Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Barber Tournament of K-8 Champions - Day 4 (Final Day)

11:00 AM

Tried to work, but that isn't going to happen today - can't concentrate.  Going to go downstairs to camp out outside playing hall.  Some serious storm clouds rolling in - looks like rain is going to start early today.


After 5 rounds, NJ is 1.5 points behind NY in the state vs. state competition.  Lots of tough matchups in last round for both NJ and NY players.  NY has the edge, but NJ still has hope.


11:47 AM

Tom Petty song, "The Waiting" is playing over and over and over in my head.  Does he still play?  Petty is one performer that I have never seen that I want to.  Need to see if he is still active - he must be at least 134 years old by now.


11:52 AM

Went to bathroom and came back to find that two people snaked my seat.   Got to find a new place to hang.


11:53 AM

Peeked inside the playing hall.  JM at the board like a statue - staring intensely at the board.  When JM first started playing tournaments he got into a habit of strolling around the room, checking out all the other games.  I don't know if it was nervous energy or a bad habit he picked up from other kids, but it used to drive me crazy!  I have noticed over the last few years that he no longer does this - he stays focused and at his board all game long now.  The only time he strolls around now is when he knows he has the game won.  If it is near the end of the game and JM is walking around the room, I know he is going to win.  I used to hate seeing him walk around the room - what I would give to see him walking around the room an hour or two from now!


12:01 PM

Found a better seat.  I can see if JM comes out and goes to the bathroom, but he can't see me.  If he goes to bathroom I might even be able to sneak in and check out his board. 


12:42 PM

Hanging out with Michele in lobby.  All the top boards are still playing.  Gavin DeGraw (one of Michele's favorite singers) is playing at House of Blues in Orlando tonight.  Michele and I trying to come up with a plan to go to the concert.  Not sure we can pull it off - going to have to wait to see him on our cruise in a few weeks.....


12:51 PM

Stuck head back in playing hall.  About 15 people watching JM's game.  Must be an interesting game, which is exactly what JM will tell me later.


1:21 PM

I see the crowd move away from JM's game and see the 2 players talking to each other.  That means the game is over - I have no idea who won.  They finish talking - JM's opponent starts walking to the back of the room, flashes a big smile and thumbs up and shakes someone's hand.  That can mean only one thing - JM lost.  I walk over to JM - he is holding it together well.  He tells me he is going to go over the game with his opponent, and I tell him to take all the time he needs.  I walk out of the tournament room and go down the hall to wait for him.


2:15 PM

JM spent about an hour going over game with his opponent - I am sure it helped him to take all that time and decompress.  I watched Advait Patel beat David Brodsky to win the Barber championship - you could cut the tension with a knife at the end of that game!  I really don't know how these kids do it - I have such tremendous respect for them.


                                                           Round 6 post game analysis


An hour after the loss, JM is handling it well.  Still hanging out amongst the crowd near the playing hall - watching the remaining games.  Going to be a tough afternoon for JM - this one will definitely hurt for a while.  Kind of glad he is going right into another tournament tomorrow so he can get right back on the horse.  He even just said he didn't want to take a bye In round 1 - he wants to play tonight!  I think after the adrenaline stops flowing he will stick with the original plan of taking a bye in round 1 and starting the US Open tomorrow.  The US Open is a big tournament, but there will be absolutely no pressure on John Michael in this tournament - he will be around the 40th highest rated player out of 400 or so.  He won't feel any nervousness at all.  It's weird but the US Open will feel like just "another tournament" to him compared to the pressure-packed tournament he just finished.  For the rest of the day, we are going to kick back and relax.  Awards ceremony at 4:00 PM, but then it will be some restful family time for the rest of the night.  As I am typing this, JM already changed his mind and decided not to play tonight - we are sticking with the original plan.

I really hope he can grasp just how special he is, and what a tremendous accomplishment it is just to qualify to play in the Barber tournament, let alone battle it out all the way to the end with the top player in the tournament.  There is no shame in losing to a player rated 2349.  JM is so darn competitive - that fierce nature helps him accomplish great things, and it also is undoubtedly making him crazy right now.  I can't wait for us to get away from the crowd and have some down time so I can tell him how much I love him and how proud I am of him.  He inspires me and many others.  Watching him compete and get the most out of his talents makes me want to work harder at getting more out of myself. The problem is, I am not world class at anything like he is at chess!


4:00 PM

Awards ceremony.  Nicely done ceremony.  JM officially finished tied for third.  The NJ team won the state competition, earning each player a $100 gift certificate from the chess bookstore - way to go Kimberly, Christopher and John Michael!  You did NJ proud!


                                                                      The Champs!

5:52 PM

Back in the hotel room to relax for the evening after a long 4 days.  Quote of the day from JM: "I am mentally done."  He has handled the last round loss well - I am proud of how he has handled himself.

There is no doubt in my mind that John Michael will be back soon in a national championship, thrilling us all along the way.  Hopefully his nutty father will have figured out a way to deal with his own tournament jitters by then!

