by FM Hans Jun
I have been following Susan Polgar’s Daily News blog with interest for quite some time and have been intensely curious as to what has been going on at Texas Tech (specifically SPICE or Susan Polgars Institute for Chess Excellence) in Lubbock, Texas. In her current SPICE tournament (she has been running high quality international tournaments since 2007) she added a new section – FIDE Open Rated – and I decided it was time for me to travel down and see things first-hand.
Shopping around online I discovered that Greyhound had a 15 day Discovery pass (travel anywhere unlimited in North America during 15 days) for about $350. and as I had planned to go to Lubbock, Texas and after to the Grand Canyon and total flights would cost me over $1000 I decided on the bus deal without considering repercussions. The bus trip took me thru Detroit, Cincinnati, Louisville, Nashville, Memphis and on to Dallas and finally an all night run across Texas from Dallas to Lubbock, more than 52 hours in total.
The difference between Canadian Greyhound and American Greyhound is ominous. On boarding in Detroit the driver made a short speech: Besides alcohol, drugs, profane language, and smoking being prohibited – loud conversations both on and off cellphones were prohibited. The driver would give one warning then on next offense he would pull the bus over and the offender would be escorted off the bus by the state troopers. I actually saw a graphic example of that in Arkansas and my exposure to the grass roots of America (its average Greyhound travelers) thru those cities was to say the least not pleasant.
One eye opening adventure occurred on the all nighter out of Dallas. Shortly before the bus pulled out a real character got on the bus. Dressed in a classy white leather Stetson and with a form fitting Levi shirt and jeans and alligator boots, he was a “real” Texan cowboy. A little worse for drink he still managed an incredible amount of charm and tipping his hat and murmuring compliments to every lady on the bus he swaggered to the rear.
I managed a short nap and awoke later to a curious sight. At the rear of the bus a group of five interesting characters had managed to find their own entertainment. They had upended what looked like an old metal ashtray and placed a cafeteria style plastic tray on top. The cards were flying and a poker game was in progress. The cowboy, an older gentleman in a much worn suit who looked like a used car saleman, an aging hippy with a beard, a young gangly student, and a really old gentleman with very few teeth in his smile were what I saw when I went back for a closer look – and all 5 were smoking! (one of them a cigar).
The cowboy invited me to join them – said he liked my flavor (whatever that means). I went back to my seat to get my camera and when I came back the cowboy said “you can take a picture but then I’ll have to kill you”. The things that go on thru a Texan night. They played until about an hour before the bus arrived in Lubbock.
My first sight of Lubbock was pleasantly interesting – the bus terminal was a modern terminal designed with wings in four directions and made from beautiful brownish pink brick in the Spanish style. Although it was only 6:30am and still quite dark I new the mood of my journey had changed when I was greeted by Cat Stevens “Its a wide World” followed by two Stevie Nicks classics and two Buddy Holly tunes on the PA system. – To be continued
As a result of the tornado almost the entire residential and business district was relocated to the west end past the area where Texas Tech University is. In effect you have a divided city – the east end shuts down after 5pm and in effect becomes a ghost town and the vibrant west end.
My lucky booking on the internet was a very cheap motel on Avenue Q which is the divider of the east and west end. It turned out to entirely suit my purposes as it had a Wal-Mart 100 yards away and a Denny’s across the street. My initial walk from the bus station (about one mile) was thru the ghost town as it was before anything opened at 8 am.
The walk to Texas Tech (where the SPICE tournament was being held) westwards was much more pleasant. It was a little over a mile thru student housing and then the university grounds.
The FIDE Open which I was playing in started at 5pm that day first round, with 3 rounds the next day and 2 on the following. The only grandmaster tournament in progress when I arrived was the SPICE A section with GMs Dominguez, Le Quang Liem, Feller, Shulman, Meier, and Robson – a double round robin of 2600 and 2700 GMs. (two other sections of mainly GMs and IMs had already finished).
I tried to ask for a first round bye due to tiredness but Susan Polgar herself with great charm and persuasiveness talked me out of it. Meeting Paul Truong and Dr. Hal Karlsson for the first time gave me a burst of energy as they are excellent hosts, great conversationalists, and lots of fun to be around. (Paul is Susan’s “silent”partner and husband and website guru and Dr. Karlsson is the originator of SPICE).
However, as Murphys Law would have it my first round game turned into a marathon where I absolutely refused to win (the longest game of the round), ran out of energy, and somehow swindled a miraculous draw. To be continued
I thought Lenier Dominguez was going to win the tournament but as fate had it he and Le Quang Liem had to play each other in the last round and Liem won the game and the tournament with a nice tactical finish (Q and B on the long diagonal lined up against the black king – but you’ll have to look it up because I dont have the game handy)
Le Quang Liem was there with his mother and she was very nervous about his games to the point where when I went up to look at the position the first few times she would follow me up and stare at me but after talking to her I found out she was a very nice lady.
Georg Meier is a very interesting young grandmaster from Germany. Turns out he is studying at Texas Tech. When I tried to find out his background I was amazed to discover he is from the same region as my grandmother – a small town in Germany – but even small towns there seem to have at least one strong ex-Soviet trainer and a good chess club and also amazing is that he had never played in a German Championship.
Sebastien Feller would go around at the beginning of the day and shake everybody’s hands. At first I thought he was campaigning for a FIDE position but it quickly became apparent that he was just a very nice outgoing young guy.
Yury Shulman was very modest and down to earth. When I asked him during the analysis of the last round game what went wrong he said it started in round two and had continued ever since.
