Wednesday, September 10, 2014
King football has made its 2014 fall debut two weeks ago in all its varieties. The Marshalltown High School football team won their opening game 41-0 over Waterloo East which equaled their win total from 2013. That win was followed by a 45-20 loss to Newton to even their record at 1-1. The Bobcats will play 11 games this season and if they manage to finish fourth or better in their 6 team division will make the Iowa High School Football Playoffs. The loose playoff requirements provide hope to all but the worst high school football teams – the 1-11 Bobcats headed into their final game with a chance to make the playoffs if they could have just won their last game. Now that the games have begin there has been no mention of Blair Van Staauldine, the player who made national headlines when he was suspended for the first three games of the season after being pictured on social media making a 'W' with his hands.
The National Football League season started this past Thursday with the Seattle Seahawks beginning their defense of last season’s Super Bowl with a 36-16 crushing of the Green Bay Packers. The start of the season must come as a welcome relief to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell who has been in for an unaccustomed heavy dose of criticism this summer. After levying a two game suspension for Ray Rice when he was arrested for domestic violence and a video released by TMZ showed him dragging his unconscious fiancée out of an elevator, Goodell and the NFL was pilloried in the press for imposing a sentence only half the length routinely handed out to substance abusers. Goodell bowed to the pressure by publicly saying he got the suspension wrong, but when a group of US Senators sent a letter to the Commissioner with the veiled threat of congressional action, Goodell announced new penalties of a six game suspension for first time domestic abusers with a life time ban (reversible at the commissioner’s discretion) for a second offense. No sooner had the interest in this issue receded, TMZ published video from inside the elevator showing Rice dropping his fiancée with a left that would do Mike Tyson proud. This has caused the Ravens to terminate Rice’s contract and the NFL to issue a lifetime ban. Even though all criminal charges will be dismissed if he completes a ‘diversion’ program I doubt any other team will be willing to pick up Rice and the media storm that will come along with him even if the lifetime ban would ever be lifted.
If that was the NFL’s only public relations nightmare it would likely have been marked down as a successful summer in the league’s corporate offices, but the league has been hit with a new wave of lawsuits following the recent multimillion dollar settlement of the concussion lawsuit brought on by former players. This year NFL teams have been accused of illegally giving their players painkillers and narcotics from 1968 to 2008 without regard to their long-term health. No matter the outcome of the lawsuits, the continual interviews of the stars of yesteryear talking about the number of pain killing injections will be a perpetual black eye for the NFL for the entire season.
The NFL’s other perpetual black eye is the public outrage over the Washington Redskin’s team nickname, which is being seen as offensive by more and more people with momentum growing in the calls the team to change its name. In May Redskin owner Dan Snyder vowed to ‘never’ change the name of his team and has resisted all pressure and threats to make him do otherwise. Snyder has proven to be an exceptionally poor owner with only three playoff teams and eight head coaches in his 16 years at the Redskin helm. But Snyder is an exceptional businessman ironically making his billions in the advertising field and increased Redskins’ revenue by luring big name advertisers like Coke, Budweiser, and the $207 million dollars paid by Federal Express to rename ‘Redskins Stadium’ as ‘FedEx Field’. With many media outlets refusing to use the ‘Redskin’ name, increasing boycotts of his team and sponsors, and a 35% decrease in the sales of Redskin merchandise, I expect Snyder will soon put some of his millions to work by paying a public relations firm to come up with a new name and logo for his team so he can get rid of his bad publicity and cash in on the merchandise dollars his new logo will bring him.
In Iowa the NFL is popular and every town loves their high school team but around these parts the college football Iowa Hawkeyes and Iowa State Cyclones ARE football. While a few of the bankers that are Chicago Bears fans took some ribbing because of the team’s home loss to the lowly Buffalo Bills on opening weekend, everyone was discussing Saturday’s Hawkeye comeback and the instant replay snafu that seemed to give the Cyclone’s opponent a touchdown late in the first half. The conversations were all civil but the passion heated up as Cyclone and Hawkeye fans compared opinions on who would win this weekend’s annual contest between the two teams.
