Monday, September 28, 2015

2015 Sioux Falls Open - Part 1

  I took Friday and Monday off last weekend and headed to South Dakota to play in the Sioux Falls Open chess tournament in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Why a chess tournament in South Dakota? I was really happy with my play in August’s Jackson Open and one of the players was passing out flyers for this tournament which looked to be really strong. I was on a ‘runners high’ at the Jackson Open and curious to see if I had made a real step up in my chess or if I just had a good weekend. I asked my friend Sam Smith (the organizer of the Jackson Open and native of Jackson, MN) if he was going and when he said he was I arranged to meet him in Jackson and tag along for the extra hour and a half west to Sioux Falls. I wouldn’t have driven 5 and a half hours for a weekend chess tournament but driving four hours and hitching a ride seemed doable.

  My goals for the tournament were simple and very similar to my goals for Jackson : To play in all the games, take at least one minute for each move after the opening (the time control was 90 minutes per side for each game the same as Jackson), and be aggressive against the stronger players. I had signed up for the open section and expected to play stronger players in every round so I didn’t set any goals like trying to win money or rating points or games or anything like that. I wanted to play well and if that led to wins and rating points and money and fame that would be great but if I didn’t win any games I’ve been there and done that plenty also. Most of all I just wanted to play. Chess is a sport and if you’re good enough (which I’m not) it can be an art but it is primarily a game and games are meant to be played.

  I had more than four hours of driving since it was Friday and I started my day heading to St. Francis in Des Moines for the Friday chess club I run in return for using their cafeteria for my youth chess tournaments. I had everything packed on Thursday night and loaded up my car on 5:30 Friday morning with my St. Francis stuff, my computers, and two days worth of food and clothing and made my way to West Des Moines.

The 'Friends of The Jackson County Libraries Book Sale' at the Jackson American Legion Hall. If you a need an 8-track tape of 'One More Polka' by Marv Herzog you'll have to wait until next year's sale...

  I had a great chess club at St. Francis and at 8:30 headed north to Jackson, Minnesota. I stopped every hour or so to stretch my legs and check my email and made it to Jackson at 1:00. I stopped at the Jackson Library to use their free internet and saw there was a 'Friends of The Jackson County Libraries Book Sale' a few blocks away at the American Legion Hall. I had plenty of time so I decided to check out the sale. There were a lot of books but not many I was interested in. I got a memoir by longtime Minnesota sportswriter Sid Hartman and a book about one of the Denver Broncos Super Bowl seasons in of the 1980’s and two dollars later was off to meet Sam at his sisters Lila’s house.

On the left is Sam, his sister Lila, and her husband Jerry. On the right is the South Dakota speed limit of 80 miles per hour. You can only go legally faster (85 mph) in Texas (click to see the map).

  Sam suggested I leave my car at Lila’s house since it is on acreage and would be safer than parking on the street or in a parking lot. I can’t imagine there is much crime in Jackson but there isn’t any point in taking chances. I hung out with Lila and her husband Jerry for an hour until Sam arrived. We talked a little more and left for Sioux City around 4:30, stopping at the Luverne, Minnesota Pizza Ranch for dinner. The ride was quick and a lot quicker once we got to the South Dakota border where the speed limit was 80 MILES AN HOUR!

  We got to the Sleep Inn in Sioux Falls at 7pm and I logged in the game results from St. Francis, keeping an eye on the Yankees loss to the Chicago White Sox before turning in at 9pm. I wouldn’t have played in this tournament if there was a Friday night game after a long day with no naps but the Sioux Falls Open had three games on Saturday and two games on Sunday.

The Great Plains Zoo, home of the 2015 Sioux Falls Open. On the right, Grandmaster Alex Yermolinsky was the tournament director and he was checking people in at the door!

  After a good night's sleep and a light breakfast in the Sleep Inn’s breakfast nook, Sam and I headed a mile down the road to the tournament site, the Great Plains Zoo. The $20 entry fee included entry to the zoo, with the tournament held in large convention room/meeting hall to the side of the Delbridge Museum of Natural History, a huge display of over 150 mounted animals that mostly belonged to a local big-game hunter/hardware store magnate Henry Brockhouse and eventually made it's way to the zoo. When we got to the zoo we were greeted by the tournament organizer De Knudson and there in the doorway taking the online registrations was none other than Grandmaster Alex Yemolinsky (who was serving as the tournament director). Jodene Kruse, the Okoboji Open organizer was there with her student Riley. Even though the Okoboji Open is more than six months away it is deep in the planning stages and we chitt-chatted a little about it while waiting for the tournament to start.

In between marveling at the mounted animal collection at the Delbridge Museum of Natural History, I played my first round opponent, Samarth Ram.

  When I read the tournament flyer I thought the tournament was in multiple sections with an open section and sections for players rated under 1800, 1600, 1400, and 1200. I had signed up to play in the open section because I wanted to test myself against stronger players but when De greeted us she said that the tournament was in two sections – an open section for players rated over 1400 and a reserve section for players rated under 1400. Alex got the pairings set up a little after 9 and I found myself ranked 14th out of the 32 players in the open section, playing Samarth Ram, a young player rated 1126. I didn't look up Samarth's rating (ratings weren't printed on the pairing sheets) which was just as well since Samarth has been beating players rated 1500 (I’m rated 1700 at the moment) or more in the last month and has gained over 200 rating points in the same period. I didn’t know that at the time and mentally went over my guidelines of how to play against younger players : 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 they tend to get fidgety and impatient waiting for their opponent to move, and c) An adult is more likely to outplay the child in the endgame because children tend to win their games with attacks, not endings and will not have the adult’s endgame experience.

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of

  I didn’t know Samarth’s rating until I looked it up after the game. I didn’t believe it and was right to not believe it since he has been tearing it up over the last month and beat a player stronger than me in the last round of this tournament. Samarth took his time (he used 75 minutes while I used 59 for the game) and was very patient in developing his position and trying to counter attack. For myself I was very pleased with my game at the time and looking at it with computer help a little later I still think I played well with my only fault not finding that I had a way to take the pawn on c6 with my knight and get it out of danger. It was a very tense game and I was especially pleased that I was the agressor thoughout and didn't go into my normal 'try to pull the game out in the ending' mode. After surviving the first I rewarded myself with an apple for lunch and a nap before round two while Sam headed off to the Wendy’s with Jodene and Riley.


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