Okoboji Open

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Greetings! Spring is now upon is, and woodpushers everywhere are gearing up for the slew of summer tournaments that make the warmest months the best time to get back to the board. Due to work commitments I probably won't be playing as actively as I'd like, but I'd like to hit at least a couple events.

Ten-year-old phenom NM Awonder Liang (2222) on his way to defeating NM "OK" Iwu (2269)

Last weekend (April 19-21) I played in a favorite tournament of mine, the Okoboji Open in Okoboji, IA. This tournament is organized each year by the wonderful Jodene Kruse and ably directed by New Jersey's finest, Hank Anzis. Support is also provided by Sam Smith, John Flores, Eric Vigil, Sisira Amarasinghe, Riaz Khan ("Minnesota's #1 chess tourist") and a host of local sponsors.

This was my third consecutive trip to Okoboji (I blogged about the 2012 and 2011 versions here and here). This year's event was particularly strong, with several masters from Minnesota making the trip. The sensation of the field was definitely Wisconsin's Awonder Liang, who recently become the youngest master in USCF history at age 9 years, 11 months, and 14 days.

I gave a twelve-board simul before the start of round one on Friday night. Last year NM Robert Plunkett played 1.d4 h5??! against me, but alas - "Plunky" was not in attendance, so the openings were decidedly standard this time. A possible exception was Sam Smith (Jackson, MN), who used the Budapest Gambit with good effect to score the simu's lone draw:


Tim Schimke (pictured above, left) and I had a fun, wild game:

I opted to play the 2-day schedule, so play began bright and early for me on Saturday at 9:00 am. As it happened, I was paired with Awonder Liang's brother, Adream, who is also quite a good player. He played suspiciously in the opening with 10.c3?!, but I couldn't find a knockout (10...Qh5 looks crushing, but it's answered by 11.f3 Qxh2+ 12.Kf2, when White seems to survive!) and White had certain compensation for his sacrificed pawn. We were both under five minutes when the score ends; I broke through with ...Nb5-a7-c6 and an eventual ...e6-e5 Score = 1/1

Next round I played a former Iowa state champion, Robert Keating. On the White side of a Samisch King's Indian I managed to generate a nice kingside initiative, and his position collapsed around move 30. In the postmortem we agreed that 25...Rg8! was Black's only defensive try. Score = 2/2

In round three I squares off with another multi-time Iowa state champion, NM Tim Mc Entee. Tim signaled his intentions to enter the most complicated lines of the Semi-Slav with 5.Bg5 but followed up with the quiet 7.e3 instead of the usual and sharp 7.e4. White never really gained much play for the pawn, and I took control and finished things off with a crisp exchange sacrifice. White resigned because 31.Kh1 Ne3 decides. Score = 3/3

On Saturday night we continued the yearly Okoboji tradition of caravaning to the local Mexican restaurant, El Parian. We had a HUGE group this year (something like 25+?) and the workers were as accomodating as ever. Thanks to John Flores for treating me to dinner!

There were a few undefeated players remaining on Sunday morning. One of them was NM Prashantha Amarasinghe, who I recently defeated at the Minnesota Closed. This time Prashantha went for his signature King's Indian Defense, and I achieved next to nothing against the rare (but solid) 11...Nf4. Good game by Prashantha. Score = 3.5/4

In the final round I was paired with young NM Andrew Tang (2249), who had played an excellent tournament thus far and was the only player on a perfect score. Andrew is a student of mine and also beat me in our last encounter, so I was NOT taking this game lightly!

The pairing gods smiled on me and granted me the double White (this helps significantly when you need to win Smile ). I gained a an edge in an instructive Queen's Gambited Declined, and I was really liking my position after 16.Nc5. Following 16...Qb6, the important knight maneuver Nf3-d2-b3-a5 brought another attacker bearing down on b7. Andrew's big mistake was 19...Red8? (I think 19...Bd8! was called for, attempting to exchange dark square bishops with 20...Bc7), after which 20.Qd2! forces the knight into a5 and wins the b7-pawn. Black's position is objectively beyond hope after this, and I went on to notch the victory. Score = 4.5/5

Prashantha and FM Kevin Wasiluk battled to a draw, so I finished clear first with an identical score (4.5/5) as the two years prior. Prashantha, Tang, Dane Mattson, and Eric Bell tied for second with 4/5. My prize was $500, a trophy, and a nice wooden set that belonged to Russ Swanson, an Okoboji regular who passed away in 2011.
Receiving the trophy and cash from Jodene Kruse
Check out Hank Anzis's blog Broken Pawn for a tournament director's take on the event (Hank, I once again stole all the above pictures from you, so I hope you don't mind!). Also check out Hank's Central Iowa Chess website for the crosstable, games, photos, and more. See you in Okoboji in 2014!