong filter because the one they sent didn't fit on the Chevy Cruze. At that point I interjected and mentioned that I owned a Chevy Spark and not a Chevy Cruze and Kelcy made nice with the person on the other end of the phone and called herself an idiot and called him honey and asked if he could run an oil filter for a Chevy Spark up to her shop. She hung up the phone and told me that they would bring it right away and I sat back down in the barber chair just as the Will & Grace episode was ending with a voice telling me to stay tuned because another Will & Grace episode was coming up next.

  At that point I must have dozed off because I came to as the third Will & Grace episode was ending with a voice telling me to stay tuned because another Will & Grace episode was coming up next. I don't know if Kelcy took my picture when I was sleeping but if she did it isn't up on facebook yet. I made a mental note to find out what channel was on so I could gouge those buttons out of my remote control when I got home and went to check on my car, which was still in the garage up on the lift in a filterless condition. I asked Kelcy if the dealer had brought the filter yet and she said not yet but they would bring it up right away. At that point I was ready to just drive my car off the lot without any oil but instead I called Kathy and asked her to get me since I didn't really want to spend the other half of my afternoon off watching Will & Grace.

  Kathy got me and drove me back around 4:45 - 15 minutes before quitting time at Ben’s Tires. My Chevy Spark was sitting happily in the parking lot so I walked in to Ben’s, paid my bill and drove my Chevy Spark home. I decided the next time I needed an oil change for the Spark I'd go to the dealer where I bought the car: Bob Brown’s Chevrolet in Des Moines who presumably would have a filter. Normally I wouldn't travel to Des Moines to get an oil change but the bank I've been assigned to work at for the last few months is only a few miles away from the dealership. I left work a little early on Friday and headed over to the Bob Browns’ Quick Lube where no appointment is needed. I pulled right into a bay, told the clerk that I wanted an oil change, and headed to the customer waiting area.

Welcome to Bob Brown's Quick Lube center. I sampled the free soda and wireless internet while my Chevy Spark hid amongst the big trucks...

  I hadn't had any service at Bob Brown’s since my terrible experiences in 2006 (which I wrote about here) when they were located on the Merle Hay Auto Mile. Since then they moved to a huge space off Rt. 80’s Exit 126 in Urbandale and I have to say the waiting room at Bob Brown’s is pretty impressive. While Ben’s Tires has coffee with powdered creamer, donuts and Will & Grace on the TV, Bob Browns has coffee with flavored liquid creamers, pastries, and Jeopardy on the TV. But that’s not all! Bob Brown’s waiting room also has a free soda dispenser with fine Coca-Cola products and wireless internet. I sat down, plugged in my amazing iPod (which at the ripe old age of two doesn't hold a charge very long), checked my email on the Internet, and before I knew it the Spark’s oil was changed and after paying my bill ($43 which is $12 more than Ben’s Tires – someone needs to pay for the free soda, I guess) I was on my way. I was offered a coupon for a free car wash but I wanted to get home so I passed but after spending so much time at Ben’s Tires and so little time at Bob Brown’s I channeled my inner Arnold and told the clerk "I'll be back!".

When you drive over a hundred miles a day, your car can get pretty dirty...

  And I was back. I took last Thursday off from work to drop Kathy off at the airport in Des Moines and on the way back home to beagle-sit I stopped at Bob Brown’s Quick Lube to get my oil changed. I pulled up to the bay, told the service attendant I needed an oil change, headed to the customer waiting area, made myself an ice cold Cherry Coke (ice is also available!), and sat down with my iPod to check my mail. My iPod had hardly had any time to run down when the attendant came out to let me know my car was ready. I paid my bill and again got a free coupon for the car wash but this time I decided to use the coupon since I had time and my car was filthy.

In goes the coupon and one car wash later....

