The February chill was no match for the heated competition during the seventh annual Carl Dunn Memorial Chess Tournament Saturday and Sunday in Burlington.
It was a quiet setting in The Loft on Jefferson, where 30 players faced off in open and reserve contests of chess.
The competitors were mostly new to Burlington, having traveled from six area states to compete in the Iowa Chess Association international-sanctioned event.
“It’s exciting to have all these players come and celebrate chess,” said tournament director Eric Vigil of Iowa City.
Players came from Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri and were rested and ready for the 9:30 am start Saturday.
“It was a quiet weekend in February,” said Chris Nagyi, of Waseca, Minnesota, on why he braved the windy drive down to Burlington for the tournament. “My goal is not to embrace myself. I haven’t played a rated game in years, and this tournament fit my schedule.”
Once the tournament began, talking was kept to whispers as the players focused on their respective chess boards’ 64 squares and 16 pieces for each player. The games began in a flurry with moves and pieces taken off the board quickly before slowing to a deliberate pace.
Many players stood and stretched in between the long moves. They would walk around and check out the other games and size up their future competitor.
It was all about the games and the hope to score points to up their ratings. The players each have a numerical rating and the chance to play in a sanctioned tournament provides them the opportunity to add to their point total. The higher the point total, the higher the rating.
Aradh Kaur, 14, who came from Milwaukee with her 16-year-old brother, Hersh Singh, and her father, Dalip Singh, was looking forward to the games.
“I’m here hoping to get a high score,” Kaur said.
The brother and sister tandem began playing at a young age under the tutelage of their father and both are now seasoned players.
“I’m too weak for them,” Dalip Singh said of his children’s advanced skill level.
Also looking for points was CJ Elam, 17, of St. Charles, Missouri, who came with his father, Jeff Elam.
“I hope to get some rating points,” said CJ Elam. “If you win against someone you get points, if you lose you don’t get anything, obviously.”
His father also came to play. He wasn’t in the open field chasing the big prize but was in the reserve contest and looking forward to face-to-face competition.
“It’s a much more responsive experience,” Jeff Elam said of being able to play across from a player instead of online where a lot of games have been hosted due to the pandemic.
They also enjoy the travel to different sites but found it difficult during COVID-19.
“We’ve gone to Indianapolis, Des Moines, but during COVID it has been hard to find tournaments,” Jeff Elam said.
When they travel, they come with his wife and daughter and take in the sites and entertainment. They already made a stop by Snake Alley to see the historic location.
Burlington’s role in Iowa’s chess history
Chess also has had an historic connection to Burlington.
Chess in Iowa has been sanctioned since the start of the Iowa Chess Association in 1899, and Burlington has always played a role in the history.
According to Vigil, at the turn of last century, a famous two-week-long Iowa Open tournament was held in town.
“It was a gentleman’s game and could be played at the leisure of the affluent,” Vigil said of the length the tournament. “The game has changed over the years and is now more equalitarian. It crosses all socioeconomic lines and represents all walks of life.”
Thus the players in Burlington were young and old and of all walks of life, just as Carl Dunn had preached during his time as president of the Iowa Chess Association.
Vigil met Dunn at the Lee County Fair years ago and they formed a friendship.
“Dunn was an outstanding person and had a wealth of information,” Vigil said. “He helped me when I started as president of the Iowa Chess Association.”
The tournament was first known as the Port of Burlington tournament but was changed to Carl Dunn Memorial after he died in 2017.
The weekend tournament also had special guests as Dunn’s widow, Marlene, made an appearance and Timur Gareyev, a Grandmaster and one of the top 30 players in the US, also spoke to the attendees.
Gareyev is famous for his moniker, The Blindfold King. This came from when he played 48 people at the same time blindfolded in a Vegas tournament.
The play continued Sunday for the open field as the competition tightened to crown a champion.
“It’s a great event,” said Vigil. “I hope it helps spark more youth clubs in the area.”
Trevor Magnus won the open contest, defeating Grandmaster Gareyev. Former Iowa champion National Master Joseph Wan tied for second with Gareyev.