Helena played host to its third annual January Thaw on January 20-21 and, with 17 players participating, had the best turn-out yet. State Co-champion Jan Johansson of Emigrant led the field with a score of 4.5 to take home the
$100 first place money. This puts him back on a winning track after a disappointing showing at the Chinook Open last October.
The prize fund, beefed up with some extra cash for Grand Prix events that was secured by the Board this season, ended up being spread throughout the field. Near the top again this year was last year's co-winner Jim Skovron of Great Falls, but tied with him for second place was the surprising James Chester. James, rated 1353, had probably the best tournament of his career with four wins and only one loss. The strong showing also meant a gain of 59 rating points for the spelunker from Eureka.
Owing to the large proportion of lower rated players, tournament director Doug Hansen and tournament organizer Mel Drake decided after registration to establish a separate cash prize for the under 1500 group. That division consisted of 12 players, including three unrated and two provisionally-rated. Its $60 prize was split between two up-and-coming Helena stars, Nick Warner and Aldin Barnes. Other prize winners were Michael Long of Livingston, who took the Senior prize after just missing out on third place,and Curtis Preston of Boulder, who shocked Bob McKean in the second round with a 433 point upset win to earn the $25 biggest upset award. This also just beat out the previous best upset of the year by six points.
Players clearly liked the format of the event, with its faster time controls (Game/90) and the later starting times that went with them. Even such confirmed slow-chess fans as Bill Furdell, who started out strong with two wins the first day but faltered after that, had nothing but nice things to say about the structure of the tournament. Other organizers might want to keep Mel Drake's success with this format in mind as a way of easing the burden on our traveling players without skimping on the number of rounds. Special thanks to Doug Hansen for filling in this time as a playing TD.