  My coupon was only good for the 'Classic' car wash – a $7 value. I resisted the urge to upsize my car wash to the $9 DELUXE package with the underbody wash and sealer wax or the $11 ULTIMATE package with the underbody wash and sealer wax AND TripleFoam Polish, but I was so taken with my free soda and excellent customer service that I decided to photograph before and after pictures of my Chevy Spark’s car wash so I could extol their praises in my blog. I put my coupon in the dispenser, pulled my car into the bay and I was on my way to a clean car.

  The car stayed stationary as this giant machine on rails passed over my car in multiple passes spraying water in varying degrees of pressure. I was a little concerned that I never saw any sign of soap or foam. But after several passes past my car which took about as much time as a segment of Will & Grace that fills the time between commercial breaks the giant contraption stopped, the 'Exit Now' sign flashed and I drove out of the car wash bay.

  I pulled over to see the results of the free car wash I got with my $43 oil change and was unpleasantly surprised to see that only a minimal amount of dirt was removed from my car. The front of the car was still covered with insects and insect by-products and the only clean part of the back of the car was where my fingers had removed some of the grime when I open the hatchback. It looked like the touchless car wash had barely touched my vehicle.

...except for the water marks this could have been the before picture!

  I ended up washing my Chevy Spark in Marshalltown at the Rainbow do it yourself car wash on Sunday afternoon. It took ten minutes and cost $4.50 in quarters. I’m still pretty happy with my two oil changes at Bob Brown's and will go there again and I'll go to Ben’s Tires for everything else on all my cars except the Spark's oil changes. I'm hoping someday Ben's will have filters for the Chevy Spark, offer free soda, and have wireless internet in their waiting room but I can't hold it against them for not having a car wash since after all, neither does Bob Brown.

I took my Chevy Spark to the Rainbow Car Wash in Marshalltown on Sunday. A few minutes of elbow grease and...

Viola! ... A clean car!

  As fate would have it on Monday I received an email from cars.com asking me to fill out a quick survey about my service experience at Bob Brown's. I filled out the survey and gave them a top mark for customer service and a middling grade for their facilities which would be the average of the excellent waiting room and the terrible car wash. Then I was asked to fill out a review which I did. In the review I wrote (you can find it here under May 19th):

Great Oil Change - Awful Car Wash
I came to Bob Brown's Quick Lube for an oil change. I was in and out in 20 minutes without an appointment and there was wireless internet and free soda. The clerk was excellent and let me know about a recall I needed to get taken care of. $43 is a bit much for an oil change but it does come with a compimentary (sic) car wash coupon. The CAR WASH was the WORST - MY CAR WAS JUST AS DIRTY AFTERWARDS AS IT WAS BEFORE. At least I got my money's worth from the coupon.


  I didn't realize that my review was going to be posted on the Internet but now that it has been I hope I don't get a special recall notice to install an ejector seat in my Spark!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

An evening with C.A.

Meet C.A. and his Red Solo Cup!

  As great as the Okoboji Open was this year, there was one glaring problem: The hotel where the tournament was booked a fraternity party from the University of Northern Iowa for the same weekend as the tournament. When I heard that the hotel was full for the weekend I figured that maybe there was a wedding or a reunion but I knew differently when during the first round of the tournament Friday night there were all these college age kids filling up coolers with ice and rolling luggage carts stacked with cases of beer and liquor and boxes of wine in a seemingly never ending caravan to their rooms.

  College kids were running around in the halls until the wee hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Many of the players who stayed in the hotel told me that the noise woke them up or kept them from sleeping and a few told me how someone would bang on their door screaming to be let in because they thought it was their room or their friends room. I had two encounters with the college crowd, one direct and one indirect. On Saturday night, I was going to give Ken Fee and Frank Whitsell from the Kansas City Chess Club a ride to the El Parian restaurant for the annual Okoboji dinner. Everyone had left and I was still waiting for Ken and Frank. I called Ken and he told me they couldn't leave their room yet and would be down in a bit. When they finally came down they told me that this drunk college girl said she was locked out of her room and begged to use their bathroom. They let her in and she proceeded to throw up all over their room and they had to call room service for a cleanup and that's why they were late getting to the lobby.

