Friday, August 28, 2015

2015 Jackson Open - Diary of a Wimpy Chess Player

  I had a great night sleep in my $131 room at the Econo(NOT)Lodge in Jackson, Minnesota after my round one victory against Mark Hansen on Friday night at the Jackson Open. I woke up refreshed and relaxed but it was only 4am – my normal wake up time. I didn’t have any beagles to walk and I had the potential of nine hours of chess ahead of me so I went back to sleep and refused to get out of bed until 7:30 which was the latest I’ve woken up in over 10 years.

John, Edna, and their 3D globe puzzle
  After waking up I headed to the EconoLodge’s complimentary breakfast but before I could get there this elderly couple called me over. The husband was named John and the wife Edna which I knew because they were wearing nametags that said so and I didn’t think they were identity thieves. Edna wasn’t much of a talker but John wanted to know where I was from and what roads I used to get to Jackson. I excused myself to get a small cup of coffee, two slices of toast, and some apple juice. When I returned a few minutes later I told John and Edna that I was from Marshalltown Iowa by way of New Jersey and mentioned in detail all three highways I took to travel to Jackson (Iowa 30 west, Interstate 35 north, and Interstate 90 west). Edna said that Marshalltown sounded familiar and wondered if she had heard about it in the news. I casually mentioned she likely had since Marshalltown is the corpse abuse capital of Iowa (you can read about it here) and made the national headlines last week yet again when a former resident was killed after an exchange of gunfire at a North Carolina Church (If you don't believe me, click here!).

  Edna’s eyes started to get a little glassy so John changed the subject by asking me what I thought of the 3D globe puzzle on the table. I mentioned that I prefer flat puzzles and John agreed with me, telling me ‘I was his kind of guy’. Then Edna squinted at me and asked who I came to the reunion with. I’ve never seen ‘Wedding Crashers’ or ‘Catch Me If You Can’ and told Edna and John I was in town to play in a chess tournament. They weren’t very impressed and I saw Edna reach into her purse for her pepper spray. I quickly mentioned that the tournament was at the Jackson United Methodist Church. Edna took her finger off the pepper spray trigger and they both warmed up a bit since they were quite religious. John told me that there were over 150 people in town for their every three year family reunion and that there were relatives from Florida, Nevada, California, and even Iowa but none from New Jersey. The reason they held the reunion in Jackson was because their genealogy goes back to a young girl that survived an Indian massacre of the 1800’s by hiding in a corn field in what is now Jackson County Minnesota.

  I wish I could have heard more about John and Edna’s family history (and they had a lot of their own history since they are married 64 years and counting) but it was almost 8:30 and I had to get to the tournament so I said my goodbyes, checked out of my room, and headed back to the Jackson United Methodist Church for a full day of chess.

  I drove the mile and a half to the church, arriving just a little past 8:30. Sam and some of the other players were there. Sam was still waiting to see if any new players would arrive and hadn’t printed the pairings. Since I was the sixth ranked of the 10 first round winners I knew I’d be playing either top seed Dan Voje or second seed Josiah Jorenby depending on who had what color in the first round. Dan mentioned to me that if we played I could get revenge for my defeat to him at last year’s Jackson Open. I like Dan and really enjoy chatting with him. I said revenge wasn’t on my mind since I couldn’t do anything about last year but I wouldn’t mind another crack at him. Dan said that was very philosophical of me and I said it was just the truth. I was there on this Saturday to play chess and not think about what happened last year, last month, yesterday, or tomorrow. I just wanted to play a good game, make 40 or so good moves, and if I did happen to play Dan I would want to win for this year and this day.

Josiah Jorenby
  Dan and I both had the black pieces in the first round so I was paired against Josiah Jorenby on board 2 in the special room reserved for the top boards. I wrote about how Josiah scored 3.5 out of five in Okoboji this past April, scoring a win and a draw in his two games against masters. As if that wasn’t intimidating enough we’ve played six blitz games on and I haven’t beaten Josiah yet, scoring two draws to go along with four losses. I think Josiah is a great young man and I like him, his dad, and his sister Destiny but I wasn’t looking forward to playing this South Dakota State University student that was rated 200 points higher than me, had clearly found another gear, beat me like a drum when we played online, and was less than half my age! In my opinion there’s only one way to approach a game like this when you are outmatched and that is to not play like you are outmatched. Everyone is human and not above making a mistake or two. If you are an attacking player then attack. If you like to play for the endgame then by all means play for the endgame. I think players play better by playing to their strengths. If your opponent is better then make him or her prove it by playing your best instead of resorting to gimmickry. I was determined to stick to the goals I laid out by taking my time and being aggressive against the stronger player. If I played like the best me I can currently play like I would be happy to take my chances against Josiah and accept whatever result came my way.

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of

  This was one of the weirdest and wildest games I ever played. I’ve never played against the Dzindzi-Indian defense in a tournament but I’ve seen John Bartholomew play with and against it on his excellent YouTube channel so I wasn’t totally unfamiliar with it. I understood the e4 line better than any of the other white systems and as much as I hated being down a pawn it was an excellent practical decision to keep the initiative and try to bust Josiah up the middle of the board instead of meekly defending my weak queen side pawns. If I had gone on the defensive I would have been giving the superior player a no-risk position where he could try to outplay me. My moves seemed logical at the time and even though I spent over a minute a move after the opening I took only 20 minutes for the game (Josiah took 30 minutes for his moves). My longest think was when I spent four minutes deciding to trade knights on move 12. I spend two minutes deciding on 17. Bd3. I chose that move because I was worried about Rf5 but perhaps if I’d spent more time there I would have seen the strength of f4.

  Josiah and I spent an hour going over this game afterwards which was longer than the game itself lasted. We found 17.Bf1 for me and 11…Ne5 and 14…Qg7 for Josiah in our post-mortem. There were a lot of tricks that we both sidestepped. I thought it was a well-played game at the time and Mr. Fritz didn’t find much to quibble with when I got home.

  Despite the title of this blog post (which I couldn't resist using) I believe this was one of the best games I’ve played in years and despite its shortish nature one of the more intense games I ever played. I didn’t back down, stayed on the attack, and made no serious errors. The only thing I didn’t do was win the game which Josiah had quite a lot to do with. I would have liked to played on in the roughly equal endgame to see how I matched up against a top flight player like Josiah but in the larger context of my goals for the tournament a win wouldn't have helped nearly as much as a loss would have hurt my chances so if taking the draw was a wimpy move, call me wimpy! The draw meant that if I wanted to win a cash prize I needed to get at least a win and draw in my last two games and I’d have to go 2-0 to have any chance of winning the tournament (Dan Voje and two other players were perfect at at 2-0) but at least I still had chances which I wouldn't have had if I'd lost. The Jorenbys left for lunch and I ate an apple and took a nap on a recliner in the church’s kiddie room to rest up for the second half of the tournament.