Ray Robson was very serious about his games but whenever he got the chance he liked to have fun and his favorite person to have fun with was Tommy Polgar. I managed a few leads about blindfold chess and it resulted in him playing a member of the Texas Tech Knight Raiders a blindfold 3 minute game. Several things about that wowed me! First of all he rattled moves off in the opening past move 15 and at move 25 according to him he was still in theory. He found the crispest moves to finish and used less than a minute 30 for the whole game. The game can be found on youtube.
Andre Diamant had played in another section (C) but showed up with his young son for the birthday party (also farewell party) They were a hit. Andre forever with the jokes and witty anecdotes.
Denes Boros played in the B section but also showed up for the farewell party. He is Hungarian, a real character, and studies at Texas Tech. I first met him when he was playing speed chess with Ray Robson. To me Ray is an awesome speed player but Denes demolished him in more than one game I was watching but to be fair to Ray the overall score was apparently equal. I had a chance for an in depth conversation with him – somehow the conversation turned to music and we compared notes on Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, and the Doors – it was surreal. (he’s about 20 – I’m in my 50’s) To be continued
It was a real pleasure to walk back and forth to campus.
I discovered the outdoor chess tables on my third day.
In terms of location, design, looks, and even cleanliness they are far superior to the ones here at Kitchener City Hall. They are located right beside the university library and strategically set so that they are in the shade by mid afternoon.
The tables themselves are together by twos with benches (so bughouse can be played) which is far better for social chess and communication. One table at the end has no benches – the wheelchair designate. Altogether there are seven.
Each bench has a gold plated plaque with famous chess sayings – example: Bobby Fischer “chess is life”, Johann Goethe “chess is the touchstone of the intellect”, Susan Polgar ” win with grace, lose with dignity” etc. Only thing is they were underutilized.
The entire time I was there no one played on them with the exception when I talked a passerby into playing there. I mentioned that they needed a chess coordinator and I hope they realize and follow thru.
On the second day of play in my tournament I blundered away two out of three of my games (although in one my opponent returned the favor) so I finally could fully relax and enjoy more of my surroundings.
On the Sunday morning after a glorious walk to the tournament I discovered that there was no coffee on site -trauma. Nothing was open and the coffee on site was just in the process of being set up.
I sat down to play and Susan Polgar noticed something was wrong (although I hadn’t said anything). She came up to me and asked me if she could get me coffee and then went on a coffee run. She came back with the best coffee I had on my entire trip – where else would a world champion get coffee for an ordinary joe?? -wow – to say the least that floored me.
Jeffrey Xiong is the top 10 yr old in the US. The last published rating I could find was 2288 but by the time we played it was going north of 2350.
In the analysis room on the second day I saw him on a laptop. When I went over to look he was whipping thru database games at about 4 or 5 moves per second.
I asked him what he was looking for. After a few more questions it became clear that not only was he identifying opening ideas but also tactical keys and positional technique during the course of each game.
In my game he saw a lot more than I did.
His father was also very friendly. He mentioned that he would be happy to bring Jeffery to a tournament in Canada.
I am sure I can work something out.
I really enjoyed spending a lot of time in conversation with Dr. Hal Karlsson and Paul Truong.
With Dr. Karlsson there was a new idea(s) with every conversation. He was always looking to fine tune or add to the chess tournaments or the chess program.
Paul was a virtual fountain of information on the international chess scene and because he was basically tied to the computer and his cameras I got to pump him with at least a thousand questions. Paul was always happy to answer and I got him excited on more than one occasion on past events or current situations.
A couple of times he gave me a ride back to my motel and it was thanks to him that I received a gift basket and many other souvenirs of my stay in Lubbock and Texas Tech.
I even stayed an extra day for more conversation and to see the end of the Spice Cup A tournament (with the thrilling finale between Le Quang Liem and Lenier Dominguez) and Susan personally invited me to the farewell dinner (and birthday party of Ray Robson) at the Texas Land and Cattle Roadhouse.
The bacon wrapped sirloin was Texas sized and sitting across from Le Quang Liem and his mother and beside Jerry (an employee of Texas Tech and a 500 pound ex football Hispanic American with a razor wit and constantly telling stories of his youth growing up in Munich in southern Germany, interspersed with witticisms form Paul Truong) was memorable.
Also on the final day in the morning I went to see the Buddy Holly museum. Definitely not to be missed. Every little detail of his life is there.
Even tho he died at 21, not only was he a music legend but a great improviser who invented or perfected many musical ideas.
Especially the video has to be seen. It is a mini documentary (about half an hour) very tightly scripted.
About 5 minutes in you see Paul McCartney sitting in a chair with a guitar. Paul is very down to earth and leads with: “I guess I was about 16 and me and John sagged off from school one day to go to the Paladium to see Buddy. We sat up front to watch his chord work and we couldnt get over it. How does he do it? How does he do it?” – then Paul on the guitar breaks into Peggy Sue and then in the exact same rhythm Twist and Shout – and then typical Paul – but of course Buddy did it much better.
Also seeing the Stones tell about their first song in public being a Buddy Holly tune and Elton John’s famous glasses -an idea he got from Buddy.
In the museum showcases endless examples of Buddy’s creativity and highlights of his career. Buddy, on top of his musical prowess, was an expert craftsman and wood and leather carver, carving his own belts and guitar straps and even making his own furniture.
Every Buddy Holly song ever recorded is there and is played non stop around the clock, as well as other hits of other stars at the time.
Definitely not to be missed the day the music died.
More to come later…
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– GM Susan Polgar