Congratulations to all the champions, and to all the players who qualified to participate in this prestigious tournament.  Very special group of kids - every single one of them.

Hope you all enjoyed JM's latest chess adventure.  For now - Adios from Orlando!

Tuesday morning update before final round

Tuesday, July 29 2014

3:35 AM

Woke up in the middle of a bizarre dream, and made the mistake of grabbing my phone to see if pairings were up.  Shouldn't have done that.  No way I am getting back to sleep now - my brain is off and running.  At least there is no chance of me oversleeping and making JM late for the round (the Seinfeld episode where Elaine is dating the wake up call guy is in my head - was just on the other day).

JM is paired against Joshua Sheng from CA (2349) in the last round on board 1.  JM will be playing the black pieces.  This is by far the most accomplished player in the tournament.  Highest rated player by 50+ points, tons of national tournament experience - this kid is a monster (I mean that in a very positive way - Joshua is a fantastic player).  It is only fitting that the tournament will come down to the top two rated players on board 1, playing one game for all the marbles.    If you want to be the best, you've got to beat the best.

Here are the scenarios:

1) If JM wins, he will be at the minimum Barber Co-Champion, no matter what happens in any other games.  This tournament recognizes every player that ties for first as co-champion (some tournaments use tiebreakers and have only 1 champion).  The Barber tournament will use tiebreakers to determine prize money, but all first place finishers are co-champions.

2) If JM wins and board 2 (Advait Patel vs. David Brodsky) ends in a draw, JM is clear first place and sole champion.  If board 2 ends in a win by either player, JM will be co-champion with that player.

3) If JM draws he could still be co-champion ONLY if board 2 ends in a draw.  In this scenario there would probably be multiple co-champions, since there are a lot of players at 3.5 points that could become co-champions with a win in final round.

4) If JM loses he is definitely out of the running.

This is going to be an intense day.  I remember the pressure of the final days of the World Youth Championship in Brazil in 2011 and the SuperNationals in Nashville in 2013.  JM was in contention in both of those tournaments but couldn't pull out a win on the last day to bring it home.  I know he is thinking about that today - hopefully he can get his nerves under control, play his best game today and let the chips fall where they may.  You don't get too many chances to win a national or world championship - this is the third time JM has put himself into contention.  For JM, he definitely adheres to the famous Pat Riley comment, "There is winning, and there is misery."  By around 2:00 PM today, there will be extreme elation or incredible dejection for JM - not going to be any middle ground.


8:05 AM

JM wakes up in a nasty, foul mood.  Definitely the nerves hitting him right away.  Going to be fun navigating through the next 2 hours!


9:15 AM

Back in hotel room after breakfast downstairs.  Breakfast was lighthearted as usual - JM still wound up, but some laughs at breakfast.  Now back in the room - JM preparing on laptop.    Very quiet - the calm before the storm.


10:00 AM

Round 6 is underway.  Very quiet walk to the playing hall.  JM was on laptop until the moment we walked out of the hotel room.  Normally we have funny banter on the way to the playing hall, but not today.  JM is deep in thought and I am not going to do anything to distract him.  Opponent showed up a minute or so after round started, they shook hands and now the endless wait begins......what time do the bars open in Orlando?  For those who are wondering, I don't normally go to the bar every day - just during chess tournaments!
                                                           Getting set for last round

Monday, July 28, 2014

Barber Tournament of K-8 Champions - Day 3

Monday, July 28 2014

6:00 AM

Day starts with me banging my toe in the darkness against some piece of furniture in the hotel room.  Toe looks like it was on the bad end of a heavyweight fight - bloodied and bruised.  Thankfully my cursing and muttering do not appear to have been heard by Michele or John Michael - they are still sleeping.

Pairings are up for round 4, and as we expected, John Michael is at board 1 against David Brodsky from NY (2253), the only player with 3.0 points through round 3.  Was going to fire up laptop and get some work in, but decided not to risk waking up JM - he didn't get to sleep until after midnight last night.  Going to let him sleep as long as possible this morning.

Big day today in the Barber Tournament of K-8 Champions.  At the end of today, we will know if John Michael is in contention to win it all.  By tonight there will be 5 rounds completed out of 6 - if JM can win both his games today he will play Tuesday morning at 10:00 AM with a chance to win the tournament.  Seems easy enough - just win two games today!  Elsewhere in the Rosen Centre Hotel, there are a bunch of other very talented chess kids that are going to wake up thinking the same thing - "just win 2 today".  They are all capable of winning 2 today.  Going to be tremendous battles today on the top boards - very exciting stuff.  The anticipation is killing me - knowing that your son is one good day away from having a chance to play for a national championship is quite a rush.


10:00 AM

Daily breakfast at hotel cafe.  JM in good spirits - lots of laughs at breakfast as we recapped Michele's flying bug story from yesterday.  Michele has a tremendous ability to keep things light for JM during tense times, something that is very needed at these tournaments.


