The Maine Chess Pentathlon-a Nonfiction Essay

03.16.18 You may recall a recent post on referring to the six US Chess rated tournaments offered in Maine in a one-week period. That post hatched an idea in scholastic chess player Ben Mock: Why not play in all of them? contributor Elisabeth Fowlie Mock submitted this description of Ben's odyssey through the Maine Chess Pentathlon.

Ben Mock plays in the Fort O'Brien Chess Tournament on February 17, 2018. This was one of the five tournaments he competed in during that week.

Thanks to Elisabeth Fowlie Mock for contributing to this report

Given that it had never happened in recalled history--six rated tournaments in the state of Maine in the same week--the idea of completing a Maine chess pentathlon was an appealing challenge. It was never destined to be a sextathlon given that the fifth and sixth tournaments were held on the same day at the same time. Little did he know, he would be the only person to accomplish the feat.

The boy seemed to have a knack for chess but it wasn't really confirmed until he started playing at school in the fifth grade. He enjoyed some early successes which reinforced his interest. A few trophies didn't hurt either. It really got interesting when he realized he could win cash playing chess. With his interest peaked, he played as much as possible given the limited offerings in Maine. He started studying the game and began the first of over 15,000 online tactic problems.

The people he and his parents met in the chess world were, for the most part, amazing. The encouragement he received from adult leaders and other players was unfaltering. They learned that many of the best chess players, with their brilliant minds, were a bit quirky. It just came with the territory. They also learned that age knows no boundaries in chess. Younger children often have an advantage with their nimble, creative minds and 360 degree vision.
Now, less than three years after his first rated tournament, this thirteen year old was well ensconced in the Maine chess circuit. He had had a good day at the inaugural Fort O'Brien tournament in 2017 when the U1200 and U1600 sections were merged into the open section. Sometimes being forced beyond your comfort zone has its benefit. So he agreed he would like to make the trek some 80 miles DownEast. He received the good news/bad news combo when he arrived. He was the only entrant in the open section so the cash prize was his. However, there would be no open level games for him that day. It was soon apparent that he could potentially be the only participant in the pentathlon as all but local school children had passed on this primary event. He uncomplainingly played against the three U800 players and appropriately did not falter, even decimating his mother in the third round. On the way home he gave her a pep talk. Her one year of playing competitive chess had not yielded the results she thought would come.
Three days later they met up with a chess friend and made the 150 mile drive to Biddeford to a beautiful old school building now serving as a community center. Many higher rated chess players were in the room and despite a bobble, losing to a player with a preliminary quick chess rating 700 points lower, he managed to tie for second and at least garner a $5 share of the prize money. It was interesting to meet the gentleman from Ohio who was on an epic quest to play rated chess in every state. Maine was number 31 and before heading to Colorado, he hoped New Hampshire would be number 32. All were glad it was school vacation week when they arrived home at nearly 1 am after cutting through thick fog all the way up I-95.

Thirty-two hours later it was back on the chess circuit right in town where something about playing a lot of chess in a tight amount of time seemed to click. Although it seemed he had played his friend at least 100 times, in actuality they had only played 6 rated games. This time, it was the younger boy's turn to prevail, perhaps in thanks to the older boy's tutelage over the years. [Pretty amazing that, among other things on USCF, you can see how you have fared against all your top opponents over the years.] Later that afternoon, in the fourth event of the week, the boys reversed fortunes in their second meeting of the day. In subsequent rounds, the younger got a win and a draw of players rated 150 points higher. Alas, this day's rewards were only bragging rights for the first and second place finishes.
Another mere 36 hours brought the final event of the five, again right in town less than 10 miles from home. A first round pairing with the only player rated over 2000 was a stout way to start but wins in the final three rounds brought a share of the second place prize. All told, the week resulted in over 100 rating points and several great games, not to mention a few dollars. From Washington County, to York County, to Penobscot County, chess seemed to be thriving in Maine. And the inaugural Maine Chess Pentathlon, with its sole participant, was a harbinger of growing popularity of chess in Maine.

by Elisabeth Fowlie Mock, 3/1/18

for Benjamin Mock, the pentathlon finisher, Wyatt Hendrix, the sole player to complete four of the five events, and the TDs: Dan DeLuca, Philip Lowell, Michael Dudley and Stephen Wong

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