Wednesday, August 27, 2014

2014 Jackson Open - Part 1

  Last Friday I drove to Jackson, Minnesota to play in my friend Sam Smith’s Jackson Open Super Reserve chess tournament. This is the third straight year I’ve played in this tournament (you can read about my past experiences here) which is limited to players rated below the USCF Expert level of 2000 and has a $750 guaranteed prize fund with a reasonable $25 entry fee. I don’t come to Jackson because I feel like I have a better chance to win without expert or better players in attendance or because of the exceptional value. I come to Jackson because of a sense of community I feel with Sam and the players that makes me feel welcome. Win, lose, or draw – everyone is friendly, personable, encouraging, and it's a treat and a privilege to hang out with them for a couple of days each year.

  I had the week off from work before the tournament so I could beagle-sit while Kathy and Ben drove to Idaho to get Ben settled at college. I spent some of my time off reading the posts of my last two Jackson Opens. Each player has 90 minutes for their move and each game can take up to three hours. Both years I was so exhausted after three games that I begged off from playing in the last round and took a nap instead before heading home. This year I didn't want to write about how I got so tired I begged out of the last round so my goal heading into this year’s tournament was to play all four games no matter how tired I got.

  Since I had such great success at the Iowa State Fair Speed Chess tournament using AMP Focus Energy drinks for my energy and hydration needs I planned to take some with me to Jackson. I was in Marshalltown for the week and couldn’t get to the Hawkeye Pantry in the Des Moines Skywalk (my preferred AMP Focus Energy dealer) so I planned on getting my AMP Focus Energy drinks at the Jiffy convenience store since I’ve seen them in the cooler every weekend when we take Daisy and Baxter on a walk to the Jiffy for beef stick treats. I went to the Jiffy on Tuesday but they were out of the blue Amp Focus Energy drinks (They had all the other varieties). Matt the Jiffy clerk told me they would get more on Thursday. I didn’t want to take the chance that the truck would be hijacked and shopped at the other supermarkets and convenience stores in town and found while most of the stores carried AMP energy drinks only the Kwik Star carried the AMP Focus Energy and at $2.49 each they were 50% more than the Jiffy price of three for $5.

Cody is the best convenience store clerk of all time and found a case AMP Focus Energy for me to take to Jackson. Josh gave me a sermon on 'demon energy drinks' while extolling the virtues of 'King Sugar'.

  The thought crossed my mind that my endorsement last week caused a run on the AMP Focus Energy but with the Kwik Star serving as an emergency plan I waited until Thursday and headed back to the Jiffy after chess club. To my chagrin there were no AMP Focus Energy drinks in the cooler but to my delight Cody the best convenience store clerk ever (I wrote about him last year in this post) was back at the Jiffy working second shift.

  I explained my problem to Cody and he told me that there were some boxes of AMP that he hadn’t been able to stock yet in the back of the store. I went to the back of the store and there it was – a CASE of AMP Focus Energy. I scooped up the case, paid Cody $22 for the 12 cans, and I was set for the weekend. While I was paying this meth head girl that was just hanging out in the store asked me if that stuff really worked. I told her it helped me win the State Fair Speed Chess tournament the week before. She was suitably impressed by my championship and much more impressed by the $22 I pulled out of my wallet. The meth head girl started to ask me if I had a dollar or two to spare when the guy in back of me said that energy drinks were no good for me and that they didn’t work anyway. I asked the guy what his name was. He said Josh and I said ‘Hey Josh, get off my cloud’ which made Cody and the meth head girl laugh. Josh turned a little red and told us with more insistence how energy drinks were awful for us and that they didn’t work anyway. I noticed that Josh was holding two giant cans of ice tea and was either severely overweight or shoplifting a beer keg under his shirt so I asked Josh if he knew how much sugar he had in his two cans of ice tea. Josh looked at the cans and read aloud that one can had 19 grams of sugar and the other 30 grams. Josh did some mental arithmetic and said that there was only 51 grams of sugar in the two drinks. I looked at the cans and pointed out that each can contained three servings which meant Josh was about to pour about a third of a pound of sugar down his throat. Josh shook my hand, thanked me for pointing out how much sugar he was about to drink and told me my energy drinks would kill me if I kept it up.

Welcome to Jackson!
  With my energy and focus situation resolved, I packed my AMP Energy Focus, a bag of apples, a chessboard and clock, and a travel bag of clothes into my Chevy Spark and left for Jackson on Friday at 12:30. I only stopped at the Mason City McDonald’s for a McDouble and arrived at the Jackson EconoLodge at 4:15. I checked in and found Joel Katz already in the room. Joel lives in nearby Worthington and we arranged to share a room Friday night. Joel’s legs don’t work very well and he gets around with pole type crutches that hook around his forearms with handles for his hands to grip and propel him to where he wants to go. Joel was sitting on the edge of the bed watching a marathon about life inside a real prison in California. I took a nap and a little after six we went across the street to Burger King and then two miles down the road to the tournament sites – The Jackson Senior Center and Library.

