Castling Queenside

I just returned from Emory University, site of the 13th edition of the Castle Chess Grand Prix. 217 players are participating this year, the same number as last year. Since there were fewer chess campers this year that means there are more players who were not involved with the camp this year. Five of those players are Grandmasters, with an additional two International Masters. There are eight National Masters, led by Georgia’s own Damir Studen, the State Champ, along with five experts to round out the twenty player field. Form held down the line in the first round, which included games played Friday night and Saturday morning. The second round is underway as I write. The top players are already meeting in round two, as long time camper GM John Fedorowicz was paired with Varuzhan Akobian on board one. Meanwhile, the home town hope, NM Studen was playing his beloved Scandinavian, or as we called it “back in the day” the Center-Counter, versus the GM Scott Parker calls, “The most successful, by far…,” of the twelve previous Castle tournaments, Julio Becerra, on second board.
This is the first time there have been five GM’s playing in the tournament, and it could have been more. GM Jesse Kraai could not play for personal reasons. Mrs. Christianson, president of the Castle Chess Camp, informs Jesse has taken a year off from chess to write a novel based on chess and had to deal with the publication, which was delayed. He had hoped to have copies at the camp, but it was not to be. Another GM had a family emergency to attend, unfortunately. I had an opportunity to talk with Jennifer Christiansen, whom I recall from my days at the House of Pain. I mentioned how much I liked an article she penned for the Georgia Chess magazine, telling her it touched me, making me think of my mother. She wrote about how much she had learned from her sons. As far as I am concerned her short essay should win an award, hands-down! She told me it had been written upon the request of the editor, Mark Taylor, because he needed to fill space. I could relate to that because I have previously done the same thing, taking heat for the article I had thrown together from a particularly acerbic critic. During our discussion she mentioned something about “nearing the end,” and I assumed she meant that because her sons are now grown and will be going to college, and would be out of scholastic chess she would no longer be involved. Au contraire! She let me know she has told others that when her sons left for college she intended on becoming a player. She did admit to playing at home and on the internet now. She also told me a wonderful story about one time when she did try to play in a tournament at the ACC, as she called the Atlanta Chess & Game Center. “I was upstairs playing and happened to look out of the open window-it was summer and you know how hot the place could be, especially upstairs-and I saw my boys playing tag and running out into the street and I had to ask myself what I was doing up there.” The woman is a dedicated chess mom and obviously a wonderful mother. Check out the article about her son, Ryan, on page 33 of the June issue of Chess Life magazine. I must admit the picture of Ryan floored me, since it has been some years since I have seen the little fellow.
The tournament is taking place in Cox Hall, a spacious, well air-conditioned, room, with plenty of room for everyone. There are other chess moms to assist, and one can tell they are operating as a team. The tournament is being directed with military precision by the chief TD, Mr. David Hater, assisted by Jim Mundy, one of the nicest people you will ever meet in chess. It was a real treat to see, and talk, albeit briefly, with the man known as the Sheriff. Mayberry had Andy, while Atlanta had the irrepressible Mr. Scott Parker, who managed to take time away from his family obligations to visit the Castle. These people are the reason the Castle Chess Grand Prix exudes class.
The top two boards are displayed on the wall by an overhead projector, with the first board on the far left side of the room, and the second board on the other. I was not the only spectator as I talked with Jim Lawhon and Larry Bolton, who, like me, were not playing. Thank you Larry for the kind words about the blog, and I would also like to thank Gary Newsome, a visitor, who told his wife that I wrote a very popular blog read all over the world. “Everyone reads his blog,” Gary said, “I bet Anand even reads his blog!” I do not know about Anand, but I do know for a fact that several GM’s read the Armchair Warrior. I would like to thank them, and all of you in the fifty countries, and counting, that have surfed on over to read the blog.
One of the things about trying to write about a tournament is it is difficult to interview anyone while they are playing. For example, IM Irina Krush walked right by me, lost in thought. I had been watching her game with Anuprita Patil, the only other female in the top section. What are the odds of that happening? I can recall the time when it was extremely rare to see even one female in the whole tournament. I noticed several more playing on the lower boards. The times they are a-changing. I wanted to introduce myself and ask her a question or two, but I refrained because I have played in tournaments and know some consider it nothing but a distraction. I admit considering the odds Irina would smile and say, “OK,” as opposed to, “Buzz off, Buster!” Not that I have not heard the latter previously in various, non-chess situations…When one plays in a tournament there is little time for anything other than playing, or getting ready to play. When the tournament is over the players want to just get on down the road, as I know only too well. But I will be at the tournament tomorrow afternoon during the last round, trying my best to obtain a quote or two. I mentioned to Jim Mundy that I was looking forward to the last round tomorrow because it should be exciting. “I know,” he said. “It’s exciting right now!” he said with a smile, sending me off on a good note.

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