Greg Nowak's not sure what proved more exhausting—the 38-hour, 1,800-mile roundtrip Greyhound bus ride to Cheyenne, Wyo., or the chess tournament he won while he was there.
But even though the $92 purse didn't come close to covering his $238 bus ticket, he says it was well worth it, because Nowak can now call himself the tri-state chess champion.
Nowak, a Missoula chess legend known as "The Octopus" for playing multiple games simultaneously, won the Wyoming Open in late May at Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, beating out 22 other top-notch competitors from surrounding states.
"I went down as a combination tourist and chess conqueror," says Nowak, 61. "I wanted just to see how many states I can win in the year 2009, money permitting...It's nice to have three straight titles at one time."
Nowak won the Idaho Open Chess Championship in April, and in the 18 years he's lived in Montana, he's won the state championship 12 times, including the most recent. Now he's eyeing tournaments in the Dakotas to expand his tentacular reach.
But Nowak's tri-state title doesn't rank atop his list of accomplishments. As a junior in high school in Milwaukee, Wisc., he played international chess icon Bobby Fisher to a draw.
In Cheyenne, he didn't face quite the same competition, but he did go head-to-head against one of the higher rated players in the West. Nowak beat Colorado's Jeffrey Csima, who boasts a United States Chess Federation (USCF) rating of 2068, which classifies him as "Expert."
"He was my strongest opponent," Nowak says.
The top-rated chess player in Montana, Nowak's rating stands at 2129—the only 2000-plus rating in the state. The top player in the country, Gata Kamsky of New York, rates at 2797, making him a "Senior Master."
But Nowak says his rating could be even higher than it is.
"The trouble in Montana is that all the experts from whom I used to get all of my rating points, they all either moved away or are dead," he says. "There's no one left to beat."