10:45 AM

Back in hotel room.  Once we got back to room, it was almost as if a switch flipped in JM as he went into preparation mode.  No more laughs - he is all business.  Laptop open, mouse clicking furiously, Chessbase running.  As the rounds go by, you can sense more urgency from JM in his prep.  Without talking about it, he knows what is at stake and is leaving no stone unturned as he prepares. 

I couldn't be prouder of John Michael.  He has a ton of God given talent, but he also works incredibly hard at maximizing his natural talent.  His crazy fierce competitive spirit is truly a joy to behold.  The kid is a champ, no matter what happens today.  I wouldn't bet against JM - my money is on him putting forth a big effort today and getting himself into a position to win it all on Tuesday.

                                                            Preparing before the round


11:21 AM

For some reason, Michele has thought the early rounds started at 11:00 AM, and now JM's first coach, Hal Sprechman just texted me asking if the round started at 11:00 AM.  Did I screw up again?


11:22 AM

Checked tournament website for the 178th time this weekend - start time is 12:00 PM.  I didn't screw up.


11:28 AM

Checked tournament website for the 179th time.  Still a 12:00 PM start.


11:29 AM

JM shuts the laptop and simply says, "ok".  He is ready to roll.  I love his focus and intensity before the round starts - never gets old watching him prepare.


12:00 PM

Round 4 is underway.  This is going to be a long few hours.

                                                          All smiles before the round begins


2:07 PM

JM sends me his normal text after he finishes a game when I am not outside the playing hall: "Done.  I'll be up in a little bit."  He never tells me in his text if he won, lost or drew - he makes me sweat.  How could he be done after only 2 hours?  Did someone blunder into a loss?  Was it a quick draw?  I head to the tournament room, and see JM hanging out with his opponent and 2 of the tournament directors having a leisurely conversation.  I don't want to put either of the kids on the spot by asking who won, so I tell JM to let me know when he is ready to go upstairs and walk past them to the tournament room.  I go to the scoresheet and see a "1" next to John Michael's name - he won.  3.5 points at the end of round 4 - he is back in at least a tie for first place and once again controls his own destiny.  I walk back out of playing hall and see JM hanging out with a few kids.  I walk down the hall and grab a seat to let JM kick back and relax with his friends.  After a few minutes JM comes by and you can guess how the conversation went:

Me: "Congratulations John Michael - great job."

JM: "Thanks."

Me: "How was the game?"

JM: "It was interesting."

JM: "What time is the next round?"

Me: "7:00 PM"

JM: "Are you sure, Dad?"


4:00 PM

With the extra time due to the quick game, we ventured out of the hotel down to an Irish Pub a half mile down the road.  Still hot out.  Got back to hotel just before the daily 4:00 PM thunderstorm started.  Checked on the last few games still being played and went back to hotel room.  On elevator ride coming up JM remarked how well the NJ players were doing - he said Christopher Wu was tied for the lead in the Denker and Kimberly Ding was only 1 point out of the lead in the NGIT.  "Dad, wouldn't it be cool if NJ swept all three titles?"  I like the way he thinks......

                                                            A little fun between rounds


5:40 PM

Pairings are up - John Michael is playing Advait Patel from WV (2265).  Advait is a top level tournament player and a very formidable opponent.  John Michael played Advait at the SuperNationals in Nashville in 2013 - they played to a draw.  The stakes go up every round - the winner of this game will be playing for the championship in round 6 (final round) Tuesday morning.  If the game ends in a draw it opens up all sorts of possibilities for the final round - many potential contenders if this game ends in a draw.  Going to be another long night!


7:00 PM

Game has started - time for a beer!

                                    Dad, do you have to take a picture before EVERY round?

                                            JM and Advait sharing a laugh before round 5

9:30 PM

Michele and I are perched at our normal seat at the bar - just waiting for news.  This is torture.  I have nothing interesting left to say!

9:47 PM

Draw for JM.  Not the result he wanted I am sure, but a result that still keeps him in contention to win it all tomorrow, with 4.0 points after 5 rounds.  All the other top boards are still playing - many possibilities for tomorrow's opponent depending on how tonight's games finish.  Most likely JM can still win tournament with a win tomorrow, but we won't know for sure until all the results are in later tonight.  He definitely has no room for error tomorrow - a win will be needed.  Draw and a final score of 4.5 points will most likely not be enough.  Now the trick is getting him to bed as soon as possible - tomorrow's final game is at 10:00 AM - 2 hours earlier than today! 

11:09 PM


Just ran back down to playing hall to see if other games were finished.  All of the top contenders are done.  John Michael is tied for first place with 2 other players at 4.0.  Looks like there are 9 or 10 players right behind with 3.5 points.  A photo finish in store for tomorrow with a ton of players still in contention.  If JM wins tomorrow he will finish no worse than tied for first (could possibly finish first outright depending on outcome of other games) and then it would come down to tiebreakers to determine national champion.  A draw will most likely eliminate him from national championship contention (unless every other game is a draw), and a loss will definitely eliminate him.  He will need to play his best game of the tournament tomorrow - biggest game of his career to date!


