A Dispatch From the Candy Factory

by admin on May 27, 2018

Do you remember the old I Love Lucy episode where Lucy and Ethel get jobs in a candy factory? They set up behind a conveyor belt that brings them the candies, and they are just supposed to wrap each one and put it back on the conveyor belt. Easy-peasy. Then the conveyor belt starts going faster, and they can barely keep up. Then it speeds up again, and they are eating candies, stuffing them down their blouses, and candies are generally flying all over the place.

Well, that was me at the Aptos Public Library chess tournament yesterday. For those who don’t know, this is the one day out of every year when I put on the mantle of a tournament director. It is the only tournament I know of that is free and that has free refreshments for everybody, thanks to the wonderfully supportive staff of the public library. It is not USCF-rated, because I’m not a USCF-certified tournament director and have no desire to become one. I just want to run a fun tournament once a year and give the kids in my chess club a special event to look forward to.

This year we set a record with 41 entries. (Last year we had 33, and our previous record was 37.) I have to say that I think we found the limit beyond which we cannot go. The room only has space to seat 40 players comfortably, and the library only has 17 complete sets, so we had to use two of mine and one of Gjon Feinstein’s. (He was there to observe his many students who were competing.) But even if there weren’t limitations of space and equipment, with twenty games going simultaneously in two sections, I just reached my Lucy-and-Ethel moment where too many things were happening at once.

The end of round two was when the conveyor belt started going too fast for me. Here’s the situation: We are supposed to start round three at 3:00 pm. By 3:00 the pairings for the younger section (ages nine and under) are ready, but there are still three games going on in the older section (ages ten and up). We don’t use clocks, and when games reach the one-hour mark I usually adjudicate them. In the past I’ve only had to adjudicate at most one or two games a year — usually kids are pretty good about playing quickly.

But every year the kids are more competitive, and there are more of them, so my luck was due to run out. In round two we had not one but three games that were completely un-adjudicatable. (Is that a word?) One was an endgame with a knight and 4 pawns against two knights and 3 pawns. In theory the two knights ought to win, but the pawns were pretty loose and I had major doubts about whether the player who stood better would actually manage to win. The second was rook and two pawns versus knight and two pawns, with all the pawns on the kingside. (In fact, each player had an f- and h-pawn.) Maybe a grandmaster could win this, but I couldn’t call it; I felt the game was sure to be decided by mistakes. Finally, the third game was a huge mess: White had a queen against Black’s two rooks, a knight, and a pawn on the seventh rank. (Plus, each side had some other pawns.) Clearly Black should be winning, but I could not adjudicate it as a win because it was very unclear whether Black could escape perpetual check from the queen.

So I decided to do something I had never done before: start the last round for the younger section on time, and let the three undecided games in the older section play out to the end. (If you’re curious, the results were draw, draw, and win for Black, and we started the last round 15 minutes late for the older section.) For me as the tournament director, this decision was the equivalent of speeding up the conveyor belt, because from that moment forward everything was out of sync. The two sections are operating on different schedules, and I’m trying to do ten different things at once, and constantly explaining to kids and parents what is going on and when, and on and on and on… But I do believe it was the right thing to do for the players. I’m glad that the games were decided over the board rather than by adjudication.

Thanks to immeasurable help from Shan Crockett, my regular assistant, and Gjon Feinstein, who became a de facto assistant, we managed to get results of all the games recorded, certificates filled out, prizes awarded, and somehow everybody seemed to go home happy. And here were the happiest people of all, the prize winners:

9 and under section

  1. Christopher Ware; 2. Andrew Cornish; 3. Declan Minogue, Ezekiel Marca, Asher Harbison, Arthur Aschbacher, Ryder Pimentel, Emmy Pimentel.

10 and over section

  1. Andrew Wang; 2. Jonathan Zhou; 3. Ben Walker-Edwards, Darrell Wang.

In the younger section, I want to give special congratulations to Andrew, Ryder, and Emmy, who have just started coming to my regular Tuesday chess club this year and whose success was both unexpected and exciting.

The results in the older section look pretty similar to last year, when Andrew, Jonathan and Darrell also won the top three places (albeit in a different order). I was glad to see Ben joining them this year, and I decided not to have a playoff game to break the third-place tie. (We did have a playoff to break the tie between Andrew and Jonathan for first place.)

