Wednesday, September 3, 2014

2014 Jackson Open - Part 2

  The Jackson Open’s schedule of one game on Friday night and three games on Saturday is a double edged sword in terms of getting a good night’s sleep on Friday. In 2013 I played poorly on Friday night, had to struggle for a draw against Steven Heinisch, and tossed and turned all night. This year I won my first round game against Sabine Marks and I slept like a rock through massive thunderstorms and woke up Saturday at 6:30am ready for three games that could last 3 hours each.

Joel Katz with breakfast at the Jackson, MN. Econo Lodge. Make sure to get there early before the sausage and egg patties get 'handled'!

  My roommate Joel Katz and I headed to the Econo Lodge’s free continental breakfast. Along with the cold cereal, donuts, toast, and bagels there was a small refrigerator that had hard-boiled eggs, watermelon, and a platter of cheese, egg patties, and sausage patties. I asked Joel if he wanted an ‘Egg McMuffin’. Joel said yes so I got an English muffin and used the tongs to pull a sausage patty, egg patty, and a slice of cheese out of the refrigerator. I unwrapped the cheese slice (the sausage and egg patties were unwrapped), slapped everything on the muffin, and put in in the microwave.

  While Joel’s sandwich was heating up, I spooned out a bowl of watermelon to go with some toast, a hard-boiled egg, coffee, and orange juice. Joel’s sandwich finished heating and we had our breakfast while watching the morning news. A lady then came into the breakfast room with two small children. One of the children got on his tiptoes and pulled out handfuls of sausage and egg patties from the refrigerator WITH HIS BARE HANDS and piled them on his plate. The lady was filling three cups with orange juice and then noticed all the patties on her son’s plate. She told him to put some of the food back so he stacked up the patties WITH HIS BARE HANDS and put them back on the platter in the refrigerator. I was happy the watermelon was on the top shelf and that we had gotten to the breakfast room ahead of this grabby young man.

  No sooner had the refrigerator door closed than the lady picked up the three cups of orange juice and one of them exploded, splashing orange juice all over herself, the counter, and the floor. Her children started laughing and she started yelling at them to be quiet. She left for a few moments and came back with the night clerk while the children were stomping in the orange juice puddles. The night clerk brought a pile of towels and started cleaning up the orange juice mess. The lady must have seen me staring at this spectacle because she engaged Joel and I in a conversation. She told us that the room she checked into last night had a leak in the roof and water was ‘pouring in the room’ so they moved her to a different room and when she woke up there were two inches of water in the bathroom and now this with the orange juice. She asked what we thought of that. I thought of taking the optimistic view and saying perhaps all that water kept her child's hands sanitary enough to avoid getting every Econo Lodge guest that made themselves a breakfast sandwich sick. Instead I took the practical view and said “It sounds to me like you’re a jinx, ma’m”. She muttered something I couldn’t quite make out, grabbed her children, and left Joel and I to finish our breakfast. I liked the Econo Lodge a lot better than this lady did – there were no leaks in my room, no standing water in the bathroom, my orange juice stayed in the cup, and the room was clean and quiet. The only suggestion I have is to have a worker in the breakfast room to make sure that the guest’s children keep their grubby hands off of the sausage and egg patties.

Sam Smith
  After breakfast, Joel and I checked out and headed the two miles to the Jackson Senior Center to join the rest of the players. Sam was waiting for any non-registered players to arrive and hadn’t finalized the pairings but when he greeted us he looked me in the eye with a grin and said “It’s you and me.” I played Sam in the 2012 Jackson Open (you can read about it here) and after getting pushed around for most of the game I found a game winning smothered mate when Sam made a rare defensive move. I was due to have the White pieces and remembered how I didn’t let Sam play his favorite Budapest Gambit defense two years ago. Sam used this defense to hold IM John Bartholomew to a draw at his 2013 Okoboji Open simultaneous exhibition and I made a mental note to not let him play it against me this year either. A little after nine Sam made the final pairings and we were still paired so I cracked open an AMP Focus Energy drink and we sat down for our game.

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of
  Sam used 85 of his 90 minutes while I used a little over 60. I don’t mind defending cramped positions but this was ridiculous. Except for trading off Sam’s pieces, I never put a piece past my third rank until the 23th move of the game. I played far too passively in the beginning of the game and let Sam push me around far too much. Sam sacrificed a piece to push me around in 2012 but this year I let him do it for free. I was very lucky not to lose the game and even luckier to win it.

Dan Voje
  Even though my strategic play was highly suspect, I managed to avoid any overt tactical mistakes and found myself one of five players with 2-0 scores at the halfway point. The other four perfect scores were held by the top two seeds Dan Voje and Eric Bell, fellow 1600 player Mike Heinisch, and Riaz Khan who had scored a 300 point upset of the third seed Vince Wisnewski. While most of the other players went to have lunch, I ate a couple of apples, had a chat with Dan Voje and Rochester player Tom Brinkmann, and took a 30 minute nap in the courtyard between the Senior Center and Library. I woke up a few minutes before one, checked the pairings and saw that I was going to play top seed Dan Voje with the black pieces on board one. I’ve never played Dan before and couldn’t remember any of his games from the 2013 Okoboji or Jackson tournaments. As I cracked open my second AMP Focus Energy drink of the day I reminded myself to try to be more aggressive in this game than I was against Sam in the morning game.

