Both too few and too many ...
The Paradise room wasn't as full this
year, but the boards were more crowded as a game shortage forced
Joe Burch records the score as Rich
Shipley and Holiday Saccenti calculate their odds for last chance
wood before departure.
It was another year of "trial status" for Transamerica,
which has appeared in 10 of the last 11 WBCs. Despite record
convention attendance, only 42 players appeared this year, which
was an all-time low tirmout for this event. Small changes in
the schedule can have strong ripple effects from year to year.
It seems that there is now a bit more competition for players
on Sunday morning. The number of last-minute entries of out-of-breath
players coming from 9 AM heats of Adel Verpflichtet and
Yspahan was a clue this may be the case. The "last
chance for wood" sweepstakes got a bit more crowded for
the Sunday morning crowd who had not yet hit the road home.
low turnout was actually a blessing in disguise, because if one
more player had appeared sans game, they would have been turned
away. In sharp contrast to the previous year, very few copies
of the game were on hand. It was hoped that at least eight tables
could have been seated, to facilitate a nice semifinal round,
but it became necessary to jam six players around each of seven
tables. Because tournament rules stipulate that each player will
be the start player in one round, this meant that each game ran
six rounds, and the preliminary heat ran significantly overtime
as a result.
With seven preliminary winners, it was planned that up to
seven runner-up alternates would be taken into a semifinal round.
However, with the tournament running behind schedule, and numerous
players impatiently standing around with suitcases, heat winner
Kevin Lewis decided to drop out and head to the airport. This
facilitated the decision to skip what would have been an awkward
semifinal round, and move directly to a 6-player final. Heat
winners Mike Kaltman, Alex Bove, Daniel Speyer, Jim Savarick,
Huston Johnson, and Patrick Shea were randomly seated around
the table. No alternates were needed. And unlike last year when
the finalists were 50% female, no estrogen was sighted at this
One observation taken from perusal of the preliminary rounds
was that players have become uncomfortable with starting their
networks anywhere but in the central region. This strategy became
even more apparent in the Final. The first round began with all
players placing their markers in the central "yellow"
area. Patrick's marker was one space from Kansas City, Huston's
was IN Kansas City, Alex started in Salt Lake City, Jim was in
Oklahoma City, Daniel in Omaha, and Mike's piece went into Denver.
It wasn't until the fourth round of the game, when Huston began
his network in Dallas, that this pattern was broken. Alex did
begin the last round in Seattle, but this move was borne of humor
or desperation, or both. The reasoning behind this tendency is
clear - a player who starts alone near a coast will end up doing
a lot of "heavy lifting" for the benefit of their opponents.
The winner of the game tends to be the player who gets more help
from others than the player provides.
Jim Savarick received plenty of help from his opponents. He
won the first two rounds, and in each of those rounds, one of
his cities was connected by one of his opponents. After this,
the game settled into more predictable moves. No player lost
more than three points in any round after the second. Mike Kaltman
dubbed these "the oatmeal rounds", sparking a lively
in-game debate over breakfast cereals. Although Daniel won two
of those last four rounds, he was unable to overcome Jim's fast
start and his own poor first round.
The final was played with general good humor, with the traditional
"whining phase" being indulged in by all players. This
is a great feature of the game, as players examine their cards
at the beginning of each round and bemoan the terrible luck of
the draw. Hopefully, TransAmerica will be voted back for
another "trial" next year, and these great traditions
will continue ... albeit aided by more copies of the game allowing
more entrants, faster games and a semifinal. So, when planning
the drive home next year make time for TAM on the way
out the door and bring a copy of the game.
GM Ewan McNay points out the
The simplest of the train games
makes a good juniors entry point.
Trans America Junior
There were 17 little train travellers on Tuesday morning this
year for GM Ewan McNay's Junior tournament. 11-year-old Holly
Saccenti got her week off to a good start with the first of her
four Junior event titles. Other accomplished train riders were:
2nd: Julia Carrigan, age 11
3rd: Aidan McNay, age 11
4th: Chloe Smith, age 8
5th: Jillian Smith, age 12
6th: Lucas Holmquist, age 11