Day 2 Barber Pictures

                                          Good to get to board early to go through routine

                                                 Hustle and bustle before start of round 2

                                                         Waiting for start of round 2

                                                                  Nice hotel pool

                                                         Waiting for start of round 3

                                   Round 3 stare down (he doesn't really do this, by the way)

                                                             Sunday night in Orlando!

Barber Tournament of K-8 Champions - Day 2

Sunday, July 27 2014

6:00 AM

John Michael's Dad here (that is my identity these days) reporting from Orlando.  Going to be another hot day.  JM and Michele peacefully sleeping (as any sane person should be at 6:00 AM on a Sunday morning!).  Standings and round 2 pairings are not online yet, so no idea who JM is playing in round 2.  Two games today - 12:00 PM and 7:00 PM.  Yesterday was a good start - a win in a little over 3 hours is a good way to start tournament.  On days where there are two games, you always root for a short game to be played at night, and if there is going to be a long game, you hope that it is played during the day.  These tournaments are exhausting for the players - sleep is at a premium especially in the later rounds. 

A few years ago, after JM had been playing for a couple of years and was showing that he had talent, I decided to start playing in tournaments myself.  I was drawn to the game, but I also wanted to learn first hand what it was like to play in a chess tournament.  I will never forget my first tournament.  JM was around 9 years old and playing in one of the top sections against all adults.  Being an unrated player, I was in the lowest section, and played my first game against a 6 year old, who was moving with lighting speed and attacking me like his life depended on it!  Sitting in my kiddie chair, I never felt so much pressure in my life!  I ended up squeaking out the win but it was a nerve wracking experience.  Watching my son methodically take apart a 35 year chess veteran while I struggled to keep pace with a 6 year old was a humbling experience.  I started taking chess a little more seriously, started studying, played a few more tournaments and had my rating top out around 1300.  I will always remember the nervousness and pressure I felt when playing in tournaments, and I had nowhere near as much at stake as JM.  It was a good experience that gave me a lot of appreciation for what he goes through.  JM puts everything he has into every game he plays - he holds nothing back.  These tournaments are grueling, and each player goes through enormous stress.  Best thing I can do as a parent during a tournament is to just give him space and enjoy what he does.  I remember speaking with a top United States scholastic player at the World Youth Chess Championship in Brazil.  I asked him what advice he would give to a parent of a top scholastic player.  He said a big thing for him during tournaments was to be given space after a game, win or lose.  He needed time to decompress after a game.  4-6 hours of intense concentration, competition and focus is taxing, and what he needed after a game was not a pep talk or encouragement, but silence!  Good advice from a top player, although hard for a parent - we always think we can help - sometimes we just have to let our kids deal with life on their own. 

Where the heck are the pairings?  Isn't everybody awake and ready to go?  Note to self - no energy drinks before 7:00 AM for the rest of the tournament.

9:26 AM

Pairings are up - and we had a shocker in round 1.  Joshua Sheng, the number 1 rated player (2316), lost his first round game to a player rated 1990.  Stark reminder that upsets are the norm at these tournaments, and that these kids are not machines.  A 2321 would probably beat a 1990 8 times out of 10, but all that matters is what happens today.  Good news for JM is that he is at board 1, which is where you want to be.  If you are at board 1 you are at the top of the tournament standings going in to that round.  Destiny is in your own hands - if you win, you stay in the lead no matter what anyone else does in their games.  You also get to play in a special roped off area!  JM is playing Yoon-Young Kim from CT (rated 2121).  No games in Chessbase for this opponent.  Games are going to be tougher and tougher as we progress......every game will be a battle!  Going down to breakfast - I hope JM eats enough!


9:40 AM

JM asks me what time next round is.  I tell him 12:00 PM, and he answers with "are you sure Dad?"  Back story to this question that JM now asks me before every round:  At the World Open in Virginia a few weeks ago, I totally screwed up the start time for one of JMs games.  Game was scheduled to start at 5:30 PM, but for some crazy reason I thought his game started at 7:00.  Normally I am obsessing over every little detail during a chess tournament to make sure there is zero chance of anything going wrong - I have no idea how I messed this up.  Now this was bad for 2 reasons:

1) If you show up more than an hour late for your game, it is an automatic forfeit - you lose.

2) JM is a creature of habit - he has a set routine that he goes through before every game when gets to his board.  Normally we get to the board at least 10-15 minutes before the round starts so JM can get set up and settled in.