When I set up my monthly youth chess tournament for this Saturday, I was warned that this was the weekend of the BIG Iowa – Iowa State football game. I’ve scheduled a tournament for this date in the past and while there is only a small impact on attendance there are plenty of parents in the parking lot listening to the game on the radio and updating the rest of us after each score, fumble, interception, or if the coach sneezes or a quarterback walks back to the huddle with a limp. The Friday before the game has been a de-facto company holiday at all my jobs in Iowa for the past 20 years, with cookouts and pot lucks and employees encouraged to wear their team’s colors as if we were street thugs that had to decide what gang we were going to be part of.
Both teams have been less than impressive in the early part of the season although their results have been as different as they can be. In the first week of the season both teams took on opponents from the ‘minor league’ FCS. The Cyclones hosted the top ranked FCS team the North Dakota State Bisons and took a 14-0 lead before allowing the Bisons to score the next 34 points on their way to a 34-14 Cyclone loss. The Hawkeyes played the 12th ranked FCS University of Northern Iowa. The Hawkeyes fell behind 10-7 in the first half but retook the lead by half time and held on for a 31-23 victory. What is the difference between the major league FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) and the minor league FCS (Football Championship Subdivision)? FBS teams like Iowa and Iowa State are allowed to give out 85 scholarships for football while the FCS schools are limited to 63 scholarships. FBS schools also share in the lucrative college bowls and the upcoming playoff revenue and the members of the FBS power conferences (like Iowa State of the Big 12 and Iowa in of the Big 10) collect millions of additional dollars from their conferences TV networks. Just compare their athletic budgets. North Dakota State has an athletic budget of $15 million, Iowa State $60 million, The University of Iowa $84 million, and the University of Northern Iowa $13 million. Yet even with these advantages low- level FBS schools like Iowa State regularly lose to their FCS little brothers and mid-level FBS schools like Iowa have great difficulty defeating the minor leagues of college football.
Last week, Iowa took on mid-level FBS school Ball State in Iowa City while Iowa State hosted Big 12 conference rival Kansas State. Ball State has been on a roll over the last two years winning nine games in 2012 (losing to the University of Central Florida in the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl) and ten games in 2013 (losing to Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl). Ball State played a fine game against the Hawkeyes and led by 10 points with three minutes left before surrendering two touchdowns within 30 seconds to lose 17-13. Hawkeye fans were relieved at the win and pessimistic for the rest of the season after two narrow wins against teams that they judge to be decidedly inferior.
The Kansas State Wildcats have all the advantages of being in a power conference that the Iowa State Cyclones have along with the same disadvantages of being in a sparsely populated state with little local football talent to draw from and limited local radio and TV possibilities. But while the Cyclones have won more games than they’ve lost three times in the past twenty years, the Wildcats have had 13 winning seasons over the same span including nine seasons of ten wins or more (the Cyclones have never won ten in a season). The Cyclones started fast and led 28-13 with a minute to go in the first half but allowed Kansas State to score the last 19 points of the game to lose 32-28.
Cyclone fans have already begun their annual litany of excuses for their two losses in what looks like another disastrous season: an iffy call against Kansas State, their starting center being injured early in the North Dakota State game, the misfortune of having the FCS champion Bisons on their schedule instead of a creampuff team, no easy games in the tough Big 12 conference, etc…, etc…,etc… From an outsider’s view point I see head coach Paul Rhoads has had the following won loss record over the past five years : 7-6, 6-7, 6-7, 5-7, and 3-9 (here is the complete list) and see something is obviously missing in the area of recruiting, game management, game planning, leadership or some combination of these. The Cyclones have pulled some huge upsets under Rhoads' tenure – they beat Nebraska and Texas on the road and defeated a #2 ranked Oklahoma State team in a nationally televised game a few years back – but have never been able to establish themselves as even a middle of the road team in their own conference. The upsets and Rhoads fiery post game speeches after them have gained him far more national notoriety than his team’s records warrant and gained him the long term support of the fans and athletic department - all I see is a team that every other team looks forward to playing and a fan base that accepts playing just good enough to lose.
