Todd on Music and Chess at Bonnaroo
By FM Todd Andrews   
June 23, 2008
23.Qd1Becerra.jpgEvery June, 60,000 concertgoers converge on the small farming town of Manchester, Tennessee to enjoy four days of hot sun, freaky neighbors and the best music found anywhere. There is no telling what you are in for or what you will see when the festival alone becomes one of the largest cities in Tennessee and definitely the most liberal. This year's headliners were big time acts such as Metallica, Pearl Jam, Jack Johnson and Kanye West (although by the end of the festival, "Kanye Sux" was spray painted all over for his poor performance). Bluegrass, country, rock, hip-hop, jam-band music blares, and if a band combines all of the above, you'll probably find it at Bonnaroo.

This was the eighth edition of Bonnaroo and my first time making it into the circus like atmosphere. There is a huge checkerboard in the CenterRoo area where all the concerts and vending is found, but no chess. I took it upon myself to bring chess to this year's Bonnaroo. I struck up a conversation with my neighbors for the weekend about chess and we set up my tournament on the hood of the car (you drive in, park your car and your camp site is right beside your vehicle.) We challenged anyone and everyone walking by to make a move.  Lounging around and drinking down cold ones is second only to people watching as far as Bonnaroo sports go. So it was not uncommon for all sorts of strangers to wander right by and make a move! It was fairly random, but the Bonnaroovians were fairly in-sync and put up a pretty good game*. Bonnaroo played the white pieces:


1.f4 A shirtless man in a red bandana played this and let out a classic, southern rebel yell..."Freebird!" 1...d5 2.Nf3 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 It seemed to me that perhaps team Bonnaroo was using a reference guide at this point, steering the game to a typical Leningrad Dutch structure. 4...c6 Here I left for the first series of shows... delaying the game four hours. During that time I must have dropped 100 rating points head-banging to Lez Zeppelin - an all female Zepp cover band that might have just been better than the original. So I returned to... 5.0-0 "How can it be bad to castle?" said the ragged old hippie with a beard that would put Billy Gibbons to shame. 5...Qb6+ Well, here White is forced to mix systems to save the b-pawn...and I would have taken it in a heartbeat if not for... 6.d4

Position after 6.d4

Typically mixing opening systems does not work out. In most Leningrad structures White would prefer this pawn to be on d3 to support the central e2-e4 thrust. Now it is a combination of the Stonewall and Leningrad structures. [6.Kh1 Bxb2 7.Bxb2 Qxb2 8.Nc3 Qb6 9.Rb1 Qc7 10.e4 ...and White has some compensation for the pawn.] 6...Nh6 As the sun-shiny, little chick with flowers in her hair saw this move she pondered and said "Aren't knights suppose to go towards the middle?" Usually, but it is acceptable to "bounce off the walls" with your knights as long as their path is unhindered. The knight heads for the kingside where he can pressure the dark squares...particularly e3 and g3. 7.c3 Nf5 With this move I set my sail for the Raconteurs, a successful little group out of Nashville founded by Jack White. You might know him from the more popular White Stripes he formed long ago with Meg White. This was followed by a very memorable performance from Stephen Marley - who sounded just like his pa. 8.Na3 "Well if you can move your knight to the edge, so can I!" exclaimed the dread-lock bound wanderer. 8...h5 A plan I learned when I was no more than 13-years-old from the game Kaidanov-Palatnik from who-knows-where. 9.Nc2 My neighbor from Atlanta knew it was important to improve the placement of this piece. 9...h4 A wide-eyed kid with glow-sticks in his hair walked by for the next move and he became overcome with joy when he realized he could kick my knight around...but not so quick! 10.g4 h3 Fight fire with fire! At this point I left to wander the CenterRoo premises and it was flames as high as the sky that I wandered into. The "Such n Such" circus was putting on their pyro-technic laced show where all the music was produced by buzz-drills, hammers and chain saws. As scantily clad women and men on stilts twirled fire, I decided I better get outta here before I got burned! 11.Bh1 A wise decision by the doctor from Oregon with the pregnant wife. 11...Nh6 12.Ne5 A sack!? I decided I needed to think about this a while and I departed for Metallica. After the fireworks and flames had flown and the rockiness encore of "Seek and Destroy" had finished, I returned to accept the pawn. [12.g5 is the only way to save it, but the knight lives permanently on f5.] 12...Nxg4 13.e4 Nxe5 I felt pretty good, but the shirtless woman with body paint on was confident about the double pawn sack and she rattled out a wicked series of moves... 14.fxe5 dxe4 15.Bxe4 Bxe5 16.Qd3 Here she danced off with a twisted smile and a hula-hoop, humming some song lost long ago. 16...Be6 I should have just retreated my bishop on e5 to either d6 or f6. Black comes into some trouble when the business man with the large RV found the best move... 17.Be3!
Position after 17.Be3