  To a person, the staff at the hotel was super helpful and very embarrassed by the fact that the management had made the decision to host a bunch of loud, drunk, vomiting college students. This embarrassment wasn't just for the chess tournament – the hotel advertises itself as a place you can bring the family and offers a Romance Package starting at $169 with champagne, chocolate covered strawberries, and a 'rose-petal turndown'. I hope no one bought the romance package for the 'frat party weekend'. I may be old-fashioned but is there anything that says romance less than some drunk college guy banging on the door of your $169 romance suite (based on double occupancy - I found threesomes, etc... are extra when I researched this) because they think it's their room? The only less romantic thing I can think of is maybe some drunk college student begging to use your bathroom and vomiting all over your 'rose-petal turndown' and chocolate covered strawberries. And the only thing I can think of less romantic than that is if the champagne had been opened and got vomited on also!

  There were two moose sized policemen patrolling the hotel both nights - this was a first. The policemen were friendly and great about keeping the kids away from the tournament but there were only two of them and they are policemen and not hall monitors and there was only so much they could do about the children (who were customers of the hotel, after all) yelling all night and banging on doors and exercising their regurgatory rights. Booking a frat party at the same time as a chess tournament wasn't the most synergistic idea I've ever seen. Perhaps the next time the frat party weekend could be paired with a convention of vomit collectors (Yes there is such a profession and you can read about it here) since they would be right at home or the next meeting of the local or regional insomniac support group (perhaps this one would do) since they probably wouldn't be sleeping much anyway.

  I received a lot of compliments about the playing site - it was the people staying at the hotel that had the problems. The tournament wasn't interrupted directly except for Sunday morning when 50 or so college kids gathered in the breakfast room next door to the tournament room and started yelling and screaming. I asked the front desk to see if they could quiet them down but Jodene just went into the breakfast and yelled 'QUIET' and told these kids that they had been making noise all night and now it was the chess players turn to have some quiet. I was expecting some of these kids to tell her to shut up or curse at her or just continue making their noise but to their credit they quieted down, ate their breakfasts, and headed off to do whatever hung over fraternity college kids from the University of Northern Iowa do on a Sunday afternoon after breakfast. Don't let the fact that Jodene is a nice person and has cerebral palsy fool you - this is one tough customer if you get in her way!

  Up to this year I wrote about what a great place this hotel was to stay when I publicized the chess tournament because it always has been. I slept like a rock both nights because I use headphones to listen to music on my amazing iPod when I sleep. And since my next door neighbor's drug dealing business in Marshalltown leads to banging doors at all hours of the night (My neighbor Ernie isn't a 3 time participant of Marshall County's 10 Most Wanted for nothing) it would have taken a gunshot to wake me up and maybe not even then. I would have no problem staying at the hotel in the future but I don't see how I can write about the room rate or in any way encourage people to stay there during future Opens until I know that the hotel is willing to turn away this particular client base. Luckily there are plenty of hotels and motels in this resort town.

  So that was my indirect involvement with the leaders of tomorrow. On Friday night after the first round I had a more intimate encounter. When all the games were done, I was sitting alone in the tournament room at my computer loading up the games and pictures to my website when a well-dressed young man came in the room. I thought for a second that he was registering for the tournament but since he smelled like an alcohol sampler and had a cup of what appeared to be vodka and orange juice I figured he was one of the frat party kids. I thought he may be from Marshalltown since the cup he was holding was a 'Red Solo Cup', the drinking symbol made famous in country singer Toby Keith's song of the same name and the logo approved by Marshalltown in 2012 to welcome the bicyclists as they stopped overnight for the annual RAGBRAI ride across the state.

  I said hello to my guest and he said "I'm C.A. and I'm drunk and high on cocaine!" His name really isn't C.A. but if he graduates from college I may end up working for him and I'd hate to antagonize a future boss so I'll use a fake name. I gave my name and asked if C.A. was from Marshalltown. C.A. said he was from West Des Moines and was here with his frat and asked me what I was doing on the computer. I explained that I was loading the games and pictures to my website. C.A. liked my website and asked me if I wrote it and I told him I did. C.A. then told me he was going to UNI for Information Technology but he was failing his PHP class and was $20,000 in student loan debt and was going to flunk out of school.

