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.


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