Winter Open Celebrates 25th Year

Tim JustThis January Illinois chess players will compete at the 25th edition of the Tim Just Winter Open Tournament. In honor of the occasion, ICA caught up with Tim Just and asked for some reminiscences. A lot has happened to the Winter Open, and a lot has happened for Tim Just, who is now a USCF National TD, and was editor of the fifth edition of U. S. Chess Federation’s Official Rules of Chess.

ICA: How has the Winter Open evolved in 25 years?  

Tim Just: It started out at the Lakehurst Mall, then moved to The College of Lake County, and now resides in a popular chess hotel, the Doubletree in Oakbrook. We have gone from pairing cards, snail mail entries, snail mail tournament reports that took months to rate, analog clocks, hand prepared wall charts/signs/pairing sheets to computer pairings, on-line event rating reports, Credit Card entries, and digital delay/increment clocks.

There are a lot more scholastic players. Due to the hotel move we had to increase the entry fee and prizes. I wanted to give the diehard chess fan a smaller, more affordable event with the same level of service as the mega Swisses but an event that still had the club feel to it. The original event was organized by myself and Kevin Bachler. Kevin was my first TD trainer. Now Wayne Clark and I organize and direct the event. I trained Wayne and together we try to train others. Over the years in chess I have had the opportunity to work with and learn from the giants of directing and organizing: Helen Warren, Fred Gruenberg, Walter Brown, and Dick Verber.  

ICA: Tell us about a memorable game.

Tim Just: The very first Winter Open at Lakehurst Mall in Waukegan saw Kevin Bachler and Expert Cliff Wallach (older brother of NM Ken Wallach) essay a game where about half the pieces on the board were hanging. Neither player could seem to make a move without trying to sac something!

ICA: Have you had any amusing or unusual things happen at a tournament?

Tim Just: One of the security guards at the College of Lake County insisted I turn over the name and address of one of the players. He suspected the player of planting a bomb, because he had seen the player looking through some boxes two floors above us. (The player actually planned to use the discarded boxes for moving.) I asked the guard what he intended to do with the info. The guard planned to file the info away in a file cabinet in his office near the site of all those boxes. I couldn't help but think storing the name/contact info of a suspect near where the bomb may go off seemed a bit impractical.

ICA: Have you had any long-term participants? Have you watched particular players develop over the years?

Tim Just: Without doing research I recall Adam Lief (now a Master), Ken Wallach (Master), and Josh Riddell (Expert). I still remember them as kids who grew stronger with each passing event and each passing year until they were tough opponents. There are also a handful of players that have played in almost all of the events.

ICA: How have you changed as a director, organizer and player since you started running the Winter Open?

Tim Just: When I first started I could not imagine being able to deal with more than 50 players. Since then I have been the chief of events with over 1000 players. Heck, some sections of events, where I was the section chief, had more than 50 players. I also quickly learned the math of being an organizer. There are fixed costs to running tournaments (site, score sheets, rating fees, advertising, prizes...) no matter how many players show up. That is the risk organizers take for every event. I also like the mega Swisses I direct at around the country. I get to work and then stay over (or come early) to do some sightseeing. The biggest difference I see between a Club TD and an NTD is that the NTD has a huge backlog of problem-solving techniques due to their experience. How you apply the rules is just as important as knowing the rules.

Why do I direct/organize instead of play? I like to say that as a player I would make 5 people happy by being their opponent at a tournament; however, I make many times that many players happy by directing/organizing tournaments.

Chess has been very, very good to me. I hope I have been half as good to her. I have made lifelong friends and improved as a person simply because I got involved in chess.

Here is one of my typical games at our College of Lake County Chess Club against one of my favorite opponents. I am not sure who has the better lifetime score against the other; however, our games were always a lot of fun. Oddly neither the opponent, I, nor the club is currently active. I have been lucky to see some of my Blackmar-Diemer Gambit (BDG) games published as variations to the main line in Reverend Tim Sawyer's BDG books; however, those were mostly postal games. I have come to like postal a lot more than over-the-board play. Why? Well, in OTB play I come up with an idea that is just bad and play it anyway thinking it is good. In postal I can take my time to "see" that my idea was way off base and I am then forced to make a good move instead.