If C.A. ever decides to give up his Red Solo Cup for some chess play, he met the right person in Iowa State Chess Association President Eric Vigil.

  I told C.A. I felt sorry for him and I did a little anyway even though he would be a little less in debt if he would drink less and maybe not get high on cocaine either and it might even give him time to study for his PHP class. We talked for a bit and C.A. told me that he didn't know what he wanted to do with his life and he got drunk and high because he was failing in school and was going to be in debt without a college degree. I tried to cheer C.A. up by telling him that even if he flunked out of school by the time the next election rolled around there would probably be legislation to forgive a large part of all the student loan debts that everyone seems to have. That seemed to brighten C.A.'s mood a bit and he started asking me about my website and what school I attended to learn programming and was unable to comprehend the fact that I never went to college for programming. Of course, C.A. had a hard time comprehending much of anything so I changed the subject to areas more in C.A.'s wheel house by asking him how much he had to drink, if he snorted his cocaine out of a hundred dollar bill, and if he did could I have one as a souvenir?

  The answers were a lot, no, and no. At this point Will Liang came into the room to say hello. I'm a people person and since C.A. had introduced himself to me the way he had I thought it would help us to bond if he knew that I saw him as he saw himself so I introduced C.A. to Will by saying "Have you met C.A.? He is drunk and high on cocaine." Will's eyes got a little big and C.A. laughed and then I introduced Will to C.A. by mentioning how Will was the father of the 10 year old world chess champion. I was going to ask C.A. if he snorted his cocaine out of a 50 dollar bill so I could ask for one as a souvenir when C.A. asked Will what he did for a living and they talked a bit about the sacrifices that Will and his family make as the family of a chess prodigy. C.A. couldn't quite comprehend the concept of sacrifice but C.A. was having a hard time comprehending much of anything and mentioned that he didn't know what he wanted to do with his life. Will just laughed, told C.A. that he should do whatever I said to do, and that I was a very wise man. We talked a little bit and then Will and wished us both goodnight and left C.A. and I were alone again.

  I asked C.A. if he played chess and he said yes but he didn't remember how the pieces moved. Then my friend Sam Smith came into the tournament room and I said "Sam, Have you met C.A.? He is drunk and high on cocaine." Sam's eyes got a little big and C.A. laughed and rather quickly the subject turned to C.A. not knowing what he wanted to do with his life. Sam told C.A. that he should find his passion and put all he had into it.

  After a few minutes, the Iowa State Chess Association (IASCA) President Eric Vigil came in with another IASCA board member. They had just arrived and were going to start play on Saturday and I introduced the pair to C.A. by saying "Have you met C.A.? He is drunk and high on cocaine." Their eyes got kind of big and C.A. laughed and we all made some small talk and soon the subject turned to C.A. not knowing what he wanted to do with his life.

  Eric had much the same advice as Sam about finding something you loved to do and suggested that C.A. play some chess and handed him his IASCA presidents' card. The IASCA board member with Eric suggested that if C.A. wanted to get ahead he should "never tell anyone the truth". My eyes got kind of big and the IASCA board member didn't laugh. I think not telling anyone the truth is probably as hard as telling the truth all the time and as I found out this past week this fellow can't even follow his own advice since on April 23rd he sent me an email about a West Des Moines youth club he was starting and said (and I quote) "I do not intend to runs (sic) tournaments" but on Saturday I was forwarded an email from him to a chess parent who is helping with the club dated April 18th saying (and I quote) "I will have a rated tournament once month (sic) on Saturday." I guess it's good he can follow his own advice half the time assuming he was telling one of us the truth.

