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Awonder Liang, 10, of Madison, Wis., ponders his next move during Saturday's Okoboji Open chess tournament. Liang is the youngest U.S. chess master in history.(Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

Okoboji chess tournament attracts young and old

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news Worthington, 56187
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

OKOBOJI, Iowa -- The seventh annual Okoboji Open, the largest chess tournament in the tri-state area, took place Friday through Sunday at the Arrowwood Resort.

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The event drew a record 62 players - many of them with high rankings - including Awonder Liang, a Wisconsin native and, at 9 years old, the youngest chess master in U.S. history. Tournament director Hank Anzis said Liang's participation in the event boosted attendance and interest.

Also at the competition was international master and professional chess player and coach John Bartholomew. On Friday night, Bartholomew hosted an exhibition in which he simultaneously played 12 games of chess against 12 competitors. In an hour and a half, he defeated 11 and tied with the 12th, Sam Smith, Anzis said.

The tournament had no age limits and competitors ranged from 9 to 75 years old.

"If you're breathing, you can play," Anzis said with a laugh.

Anzis explained that each of the timed games last about four hours. The tournament was arranged according to skill level, based on each player's ranking.

After each game during chess tournaments, players gain or lose a certain number of points based on the skill of their opponent. When a player reaches 2,200 points, for example, he takes on the title of master. The rankings are recognized by many of the national and international chess associations.

One benefit of the Okoboji Open, Anzis added, is that the venue is large enough to allow for lots of room between games.

"So if they guy next to them didn't take a bath, it doesn't matter because they are 10 feet away," Anzis said with a laugh.

On Sunday afternoon, Bartholomew defeated Andrew Tang in the final round to win the first prize.

"He won his first three games, but couldn't beat Prasantha Amarasinghe and had to surrender a draw," Anzis said. "Going into the last round, he managed to win."

This was the third consecutive Okoboji Open win for Bartholomew.

Four competitors - Gokul Thangavel, Buck Finn, Louis Leonard and Dave Wangle - all tied for the reserve.

After beating a national master Saturday night, Liang lost two games on Sunday and didn't come away with any prizes. However, "he did really good, he's still the youngest and his future is bright," Anzis said.

For Anzis, chess is a game of wits with no subterfuge.

"Everything is out in the open and nothing is hidden," he said. "It's about seeing a little more or a little further than your opponent to outwit them."

Unlike poker, where a player can't see his opponent's hand, or dice, where the next roll is unknown, "there is no secret or luck to chess," Anzis said.

"Part of the allure of chess is that you can look at games played over 150 years ago and study the wins," he added.

After such intense experiences matching one's intelligence against another, Anzis said opponents often walk away from the chess board feeling closer, regardless of who won.

"After a game sharing the experience of trying to see deeply into the board and see what's going on before they do, it's hard to not leave as friends," he said.

The next chess tournament to be hosted in the area will be the Jackson Open Super Reserve, scheduled for Aug. 23-24 at the Jackson Public Library.

For more information, contact Sam Smith at (507) 847-4929 or (507) 841-2753.

Daily Globe Reporter Alyson Buschena may be reached at 376-7322.

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