When my friend Mike Dickman told me that he had entered the National Open chess tournament this year, I figured he’d be traveling to someplace big and cosmopolitan like New York to participate.
“No,” he said. “It’s at the South Point.”
The South Point? The casino that’s practically in my own backyard? The one that always smells like horses?
Yes, that was the one. Although the South Point is best known for its equestrian arena and cowboy ambience, it has meeting rooms suitable for events other than calf roping. On Thursday, June 4, chess players from as far away as Mongolia and as nearby as Henderson began gathering for the 44th annual National Open Tournament and the International Chess Festival.
Before the weekend was over, more than 670 players ages 7 to 92 had competed for $77,000 in prizes. In addition, more than 280 children had competed in the concurrent World Open for Boys and Girls tournament organized by Grandmaster Susan Polgar, a Hungarian-born chess champion who now directs a Chess Institute at Texas Tech University.
As I learned more about competitive chess and the people who play, I discovered that the National Open is not a newcomer to Las Vegas. In fact, it’s been held here since the early 1980s, when tournament director Fred Gruenberg first got the green light from the United States Chess Federation to bring the tournament to the Strip.
…“We credit Freddie with putting the fun back in chess,” Losoff said. “That’s going to continue. We want people to feel like they’re stars when they come to the National Open.” He went on to say that everyone enjoyed the South Point. “They’ve treated us well, the food is good, and the service is great,” he said. The South Point is a good venue for families, too, he pointed out – and that’s important because so many children participate. In addition to bowling alleys and movie theaters, kids were enjoying the free rodeo events going on in the equestrian arena.
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