  I'm a fairly big believer in telling the truth whenever possible and I also believe that is almost always possible to tell the truth so I mentioned my own notion that anyone can do anything they want as long as they are willing to suffer the consequences of their actions and also mentioned that I occasionally pay a steep price for the consequences of my actions. I was mostly talking about my penchant for saying what I see without any sugarcoating but it really applies to all walks of life. You can do what you want but you have to be willing to take the hits and pay the price. I wasn't much different in high school than C.A. was that weekend. I was drunk and high all the time although I never traveled half a state away to get wasted for a party weekend like C.A. and his cohorts and never borrowed a penny to go to college. When I wasn't willing to pay the consequences for that lifestyle anymore I straightened up. I try to be a truthful person (sometimes painfully so) and there are consequences for that also but in my experience I have found that being untruthful (or politic as some may say) carries even more unpleasant consequences. Having said all that preachy sounding stuff I didn't use C.A.'s real name so I think it can be safely said that I am as much a work in progress as the person who thinks that 'dishonesty is the best policy' and as much a work in progress as are we all.

  As I was opining on my own philosophies of life I had a rare moment of epiphany! I suddenly knew what C.A. wanted to do with his life and I said "C.A. I know what you want to do with your life! You want to get drunk and high on cocaine!" Everyone laughed except C.A. and I because we both knew I was serious. C.A. said "No, I don't want to get drunk and high." To which I replied "OK. So you don't want to get drunk and high! That's what you want to do with your life!" After this breakthrough we spend a few minutes refining C.A.'s ambitions and we decided to remove the word 'not' to give things a more positive spin and determined that what he wanted to do with his life was 'to be alcohol and cocaine free'. Satisfied that one of life's many problems had been solved, the group broke up and everyone left the tournament room except me. I finished loading the games and pictures, cleaned up some emails, and then C.A. came back for a few minutes because he said the cops were looking for him because he spilled his drink on some lady. Eventually, the coast cleared and C.A. and I left the tournament room for our respective beds.

  I met C.A. the next day outside the tournament and while he was (and I quote) "never been this hung-over" he did remember my name and much of our talk. I had an odd number of players and offered to let him play in the tournament for free but he didn't want to. I felt pretty good that after 19 years of C.A. not knowing what he wanted to do with his life, after just a couple of hours with me he knew what he wanted to do with his life. I think being alcohol and cocaine free is an OK thing to do with your life but if C.A. had agreed with my first conclusion that he wanted to get drunk and high on cocaine with his life that would have been fine by me also. After all, I was just there to help. As much as I've been poking fun at C.A. in this post I have to admit that he is way ahead of where I was at his age. He's 19 and knows what he wants to do with his life – I'm 53 and I still don't know what I want to do with my life although I suspect I may have a future in social work.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

2014 Okoboji Open – The Tournament

  As entertaining as it was getting to Okoboji (I wrote about it here last week), the tournament itself was one of the more interesting I’ve been around, speaking both as a tournament director and amateur writer. I really hit the daily double this year by being able to direct Tim Mc Entee's Expert Open in February and the Okoboji Open in April, which are the only two tournaments I'll direct in 2014 aside from my monthly youth tournaments that aren't quite in the same league. Both tournaments had lots of drama on the board and unique people away from the board. But I wasn't there to just hang around and soak in the atmosphere - I was there to help by directing the tournament.

John Bartholomew, Tim Mc Entee, Oke Iwu, and Awonder Liang provided most of the over the board drama at the tournament. Unfortunately, my idle chatter got in the way.

  As a tournament director I was competent enough with only two glaring errors and just as I have my students go over their losses before their wins when they show me their tournament games I'll take this opportunity to mention what went wrong before what went right. After the fourth round, John Bartholomew, Tim Mc Entee, and Okechukwu Iwu were tied for first place. Oke and I were talking after the fourth round and I mentioned that since he was higher rated than Tim, he would likely be playing John, the top seed with the white pieces. Oke agreed and went to lunch and I expect he was mentally preparing himself to play the top seed. Once all the games finished, I paired the round and the computer showed Tim playing John. Tim and John were both hanging around and when I expressed my surprise they both said they expected to be playing each other because the rule about having the players alternate colors (Oke would have had double whites in the last two rounds) would take precedence over Oke's higher rating because the rating difference wasn't enough to justify a switch. I felt about two inches tall when Oke came back and I had to tell him he wasn't playing John with the White pieces but instead was playing the 10 year old world champ Awonder Liang with the Black pieces. Oke lost rather quickly and I don't know if it was because he had prepared for John instead of Awonder but all the same I should have just kept my mouth shut and my opinions to myself or at least just put some temporary results in the computer and printed them out when I talked to Oke about the parings.

