Thursday, April 30, 2009

Traveling with Catalina Foothills - Part 2

Paul Gold traveled with the Catalina Foothills High School chess team to the recent SuperNationals IV. Paul continues his journey from Day 1 with this second installment of his recap from Nashville, TN.

Day Two – 3 April
As I wrote this on the morning prior to the opening ceremonies at the Grand Old Opry House, followed by the SuperNationals tournament proper, I thought I should say a few words about the site itself. The Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Resort was one of the largest hotels I had ever seen, with some 2800+ hotel rooms and seemingly endless conference space – perfect for this kind of event. The structure was a series of floors of sleeping rooms that face inward toward lush atriums, gardens and even an indoor waterway, capped by a glassed ceiling hundreds of feet above. This created a dramatic feeling when one first entered. The grounds were truly labyrinthine, although there were good maps everywhere…still, it was very easy to get turned around and lost – good thing we coordinated cell phones to stay connected. There were a number of eateries in the place but you could go to the Opryland Mall as well for a bite.

There is even an indoor boat ride.

On the way back from another breakfast/lunch at the mall, we stopped in at the Grand Old Opry building to catch the opening ceremony speeches, punctuated by some fine words from astronaut Greg Chamitoff. The main attraction was former World Champion Garry Kasparov, who remarked that he remembered being a scholastic player in large events and that the thing he hated the most was opening ceremonies (with respect to the organizers – big laughs). But truly he understood that the players come to play chess, as much and as soon as possible!

Before the opening round I dropped into the enormous bookseller and chess booth area, where I was delighted to locate Chess Life editor Dan Lucas by pure chance. Dan and I (and Robby) had carried on a lengthy running conversation for months as The Wavemaster article was generated and edited. I always imagine people as looking a certain way that is consistently incorrect, sometimes comically, though for some reason I had not developed a mental picture of Dan – perhaps this was because we never actually spoke, all of our contact being online. It turned out that Dan is a tennis player – he lives in Atlanta and was here with his son. Dan was articulate and a good listener and I found him to be immediately warm and accessible.

Today would be the start of the tournament, with rounds at 1:00 PM and 7:00 PM. It was expected that maybe 350 players (~50 teams) would compete in the K-12 Championship section and that the Foothills team would be challenged right off the bat – while Eli’s 1894 rating ranked him 95th, the accelerated pairings would likely pair him up in the first round – this is known as being “on the split”, in Swiss system terminology. This turned out to be true, Eli pairing up to play a 2200 player. At the end of the round, Jacquelyn led the charge with an upset over a 1600-rated player, while the rest of the player pairings held form, the exception being a tough loss for Kevin paired down. Robby worried this result a lot, tempered by the fact that Kevin did not make any really obvious mistakes and that his opponent played strongly. So the team got off to a not-so-roaring start, but not so bad either.

Between rounds I wandered over to visit GM Tal Shaked, a famous chess acquaintance from his playing days in Tucson – Tal is now a software engineer for Google, 31 years old and engaged to be married. He gave up his chess playing career at the age of 21; how many people can you think of that would eschew something they do at world class level at such an early age? I figured Tal must often be in some kind of a twilight zone, indelibly known for his GM status, however, inactive as a player. Tal was voluble, articulate and just downright friendly – I enjoyed talking with him very much. We had lunch together and shared a bit of catching up along with some editorializing commentary on the folks we know in common, critical but kindhearted.

We stopped by the team room in which Ross Colby was holding forth – Tal is here to help analyze games with Ross’ players. Ross is another old home Tucson favorite, now living in Philadelphia, teaching philosophy at the university level. Ross was busy with his kids but we had a few minutes to share and he quickly asked about his omission from the Wavemaster article – I hate having to miss important people – I knew we could not include everyone. But Ross was very kind and funny and knew all of that – still he got in a little dig about being a chess teacher long before Robby and to note that influence. Ross is a wonderful teacher with a razor sharp wit and intellect to boot.

Round two results were pretty grim for the Cat Foot team – not too many points to tally at the end; Robby would note that after this round the team was in 9th place. Kevin recovered nicely from his first round trouble with a hard fought win. The diagram below shows a critical position.

Kevin just played Re4. See how this wins?

