On Saturday I had my fourth annual handicap speed chess exhibition fundraiser for the Salvation Army at the Marshalltown Mall. In other years I prepared by playing plenty of practice games at the fundraiser time limit of one minute for me against 10 for my opponents. This year I was preoccupied with work and fighting a cold and only played a handful of handicap practice games at Zanzibar’s against Mike Jeter and a few at club. While I was able to play many games of one minute chess on the Internet Chess Club and chess.com, handicap chess has a completely different rhythm. In a one minute game both players are moving at the same breakneck pace but in handicap games the challengers can take more than a minute on a single move while I have to be ready to instantaneously bash out my move.
I wasn’t very stressed by my lack of handicap practice since the main purpose of the day is to raise money for the Salvation Army and not for me to beat people at handicap chess time limits. Almost any tournament chess player can beat me at 10-1 odds if they just take their time but that doesn’t mean I want to be a pushover and when I do happen to beat a strong player at these odds I have bragging rights for life.
I got a good night’s sleep and woke up on Saturday ready to take on the world (or at least Marshalltown) at handicap speed chess. Kathy and I took Daisy and Baxter on two beef stick walks and at 11:30 I packed up my car with my chess stuff and the brand new tournament quality chess sets I was going to give away as prizes to whoever could defeat me and headed to the Mall. Expecting a full day of chess ahead I decided to make a stop at the Jiffy to pick up a supply of AMP Focus Energy (my preferred focus and energy beverage) in case I started to get tired. I was only delayed slightly by the lady paying for $40 worth of gas and three cans of Skoal by check and was soon on my way to the mall. The Jiffy was robbed at gunpoint early Tuesday morning by a slightly built man but I can't say I spotted anyone casing the place on Saturday afternoon.
The mall's retail space is more than half empty just like last year but better days are ahead. In February the Hobby Lobby will be moving into the two year old empty space left by the Menards hardware behemoth, the mall has installed wireless internet, and there is a brand new sign in front of the mall with an animated display screen. I set up my chessboards on the alcove by the J C Penney store and start chatting up any passing shoppers to see if I could get anyone to play. There were a group of girls from the local middle school bell ringing for the Salvation Army at the Penney entrance 40 feet away. They were having some sort of contest to see who could make the most noise with their bells. The customers didn’t seem too pleased but I was happy to see them since I figured that I would be able to cope with the noise better than my opponents.
Shortly after I had gotten set up, Chandler from our local club stopped over. Chandler’s mom was taking his baby sister to get her picture taken with Santa so he decided to get a few games in and try to win one of the chess sets I was giving out to anyone who could beat me. Chandler is 3 rating classes below me but has beaten me plenty of times in practice games with the time handicap.
Our first game couldn’t have gone better for me. Chandler lost a piece early and I won with 40 seconds of my one minute left. Our game attracted someone I’d never seen before named Braymont to watch and when our game was done Braymont decided to play so he made a donation to the Salvation Army and we started a game.
Braymont took his time but he lost a pawn and then a piece and I checkmated him with 10 seconds left on my clock. Braymont was pleased that he lasted longer than Chandler and I suggested that they play a game on one of the extra boards I had set up but Braymont's wife told him she was going to the Younker’s department store and was he coming or not? As it turned out Braymont was coming and Chandler decided to try again to beat me at the handicap time limit.
I won the second game against Chandler almost as easily as the first and I thought it was going to be smooth sailing all day and was convinced of it when I won a piece in the third game but in my rush to checkmate Chandler I gave away a rook and lost on time. I gave Chandler his chess set and since his sister was still in line to get a picture with Santa we kept on playing and Chandler just destroyed me in the fourth game, checkmating me using less than a minute on his clock! I quickly downed an AMP Focus Energy drink and we played three more games with me winning two of them until the Santa pictures were taken and Chandler left.
At that point it was around one and I spend the next hour trying to get the passing mall goers to play but had no luck and finally bought a $5 chicken salad slider with a coffee and a pile of Wal-Mart potato chips from the food stand. At that point Kathy came over and we hung out and went to look at her Christmas candles that are on display in one of the many empty storefronts. While we were looking two groups of people stopped to admire the display of 1100+ candles and talk about which ones they liked the best.
Once we were done looking at the candles, Scott from the club showed up to play. Scott is about one class lower than Chandler but is a therapist and came psychologically armed for our battle. Scott played crazy in the opening, throwing his wing pawns forward quickly but then slowing down and defending carefully afterwards. I kept on using precious seconds to find the weak spots in his setups and would win a piece or some pawns but then I had to scramble to find a checkmate or make a queen to finish him off. I played pretty smoothly but out of the seven games we played I lost once when I ran out of time, lost another game when I walked into a checkmate, and had to take a draw in a third by grabbing all his pieces before I ran out of time. We had some interesting games and Scott’s strategy of trying to run me out of time proved pretty successful.
After Scott left I tried in vain to get some more of the curious mall goers to try their luck but the only interest was shown by an errant three year old who tried to shove some pawns in his mouth before his mother stopped him. I had brought my computer along and was doing some writing when two kids came over and asked if they could play each other. I recognized one of kids as Isabel who I taught to play at last year’s exhibition. Isabel was with her brother Isaac and they were waiting in the mall with their grandmother while their mother was shopping. I reminded them how the pieces moved and they played from 3:30 to 5:30 while I unsuccessfully attempted to get some mall goers to play chess. At 5:30 the mall was pretty emptied out so I gave Isabel and Isaac the chess set Scott had earned and didn’t want, packed up my stuff, and was on my way home with two completely unused AMP Energy Focus drinks and 13 brand new chess sets.
I'm disappointed this year’s speed chess exhibition attracted only one player from outside club and only two players from the club. This is less than half the players I’ve had every other year. Any time I spend raising money for the Salvation Army is time well spent but this year I could have helped them more by spending six hours trolling the streets for spare change and empties than by playing chess at the mall. I’m tempted to chalk up this years’ poor turnout to chance but the possibility having the exhibition isn’t a good use of my talents would also be a reasonable conclusion. I don’t have to make any decisions about the speed chess exhibition for a year but at some point a decision will have to be made.