  My other mistake could have been a disaster. On Saturday morning instead of putting up the 3-day reserve section round 2 pairings I reposted the round 1 pairings from a sheet I should have thrown away! I was very lucky that one of the players came up to me and mentioned he was playing the same person again. I made the quick switch so it was a case of no harm no foul but like I said, it could have been a real mess if the players hadn’t questioned who they were playing and just sat down to play. My other errors were putting up the cross tables for the open section two times (and no crosstable for the reserve section) before the last round and forgetting to get the picture of the master players before the fourth round on Sunday morning. I ended up getting the picture a little after the final round started but didn't even get that right since I missed getting Oke in the picture and had to put him in as an inset when I got home and realized I missed him. Two of my mistakes involved Oke so I guess the old saying about 'When it rains it pours…' has some merit. Last week I wrote about 'Slappy' on the road crew and this week I get to write about 'Slappy' directing a chess tournament. 'Slappy' is my pet term for that person who has a job but doesn't seem to get anything done or done right like the road crew guy that just stands there or the clerk at the Wal-Mart express register that spends five minutes chatting with the person in front of you and then you get to wait an extra couple of minutes because they rang something up wrong or there is a price check. I know there just has to be a niche market for a 'Slappy' blog and merchandise just waiting for the right entrepeneur.

  Since I've gone over what didn't go right I think I'm entitled to give a mention to what did go right (the entitlement mentality at work!). The pairings were up quickly and correctly, I never had four people sitting down at the same board (not so easy when there are four sections starting at different times), and when the players got low on time I was right where I needed to be, standing nearby keeping an eye on the games and being available in case of any questions or problems. Of course when you have a bunch of great sportsmen and top level players like there are at this tournament it is rare occurence when I need to be consulted. One time I was asked about whether a player could get two minutes added to his clock when his opponent made an illegal move but otherwise I was like a shadow, there but unnoticed and exactly as it should be.

   In the 55 hours I was in Okoboji, I got to play exactly one game of chess – And I use the term 'play' very loosely. I competed in the simul against John Bartholomew and did a reasonable impression of 'Slappy' plays chess. Maybe the Britt road crew has a job opening...

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of pgn4web.casaschi.net

  There were only six players in the John’s simul this year but 2011 Iowa champ, master Bob Keating played a great game and eventually was the last man standing. The pair put the game on a clock and went man-on-man and finally agreed to a draw just minutes before the 6pm start of the three day tournament. I asked them if they wanted to switch to the two day section so they could relax but they both wanted to play. Right in the first round, John allowed a huge attack and a draw by perpetual check to Life Master Jim Ellis who was rated 500+ points below John. I played Jim two years ago at a CyChess and wrote about how he had a stroke and petitioned to have his rating floor removed by the USCF. He has a lot of chess ability and how he plays has a lot to do with how he is feeling that particular day. Anyway, the draw gave John little room for error in the rest of the tournament and the open section had a wide-open feel that anything could happen and anyone could win.

As the tension mounted in the Awonder Liang - Dane Mattson game,
more and more players gathered to watch the game.

