Wild West Tournament

On the weekend of July 15-17 I played in the Saratoga Resort Wild West Chess Tournament in Saratoga Wyoming. It was played at the Saratoga Resort and Spa.

It was a really great event that included

  • Simul with GM Sergey Kudrin
  • 4 Round G/90 tournament over 2 days
  • US G/15 Championship
  • Picnics and BBQs

One thing I really liked is how they incorporated the idea “Less is More”. They didn’t try to CRAM as much chess as possible into one weekend. Instead there was plenty of time to take advantage of the outdoor activities, take a nap, swim in the hot springs, hit some golf balls, or just relax in between rounds. If you wanted a full weekend of chess you could play in the side activities, or find a blitz partner. If you wanted some chess, but not an overload you could pick and choose what you wanted to do.

The hotel is very nice and quaint, with a Western theme.  I had never stayed in a place like this.  I normally stay in “Chain” hotels like Hilton, Holiday Inn, Marriott, etc.  It was kind of unusual for me when the room key, was literally a key.  There are lots of interesting decorations all over the hotel.

They have “Hot Springs” here, which I had never been in before.  They have a large hot springs pool, and several smaller ones with various different temperatures covered by a teepee.  It was very therapeutic to swim and relax in these pools!

There was a picnic on Friday night which was fun.  Only slight complaint, is that I think they underestimated the number of people, and there wasn’t an abundance of food.  I was able to get one piece of pizza by watching the table like a hawk for when there was food available.  But I am not going to complain, because I thought the idea of having a picnic was great, and very much appreciated.

Grandmaster Sergey Kudrin (photo from Saratoga Resort)

Also on Friday night was the simul with Grandmaster Sergey Kudrin.  Kudrin did a very brief question and answer before the simul.  Most of his answers were very brief and terse.  Think Ivan Draco from Rocky IV.  It was funny, because before the simul there was a rumor that Kudrin had never lost or drew in a simul before.  So my good friend Anthea Carson asked him “Have you ever lost in a simul before”.  Kudrin said quickly and loudly in his thick Siberian accent “Yes!  Of Course!” which embarrassed Anthea a little, as if she had asked a stupid question. 

It turned out what the real story was that the Grandmaster who did the simul last year (Alex Yermolinsky) won every single one of his games, with no losses or draws.

Kudrin played 19 people in the simul, and won 15 games, and drew 3, and lost one.  Josh Samuel got the win.  I was one of the people who was able to get a draw.  I basically followed my own strategy that I wrote about when playing in GM simuls.  I was sitting next to Isaac Martinez, who was able to draw also in a rather crazy uneven game.  Zack Bekkedahl from Ft. Collins also drew his game.  Below is my draw against the GM.  Both Isaac and I had 2 draws against GMs in simuls in one month, so we were happy about that!

Saturday morning was the start of the main tournament.  Beforehand the hotel offered a free continental breakfast.  One nice thing is that I literally did not spend one penny on food the entire weekend.  They had free continental breakfasts (bagels, yogurt, cereal, etc), and all of the meals were provided for the chess players and their families.  The lunches were typically sandwiches, chips, salad, and a dessert like cookies.  Saturday night there was a Barbeque with Hamburgers, Hot Dogs, Baked Beans, etc.  They even had a live band on Saturday night that was singing and playing music, just for the chess players!  There was a nice picnic area outside where you could enjoy the nice weather.

Additionally there was always free coffee, water, and even lemonade for the players available at all times.  They even gave us a coupon for a free microbrew, that they make there, which I cashed in on Saturday night, and was very tasty. 

Saturday night was the second side event, the National G/15 championship.  This was really impressive that this was a National tournament.  Lee Lahti, the organizer and tournament director, told me the story about how he was able to get this event.  It is quite an interesting story, and I am hoping to get a podcast with Lee, so that he can share it. 

The G/15 championship was a 6 round tournament.  Every event I have ever played in with fast time controls there is always confusion over the rules, and this was no exception.  People have clocks that don’t work, pieces are flying all over the place, people make illegal moves, etc.  The typical slow time control USCF rules did not apply, such as “touch move” or “illegal move”.  So for example, you can “capture the king”, which you can’t in a slow time control.  Brian Walker did an outstanding job directing this event, which is never easy.  GM Kudrin won the event with a 5.5 out of 6 score.  Game 15 seemed REALLY fast to me, and there was no time delay involved.

In the main 4 round event, some of the sections had to be merged together.  The Under 1800 section, which I played in, was pretty small, and ended up basically being a round robin, with a three way tie for first going into the last round.  The games were a lot of fun and G/90 is a nice time control, where you can get a quality game, but it is not super long.

Anthea Carson and Gary Bagstad tied for first in the U1800 section

Anthea Carson and Gary Bagstad tied for first in the U1800 section

Lee told me that the owner of the hotel is a chess player, and was the one that came up with the idea for the tournament.  So it was really nice to be at a tournament, where the owner wanted us to be there.  The hotel provided all of the space, and donated to the prize fund, so over 100% of the entry fees were returned as prizes.  The prizes were so generous, that one player received a 55 dollar class prize in the G15 tournament, even though she lost all six of her games.  The hotel had lots of chess sets, including a giant one made with hand carved pieces. Anthea Carson wrote a nice article about this giant chess set, which featured a “Cowboys and Indians” theme.

They also gave us lots of nice gifts including a Saratoga T-shirt, small tote bag, coupons for a free bucket of balls at the driving range, coupon for a free beer at the bar, and coupon for discounts at the gift shop.  We were made to feel very welcomed, and the staff was very pleasant.  Saratoga has an elevation of 6,791 feet, and it is always fun to blast golf balls in the thin air, where they fly extra far.

Dean Brown had a perfect score in the U1600 section, and picked up 100 rating points! (Photo by James Kulbacki)



There were very few drawbacks or criticisms about this tournament, and it was almost over the top how nice it was.  One obvious drawback is that this tournament is literally in the middle of nowhere.  It took me 5 hours to get there from Colorado Springs (actually more, because there was an accident on the highway), and would take about 4 hours from Denver and 3 hours from Ft. Collins.  Some of the back road routes are apparently very scenic, but I stuck to the main highways, I-25 and I-80 to get there as fast as I could.

Another slight criticism is that the event was slow to be rated.  It took about 11 days to be rated.  I am kind of spoiled though, and used to some of the Pueblo and Colorado Springs tournaments, that get rated the same day.  You can see the final results here.

Overall, I would HIGHLY recommend a trip up to Saratoga Wyoming for the Wild West tournament.  It is a great bang for the buck, and a tournament that you will never forget!  It is a great one too to bring the significant other and kids.  One chess player that I met was there because his wife wanted to go, and enjoy the spa and hiking and hot pools.  I had never heard of such a thing! 

Lee told me that the tournament will be held against next year in 2012, during the third week of July, which would be the 20-22.  I am certainly planning on going again.  This was the best chess tournament I have ever been in, and would highly recommend it to anyone.

Anthea Carson wrote several interesting Hubpage articles about the tournament as well, which give you a really good idea of what it was like:

Saratoga Wild West Chess Tournament in Wyoming

Chess Simul with Grandmaster Sergey Kudrin at Wild West Chess

Big Chess Set at Wild West Chess Tournament in Saratoga, Wyoming


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