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Awonder at a Small Town Chess Festival Print E-mail
By Hank Anzis   
February 14, 2014
Co-champion Awonder Liang, Photo Cliff Yates
In September 2013 Life Master Tim McEntee secured sponsorship to put on a tournament with the goal of generating interest in Iowa chess. Tim decided to hold a free one day three round tournament open to any player who had ever attained the expert rating of 2000. Marshalltown (population 25,000) was chosen as the host city because of its central location to the Iowa chess centers.

The Marshalltown Salvation Army donated their building for the tournament playing site and Senior TD Hank Anzis of Marshalltown volunteered his services as tournament director. The date of February 8th was selected and planning for the event began with a U2000 Broken Pawn Reserve section and an unrated meet-up tournament for the chess.com ‘Team Iowa' group. 

Despite a windy snowstorm on the morning of the tournament, 14 expert and higher players from Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Kansas traveled from as far away as 400 miles for a shot at the guaranteed $1150 prize fund including a $500 first prize with Ivan Wijetunge of the ‘Getting To 2000' blog serving as houseman. The top rated player was the recently crowned World Under 10 year old chess champion Awonder Liang who made his way from Madison to compete and watch his siblings Adream, Able, and Angelva play in the reserve tournament. 

Awonder's father Will Liang said that while Awonder will soon be competing primarily in norm tournaments he still wants to play in the Midwest to say ‘Thank You' to the communities that nurtured his chess development. Will was happy to have Awonder play in a strong tournament and have his siblings compete at the same time.

Awonder Liang and Robert Reynolds battle in the final round of the $1150 Expert+ Open

The lure of seeing Awonder and the rest of the master and expert players (which included 2013 Iowa champion Dan Brashaw and 4 other past state champions) drew non-expert players from Marshalltown and around the state to play in the Reserve section (which paid out 100% of the entry fees in prizes) and the free Team Iowa meet-up. Major Paul Fleeman of the Salvation Army came from Nebraska to watch the tournament.

Major Fleeman is the District Commander of the Salvation Army for Iowa and Nebraska as well as a USCF rated player who authored a chess blog called ‘Life Lessons From Chess'. The tournament was structured so that all the players could have lunch and dinner at the same time. Some of the Reserve players were able to play bughouse with Awonder and his siblings. Experts and amateurs alike had a chance to mingle, watch each other's games, and make friends. This camaraderie turned the tournament into a special occasion and a festival of chess. 
Co-champion Awonder Liang, Photo Cliff Yates

In the Expert Open, three time Iowa Denker representative Kushan Tyagi took the final round lead with 2.5 points to share first with Awonder and 2007 Iowa champion Robert Reynolds. The three champions took home $334 for their efforts with Reynolds getting another $50 for scoring the top upset prize.  Tim Crouse of Boone, Iowa and Tony Dutiel of Nebraska shared the Broken Pawn Reserve championship. Wijetunge played in the chess.com tournament under the handle of ‘iwijetunge' in the rounds he wasn't needed as the expert houseman, sweeping the field of mostly on-line players that had never met each other in person. 
chess.com meet-up champion iwijetunge (aka Ivan Wijetunge of http://gettingto2000.blogspot.com/)

The players were thrilled to host the Liang family and have the opportunity to play alongside and against Awonder, Adream, Able, and Angelva. All were inspired by seeing how friendly this great chess family was and how well they got along with everyone away from the board no matter the results across from it.

I can't imagine how inspired they would have been if they had seen the entire family laughing and giggling as they helped Tim and I put away the tables and chairs after the tournament to make the building ready for Sunday Worship services. Cliff Yates is an semi-professional photographer who played in Reserve after a 15 year hiatus from rated chess and was so taken by the day that he took pictures and made a slide show video on YouTube   to capture the day a chess festival broke out in Marshalltown. 

 More details can be found at http://www.centraliowachess.com