The Cyclones will bring their 0-2 record to Iowa City to play the 2-0 Hawkeyes this weekend which will culminate another week of workplace dress-up, tailgating, and smack talk. While the Hawkeyes haven’t played especially well they have played well enough to win which is a quality I always find more impressive than playing well enough to lose like the Cyclones. Whenever I point out the Cyclones’ shortcomings they always seem to pull off one of their signature upsets and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them win this week but I’m not counting on it. What I am counting on is hearing plenty of talk about the game at work next Monday.
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Joel Katz with breakfast at the Jackson, MN. Econo Lodge. Make sure to get there early before the sausage and egg patties get 'handled'!
While Joel’s sandwich was heating up, I spooned out a bowl of watermelon to go with some toast, a hard-boiled egg, coffee, and orange juice. Joel’s sandwich finished heating and we had our breakfast while watching the morning news. A lady then came into the breakfast room with two small children. One of the children got on his tiptoes and pulled out handfuls of sausage and egg patties from the refrigerator WITH HIS BARE HANDS and piled them on his plate. The lady was filling three cups with orange juice and then noticed all the patties on her son’s plate. She told him to put some of the food back so he stacked up the patties WITH HIS BARE HANDS and put them back on the platter in the refrigerator. I was happy the watermelon was on the top shelf and that we had gotten to the breakfast room ahead of this grabby young man.
No sooner had the refrigerator door closed than the lady picked up the three cups of orange juice and one of them exploded, splashing orange juice all over herself, the counter, and the floor. Her children started laughing and she started yelling at them to be quiet. She left for a few moments and came back with the night clerk while the children were stomping in the orange juice puddles. The night clerk brought a pile of towels and started cleaning up the orange juice mess. The lady must have seen me staring at this spectacle because she engaged Joel and I in a conversation. She told us that the room she checked into last night had a leak in the roof and water was ‘pouring in the room’ so they moved her to a different room and when she woke up there were two inches of water in the bathroom and now this with the orange juice. She asked what we thought of that. I thought of taking the optimistic view and saying perhaps all that water kept her child's hands sanitary enough to avoid getting every Econo Lodge guest that made themselves a breakfast sandwich sick. Instead I took the practical view and said “It sounds to me like you’re a jinx, ma’m”. She muttered something I couldn’t quite make out, grabbed her children, and left Joel and I to finish our breakfast. I liked the Econo Lodge a lot better than this lady did – there were no leaks in my room, no standing water in the bathroom, my orange juice stayed in the cup, and the room was clean and quiet. The only suggestion I have is to have a worker in the breakfast room to make sure that the guest’s children keep their grubby hands off of the sausage and egg patties.
After breakfast, Joel and I checked out and headed the two miles to the Jackson Senior Center to join the rest of the players. Sam was waiting for any non-registered players to arrive and hadn’t finalized the pairings but when he greeted us he looked me in the eye with a grin and said “It’s you and me.” I played Sam in the 2012 Jackson Open (you can read about it here) and after getting pushed around for most of the game I found a game winning smothered mate when Sam made a rare defensive move. I was due to have the White pieces and remembered how I didn’t let Sam play his favorite Budapest Gambit defense two years ago. Sam used this defense to hold IM John Bartholomew to a draw at his 2013 Okoboji Open simultaneous exhibition and I made a mental note to not let him play it against me this year either. A little after nine Sam made the final pairings and we were still paired so I cracked open an AMP Focus Energy drink and we sat down for our game.
Sam used 85 of his 90 minutes while I used a little over 60. I don’t mind defending cramped positions but this was ridiculous. Except for trading off Sam’s pieces, I never put a piece past my third rank until the 23th move of the game. I played far too passively in the beginning of the game and let Sam push me around far too much. Sam sacrificed a piece to push me around in 2012 but this year I let him do it for free. I was very lucky not to lose the game and even luckier to win it.
