It is the time of year when a chess player begins to consider tournaments he would like to attend next year. I was surprised, and elated, to learn the 2010 US Masters will be returning to Hendersonville, NC! I would like EVERY chess player to give strong consideration to attending this tournament! I say every player because there will also be a tournament for 'sub-masters', those who do not qualify for the US Masters proper, and also a 'sub-sub-masters' for the triple digit set! This will make it a real 'Chess Festival'! You can read the particulars here:
If you cannot make it to play in the tournament, I urge you to consider a trip to the mountains as a spectator. You will enjoy 'rubbing shoulders' with the Masters, and I'm sure you will enjoy the visit!
I happened to live in Hendersonville when two previous US Masters, 2006 & 2007, were held in this beautiful mountain city. Both tournaments were exceptional events. I attended as a spectator and heard absolutely no derogatory comments concerning either tournament. As a spectator, I was able to talk with many players, particularly recalling a conversation with Victors Pupols, who came all the way from the Great Northwest. He said he did not care for large cities, and loved the mountains, so Hendersonville was the place to be!
The tournament will be held in the same hotel, the Quality Inn and Suites on Four Seasons Blvd, which has an indoor pool, and a putt-putt range. I recall FM 'Big Head' Todd (The Monster) Andrews and the tournament winner, GM Jaan Ehlvest enjoying some putt-putting after agreeing to a draw in the final round of the 2007 event.
Unlike the massive tournaments, there is no 'crush' before the round, with players elbowing each other, trying to get a view of the pairing board. This is a more intimate tournament, and a more enjoyable one, too!
There are many restaurants nearby, and for those who like to stretch their legs, some are within walking distance. I recall a Golden Corral on Chimney Rock Rd, my friend NM Neal (Ol' Swindler) Harris and I used to frequent, with him usually buying! Before I'm accused of disparaging my friend, the 'Ol' Swindler' stems from the Legendary Georgia Ironman, Tim Brookshear. After he lost to Neal for the second time, in the same line, I mentioned that maybe he should've looked at the line before playing it again. "I know, Bacon, but that Neal...he's just an Ol' Swindler!" I mentioned it to Neal later, and he laughed out loud, going on to tell me it did not bother him in the least. He's that kind of guy! And yes, the Ol' Swindler will be playing...As will the man I have called the 'Victor Korchnoi of Southern chess', SM Klaus Pohl. Knowing Klaus as I do, he would have to be dead to miss this event, and then I would not wager against him being there in spirit! I know there's a Chick-Fil-A nearby, and far too many others to recall, though I do recall with pleasure an Applebee's Neighborhood Grill & Bar, because it was the first place Neal bought my lunch!
For those who have never been to Hendersonville, I must say that one of the best features is Main Street, which will take you back in time. Walking down Main Street, one will expect to see Andy and Barney! There are many locally owned shops in Hendersonville. One of my favorites is Mountain Lore Books & More. A short walk from Main St is the Henderson County Library, at 301 N.Washington St., known for the Friends of the Library bookstore spread over three weekends in September. Booklovers come from many different states for this event. The Friends even have their own warehouse, and the proceeds help to make their library one of the best in the state. For those who would like to celebrate a victory, or maybe drown their sorrows after a tough loss, Hannah Flanagan's stays open late. It's the local 'watering hole', a place where one may fine himself sitting between the mayor and the owner of the local tatoo parlor. The Black Rose Public House, also on Main St, is a little more 'upscale'.
No trip to Atlanta is complete without visiting the Varsity. In Hendersonville, the same could be said about Hot Dog World, just off Main St. For seafood, the Bay Breeze Seafood Restaurant on Asheville Hwy was one of my favorite eating establishments. Although there are many coffee shops, the Black Bear Coffee Co on Main St is the most popular. I enjoyed the coffee at a shop just off Main St, the Terra Nova Cafe. The Cypress Cellar is located on Main St, and the Blue Water Seafood Company is only a short distance away from Main St. I must mention the Dixie Diner and Tooley's Cafe. There are so many, I do not have room for them all; these are just a few of my favorites. While researching restaurants for this article, I noticed one with which I am not familiar, but may have to try, the Crazy Lady Cafe. I had this girlfriend onetime that some of my friends called 'Crazy Debbie' behind my back. On second thought, maybe I should pass on this one!
A most popular attraction is Jump Off Rock in the neighboring city of Laurel Park. According to a 300 year old legend, a young Cherokee chieftain and the woman he loved used to meet here. He was called away to tribal wars. Returning warriors brought her news of the chieftain's death. She went to the rock, and jumped off into the 100 foot precipice. Fortunately, for the chess player doing the 'goose-egg shuffle', there is now a railing...
To get there, one simply takes 5th avenue.
Where else can one see a sign directing one to 'Bat Cave'? Also nearby is the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove, for those religious souls. Scenic Chimney Rock Park is an amazing place, it has miles of high rock hiking trails, waterfalls and wonderful scenery (Last of the Mohicans was filmed there). One can consider cruising the loop up and around Grandfather Mountain to Boone and through to the Linville Falls.
Asheville is only a short drive and it is a most beautiful city. One can take one of my favorite roads, Tunnel road, to go to the mall, with a Barnes & Noble across the street, along with a Books A Million. Downtown Asheville is an amazing place. Just walking around one finds a virtual cornucopia of sights and sounds! I recall one chess mom telling me at the state scholastic championships in Charlotte that Asheville was an "Artsy fartsy community." I liked that, for some reason. The independent bookstore, Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe is worth a visit, as is the sister store, Downtown Books & News, where I was able to procure a copy of the best chess magazine in the world, New in Chess, that is, if I could beat Jimmy Hardy to it! I also recommend the Captain's Bookshelf for used and rare tomes.
For those who have never been, I would recommend a trip the the Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa, location of the first two Land of the Sky chess tournaments, hosted by the irrepressable Wilder Wadford. Dr Karl Burger, a master who had played all over the world, once said he had never played in a more opulent venue! And then there is always the Biltmore Estate.
The tournament will be directed by Kevin Hyde, now a lieutenant colonel, who has done tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a fine man and one cannot find a better TD! His wife and children will be there to make it a family affair, ensuring everyone enjoys some down home 'Southern hospitality'. The tournament will be held in early spring, before the 'snowbirds' arrive, so the room rates are very reasonable, with chess players having run of the place. There is nothing like the cool, crisp mountain air! I was at the US Open in Fort Lauderdale (to be honest, it was called Fort Lauderdale, but it was quite a distance away), in 2004, but could not play because of a bad back. I decided to take a walk during the afternoon and was about to pass out from the August heat, so I went into a shop, to soak up some cool air. The owner took one look at me and said she could tell I was not from the area, because I would have known better than to go out in the life-threatening mid-day heat! I think about that when contemplating playing in this year's US Senior in Boca Raton...There will be none of that in Hendersonville! One can get out and explore, if one desires...
One of my most vivid memories of the aforementioned US Masters is the friendship between one of Neal's students, Josh Horwitz, and Ray Robson. The Horwitz family hosted the Robson family for the tournament, a very gracious deed, indeed! Although a thousand points separated the two youngsters, their age and common interests found them as 'fast-friends'. I like to think that friendships that could last a lifetime could emanate from a visit to the US Masters in the beautiful mountains of the great state of North Carolina.