  This was a hard loss to stomach. I didn’t think it was possible to be more cramped than my game against Sam yet I managed to have the granddaddy of all cramped positions. Even so, I had it all in my hands – an extra pawn, queens off the board, and an extra half hour on the clock – and I choked it all away with lazy thinking on my 36th move. I knew I was allowing a knight check but I was looking for Dan’s next move instead of taking the time to figure out EXACTLY where my king was going to go. Once I realized what happened I put up no resistance at all, quite unlike Dan continuing to pose me problems after his attack went wrong. Looking back at this game a week later, I’m pleased with my dogged defense in the middle part of the game but that’s all I’m pleased with since it was surrounded by yet another passive beginning and a meltdown at the end.

  With the 4th and final round starting just a few minutes after this disaster I was sorely tempted to take the last round off and head home early. And I would have except that my goal coming into the weekend wasn’t to go 3-0 or win the tournament or beat Dan Voje or not meltdown – my goal was to play all four games and that goal was well within reach. Thanks to my great breakfast at the Econo Lodge, my Amp Focus Energy, and the apples I’d been eating all day I didn’t feel tired at all so I went over to the Senior Center, relaxed, and waited for the last few games to finish.

Riaz Khan
  A little before 4:30, Riaz Khan came up to me and told me how he had been reading my blog and that I was way off base in my comments about the U.S. Soccer team (you can read them here). He offered his opinion that the U.S. had a very respectable World Cup and I reiterated my opinion that a country of 330 million people should consider a tie against Portugal (11 million people), a win against Ghana (24 million people), and a close loss to Belgium (11 million people) a pathetic result and not a respectable one. Riaz asked me how my game against Sam’s Budapest Defense went and I told him how I didn’t let Sam play it against me. And then Riaz told me that we were going to be playing in the last round. I checked the pairings and sure enough I was going to have White against Riaz with the winner having at least a share of 3rd place money and possibly 2nd place cash.

  Riaz is a one of those people who makes a tournament special just by his presence. He has a great sense of humor and a friendly, encouraging demeanor. He is also a tireless advocate of the Okoboji and Jackson Opens to the Minneapolis chess players. I’ve written about Riaz plenty (Here is an example) but never played against him in a tournament before. He proved to be psychologically prepared for our match up. When I pulled out my iPod to take a picture of Riaz for my blog, Riaz wheeled out his smart phone and started taking pictures of me! Then when the game started Riaz played the same Budapest Defense I tried so hard to avoid against Sam!

  Another wasted opportunity but that’s chess - one moment of inattention can throw away hours of hard work. I probably made a mistake by not cracking open a third AMP Focus Energy but I can't say it helped an awful lot late in the game against Dan. After the game, Riaz said “I knew Hank likes pawns so I just kept feeding them to him until he took one one too many.” Riaz and Dan both play at the Chess Castle in Minneapolis and they did their club proud as far as I’m concerned. They were both tough as nails over the board and great company off the board.

  After the game, I hung out with Riaz in the courtyard, played blitz with the Marks children, and waited for the final games to finish. Eric Bell beat Dan to win his third straight Jackson Open and the $300 first prize while Dan, Eddie Wasserman, and Chet Marks (the patriarch of the Marks family) shared second and third and each taking home over $100 which I could have shared if I had won either of my last two games. Dan and I helped Sam calculate the prizes and I helped Sam get the tournament rated. Then Sam, Joe, Riaz, Eddie, and I headed to the local Pizza Ranch for a quick meal. And after that I was on my way to Marshalltown 29 hours after arriving in Jackson.

Eric Bell, Chet Marks, and Dan Voje were among the prize winners. For the third straight year I didn't make that list, but there's always 2015...

  This year’s Jackson Open was everything I expected. I expected to have a great time with some great people and that’s exactly what I did. I met up with some old friends, made new ones, and as a bonus played four intense and interesting chess games. Sam did an excellent job as the tournament director. All I want when I'm playing in a chess tournament is to not have to wait around for the pairings and Sam was perfect in that regard. Sam also has everyone’s respect which is an underrated aspect of directing a tournament that helps everything run smoothly. I was pleased that I finished the four game schedule for the first time in my three trips to Jackson. All told I spent over 9 hours over the board but thanks to my AMP Focus Energy I never felt tired. I could have won all four of my games but I also could have lost all four of them so getting 2.5 out of four points was about the result I deserved. My play was consistently erratic. I was passive in the beginning of games, sharp and creative when defending in the middle games, and exceptionally poor finishing out games so I have plenty to work on before my next tournament. The AMP Focus Energy did what it was supposed to do (give me energy and keep me focused), but in addition to my chess study I’ll be on the lookout for ‘AMP Attack Energy’ and ‘AMP Closer Energy’ drinks to help me be more aggressive at the start of games and finish games better at next year’s Jackson Open.

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