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Bartholomew Wins 2013 Okoboji Open Print E-mail
By Hank Anzis   
April 29, 2013
In the midst of a freezing Midwestern winter along the border of Northwest Iowa and Southwest Minnesota, the idea of an annual chess tournament was hatched from the minds of local chess players Jodene Kruse, Sam Smith, and John Flores. In January of 2007 the Okoboji Open was born with 27 players attending the one-day tournament in the Arrowwood Resort of Okoboji, Iowa, a summer resort town along the ‘Iowa Great Lakes’ that sleeps through the winter and was willing to provide a low-cost tournament site in order to attract visitors.

When a winter storm reduced attendance to only twelve players in 2008 it would have been easy for Jodene, John, and Sam to have given up their dream. Jodene is afflicted with Cerebral Palsy and John and Sam’s work situations suffered through the ‘Great Recession’, but instead or quitting, the trio went ‘all-in’ with a massive increase in prize money and switched the format to an April USCF Grand Prix tournament with multiple sections to be held in April. This leap of faith paid dividends with the participation of GM Alex Yermolinsky in 2009 and 2010 (winning the tournament both years) and 41 and 38 players in attendance.

One of the 2010 players was Minnesota’s premier chess traveler Riaz Khan, who was so impressed with the Resorts pin-drop quiet playing hall and enough space to allow all the games to be played on individual tables that he became the Okoboji Open’s ambassador to the Minneapolis chess community. Thanks to Khan’s efforts attendance spiked to 53 players in 2011 and even though GM Yermolinsky was unable to attend, the tournament was graced by the presence of IM John Bartholomew, who won the tournament in both 2011 and 2012 (sharing first in 2012 with Matt Dahl).

Okt1.jpgJodene, John, and Sam again raised the stakes again in 2013, increasing the prize fund to $2000 with a guaranteed $500 to the Open winner. Their leap of faith was rewarded when a record 63 players attended the 7th annual edition of the Okoboji Open which took place from April 21st to April 23rd , 2013. A large part of the credit for the increase was due to the use of Dr. Sisira Amarasinghe’s online registration website www.onlineregistration.cc which allowed chess players far and near to view the list of registered participants and cross-pollination with Sam Smith’s sister tournament, the Jackson Open held 20 miles north of Okoboji every August.

Not only was this year’s Open the largest on record, it was also the strongest with IM Bartholomew’s return, the presence of FMs Kevin Wasiluk and Awonder Liang (the 10-year-old youngest US master ever), Iowa state chess champions NM Tim McEntee, NM Bob Keating, Robert Reynolds, and the 2012 Iowa open co-champion Prasantha Amarasinghe.

The first two rounds of the open section proceeded to form with the only upset of note David Floeder’s 290 point scalping of Keating while carnage reigned in the Reserve (U1600) section with defending champion John Flores losing to unrated Nathaniel Arnold and past tournament prizewinners Sam Smith and FIDE Arbiter Bill Broich suffering large upsets at the hands of JP Wagle (323) and Nastassja Matus(299) respectively.

NM Awonder Liang battles NM Okechukwu while the players look on
10-year-old Awonder Liang stole the show in the third round of the Open section when the 2011 World U8 champion not only saved a poor position with less than two minutes on his clock against NM Okechukwu Iwu, he ran the master into time trouble and won the game, with dozens of players crowded around his table watching in amazement. Lost in the shuffle was Duluth’s Dane Mattson’s 240 point upset of Wasiluk at the next table. When Bartholomew and Amarasinghe drew their fourth round matchup and Liang lost to Wasiluk, 14 year old master Andrew Tang took the sole lead at 4-0 heading to the final round, in which he had to take on his fellow Minneapolitan and coach Bartholomew.


With the win, Bartholomew took his third straight Okoboji Open title and was the outright winner when Amarasinghe was held to a draw by Wasiluk. In the reserve section Finn Buck (a student of Awonder Liang’s dad Will) broke out to a 4-0 lead, but suffered his lone loss of the day to Gokul Thangavel of Iowa City to share the Reserve crown with Thangavel, Dave Wagle, and Louis Leonard, Buck taking the trophy on tiebreak.

IM Bartholomew and Gokul Thangavel with Russ Swanson’s donated chess sets.
In 2011 Russ Swanson won the Okoboji Reserve section but passed away suddenly that October from an aortic aneurysm. Russ was so highly thought of by his fellow chess players that the 2012 Okoboji Reserve trophy was named after him. John Flores won the trophy and donated it to Russ’s widow Paulette in his memory .This year Paulette Swanson returned the favor by donating two of Russ’s favorite sets of chess pieces to the winners of the Okoboji Open and Reserve tournaments. Gokul Thangavel won a blitz playoff among the Reserve champions and joined IM Bartholomew in accepting the chess sets in Russ’s memory. 
The 2014 Okoboji Open has already been scheduled for April 25th to April 27th. If you happen to be in the area, Jodene, John, and Sam invite you to participate in one of the finest small town tournaments in America!

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