Back to the World Open in Virginia - it is 6:15 PM, JM and I are leisurely finishing up room service dinner and tossing a ball around the hotel room, hanging out before what we thought was a 7:00 PM start.  Meanwhile, several floors below, hundreds of chess games have been going on for 45 minutes or so.  For some reason I check the tournament website and to my horror I see that the round start time was 5:30, not 7:00!  I tell JM - we both start running around the room panicking.  JM starts grabbing his chess set, phone and bottled waters.  I think he may have gotten both his sneakers on, but I am not 100% sure.  We bolt down the hall to the elevator, and sprint to the playing hall.  Luckily he got to his board on time to avoid forfeit.  His opponent apparently also got to the board late, because only 20 minutes had elapsed on JM's clock.  Disaster avoided, but I never was more nervous during one of JM's games.  The thought of me possibly costing JM a game by him not having time to go through his pre-game routine was a rough thought to bear for the next several hours.  I went back to the hotel room and stared into space for what seemed like forever - just like those chess parents I referenced yesterday.  Maybe that is why they are staring into space - they know they did something stupid to their kid before the round.......

3 hours later, JM enters the hotel room and utters the magic words: "I won".  He then says "It was easy - I had tons of time left on my clock".  With the pressure off, we both had a major laughing fit remembering how crazed we were when we thought he might forfeit the round for being late.  Ever since then, before each round JM asks me what time the round starts and then asks "are you sure Dad?" 

I have a feeling I will be hearing "are you sure Dad?" several hundred times over the next few years - chess players have a good memory.


11:36 AM

In hotel room, going down to playing hall in a few minutes.  Michele watching a home renovation show on HGTV.  Are there more home renovation shows or cooking shows on TV?  Seems like every time Michele puts the TV on there is one of those shows on.  She probably says the same thing when I put on the TV and inevitably find a sports show.


12:00 PM

Round started promptly at 12:00.  This is a very well run tournament - organized, rounds start on time, pairings put up well in advance of round, standings updated quickly.  Kudos to the organizers and tournament directors!


12:30 PM

Spent the last 15 minutes at the pool in the sun.  Real hot.  Surprised I lasted 15 minutes out there.  Going back to air conditioning, which in my opinion is one of the greatest inventions of all time.  Michele still by the pool, soaking in the sun.


1:00 PM

Just found another benefit of JM being on board 1 - his game is being broadcast in the back of the playing hall.  I finally may be able to see one of his games being played!  JM doesn't like it when I am in the playing hall - maybe I should go buy fake glasses and moustache so I can sneak in and out of the room......


1:15 PM

This is why I am kind of glad I don't watch his games - just snuck a peek at the position and it looks like JM is getting killed - he is down a piece and a pawn on move 16.  Thankfully I am only a 1300 rated chess player - usually I have no idea what is going on when I watch a game between two top players.  You can usually take my assessment of a game and go the other way to find out what is really happening.  Hopefully I picked up the position in the middle of a long combination that will end up with JM in good shape.

1:20 PM

Went to pool to tell Michele that JM is losing.  Felt the need to get her worried too - no use me being the only one stressing out!  We really are too uptight - we have issues!


1:30 PM

Still looks like JM is losing.  Looks way too complicated for me to figure out.  Staring at this position for 5 minutes is already giving me a headache - how can someone sit there for hours on end without their brain frying?  These kids are truly something special, every one of them.


1:35 PM

Another Michele bug event just occurred while I was in the playing hall.  For those who do not know my wife Michele, she has a very strong dislike/fear of bugs.  I think we chronicled a couple of bug events on this blog from the World Youth Championship in Brazil a few years ago.  Anyway, Michele was sitting by the pool reading a book when all of a sudden a bug flew right at her and hit her in the mouth (good thing her mouth was closed).  After impact, Michele saw no sign of the bug, which led her to believe it was stuck on her somewhere.  The inevitable panic started to set in, and Michele ran up to a group of strangers to ask them if a bug was on her anywhere.  To the strangers' credit, instead of running away from this crazed woman they calmly told her that there was no bug in sight.  Hopefully Michele will be calmer by dinner time.


2:08 PM

Now JM is only down 2 pawns and it looks like his opponent's position is all disjointed.  I really have no idea what is going on.  JM is going to laugh when he reads my analysis after the tournament.


2:31 PM

Now JM is down a pawn and looks like he has a serious attack brewing. The more I watch this game, the more I am glad that I don't usually get to watch his games - there is no way I could take this stress if I watched every one of his games!  This is why I bring my laptop and work - takes my mind off the game.


3:00 PM

Don't most hotels skip the 13th floor?  Not this one.  Gotta ask someone about that.....


3:11 PM

JM has a queen and 4 pawns - his opponent has a bishop, rook and 3 pawns.  To my uneducated eye it looks like a position JM can (should?) win.  Who knows - I thought he was losing earlier, I think he is winning now - it will probably end in a draw!


3:21 PM

And just like that, it's all over.  JM won.  When I asked him how the game was he gave his usual response, "it was interesting".  I told him my analysis, and he laughed, telling Michele, "Mom, don't listen to what Dad tells you about the game - he doesn't know!"  How could he be so calm when I was a wreck for the last 3 hours?  Plenty of time to eat and relax - 3.5 hours until round 3 at 7:00 PM.