Andy remained in the best form this round, winning quickly. Poor Eli suffered a loss paired way down – he is such a smart person that I could only attribute fatigue to his poor play. Sam lost paired down, holding a worse position for a long time – I believe this tenacity will pay dividends in his chess and life (he held a 2000 player to a draw in round 1). Jacquelyn’s upset streak would halt in this round, but she still stood well with 1 out of 2 paired up. Jenelle would hold out to the last paired up but also eventually lost. Michael won in round one but had an oversight or two that led to a loss in round two.

Scores after two rounds:
Andy: 2
Eli: 0
Hugh: 0
Jacob: 0
Jacquelyn: 1
Jenelle: 1
Kevin: 1
Michael: 1
Sam: ½
Sangeetha: 2
The first day at nationals was closed out with a sighting of Ed Friesen, an old friend of Ken Larsen’s and someone I knew when he lived in Tucson, 20 years ago. I just did not recognize him – we are all getting old! Ed and his wife are ministers in the Nashville area.

Join us again soon as Paul continues his adventure at SuperNationals IV with the Catalina Foothill High School chess team.

Chess Fest is Saturday May 2

The 2nd Annual 9 Queens Chess Fest is this Saturday, downtown at the Hotel Congress. The Chess Fest is a nontraditional chess tournament that offers everyone, regardless of age or experience level, an opportunity to experience the benefits of chess. Activities will start at noon and will last until about 8:30 pm.

Activities include:
  • Blitz (G/5) tournament
  • Human Chess Match played out on a life-size board,
  • Blindfold chess exhibition provided by members of the Arizona Chess Team,
  • Free chess workshops and lessons taught by two-time national chess champions from Catalina Foothills High School,
  • Blitz chess tournament free for all children under age of 18
  • Chess and Hola Hooping Expo
  • "Honor the Queen" chess art exhibit featuring pieces renditions of the chess queen donated by local artists, chess players, and 9 Queens students
Registration for the blitz tournament is free to all if done by 8:00 pm on Friday. After that, kids are still free but adults will be charged a fee.

All proceeds from the Chess Fest will benefit 9 Queens, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering under-served and under-represented populations through chess.

Arizona Daily Star article on Chess Fest

Tucson Citizen article on Chess Fest

Danny Rensch featured on Chess Life Online

FM Daniel Rensch writes about earning his second IM norm, and his plans to earn the Grandmaster title. He also gives us insight into an unexpected detour at the height of his confidence. Daniel is the president of American Chess Events, which is hosting the Cooper State International (Mesa, Arizona, May 29-June 3).

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Honoring Landon

The SACA Merit Scholarships were started in 2004. Their purpose "is to provide support to Southern Arizona scholastic chess players who have demonstrated excellence in chess and a desire to further their chess development." SACA wants to support the young chess players in our community so that they may develop not only as chess players, but also as young adults who'll help promote chess to the community.

Landon Brownell was a member of the 2004 inaugural class. An eighth-grader at the time, Landon's peak rating was 1821. By the next year, it was 2050. In 2006, he won the high school national title and achieved a master rating of 2265. Landon continued to excel and was awarded the scholarship every year through his senior year of high school.

Beyond playing chess very well, Landon was also an ambassador of the game. He was a leader to his teammates whom he helped encourage and improve. He was a sportsman to his opponents who could always expect a friendly, courteous game and even some of his time after the game to review it. But most importantly, Landon was a friend to all he came in contact with. When news of his passing came, heartfelt comments and cherished memories came from players, coaches and parents not only in Southern Arizona, but throughout the state and the country.

SACA would be hard-pressed to find another individual who is a better example of a scholastic player that we wish to support and encourage with the Merit Scholarships. It is for that reason, that SACA has decided to rename the SACA Merit Scholarships to the Landon Brownell Memorial Scholarships; in his memory and in the hope that others can still be encouraged by a light that was extinguished too soon.

Traveling with Catalina Foothills - Part 1

Paul Gold traveled with the Catalina Foothills High School chess team to the recent SuperNationals IV. Here is Part 1 of his recap of that event through the eyes of a non-player, non-coach, non-parent, man on "vacation!"

Chaotic. That is the word I am able to summon to describe how I felt about accompanying the Catalina Foothills high school chess team to the SuperNationals, the granddaddy of all scholastic chess events. Coach Robby Adamson and his team from Tucson were the subjects of an article I wrote for the March issue of Chess Life magazine. This is the sequel, Wavemaster II, The Movie, if you will, the generation of which required a trip to Nashville to experience the frenetic excitement of 5000 kids ready to push wood for national hardware.