Even though my strategic play was highly suspect, I managed to avoid any overt tactical mistakes and found myself one of five players with 2-0 scores at the halfway point. The other four perfect scores were held by the top two seeds Dan Voje and Eric Bell, fellow 1600 player Mike Heinisch, and Riaz Khan who had scored a 300 point upset of the third seed Vince Wisnewski. While most of the other players went to have lunch, I ate a couple of apples, had a chat with Dan Voje and Rochester player Tom Brinkmann, and took a 30 minute nap in the courtyard between the Senior Center and Library. I woke up a few minutes before one, checked the pairings and saw that I was going to play top seed Dan Voje with the black pieces on board one. I’ve never played Dan before and couldn’t remember any of his games from the 2013 Okoboji or Jackson tournaments. As I cracked open my second AMP Focus Energy drink of the day I reminded myself to try to be more aggressive in this game than I was against Sam in the morning game.
With the 4th and final round starting just a few minutes after this disaster I was sorely tempted to take the last round off and head home early. And I would have except that my goal coming into the weekend wasn’t to go 3-0 or win the tournament or beat Dan Voje or not meltdown – my goal was to play all four games and that goal was well within reach. Thanks to my great breakfast at the Econo Lodge, my Amp Focus Energy, and the apples I’d been eating all day I didn’t feel tired at all so I went over to the Senior Center, relaxed, and waited for the last few games to finish.
A little before 4:30, Riaz Khan came up to me and told me how he had been reading my blog and that I was way off base in my comments about the U.S. Soccer team (you can read them here). He offered his opinion that the U.S. had a very respectable World Cup and I reiterated my opinion that a country of 330 million people should consider a tie against Portugal (11 million people), a win against Ghana (24 million people), and a close loss to Belgium (11 million people) a pathetic result and not a respectable one. Riaz asked me how my game against Sam’s Budapest Defense went and I told him how I didn’t let Sam play it against me. And then Riaz told me that we were going to be playing in the last round. I checked the pairings and sure enough I was going to have White against Riaz with the winner having at least a share of 3rd place money and possibly 2nd place cash.
Riaz is a one of those people who makes a tournament special just by his presence. He has a great sense of humor and a friendly, encouraging demeanor. He is also a tireless advocate of the Okoboji and Jackson Opens to the Minneapolis chess players. I’ve written about Riaz plenty (Here is an example) but never played against him in a tournament before. He proved to be psychologically prepared for our match up. When I pulled out my iPod to take a picture of Riaz for my blog, Riaz wheeled out his smart phone and started taking pictures of me! Then when the game started Riaz played the same Budapest Defense I tried so hard to avoid against Sam!
After the game, I hung out with Riaz in the courtyard, played blitz with the Marks children, and waited for the final games to finish. Eric Bell beat Dan to win his third straight Jackson Open and the $300 first prize while Dan, Eddie Wasserman, and Chet Marks (the patriarch of the Marks family) shared second and third and each taking home over $100 which I could have shared if I had won either of my last two games. Dan and I helped Sam calculate the prizes and I helped Sam get the tournament rated. Then Sam, Joe, Riaz, Eddie, and I headed to the local Pizza Ranch for a quick meal. And after that I was on my way to Marshalltown 29 hours after arriving in Jackson.
Eric Bell, Chet Marks, and Dan Voje were among the prize winners. For the third straight year I didn't make that list, but there's always 2015...
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
I had the week off from work before the tournament so I could beagle-sit while Kathy and Ben drove to Idaho to get Ben settled at college. I spent some of my time off reading the posts of my last two Jackson Opens. Each player has 90 minutes for their move and each game can take up to three hours. Both years I was so exhausted after three games that I begged off from playing in the last round and took a nap instead before heading home. This year I didn't want to write about how I got so tired I begged out of the last round so my goal heading into this year’s tournament was to play all four games no matter how tired I got.
Since I had such great success at the Iowa State Fair Speed Chess tournament using AMP Focus Energy drinks for my energy and hydration needs I planned to take some with me to Jackson. I was in Marshalltown for the week and couldn’t get to the Hawkeye Pantry in the Des Moines Skywalk (my preferred AMP Focus Energy dealer) so I planned on getting my AMP Focus Energy drinks at the Jiffy convenience store since I’ve seen them in the cooler every weekend when we take Daisy and Baxter on a walk to the Jiffy for beef stick treats. I went to the Jiffy on Tuesday but they were out of the blue Amp Focus Energy drinks (They had all the other varieties). Matt the Jiffy clerk told me they would get more on Thursday. I didn’t want to take the chance that the truck would be hijacked and shopped at the other supermarkets and convenience stores in town and found while most of the stores carried AMP energy drinks only the Kwik Star carried the AMP Focus Energy and at $2.49 each they were 50% more than the Jiffy price of three for $5.
