Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Suite Time in Duluth

I found myself in Duluth, Minnesota this past weekend where I stayed in The Suites Hotel, site of the 2016 Twin Ports Chess Open. The hotel is on the edge of Lake Superior and the giant SS William A Irvin boat/museum is directly in back of the hotel!

  As Harry the cockatiel mentioned in his blog post I traveled to Duluth, Minnesota last weekend to play in the Twin Ports Chess Open. Why travel to Duluth to play chess, you ask? It was part vacation, part a chance to play chess somewhere I never have before, and mostly a chance to visit with chess friends like organizers Dane Mattson, Dane Zagar, and National Master Oke Iwu who I meet at the Okoboji or Jackson chess tournaments. This is the 5th year of the Twin Ports Open but every other year it was either the week before or after the Jackson Open. When I was half my current age playing two weekend chess tournaments in a row was easy but that was then and this is now. When I found out in April that there was a two week gap between the Twin Ports and Jackson tournaments I arranged for the time off from work and made plans to play in both Duluth and Jackson.

  Duluth is at the western most tip of Lake Superior. Access to east coast production via the Great Lakes and the northwest United States via the railroads made it the leading shipping port in the United States over a century ago. In addition the area had iron ore in the ground so a large US Steel plant was built in Duluth. With the decline of the steel industry the town came upon hard times but has reinvented itself as a popular tourist destination with 3.5 million visitors a year.

Welcome to Wyoming, Minnesota - home of $1,000 lottery winner Matthew L (leading to the conclusion that there are at least two Matthews in town). I managed to snag the last or only hot dog but forgot to check to see if it had been replaced on my way back.

This Ford Fusion key costs $225.
And gold is a precious metal?
  I didn’t want to make a 356 mile drive all by myself and was lucky enough to have Tim McEntee come along and share the driving duties with me. Tim is a multiple time state chess champ and a life master but has never driven a car with a stick shift. This made driving my Chevy Spark problematic so I rented a Ford Fusion from the local Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Tim came to my house on Friday morning and we drove to the Enterprise where after some failed attempts at upselling (we could have had a Jeep for an extra $3 a day) were in a Ford Fusion with a set of keys that would cost $225 to replace and were on our way to Duluth. I drove 120 miles to Mason City where we had lunch and Tim drove the next 120 or so into Minnesota and past Minneapolis until we switched places yet again in Wyoming. No, not Wyoming the state (we were heading to Duluth Minnesota, remember) – Wyoming the town in Minnesota with a population of 7,791 that boasts of a McDonalds and a Shell station right off I-35. I gassed up the Ford Fusion and headed into the Shell station to get a snack and catch up on the local news which on this day consisted of the fact that a Wyoming citizen had won $1,000 on a lottery scratch off ticket sold in that very Shell station. For my snack I got 2 cans of Full Throttle for my energy and hydration needs and the only hot dog from the grilling station. Even though I had done a survey of the hot dog stations in Marshalltown, Iowa convenience stores I didn’t ask whether the hot dog was the first of the day or the lone leftover from days (or weeks) past. There were no fresh condiments available in the Wyoming Minnesota Shell station so I squeezed some mustard from a plastic pouch on my dog, wolfed it down with no gastric consequences, and we were quickly back on the road for the last 120 miles of our trip.

No Passing Zone? No Kidding!
  After enduring an hour long delay because of a UNITED STATES INTERSTATE HIGHWAY being reduced to one lane in either direction between the vital 12 mile stretch of road between Hinckley and Pine City, Minnesota we arrived at the waterfront of Duluth around 5:30. We were staying at the tournament site which was The Suites Hotel, right on the waterfront of Lake Superior with a giant boat docked next door. Dane, Dane, and Oke were in the lobby selling tickets to International Master and You Tube chess personality John Bartholomew’s lecture and the following simultaneous exhibition by Grandmaster Bryan Smith in the tournament room on the 7th (top) floor. We chatted a bit and then I headed to my room. I was too tired from the trip to play in the simul or pay attention to the lecture but I did get the commemorative tournament t-shirt.

My spectacular hotel room at The Suites Hotel in Duluth, Minnesota.

  I got the chess rate of $110 a night at the Suites Hotel which was $21 less than the $131 I paid to stay in Jackson, MN’s Econolodge which had a tiny rusty refrigerator, a toilet that barely flushed, and a continental breakfast that had water in place of juice in the dispensers. Given my experience at the Jackson Econolodge I did not have high expectations but if I had the highest of expectations they would have been far surpassed. The room was gigantic and spacious with a full refrigerator (no rust) AND a stove AND a dishwasher! The Suites Hotel is a place a family could stay for a week or month and costs less than the Econolodge in Jackson, MN which has a view of a Burger King and SuperAmerica convenience store instead of one of the Great Lakes.

Cody the Old Chicago server kept dishing out the soda while we waited for our pizza (which was worth the wait).

  After checking in our rooms, Tim and I went to Old Chicago Pizza, one of the many restaurants on the waterfront for a quick meal. Our server was Cody, a molecular biology student from a local college who took our order and kept giving us new sodas while we waited quite a while for our pizza to arrive which was worth the wait when it did.

While Grandmaster Bryan Smith gave a simultaneous exhibition in the large tournament room on the top floor, I got acquainted with Bruno the security person/former bouncer/chess parent...

  After eating, Tim and I headed back to the hotel and went up to the top floor where Grandmaster Smith was giving his simultaneous exhibition. From the top floor I could see the hilly side of Duluth where the people were but I wanted a waterside view so I started wandering around the top floor. I didn’t get far when a guy with a black shirt that said ‘Security’ came up to me and said ‘Sorry Sir. You can't come any further.” It turned out that the owners of the hotel also lived on the top floor and any group that used the big top floor conference room had to provide their own security. I struck up a conversation with the security guard who happened to be named Bruno. I learned a long time ago in New Jersey that you should always be nice to security people named Bruno so I asked Bruno if he was in law enforcement. Bruno said he wasn't but made money as a bouncer when he got out of the Navy. I was imagining having to hire security people for a chess tournament when Dane Zagar came by and started talking to Bruno like they were related. It turned out that Dane’s parents were doing the security and Bruno was Dane’s dad!

  I hung around until around 10 watching the simul and talking to Bruno and then went to my extremely spacious $110 suite to get some sleep with the prospect of five long chess games over the next two days ahead.