It is not like I had never been to an event like this before – I was a floor TD for the Kansas City version of this event in 2001. And I have organized a great number of large scholastic events over the years. But this year’s tournament just felt like a monster; again, kind of unexplainable because for the very first time I was not the organizer, TD or coach, nor did I hold any kind of position of any responsibility. I was (gulp) on vacation! And I was strenuously trying to avoid being myself for the next five days, because if I attend this event as me, I might just not have that much fun. So my goal was to unclench my fussy little fist for the next four days and just let it all happen. I wanted to observe everything and control nothing.

Robby had indeed made the necessary airline bookings and hotel reservations. And we were in the capable company of chess parent Erwin De Sa, veteran of numerous scholastic chess wars. I cannot tell you how invaluable he was, knowing this particular site and exactly how to handle the logistical eccentricities surrounding young chess players. We arrived as planned in Nashville on Wednesday night and by the time we had checked into the Gaylord Opryland Resort, it was about 12:30 AM. Robby accommodated me nicely, putting Kevin Zhang and Eli Alster (two of the more quiet players) into our room. Another room contained our female contingent (Jenelle Wallace, Sangeetha Pugazhendi, and Jacquelyn De Sa) and the final room was inhabited by the redoubtable Erwin plus Michael Reed, Hugh Chen and the one and only Andy Lin. Two more players would join us the next night (Sam Cotter and Jacob Kreiger); traveling and rooming with their respective parents.

Day One – 2 April
The rooming arrangement went swimmingly and I was pleasantly surprised to get in maybe 5 hours of sleep before I rose on Thursday morning. There would be two chess events that day – the bughouse tournament at 11:00 AM and the blitz at 5:00 PM, otherwise a nice day to acclimate and case the joint. In the end only Kevin played on a bug team, paired up with his friend Randel Eng from the Phoenix area. They would finish 17th, which was telling in respect to the strength of the field – Randel is rated 1950 and Kevin around 2150. They seemed to really enjoy playing, which was heartening in a national event where the kids, coaches and even parents can get mighty serious.

A number of the kids trouped with Erwin and I across the street to the Opryland Mall for some food before the bug. It was late by that time so we all ate lunch for breakfast. Then things seemed to open up for the rest of the day, the kids exploring the enormous hotel grounds, while Erwin went out for snacks. Then, just less than an hour before the start of the blitz tournament, we heard an announcement telling us to go to the nearest secure area because of a tornado warning. We all filed out of our rooms and huddled in a marked area, waiting for the all clear notification. Jenelle had brought her laptop and we were able to see the red zone on the map near Nashville on the National Weather Service site. We did not have that when I was a kid!

Along the way I had already encountered some of the chess folks to make this kind of an "old home week" for me. The very first people I saw manning the check-in table for the bug event were none other than Tucson chess organizers Kiki Huerta and Karen Pennock. I sidled up to the table and asked if I could be paired into the bug event and that I would need a partner. Kiki directed me to "the eighth grader in the suit" and I got my handshake and chat with Jon Shacter, now working at Raytheon, where both Erwin and I are employed in Tucson. Jon is one of those rare kids who became a tournament official – he also maintains the SACA website. A little hard for me to take the slight graying at the temples, I must say – was it not yesterday that he was 12 years old?! I got a really warm hug from Kim Cramer, the High Priestess of Chess Control, and my "evil twin" also stopped in with a grin, NTD Robert Tanner. I think I surprised Harry Sabine with my "remember me?" but he eventually did, though I noticed he was without his signature neon high-top sneakers. I spotted head NTD Robert Singletary busy on his cell phone, so I would have to get my salutation in with him a little later.