Cody is the best convenience store clerk of all time and found a case AMP Focus Energy for me to take to Jackson. Josh gave me a sermon on 'demon energy drinks' while extolling the virtues of 'King Sugar'.
I explained my problem to Cody and he told me that there were some boxes of AMP that he hadn’t been able to stock yet in the back of the store. I went to the back of the store and there it was – a CASE of AMP Focus Energy. I scooped up the case, paid Cody $22 for the 12 cans, and I was set for the weekend. While I was paying this meth head girl that was just hanging out in the store asked me if that stuff really worked. I told her it helped me win the State Fair Speed Chess tournament the week before. She was suitably impressed by my championship and much more impressed by the $22 I pulled out of my wallet. The meth head girl started to ask me if I had a dollar or two to spare when the guy in back of me said that energy drinks were no good for me and that they didn’t work anyway. I asked the guy what his name was. He said Josh and I said ‘Hey Josh, get off my cloud’ which made Cody and the meth head girl laugh. Josh turned a little red and told us with more insistence how energy drinks were awful for us and that they didn’t work anyway. I noticed that Josh was holding two giant cans of ice tea and was either severely overweight or shoplifting a beer keg under his shirt so I asked Josh if he knew how much sugar he had in his two cans of ice tea. Josh looked at the cans and read aloud that one can had 19 grams of sugar and the other 30 grams. Josh did some mental arithmetic and said that there was only 51 grams of sugar in the two drinks. I looked at the cans and pointed out that each can contained three servings which meant Josh was about to pour about a third of a pound of sugar down his throat. Josh shook my hand, thanked me for pointing out how much sugar he was about to drink and told me my energy drinks would kill me if I kept it up.
With my energy and focus situation resolved, I packed my AMP Energy Focus, a bag of apples, a chessboard and clock, and a travel bag of clothes into my Chevy Spark and left for Jackson on Friday at 12:30. I only stopped at the Mason City McDonald’s for a McDouble and arrived at the Jackson EconoLodge at 4:15. I checked in and found Joel Katz already in the room. Joel lives in nearby Worthington and we arranged to share a room Friday night. Joel’s legs don’t work very well and he gets around with pole type crutches that hook around his forearms with handles for his hands to grip and propel him to where he wants to go. Joel was sitting on the edge of the bed watching a marathon about life inside a real prison in California. I took a nap and a little after six we went across the street to Burger King and then two miles down the road to the tournament sites – The Jackson Senior Center and Library.
There were familiar faces at the Senior Center waiting for the tournament to start. Two-time defending champion Eric Bell was there along with Minnesota’s premiere chess traveler Riaz Khan and Dan Voje, the famous tournament director from Minneapolis’ Chess Castle. Sam and his sister Lila were there checking in players and setting up the tournament rooms. This is the eighth year Sam has organized the tournament but 2014 was going to be his first year as the tournament director. Dan and I were willing to help if any questions came up but I didn’t come to Jackson to direct the tournament – I was there to play. There are a lot of people who can direct a tournament and play in it at the same time and I’m not one of them so Sam was for the most part on his own.
There was a father and son from Wisconsin that came on the spur of the moment and a father and four children that travelled seven hours from the southwest tip of South Dakota to play. The dad’s name was Chet Marks. He is a farmer and a pastor in a small town of 88 people and also ministers at local Indian reservations. The Marks family was friendly, well mannered, good chess players, and fit right in with the rest of the crowd at the Jackson Open.