  For the second year in a row Awonder Liang came to Okoboji to play. Last year Awonder was the reigning World Under 8 year old chess champion and last December he won the World under 10 year old chess championship (there is no 9 year old world championship). For the second year in a row, Awonder got in a bad position in severe time trouble against a master player and for the second year in a row he kept moving super quick, posing problems for his opponent, and winning the game when his opponent got into time trouble. As you can imagine, the game attracted a lot of attention from the other players and since I was keeping an eye on all the time pressure games I got a chance to snap a picture of the players and onlookers for the second year in a row also. I didn't talk to Awonder but I did get a chance to chat with his dad, Will. Awonder received an invitation to represent the US at the World Youth Championships in South Africa this September and Will is hard at work to find funding for the trip and to get grandmaster coaching for Awonder. After the tournament he told Jodene, Oke, Dane Mattson, and me a lot of stories about his and Awonder's experiences the past six months in Dubai for the World Championships and Reykjavik, Iceland and just about being the parent of a chess prodigy.

  The Open had a fantastic finish on Sunday as John (who had won his two games on Saturday to get to second place) beat Awonder in the morning and in the afternoon he played Tim Mc Entee with the championship on the line. Tim is about as good a friend as I have in the chess world. When he semi-retired from chess in 2009, I wrote his 'chess obituary' and also predicted that he would eventually return to competitive chess. Tim continued to support the Okoboji tournament and got back to playing on a regular schedule last year, culminating in winning his 4th state championship in March. It was great to see him playing at such a high level. Tim looked to have an advantage against John in their matchup but eventually John prevailed in a titanic struggle and showed what a great champion he is by coming from behind to win his fourth Okoboji Open in a row.


Destiny on her game!
  Along with the Open section, there was also a reserve section going on for players rated under 1600. Daniel Johnson, a player who got his chess start playing in my youth tournaments seven years ago and was playing in his first Okoboji Open, won all his games to win the tournament. My friend Sam Smith, who helps Jodene with the Okoboji tournament and runs the Jackson Open that I've gone to the last two years, was a half point behind Daniel and played him in the last round for the championship. I know Sam wanted to win the Reserve tournament in the worst way but couldn't pull it off and settled for third.

  One of the games that caught my interest from the reserve section was the Sunday morning game of Destiny Jorenby. I played Destiny at the 2012 Jackson Open and have met her dad, brother Josiah and her at the last 2 Okoboji and Jackson Opens. When I played Destiny, I was very impressed with her play but at that tournament and the subsequent times I saw her games she would get a big advantage but let her opponent confuse her with tactics and lose. In her Sunday morning game, Destiny got a big advantage and her opponent tried to confuse her, but instead of getting confused she got tough and turned the tables on her higher rated opponent.


  While not at the level of the master games in the Open section, this was a real nice win by Destiny. Her opponent threw all kinds of tricks at her and not only didn't she blink, she played some neat tricks of her own. Destiny won 3 of her 5 games which may sound slightly above average at first blush but she only lost to the winner and second place finisher of the tournament. It was a very impressive performance and I expect even better results in the future.

Doctors, lawyers, basketball coaches, piano teachers, politicians, commodity traders, and 10 year old national and world champions... just part of the amazing variety of chess players at Okoboji!

  I wrote for the chess audience about the tournament here and here and when I'm writing for the chess audience I focus on the results and the 'road to first place' because most of that audience are interested in who won what and how. When I'm writing for my blog I write about the things that are notable to me and they aren't often the results. Two weeks later the things about the tournament that stick with me are my mistakes and near mistakes, watching Destiny playing this great game over the course of a couple of hours, rooming with Sam on Friday and Sam’s friend Joel Saturday night, giving a lower rated young player from South Dakota some advice on taking his time and not trading down when behind and watching him execute it, of course the annual Saturday Night dinner, and just hanging around with the players that I only meet once or twice a year and getting to meet and hang out with a lot of people that I'd never met before. When I'm playing in a tournament I've had people tell me I'm like a mushroom and I agree because in that setting I'm the type that likes to keep to myself and not get all chatty. Not that there's anything wrong with mushrooms: they are an incredibly versatile sort of fungus that can be used as food, poison, medicine, and even as a psychedelic recreation. But there are a lot of other players that are more on the sociable side or like to talk as a way of relaxing before or during a game. When I’m not playing I enjoy meeting and chatting with anyone and everyone and the variety of great people I get to hang out with for a weekend is what makes the Okoboji Open so special for me.