I’d like to give a special commendation and apology to Jonathan Zhou because of an unfortunate situation that happened in round one. As I said, we had 41 players and we couldn’t physically accommodate more than 40. When I announced the round-one pairings, I didn’t call Jonathan’s name. That’s because he had not pre-registered and he arrived at the same time as several other players and did not actually check in — so I did not know that he was there.

Of course this is every director’s worst nightmare — the round is already starting, and one player doesn’t have an opponent. I told Jonathan that we were past our capacity and simply didn’t have space for him, so he wouldn’t be able to play. He was heartbroken and I felt terrible about this. Fortunately, to make a long story short, one of the other games finished very quickly and that freed up an opponent for him.

I think there are some definite lessons in this for next year. First, I need to set a maximum of 36 players. The days of just hoping that we have enough boards and sets and tables for everybody are over. Second, I need to make it clear in the pre-tournament publicity that pre-registered players get first priority. If you don’t sign up in advance, you’re just taking your chances whether you get to play or not.

If you don’t say in advance that there is a maximum number of players, then I think you have a duty to do your best to give everyone a chance to play. I’m sorry that, in the heat and confusion of the moment, I almost didn’t give Jonathan a chance. And I’m glad that his afternoon ended on a happier note!

Once again, thanks to everyone who played, all the parents who brought their kids, and the library staff (especially Sandi Imperio and Heather Pereira) who helped us with publicity and set-up and take-down and who managed to provide enough refreshments for 40 kids. And most of all, thanks to Shan and Gjon, who saw when I was “in the weeds” and stepped in to keep things running smoothly.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Splane May 27, 2018 at 10:35 am

Back in the good old days, before sudden death time controls, we had a solution to your problem. Games that were unfinished when the next round was due to start were paused and the players were given pairings as if their paused game was drawn. The player whose turn it was to move would secretly write down his move on a piece of paper and it would be sealed in an envelope.

After finishing both of their games in the succeeding round, the envelope would be opened, the sealed move would be made on the board, and the players would continue the paused game.


Jon Neet May 28, 2018 at 12:36 pm

I’m a chess player that enjoys playing in tournaments. Though only a class B player, I really loved the competition and the stress never got to me. After moving to the big island of Hawaii in September of 2011, I worked to add to the chess activity here. I taught chess in a Hilo elementary school for about 4 years, and taught chess at the Hilo Library. I’ve only been able to play in three sanctioned tournaments since moving here. One, the National Open in Las Vegas, which is my favorite tournament. I’ve made that one maybe 8 times since the mid 1990’s. One was called the Hawaii Chess Festival, and was in Honolulu. There was about 110 players and 7-7 grandmasters. The third was a local one also in Honolulu. Had to fly to all three of these.
Soon after I got here, we started up a small chess club, the Big Island Chess Club. We actually put on some unsanctioned tournaments, and, by process of elimination, I got the job of running these. I also played in them.
Of late, I have been diagnosed with advanced and aggressive prostate cancer, and am on meds for that. The meds have affected my cognitive abilities, and because of that, I decided not to try the National Open in June. I still meet with other players once a week, and can still hold my own with them, but tournament play is on another level. At 64, my tournament days may be gone for good.
I enjoy your blog, and enjoy watching some of the important tournament live coverage from the Kansas City Chess Club, especially with commentators GM Yasser Seirawan (from Seattle where I am from), GM Maurice Ashly, and Jennifer Shahade (sorry, don’t know her title).
Your reference to the chocolate factory episode reminded me of a week when I took over a job at the Langendorf Bakery in Seattle for one week when a gent went on vacation. It was on a conveyor belt, and stuff went wrong like in that chocolate factory. I was I think, 18 years old.


admin May 28, 2018 at 2:48 pm

Thanks for the long and detailed comment! I think that once we get to a certain age (I’m 59), passing on our love and enjoyment for the game to the next generation starts to become more important, and individual accomplishments start to become less important. I’m sorry that your tournament days may be over, but you’re still doing great work!


Mary Kuhner May 28, 2018 at 9:45 pm

Hi Dana, I have won several chess sets at various events–if your club could use a few more, send me a mailing address and I’ll send them along.


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