4:48 PM

Pairings are up for round 3 - JM is playing Angel Hernandez-Camen from PA (2231).  JM played Angel once previously and lost.  Time to look up that game to see what can be learned and improved on.  JM definitely going to use the time to prepare.  Hoagie and buffalo wings for dinner for JM - hopefully we can stuff some fruit into him in the next hour to take him through the evening.  Michele watching yet another home improvement show. 

JM is tied for first with 7 other kids at 2.0 points.  The next couple of rounds will go a long way to determining who the top contenders are.  There will be no easy games from here on out.

There is also a state vs. state competition spanning the three tournaments (Denker, Barber, NGIT). After 2 rounds, all 3 New Jersey players (Kimberly Ding in the NGIT, Christopher Wu in the Denker, and John Michael in the Barber) have perfect scores with 2.0 points.  Go New Jersey!


7:00 PM

Here we go - round 3 is underway.  JM decided he didn't want to use Monroi device (handheld device that records moves and transmits games).  He felt it was too much of a hassle to use - he prefers the old school pen and scorebook.  Good news and bad news for me.  His game won't be broadcast in the hall, so I won't be able to watch, but now I don't have to run in the playing hall every 15 minutes to try to see what is going on!

9:51 PM

JM still playing - almost 3 hours and counting.  Michele and I hanging out at the bar again for the last couple of hours.  I am now camped out outside the playing hall - Michele is back upstairs in hotel room.  No idea how JM is doing - time to just sit and wait..........

10:20 PM

Still playing.  3 hours 20 minutes and counting.  Could be another late night JM special.

10:32 PM

JM once played a 6 hour game on this time control.  I could be here until 1:00 in the morning.  Do I go back to the bar?

10:33 PM

I overhear another adult say "I just saw the number one player in the Barber get checkmated".  My heart literally stops beating.  The person he is speaking to asks who the player was and he says a name that is not JM - he must have been referring to the Denker tournament perhaps?  I peek into the room and JM is still sitting at the board, so I guess his game is still going.

10:45 PM

JM comes out of playing hall: "Draw".  He is now at 2.5 points after 3 rounds.  Looks like there is 1 player with 3.0 points, and 6 tied with 2.5 points.  Lots of draws in round 3 on the top boards.  As the highest rated player with 2.5 points, I believe JM will be on board 1 tomorrow against the player with 3.0.    Going to need a win tomorrow in round 4 to get his destiny back in his own hands.  Going back to room - JM is hungry - going to have the rest of the wings and then we will try to get him to bed - always a challenge after a late night game.  This is my second attempt at publishing this post - I somehow deleted the one I had with all the pictures.  Going to have to post the pictures tomorrow.  I'll be back tomorrow night (Monday) with Day 3 recap.  Rounds 4 and 5 are Monday at 12:00 PM and 7:00 PM.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Barber Tournament of K-8 Champions - Day 1

Let The Games Begin

Saturday, July 26 2014

7:15 AM
Mr. Burke here with the latest coverage of John Michael's ongoing chess adventure.  The Burke family is at the Rosen Centre Hotel in sunny Orlando, Florida, which is the center of the chess world for the next 9 days.  Right now I am the only Burke awake - Michele and John Michael are sleeping in after a 5 day Disney family vacation.  John Michael will be playing in the Barber Tournament of K-8 Champions from 7/26 to 7/29, and then will be competing in the 115th Annual United States Open Chess Championship from 7/30 to 8/3.  Should be an action packed, exciting 9 days of top level tournament chess.  I am going to attempt to provide a "real time" feel to these tournaments for the next 9 days, and present the action to you "as it happened".
For those of you that have not been ardently following the scholastic chess scene for the last several years, here is the scoop on the Barber Tournament of K-8 Champions: This tournament is an offshoot of the Arnold Denker Tournament of High School Champions that was started in 1985 by GM Arnold Denker.  The Denker tournament (which is also taking place in Orlando this weekend) was started to promote chess excellence among the country's best high school players.  In 2011 the Barber tournament was created in an effort to promote the top K-8 players in the country.  It was named to honor Dewain Barber, a long time scholastic chess advocate.  In 2013, the National Girls Invitational Tournament was started, modeled after the Barber and Denker tournaments.  All 3 tournaments are held each year at this time, and will be held simultaneously alongside the US Open.
The Barber K-8 is a prestigious tournament, one of the top scholastic tournaments that take place each year (think of a "major" tournament in tennis like Wimbledon or a major golf tournament like The Masters - there are many scholastic tournaments that take place each year but only a few "majors"). You can find more info at Barber Chess

