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Melinda on Arriving in Madison Print E-mail
By Melinda J. Matthews   
July 28, 2013
The US Open begins: Bucky Badger shakes hands with GM Sadorra, on board one of the traditional schedule.
We’re rolling smack into the height of summer, which in South Florida means hot – sizzling, fried-egg-on-the-sidewalk hot – so any excuse to escape to cooler climes becomes downright irresistible.  Fortunately for Nicky and me, chess tournaments seem to flourish as the mercury rises.

This week, the considerably more temperate Madison, Wisconsin has lured us to the mega-event that encompasses three invitationals – the Denker Tournament of High School Champions, the Barber Tournament of K-8 Champions, and the National Girls Invitational Tournamentplus the US Open , multiple side events, and the annual Delegates Meeting.  What better reason to pack our bags and flee the heat?

Like many people, when I think of Wisconsin, the images that spring to mind are of bucolic dairy farms and world-renowned cheeses (I plan to uphold my duties as a tourist and sample as many varieties as possible while here). 

But Madison, home to the state capitol and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is, from all accounts, an exciting city in its own right, filled with abundant lakes, historic properties, scenic views, numerous walking and biking trails, a vibrant downtown, and much, much more.  Also, after harnessing the awesome power of the Google research machine, I‘ve learned that the National Mustard Museum is about a mile away from our host hotel, and their annual National Mustard Day festivities will be taking place while we’re here.  Definitely a quirky must-see/must-taste!  

We arrived in Madison before sunset, giving me ample opportunity to check out the scenery from my lofty vantage point in the hotel shuttle. The drive to the hotel became a glimpse into an area caught between changing worlds: yes, there were the picturesque farms of my imaginings, their sturdy stonewashed frames and glinting silos rising among the cornfields, but they were isolated and surrounded by encroaching suburbia –  denuded land sprouting cookie-cutter houses, chain retailers, and strip malls.  And – most surprising of all – not a cow in sight.

Some cheese to kick off the Denker, Barber and Girls Invitational
Nicky gets a second bite at the Denker apple this year (apples, incidentally, pair well with cheese!), having competed once before in 2011.  He’s coming off of Robby Adamson’s excellent Western Invitational chess camp with only three days in between to unpack from one and repack for the other (I simply washed everything in his suitcase and threw it back in).

Historically, Nicky’s first few tournaments after camp are far from stellar.  It’s probably too many new ideas that haven’t been fully worked out over the board, combined with lingering fatigue from multiple late night bughouse and blitz games, too much junk food, and post-camp letdown.  He loves camp – it’s his rare chance to fully immerse with others who share his passion for chess – but in terms of measurable results, it usually takes a few months before the lessons learned there click in.

And, if you believe in signs and indications, as I do, let’s just say we had an unsettling start to this journey.  While we waited to board our flight in Fort Lauderdale, Nicky, not surprisingly, logged onto ICC.  As he played, several pieces mysteriously moved on their own, costing him two games.  At first, we assumed his dying and very temperamental computer touchscreen was responsible, but after the second game, Nicky figured out that I was moving the wireless mouse (which I’d stuffed into my bag in the “on” position) as I rummaged around looking for books and gum! 

According to the advance entry list, fifty players are competing in this year’s Denker, with only Alaska and Wyoming declining to send representatives.  The strong group is topped by 9th grader Joshua Colas, who recently participated in the US Cadets, and includes fourteen National Masters and thirteen Experts – more than half the field.

Awonderlead.jpgBuilding on the Denker tradition is the similarly-themed Barber Tournament for K-8 Champions, named to honor long-time scholastic chess supporter and Denker enthusiast, Dewain Barber.  Launching into its third year, the Barber has become a fixture in its own right and sports a similarly strong fifty-player field, including number one seed, Andrew Liu, 2011 U-8 World Youth Champion Awonder Liang, and Florida’s own Danilo Rivero. 

And this year, a new tradition begins with the National Girls Invitational Tournament.  Forty-one girls will be participating, with Apurva Virkud of Michigan as the number one seed.  Helen Morejon, who hails from Miami, will represent Florida.

Nicky, ever sociable, is excited about meeting up with his ever-growing circle of friends, including Epiphany Peters, who’s representing Tennessee in the National Girls Invitational.  Unfortunately, they won’t be able to partner for team chess this time because the US Open bughouse tournament occurs during the Invitational rounds, and their combined average rating disqualifies them from the brand-new Mixed Doubles event.

And it seems you can take the tournament out of Florida, but you can’t take Florida out of the tournament: our own South Florida National Tournament Director, Jon Haskel, will be in charge of all three invitational events.  

As for me, I’m toting quite a few catch-up magazines, homework, several books, and my yoga mat.  I’m looking forward to a camera-free yoga date and lunch with CLO editor Jennifer Shahade, and I hope to finally meet the very patient Chess Life editor, Dan Lucas, who will be speaking at the Delegates Meeting.  I’m also plotting (well, dreaming about, perhaps) a field trip to Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s summer home and studio, once the Denker is over and Nicky is settled into the US Open.  And of course, there’s always that mustard fest!

But first things first.  On to the Denker! 

Look for Melinda's wrap-up on CLO after the Denker and find results & pairings here. US Chess Scoop coverage begins next week. Also see a local ABC clip on the US Open and an article in the Wisconsin State Journal here.


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