The last of the players arrived a few minutes before 7pm, Sam made the pairings, and we all sat down to play. I was the fifth highest rated player just like the last two years. Last year all the players except one were rated over 1200 (the USCF benchmark for the non-beginner level) but this year 7 of the 22 players were rated below 1200. In 2013 I gave up a draw in the first round to Steve Heinisch who was rated 450 points below me and was the only one of the top players to not win. It led to a lot of tossing and turning that Friday night so in 2014 I was hoping to get both a first round win and a good Friday nights sleep.
My first round opponent was the oldest of Chet’s children, Sabine (pronounced Sabina) Marks. Sabine is 17 and has been playing tournament chess for the past year and a half. Sabine was rated 1075 (I’m rated 1691) but there was the possibility that she was underrated since youngsters generally get better in chess in giant leaps. Underrated or not, I believe the way to play against young players is to a) Don’t let them attack - that’s likely what they’re best at, b) Use a lot of time and try to project an attitude of infinite patience because youngsters tend to get fidgety and impatient waiting for their opponent to move, and c) be willing to try to outplay the young player in the endgame because youngsters tend to win their games with attacks and will not have the adult’s endgame experience. That strategy worked out well enough in first round of the 2012 Jackson Open when I played another teenager from South Dakota, Destiny Jorenby. Destiny gave me a whale of a game but I did manage to win in the endgame and saw no reason to change my strategy two years later. I had the black pieces and set up my board with the green and white squares and the black and white pieces instead of Sabine’s pink and white board with the neon pink and white pieces, cracked open an AMP Focus Energy drink, and we sat down to play our first game in the 2014 Jackson Open.
Except for my miscalculation at the 10th move (which I found via computer help later), I played an effective game against the younger player. I kept things simple, slowed the pace of the game, and didn’t allow any attacks. I was afraid the AMP Focus Energy I was sipping would make me jittery but I was calm and focused for the entire game. Sabine was a tricky player who would rather counterattack than defend but she moved way too fast. As soon as I thought for more than a minute she would drum her fingers or adjust the music player on her iPod. If she had taken her time after my ill-advised 10th move I would have been scrambling. I used almost 60 minutes during this game while Sabine used just 20. Sabine told me she normally played in scholastic tournaments with 30 minutes for her moves. It was a nice night so we went over the game in the courtyard between the Library and Senior Center which was the de facto 'skittles room'. The other players that were watching us go over our game were impressed by Sabine’s willingness to go for complications and take risks and told her she’ll have much better results once she takes more time.
Joel’s game finished and we headed back to the EconoLodge around 9. I was happy to have gotten through the first round with a win (unlike last year) and felt I deserved a reward. I suggested we stop at the SuperAmerica convenience store located next to the EconoLodge for a snack which was OK by Joel. Joel got a bag of Old Dutch potato chips but I couldn’t decide on a treat until I saw an unusual color beef stick dispenser at the counter. The beef sticks were the Old Trapper brand and were 2 for $1 and that was my celebratory treat. The beef sticks were skinny but very meaty and had a smoky taste. They would be good treats for Daisy and Baxter if they ever find their way to the SuperAmerica convenience store in Jackson, Minnesota. Joel and I got back to the room and we broke out a Coke for me and a Mountain Dew for Joel from my soft drink stash and watched the reality prison show marathon until I fell asleep around 10:30 with the prospect of a full Saturday of chess ahead.
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
At the Hawkeye Pantry in the Des Moines Skywalk I selected AMP Energy Focus for my Iowa State Fair energy and hydration needs. Caffeine, Choline, Theanine, Guarine, Taurine, Nicotine, Chlorine, and Mr. Clean. Everything a body needs and many things it doesn't...
I wrote last week how poorly I played against Christine Denison in a two game match the Saturday before the Fair. I didn’t consider that a harbinger of bad tidings for the State Fair tournament. Christine played smart, practical, enterprising chess and showed me exactly what I needed to do on and off the board to get my head right for the State Fair in a way that wouldn’t have been possible if I’d managed to wriggle off the hook in our games and swindle my way into draws or wins.