Each state sends their official K-8 state representative to the Barber.  In New Jersey, the Barber representative is determined by the winner of the New Jersey Junior Championship which is held each May.  In that tournament, John Michael was tied after the 5th and final round with Praveen Balakrishnan (a top K-8 player in New Jersey).  The NJ Junior was decided in a series of blitz games between Praveen and John Michael.  First was a game/15 (ended in a draw), then a game/10 (ended in a draw), and finally a game/5 which John Michael won.  Normal tournament games typically take anywhere from 3 to 6 hours - having the NJ Junior come down to a series of 5-15 minute games definitely made for an exciting event.  Blitz games can go either way, and fortunately for John Michael he was able to prevail, earning him a trip to the Barber tournament in Orlando, where he will attempt to become the national Barber champion.
A lot has happened since the Supernationals in April of 2013 (the last national championship tournament covered on this blog).  In April of 2013, John Michael's rating was 2079.  In September of 2013 John Michael reached the 2200 rating threshold and earned the National Master title (a prestigious title awarded to a player that reaches 2200 - currently there are only approximately 900 active Masters in the United States).  John Michael's current rating is 2295, which makes him the 448th highest rated player out of 53,080 registered USCF members (99.2 percentile of all tournament players, adult or scholastic). John Michael is currently the 6th highest rated 13 year old in the country (with 11 more months to compete as a 13 year old) - Top 13 Year Olds - July 2014
It has been quite a ride so far for John Michael in the chess world, with no end in sight - lots of milestones still to achieve.  Most of John Michael's tournaments the last several years have been "open" tournaments consisting of both adults and children.  Typically open adult tournaments are the only tournaments available for strong scholastic players to get the type of competition needed.  John Michael has not played many scholastic tournaments over the last few years (World Youth Championship in Brazil, SuperNationals in Tennessee).  The Barber Tournament of K-8 Champions is a great opportunity for John Michael to win a prestigious scholastic national title, an opportunity that does not come often.  There are 48 players in the Barber K-8 tournament, and John Michael is the second highest rated player - he is definitely one of the favorites to win the event.  It is a strong field, consisting of 9 Masters and 13 Experts (players rated 2000-2199.  The Expert title is also a prestigious title that only 5% of tournament players ever reach).  This is a tournament consisting of the best K-8 players in the country - the competition should be fierce.  You can follow the standings and pairings at this link:  Barber Standings
Tournament is a 6 game event - each player will play 6 games - it is not a knockout event.  1 game Saturday, 2 Sunday, 2 Monday, 1 Tuesday.  1 point for a win, 0.5 points for a draw.  Highest score at end of 6 rounds wins.  If 2 or more players are tied at the end of round 6, tiebreakers will be used to determine champion.  Generally the competition gets tougher as the the tournament progresses, as the highest scoring players get paired against each other in each round.  Usually in a 6 round tournament of this type, a score pretty close to 6.0 is needed to win.  One wrong move in any of the 6 games could cost a player the entire tournament, which creates a very stressful atmosphere for the top contenders.  The time control for each game is Game 90 with a 30 second increment.  Each player has a total of 90 minutes to make their moves, and gets 30 seconds added to their clock each time a move is made.  It is fairly common for games to take anywhere from 3 to 5 hours when played under this time control.  Lots of down time for the parents!
John Michael is rested and ready to rumble.  Before traveling to Orlando, he did research the top contenders and prepared for some opponents he may play.  Pairings are never known until just prior to the round, so it is always a fine line between preparing openings against players that may or may not be played versus general chess preparation.  GM Joel Benjamin is John Michael's coach, and does a great job with John Michael - he couldn't ask for a better mentor.  They spent some time working together to prepare for the tournament - now it is time to battle it out to see who is the best player in the country.  Should be fun!  Going to catch up on some work now (plenty of time to catch up on work during these tournaments).

11:00 AM

Breakfast at hotel cafe.  Making sure John Michael eats during tournaments is always difficult.  The adrenaline is flowing, nerves are jangled, and eating is usually the last thing he wants to do during a tournament.  First round of tournament is at 7:00 PM today, so it was fairly easy to get through breakfast - JM chowed down on pancakes, bacon and fruit.  One meal down, 8 meals to go (this is how a chess dad thinks during a tournament).

12:15 PM

Walgreens run for water and snacks.  There is a Walgreens right next to hotel - made a trip to stock up on water and snacks.  When JM was younger, I used to stay in back of tournament room and bring him a water bottle every hour or so.  Now that he is 13, I can load him up with 3 bottles of water and a cell phone, and he simply texts me when he is done playing (he likes it better when I am not in the room now).  My only job at this point as chess manager is to drive him to tournaments and make sure he eats and sleeps as much as possible.  In a few years, he won't even need me to do that!  Funny thing about being a parent - it is a blast watching your son grow up and mature, but a part of you wants them to stay 13 years old forever.

12:30 PM

Stroll around hotel.  JM is getting increasingly edgy, which means it is getting closer to tournament time.  The three of us went for a stroll around hotel and convention center.  Michele and I saw several family reunions listed on hotel calendar that we are going to crash later (there are only so many hours we can spend at the hotel bar!).