Once again I became befuddled. Was it the hot sun that was doing me in? I left to check out the late night SuperJam with mystery guests to appear. We waited with apprehension as the tardy group took stage. A crazy looking guy with an Elvis wig, fake suntan, huge sunglasses and a red, devil like suite took the upright bass and laid down a funky beat. I looked to my buddy Weezie and said "Who is that freak?" It was none other than Primus and SouthPark legend Les Claypool.  Next to join in was Gogol Bordello, the Eastern-European influenced, punk-rock group who put on the highest energy show I saw all weekend. 17...Bc7!? Some serious wave overtook me and the rain began to pour! Sacking my queen seemed like the best answer to saving the piece. Up walks a guy in a dead T-shirt...he thinks for 10 minutes and finds the tactic! 18.d5 cxd5 19.Bxb6 Bxb6+ 20.Nd4 At this point, my friends and I started exploring for the next freakish activity to do. We discovered a tent with a crowd of people dancing to nothing at all! Upon further examination it was the Silent Disco. DJ Logic and other top-notch spinners played mix after mix (mostly trance beats mixed with classics such as Baba O'Riley and Sunshine of Your Love) while everyone inside the tent jammed with their wireless head-phone sets. It was a blast to sit there and watch the crowd move in unison. 20...dxe4 21.Qxe4
Position after 21.Qxe4

It is very difficult to assess this position. Black has two bishops and two pawns for the Queen, but he has few weaknesses and the white king may come under some danger soon enough. They must step very carefully! 21...Nc6 Here a guy dressed up like a mystical half-man, half-goat creature (goat legs and all mind you!) crutched over the board and decided to add some support to his pinned d4 knight. 22.Rfd1 0-0-0 Here I left for another night of amazing music. After watching Gogol Bordello perform without Les, I checked out the Avett Brothers, Zappa Plays Zappa and Levon Helm from the famous group the Band. I felt I should go back to make a move or two before the headliners for the night, Pearl Jam, Phil Lesh and Friends and Kanye West took the stage. 23.Kf1 I returned to this move having no clue which motley creature had played it. 23...Bd5 24.Qg4+ e6 A dread-locked man bearing the colors of Jamaica wandered by the board and proclaimed "Its time to simplify, mon!" 25.Nxc6 Bxc6 26.Rxd8+ Kxd8 27.Rd1+ Kc8 It is very difficult for White to come up with a concrete plan in this position. The killer-Bees on b6 and c6 are a menacing force. 28.Rd2 "I'll just take 'er nice and easy" the good-ole boy in the John Deere hat said. Everyone was about half sun-burnt and no one had enjoyed more than 3 hours of steady sleep all weekend. 28...Rh5
Position after 28...Rh5

Activation! Now I went to return to see Kanye West. When I arrived at the 2:45 AM show, it seemed as if riots were about to break out all around me. Kanye's show had been postponed once, twice and over and over again. My friends at I looked at each and decided that if the riots broke out, we were going to take down the Pizza stand first! Fortunately Kayne came on nearly two hours late and the Bonnaroo '08 riots were avoided. His super-hyped glow-n-the-dark show really sucked since the sun was rising and it kinda killed the whole point. 29.b4 Rf5+ 30.Ke1 Bg2 31.Qc4+ Bc7 32.Rd4 I returned from Allison Kraus and Robert Plant to find this move on the board. I was so torched by the sun at this point that the next few moves were rattled off by me and my neighbors. 32...b5 33.Qd3 Bf1 34.Qxf1 Rxf1+ 35.Kxf1 Bxh2 36.Rh4 Be5 37.Rxh3 Kd7 38.a4?

Position after 38.a4

The intensity of Bonnaroo was just too much for them to continue to play solid chess. I finished the game off with... 38...bxa4 39.c4 Bb2 ...and Bonnaroo resigned. We made our way to the final show, Widespread Panic. 0-1

A valiant effort out of Bonnaroo! Bonnaroo was a formidable opponent and demanded a rematch next year...I will definitely return next year in hopes of a better game and an even better time! For the chess world...see you in Philly!

*Editor's Note: The above account was written under the inspiration of a weekend of music and fun, and it's up to you to guess how much is true, and what is fiction. 

Todd will return to CLO later this week when he blogs from the Philadelphia International, which precedes the World Open.