Bartholomew wins 2014 Okoboji Open
By Hank Anzis   
May 2, 2014
FM Awonder Liang(L) vs.IM John Bartholomew in 4th round action

The small town of Okoboji, Iowa has a population of 807 and sleeps through the winter in its location along the Iowa Great Lakes while waiting for the annual summer pilgrimage of boating and fishing vacationers. But for the last eight years the town wakes up for a weekend when chess players from all over the Midwest come to town for Jodene Kruse’s Okoboji Open. Despite having cerebral palsy Jodene has organized this tournament since 2007 and is an inspiration to many chess players and organizers. The 2014 edition ran from April 25th-27th, attracting 57 players from six states to compete for over $1900 in prizes in the Open and U1600 Reserve sections.

This year’s top players were 3 time defending champion IM John Bartholomew, World Under 10 year old champion FM Awonder Liang, FM Kevin Wasiluk, 2014 Iowa champion NM Tim Mc Entee, and 5 other USCF national Masters. The tournament received an early dose of drama when Life Master Jim Ellis forced a perpetual check to claim a draw against IM Bartholomew in the first round. The draw allowed six players to take a half point lead ahead of the IM after two rounds: FM Liang, NMs Mc Entee, Okechukwu Iwu, Dane Mattson, Jason Drake, and Iowa’s newest expert James Neal.

While Bartholomew quickly won his second and third round games on Saturday afternoon to get to 2.5 points, Neal held Drake to a draw and when Iwu and Mc Entee also drew all eyes turned to the Liang-Mattson game where Mattson was 2 pawns ahead with a 25 to 5 minute time advantage. Awonder, the youngest ever U.S. master, was low on time but long on nerves and kept blitzing out moves while keeping Dane from consolidating and went on to win the game in a mutual time scramble to the amazement of more than two dozen onlookers. Liang’s victory meant he was the sole leader at 3-0 after Saturday’s action and would match up with Bartholomew on Sunday morning.
FM Awonder Liang battles NM Dane Mattson

Before the highly anticipated Bartholomew-Liang matchup, almost half the playing field spent Saturday night at the El Parian restaurant for the traditional get together organized by Minnesota’s #1 chess traveler Riaz Khan.

The annual Okoboji dinner at El Parian

The players had a great time feasting on the awesome Mexican food and swapping stories with their fellow competitors before the battles resumed the next day.


Bartholomew’s victory over Liang (who he helped coach at the US Chess School) allowed him to reclaim his customary spot atop the Okoboji Open leaderboard, sharing it with fellow round 4 victors Iwu and Mc Entee.

In the final round Liang was paired with Iwu on board 2 while board 1 had Bartholomew taking on Mc Entee in a matchup of the highest rated player from Minnesota against the life master and 4 time Iowa Chess champion.


Bartwinner.jpgThe victory clinched at least a tie for first place for Bartholomew for the fourth consecutive year. When Liang defeated Iwu, the well liked and personable IM claimed the outright championship along with the $500 first prize and championship trophy.

Liang tied for second place with 2011 Iowa champion Robert Keating a half point back of Bartholomew.  In the Reserve section, first time Okoboji player Daniel Johnson from Iowa City dominated the tournament with a 5-0 score, beating the top 3 seeds and finishing 1.5 points ahead of tournament co-organizer Sam Smith, Chris Hicks (playing in his first tournament in 20 years), and Ben Schimke (who has traveled with his dad Tim from Rochester, MN for the last 3 Okoboji Opens).

Awonderwinner.jpgThe 2015 Okoboji Open is tentatively scheduled for April 17-19th, 2015. Keep an eye out for it and if you get the chance take the time to treat yourself to one of the best small town chess tournaments in America!

A complete tournament article can be found at