3:00 PM

Opening Ceremony.  Nicely done Opening Ceremony for all 3 tournaments (Denker, Barber, NGIT).  Lots of history with these tournaments.  Each state player representative was named, and received a nice gold medallion for qualifying to play in their respective tournament.  Ceremony ended with group pictures.  About 1.5 hour long ceremony - first round is at 7:00 PM.   Going to hotel cafe again for dinner - quickest option available right now.  Always looking for quickest food option during tournaments.  Michele and I continue to discuss our party crashing plan for the evening.  Tournaments didn't even start yet and Michele and I are already going stir crazy!  It is not easy being a chess parent!

                                                                      Barber K-8 Group Photo

                                                                               JM with medal


                                                                          Opening Ceremony

                                                        JM receiving medal from Dewain Barber


4:57 PM

JM thinks he knows who he is going to play - a 1990 rated player with no games in Chessbase. Before we flew to Orlando, I went through Chessbase (chess database with 5 million plus games from around the world) and compiled games from the top Barber players to help JM prepare.  I was just informed by JM that there are many other better sources of games out there.  Would have been nice to know this a couple of weeks ago :)

5:15 PM

Dinner - had the buffet.  Not normally a buffet fan, but this one was good.  I can't keep eating this much!


6:00 PM

Back in room.  JM playing Vikram Srivastava from OH - rated 2009 (not who JM thought he was going to play).  JM is white.  No games in Chessbase or online, so no preparation possible.  Water bottles ready, chess clock ready, gift for opponent ready (at this tournament there is a tradition for each player to exchange a small gift from their home state - JM has 6 cool looking "Atlantic City" pens to give to his opponents).  Nothing to do but wait - this is always the toughest part, waiting for round 1 to start.  I always get butterflies before round 1, and I am not even playing - I can only imagine the somersaults that JM's stomach is doing right now.  He is holding it together well.  Definitely has his game face on.

7:00 PM

Round 1 begins right on time.  Playing room is freezing - I think that is good - better a cold room than a hot one.  I go back to room excited to get Michele and go to bar for Saturday night date.  I am greeted with "we have a small problem".  Never good to hear those words.  Apparently we did not give our neighbor all the keys to our house - neighbor is locked out and can't get in to feed our cats.  Have to call mother in law to go over to our house with her keys - hopefully we have given her the right keys......never a dull moment!  Michele doesn't want to go to the bar until we get key situation resolved, so I am now in a hotel room on Saturday night watching Jeopardy (which coincidentally has just had a category based on bars and drinks).

                                                                Adjusting pieces before game

                                                                        Pre-Game Staredown


7:48 PM

In laws to the rescue!  Neighbor is in house - no need to call 24 hour locksmith!  I can finally get out of this hotel room.


8:04 PM

At bar - almost time to check in to make sure JM is still playing.  My ritual during JM's games is to stick my head in the room - if I see the back of his head I leave for another hour or so before checking again.

                                                                   Saturday night in Orlando!


9:00 PM

2 hours in - JM still playing.  This is when I start to get nervous - a couple of hours into each game.  The first few games of a tournament like this are nerve wracking.  If JM lost game 1 it would ruin his tournament chances, and if he wins it is more relief than anything, because he was "supposed" to win against a lower rated opponent.  Tough being one of the top dogs in the tournament (at least it is tough being the parent of a top dog).  JM doesn't like me going into the playing hall to watch his games, and I respect his wishes.  It is agonizing sitting outside the room not having any idea how he is doing.  Time for another beer.....


10:00 PM

JM still playing.  Out of the top 11 boards, 10 are still playing - not uncommon for the top rated players to play longer games.  No upsets so far in round 1 - every game that has finished has been won by the higher rated player.  Party crashing idea didn't seem so good once we realized how tired we were after poor sleep the last few nights.  Michele has gone back to hotel room and I have found a seat right outside tournament room.  Grabbed another bottle of water.  If JM comes out I can at least feel like I am doing my part by having water ready for him.  I will be camped out here for the rest of the night.  Isn't this thrilling commentary?


10:05 PM

Random adult asked me if chess store was still open.  How would I know?  Did he miss the huge "Chess Store this way" sign not 5 feet from him?  Does he not know that I need to agonize in silence while my son plays?  9 days - I can make it - I think.


10:15 PM

I am always amazed by how many parents at chess tournaments wait for their kids outside the playing hall and are doing absolutely NOTHING while they wait.  I can't sit still for more than 2 minutes without getting antsy and bored.  How can these people sit for hours just staring into space?  Different strokes for different folks, I guess.


10:20 PM

JM exits tournament room.  I can never tell if he won or lost for the first 2-3 seconds I see him - he hides his emotions win or lose.  When he comes over to me he whispers "I won" and all of a sudden it all is worth it - the travel, the endless waiting around, the bad sleep, the rush to eat between rounds - all of it fades away just by hearing those 2 magical words: "I won".  1 game down, 5 to go.  Going back to room for snacks and bed.  Hopefully we all sleep well tonight.  Will be back tomorrow with Day 2 recap.