I arrived at the Arrowwood Inn (site of the Okoboji Open) on Friday at two in the afternoon, checked in, put my bag in the room, and headed to the playing hall. Unlike past years there was no need for me to rearrange any tables or chairs since they were laid out just the way Jodene wanted them with two chairs at each six foot table with plenty of room in between them. I just hung out, posted my Cylinder pictures on Facebook, and waited for the players to arrive.
I had a longer wait than in years past. The last four years the tournament was fortunate enough to have International Master (and YouTube star - check out his channel by clicking here) John Bartholomew play in the tournament. John would give a simultaneous exhibition on Friday at 4:30 before the first round. John didn't play in this years’ tournament so the first round was at 6pm as scheduled with this years weekend chess activity being a blitz tournament held after the first round Friday night.
There were 43 signups on the day of the tournament but the weather was great and several players showed up to play on the day of the tournament, including some of the players that came from Nebraska last year and the Heinisch brothers that come to play in Jackson each year. All in all there were 54 players (not counting 2 parents that helped out by giving the odd numbered player a game) which is comfortably in the upper half of the participation in the history of the Okoboji Open.
The first round came and went and then it was time for the blitz tournament. I had been planning to play in this blitz tournament since Jodene announced it and prepared for the last month. I stopped playing 1 minute internet chess in favor of 3 minute chess and drank an Amp Focus Energy drink at eight to give it time to work its energy focusing magic on me. I did have a ginormous lunch at the Rack Shack which I took as a good omen since the last time I ate a gut busting lunch was the only time I’ve ever beaten Joe Meyer (AKA Joe from Waterloo) in a tournament game (I wrote about it here). Nonetheless, I did attempt to mitigate the effects of eating 3000+ calories in one sitting by snacking on raspberries and strawberries while the rest of the players were either travelling or playing a three to four hour chess game.
In years past the first round of the tournament ended between 9 and 9:30. This year there were three games that lasted until 10 o'clock. This caused many of the younger players who signed up for the blitz tournament to cancel in favor of a good night’s sleep. All told we had 12 players sign up including my 2014 Iowa State Fair co-champion Bob Keating and Grandmaster Mauricio Flores and myself. Mauricio was going to start play on Saturday but arrived while the first round was going on with Riaz Khan. Riaz convinced Mauricio to play in the tournament so it would have a headline player. I was the fourth lowest ranked player in the field and by far the oldest player with 10 years on Bob and at least 25 years on all the other players. I would have settled for a 3-2 record in the five round tournamaent but I was hoping for maybe something a little better.
In the first round of the blitz tournament I had white against Joseph Wan, the newest super strong Iowa youth player. Joseph is an expert player and he’s not even in high school. Joseph's family came to Okoboji along with him. They seemed like a really nice all-american family and Joseph's dad Huishan even helped out by filling in to play the odd numbered player in the main tournament a couple of times. Of course at the time I sat down to play I wasn't concerned with how young Joseph was or what a nice family he had – I just wanted to play and win. Joseph played an unusual setup against my Queen’s Pawn opening, moving his bishop to b7. I knew if I moved my e4 pawn before I developed I’d lose a rook to the oddly placed bishop but just a few moves later I moved the pawn anyway and lost my rook. I managed to generate a huge attack against Joseph’s king using the open line from where my rook was captured and had my queen, remaining rook, and both knights buzzing all around Joseph’s king. In order to avert a checkmate Joseph gave up his queen for one of my knights but his king was flushed out into the center of the board. I was busy trying to figure out a way to checkmate Joseph and he wasn't moving. I thought he was looking confused and trying to figure out where the game had gone wrong for him. After what seemed like an eternity I looked at the clock to see how much time he had left and then I saw it. On my previous move I FORGOT TO HIT MY CLOCK AND I ONLY HAD A FEW SECONDS LEFT. I managed a couple of half-hearted moves before I lost on time.
What a shock. I can't remember ever forgetting to hit my clock in a blitz game before. Someone asked me if I thought that Joseph should have told me I forgot to hit my clock and I said there was no way he should remind me – that’s blitz. Before I had time to absorb my mistake and shake it off the round was over and I had another game to play.
My second game was against Will Osborne from Nebraska, the lowest rated player in the field. I had Black and played my center counter defense and quickly won a pawn. Will organized an attack on the dark squares on my kingside. I was ahead on the clock and thought I had a defense on the long diagonal and grabbed another pawn but Will managed to trade off my dark square bishop and then I let him cut my queen out of the action. I was soon checkmated and had an 0-2 record.
My third game was against the fourth lowest ranked player in the field, Minnesota teenager Peyton Smith. Peyton shared the information that he had lost his first two games on time. I can’t remember what opening we played but I remember losing a pawn and getting a minute behind on the clock early in the game. I battled back and even got my pawn back and we had an endgame with a queen and a few pawns each. I had three seconds to Peyton’s five seconds but I was checking him with my queen hoping to run him out of time or for an illegal move that would decide the game in my favor under the tournament rules. I might have pulled it off except I knocked my queen over while moving it twice in a row and lost on time while I fumbled to pick it up.
With three losses under my belt and feeling pretty numb, I sat down for my next game against Steven Cusumano from Nebraska. I again lost a pawn early on and again battled back but found myself down on the clock. I kept on defending and when I was down to about 15 seconds I managed to pull off a trick and win Steven’s queen for my rook. While my clock was running down and moved my queen from h1 to check Steven’s king but couldn't find a safe square to check from and dropped the queen onto the e3 square. My chess playing readers might think a queen can't go from h1 to e3 legally and they would be right. Steven called the illegal move and the penalty for making an illegal move was the loss of the game.
SO, after four rounds of the five round tournament I was 0-4 and in the last round I played Jon Reigenborn from Nebraska who was the only player with one win I hadn't played yet. I really wanted to win this game and I had the White pieces but Jon just came at me full bore with a Benoni defense and I fell apart. I lost a pawn and then I lost a rook for a bishop and then I lost a whole rook and then I resigned.
What a disaster! My final mark for the Okoboji Blitz was 0-5. In baseball striking out five times in a game is the 'Platinum Sombrero' - I couldn't find a chess equivalent. I wasn't just the only player not to win one game – I was the only player in the 12 man field to not win two games. I trailed the entire field by at least two points. If I was a NASCAR Driver I’d have been the one that crashes on the first turn of the first lap to finish in 43rd place. As I reflected on the tournament I realized I lost games in every way imaginable – I lost because I forgot to hit my clock, I lost when I ran out of time, I lost when I was checkmated, I lost when I made an illegal move, and I lost when I resigned. I suppose you could say I lost on time when I forgot to hit my clock and if that keeps me out of the trivia books I’m all for it.
During the weekend I thought that I just went on tilt after my opening round mishap and maybe there’s something to that but the truth was that I just didn't play very well. Except for my second round game I was in early trouble in every game and I’d get behind on the clock and set the stage for every mess I stepped in. I hung around the tournament for around an hour setting up tables for the extra players that had arrived and feeling happy that I’d be directing for the rest of the weekend instead of playing...
Feeling a little down after my terrible blitz performance, I turned on my amazing iPod's Rhapsody music app.
This was the first song it played for me...