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Cover Story / The Struggle THE 61ST IOWA OPEN M


ark Capron was one who stayed the course. I first met Mark sometime in 2003 when he began directing tournaments for the University of Iowa Hawkeye Chess Club (HCC). Mark


was there during the lean years, when the HCC’s premier event, the Mind Challenge, saw only 17 players show up, all of whom then had to drive home in a record-making snowstorm that closed I-80. Nine years later, Mark agreed to take over Iowa’s largest event, the


Iowa Open. That was 2011, when the late Steve Young, former Iowa state chess association (IASCA) president, asked Mark to step in. “I was a little apprehensive at the time,” Mark admits to me, “but signed on anyway. That first year we had 89 players which we viewed as successful.” It’s Saturday morning, 30 minutes before the first round of the main


event. I’m on the ground level of the brand new Marriott in Coralville. I remember the drive into Iowa City in college, which feels like yesterday but was in fact over a decade ago, when this whole place was a cornfield. Literally. Now it’s an upscale commercial park featuring trendy restaurants with vegan-friendly menus, four-star hotels, sushi stops, cobblestone streets, cafes, a bus depot, even an antique automobile museum. Times change. I take the long walk from the lobby down the red-carpeted corridors


and past the previous night’s wedding banquet room to the Marriott convention center, where I find Mark behind the Iowa Open registration desk. I give him a nod. “How many?” I ask. “235 and counting,” Mark says with a smile. Mark has put in the work. In the past few months, he’s distributed


fliers, sent out mass e-mails, even traveled to out-of-state tourna ments to promote the 61st edition of Iowa’s most prestigious chess tournament. It’s a well-deserved two-thirty-five and counting. I turn into the playing hall, a giant ware house- like room with well-


spaced chess tables leading back to a roped off area for the top five boards with black curtains behind them. It’s massive and grand, a spectacular


“Is it?”


37. hxg4 Qe7 38. Qd3 Qe6 39. Qe2 Kf8 40. g3 Ke7 41. Kg2 R8c7 42. R1c2 Qc8 43. f3 Qe6 44. Qd3 Rc8 45. Rc1 Kf6 46. R3c2 Ke7 47. Rc3 g6 48. Qe3 g5 49. R1c2 Kf6 50. Rc1 Kg6


If I hadn’t wanted to stop looking at the


game previously, this was roughly the point where I wanted to shut Gopal’s laptop, toss it back over to him and request politely that he never recommend such a boring course of study again. But, somehow there was a decisive result coming. “A real will to win.”


51. Qd3 h5 Hm, I thought, supporting the pawn


break with his king. Ok. Humorous, but still how can Black win?


52. gxh5+ Kxh5 53. g4+ Kg6 54. b5 But now there is never c5.


54. ... Rc5 55. Rd1 Rd8 56. Rd2 Kg7 57. Qe3 Qh6 58. Qg1 Rh8 59. Kf2 Qe6 60. Rd5 Ra8 61. Qd1 Qh6


venue. I feel far away from the 2008 Mind Challenge, stuffed deep into the back corner room on the second floor of the Iowa Student Union. When I nearly hit my rating floor in 2013 I was so upset that at the


very next opportunity, drove two hours to play in two back-to-back events, a Game/60 and Game/45 at the ChessIQ center in Skokie. I wasn’t improving, just treading water and gasping at rating points. But I felt I had to prove something, most of all to myself. Not that I


“had it.” Not that I was better than my rating or performance indicated. Nothing of the sort. Somehow, I had to know that my desire to play still existed. This is another struggle entirely. In America, quality open events are very hard to come by, especially outside of large population centers. To really improve, one has to have not only desire but also resources, and one has to understand that a desire to improve requires expenditure of resources. For me, it was a logical crisis. Were the returns valuable enough? Was the opportu nity cost too high? What, ultimately, would it take to reach the next level, and did I want to sacrifice for it? It seemed like in that entire line of ques tioning there were too many “nos” as responses. Maybe, this is why tournaments and mid-population states ultimately


suffer. At some point, everyone must face their own motivation. At some point, everyone must face themselves. In many senses, in fact perhaps almost every, chess is a struggle with the self. And while I made no improvements to my play during the summer


of 2013, one thing I did learn is that I did not want to end my relationship with chess. Whatever the result, a complete severance was not my intention. And so there was only one other choice. “The secret is not to stop.” Since April, this has been the mantra that runs through my head


before the tournament, during the tournament, and after. “The secret is not to stop.” I have been working my way through The Land of Milk and Uncle Honey one story at a time, moving towards the handwritten note I know is coming in the book’s back cover.


A move which may seem risky but in fact is


not. White’s extra material on the kingside will be a target for Black’s heavy pieces and moreover he will have to solve concrete defensive problems while low on time.


53. Nxc5 Qxc5 54. fxg4 Another option was to sit tight with 54. Rf1.


Open lines is what Black wants, so it would be worth analyzing what happens when White doesn’t oblige: 54. ... Rg8 55. Qd3 gxf3 56. Rxf3 Rxf5 57. exf5 e4 with favorable complications to Black—58. Re2 Qe5.


54. ... hxg4 55. Bxg4 Rh4 56. Bf3? Now White is in serious danger. 56. Bf5! would


prevent the b7-bishop from entering the game on c8. Perhaps White feared 56. ... f3, but 57. Kh2 should hold.


56. ... Rg6 57. Qd3 Bc6


(see diagram next column) More timely is 57. ... Bc8!


58. Qe2 Overprotecting h3 with 58. Qf1 was objectively


safer. 58. ... Rhh6?!


Black again missed the chance to concretely


strike with 58. ... Bd7. With the modern 30/90 time control, it’s hard to remain accurate in permanent time trouble.


59. Qf2 Qxf2 60. Rxf2 Rg3 61. Kh2? White should play 61. c5!


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