  There were familiar faces at the Senior Center waiting for the tournament to start. Two-time defending champion Eric Bell was there along with Minnesota’s premiere chess traveler Riaz Khan and Dan Voje, the famous tournament director from Minneapolis’ Chess Castle. Sam and his sister Lila were there checking in players and setting up the tournament rooms. This is the eighth year Sam has organized the tournament but 2014 was going to be his first year as the tournament director. Dan and I were willing to help if any questions came up but I didn’t come to Jackson to direct the tournament – I was there to play. There are a lot of people who can direct a tournament and play in it at the same time and I’m not one of them so Sam was for the most part on his own.

  There was a father and son from Wisconsin that came on the spur of the moment and a father and four children that travelled seven hours from the southwest tip of South Dakota to play. The dad’s name was Chet Marks. He is a farmer and a pastor in a small town of 88 people and also ministers at local Indian reservations. The Marks family was friendly, well mannered, good chess players, and fit right in with the rest of the crowd at the Jackson Open.

  The last of the players arrived a few minutes before 7pm, Sam made the pairings, and we all sat down to play. I was the fifth highest rated player just like the last two years. Last year all the players except one were rated over 1200 (the USCF benchmark for the non-beginner level) but this year 7 of the 22 players were rated below 1200. In 2013 I gave up a draw in the first round to Steve Heinisch who was rated 450 points below me and was the only one of the top players to not win. It led to a lot of tossing and turning that Friday night so in 2014 I was hoping to get both a first round win and a good Friday nights sleep.

Sabine Marks
  My first round opponent was the oldest of Chet’s children, Sabine (pronounced Sabina) Marks. Sabine is 17 and has been playing tournament chess for the past year and a half. Sabine was rated 1075 (I’m rated 1691) but there was the possibility that she was underrated since youngsters generally get better in chess in giant leaps. Underrated or not, I believe the way to play against young players is to a) Don’t let them attack - that’s likely what they’re best at, b) Use a lot of time and try to project an attitude of infinite patience because youngsters tend to get fidgety and impatient waiting for their opponent to move, and c) be willing to try to outplay the young player in the endgame because youngsters tend to win their games with attacks and will not have the adult’s endgame experience. That strategy worked out well enough in first round of the 2012 Jackson Open when I played another teenager from South Dakota, Destiny Jorenby. Destiny gave me a whale of a game but I did manage to win in the endgame and saw no reason to change my strategy two years later. I had the black pieces and set up my board with the green and white squares and the black and white pieces instead of Sabine’s pink and white board with the neon pink and white pieces, cracked open an AMP Focus Energy drink, and we sat down to play our first game in the 2014 Jackson Open.

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of
  Except for my miscalculation at the 10th move (which I found via computer help later), I played an effective game against the younger player. I kept things simple, slowed the pace of the game, and didn’t allow any attacks. I was afraid the AMP Focus Energy I was sipping would make me jittery but I was calm and focused for the entire game. Sabine was a tricky player who would rather counterattack than defend but she moved way too fast. As soon as I thought for more than a minute she would drum her fingers or adjust the music player on her iPod. If she had taken her time after my ill-advised 10th move I would have been scrambling. I used almost 60 minutes during this game while Sabine used just 20. Sabine told me she normally played in scholastic tournaments with 30 minutes for her moves. It was a nice night so we went over the game in the courtyard between the Library and Senior Center which was the de facto 'skittles room'. The other players that were watching us go over our game were impressed by Sabine’s willingness to go for complications and take risks and told her she’ll have much better results once she takes more time.

Old Trapper Beef Sticks!
  Joel’s game finished and we headed back to the EconoLodge around 9. I was happy to have gotten through the first round with a win (unlike last year) and felt I deserved a reward. I suggested we stop at the SuperAmerica convenience store located next to the EconoLodge for a snack which was OK by Joel. Joel got a bag of Old Dutch potato chips but I couldn’t decide on a treat until I saw an unusual color beef stick dispenser at the counter. The beef sticks were the Old Trapper brand and were 2 for $1 and that was my celebratory treat. The beef sticks were skinny but very meaty and had a smoky taste. They would be good treats for Daisy and Baxter if they ever find their way to the SuperAmerica convenience store in Jackson, Minnesota. Joel and I got back to the room and we broke out a Coke for me and a Mountain Dew for Joel from my soft drink stash and watched the reality prison show marathon until I fell asleep around 10:30 with the prospect of a full Saturday of chess ahead.