Kevin Zhang prior to the start of the Blitz tournament

Most of the Cat Foot kids entered into the blitz tournament – in fact, the pre-reg list was HUGE for a side event at 900 players. Unfortunately, the tornado warning delayed the start by some 40 minutes, time that would be needed in the end. Kevin, Andy, Eli, Michael, Sangeetha, Jacquelyn and Jenelle started their clocks, with me, Hugh, Erwin and Robby in the cheering section. The plan was for a six-round tournament, where you play two games (one White, one Black) for a total of 12 points possible. The team tally adds up the best four scores. Things went along more or less as one might guess until the second to last round when it was announced that the tournament would comply with the USCF rule that no final round can start later than 9:30 PM, a decision made years back when this kind of event went long into the night, tiring the players before the main event. So if the tournament runs late, the TDs can truncate the last round - you only play five rounds instead of six. Those of us watching figured there was no way we could get in that last round since we never recovered the lost time due to the weather. Michael was sure of this enough to head back to the room after his fifth round match…and then came the announcement that there would be a sixth round. Around 9:20 PM, Michael was still in his hotel room – he actually made it back to the tournament hall just in time to confirm his forfeiture (ouch). In the end the team scored very well anyway, placing second behind Thomas Jefferson, who lapped the field by three full points! Andy, Kevin and Eli all scored 9/12, with the surprising Jacquelyn contributing 6.5 points for the final tally.

After a slice of pizza, the team dispersed, most for their rooms. Robby and I repaired to the Irish pub for a drink with Jon Shacter, where we philosophized on many subjects and of course, chess. We sat outside the pub and more familiar folks stopped by to say hello, most notably for me, Carol Jarecki, who had flown her own plane in, as she often does. I will also mention that during the blitz I did a small bit of work with Jon Shacter and Robert Singletary, setting up the Junior High ballroom for the start of the tournament the next day. During this time Robert told me what he is up to – still doing CPA work in Raleigh, NC, but he is also the CFO of the American Lung Association, where he lives in Ohio. Add to this his peripatetic chess work and his family life and you have a lot on the plate. Robert is truly a top-shelf act – not only ambitious and successful, but one of the really nice chess people. I always enjoy seeing him – I just wish he did not look so tired!

That wraps-up Day 2 and Part 1 of our series. Look for Part 2 to appear soon with Paul's continuing adventures on vacation.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Landon Brownell (1989 - 2009)

It is with deep regret and sadness that we report the passing of Landon Brownell. We were informed yesterday by Landon's father, Roger Brownell, of his passing.
Landon Brownell passed away this morning in a single car accident as he was driving home from his brother Bryant's wedding. He will be remembered by all as a loving brother, son, grandson, and friend. Your prayers are welcome during this time. He is with the Lord.
Landon was a former scholastic player in our community. He participated on the Orange Grove middle school and Catalina Foothills high school teams during his time here in Tucson. He helped lead his teams to 4 National Championships in 5 years. Individually, Landon achieved a ranking of national master, he was the Arizona High School champion twice, and the National High School champion in 2006.
Beyond the individual honors however - and most importantly - Landon cared about others and was a dedicated member of the team. As his school coach at Catalina Foothills High School, I witnessed first-hand Landon embracing the team concept, often without prompting by anyone. To prepare for Nationals over the years, Landon and his father, Roger, would invite students from Foothills, regardless of their ability, over to their home on the weekends to play training games with each other. Landon would review the games with his teammates, always in a gentle and constructive manner, regardless of result. - Robby Adamson
Landon was more than just an accomplished chess player. He was an accomplished young man and a role model to people of all ages. Landon and his family have touched many lives in our community and he will always be remembered.

Donations, in memory of Landon, are being accepted by the Southern Arizona Chess Association (SACA), P.O. Box 42407, Tucson, AZ 85733.

Robby Adamson remembers on Landon Brownell
Michael Aigner remembers Landon Brownell

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

David Adelberg article in Arizona Republic

One of Arizona's best juniors of all time, and SACA tournament regular, had a great piece about him written up in this weekend's Arizona Republic.
A chess prodigy, he is ranked fifth in the nation for his age. Adelberg, who already has had success in tournaments on national and international chess stages, is on the verge of breaking an Arizona record.

In the next months, Adelberg is expected to earn the status of National Master by the United States Chess Federation, a title previously held by Daniel Rensch at age 14. A National Master is someone who has a chess federation rating of 2200 and has demonstrated enough skill that they can usually beat chess experts and almost always prevail against amateurs.
Source: Arizona Republic

Monday, April 6, 2009

Eastside Chess Club visits IHOP

The Eastside Chess Club will be visiting the International House of Pancakes, Grant & Rosemont, on April 8 and 15 during the holiday closure of the Jewish Community Center (JCC). There will be skittles and a free blitz event.

The Eastside Chess Club will resume at the JCC on April 22 to start off the Action G/30 event.

Also coming up May 13 is the anniversary party.

Please see the posted flyers for all upcoming events.