I prepared for the tournament by doing 100+ puzzles a day from my amazing iPod’s Chessimo app and got some serious speed chess training when my former chess traveling partner Jaleb Jay spent the summer off from college in Marshalltown. Jaleb came to our Thursday chess club meetings and each week we played four to six games at five minutes per side (the same time limit as the fair). Jaleb is a great five minute player and competing with him weekly made me step up my game. More importantly it helped me internalize the rhythm of a five minute game. Rhythm is an essential part of speed chess, subconsciously keeping the player from getting into time trouble or moving too fast while leaving the conscious mind free to find the best moves possible.
On the day of the tournament I went to work like always and started to get a little tired at 2pm. Last year I brought a Mountain Dew/Rooster Booster mixed soda from a Quik Trip to supply my energy needs. This year I was stationed downtown without a nearby Quik Trip so I took a ‘Skywalk’ over the downtown streets to the Hawkeye Pantry and surveyed their energy drink selection. I settled on two ‘AMP Focus’ drinks for $3 and waited in line behind a group of people from the nearby apartments getting their mid-afternoon supply of beer, liquor, cigarettes, and the occasional gallon of milk. I sipped some of the first ‘AMP Focus’ and feeling much more alert left work at 4:30 and headed to the fairgrounds.
Traffic was light. At 4:45 I paid my $10 to park and had to decide whether to pay $11 to enter the fairgrounds immediately or wait until 5 o’clock and pay only $6. I didn’t want to hang around outside the fair so I paid my $11 and went right in. I used the fifteen minutes taking pictures of the food vendors and soon arrived at the tournament site – the porch of the administration building. The scholastic chess tournament was still going on and I chatted with Drake and his parents Heather and Jason. Drake attends my youth tournaments and won a blue ribbon for the second straight year. I congratulated him and mentioned it was a good omen since I failed to win a blue ribbon for ten years until Drake won one last year. Then I saw my wife Kathy and sons Matt and Ben. They had come to the fair from Marshalltown but not to play chess – they had been to the fair for the day and were going to leave after watching some chess. In 2006 Ben won the State Fair speed chess tournament at the age of 10 which I believe to be a record and Matt would have been one of the stronger players there so while they are family I wasn’t unhappy to see them leave without playing.
Among the people that were planning to play was my State Fair arch-rival David Skaar – a multiple time champion who I have a wild battle with almost every year. We exchanged greetings and I surprised David with a present - a copy of ‘The Chess Journalist’ magazine containing a picture of us pretending to trade punches. The picture was taken at the 2012 tournament and accompanied an article I wrote about boxing metaphors for chess. When the magazine was published, TCJ editor Mark Taylor sent me an extra copy to give to David, who was thrilled to receive it.
On the left is 2006 State Fair champ Ben Anzis. In the center David Skaar and I pose with our 2012 state fair picture from 'The Chess Journalist' magazine (You can read the accompanying article on page 12 by clicking here) while on the right Joe Meyer and Cub Noble warm up for this years slugfest and try to get in next year's magazine!
While Bob and I talked about that game from almost a decade ago, Tim was helping long time Des Moines chess legend and State Fair tournament director Ben Munson set up the tournament format for the 15 players. Ben was planning on setting up four pools with the winners of each pool making up the field for a final tournament to decide the prize winners. Tim was helping and they asked me what I thought about the relative strengths of the players. My only thought was that Cub, David, Joe, and I should be in separate pools since we were the past champions but any decisions were OK by me. I wasn't there to hang out with my family or play speed games on the side or worry about pool play assignments. I was there to play, have a great time with the friends I get to meet at the State Fair and maybe one or two other times a year, and get another blue ribbon. After a few minutes the pool assignments were up. Joe and Cub were in pools with players I’d never met while David was in a ‘group of death’ with Bob and Steve Jacobs and for the second year in a row I was in a pool of three players.
Pool play is one of the aspects of the State Fair speed chess tournament that differentiates it from every other tournament I've played in. Most chess tournaments are indoors with conditioned air, softened water, and any errant noise quickly and firmly shushed. My outdoor tournaments are under a covered shelter in Pioneer Park a hundred yards away from birthday parties and picnickers and stay fairly quiet. The State Fair tournament is played on the porch of the administration building. The porch wraps around the entire building and is used by hundreds of fair goers who pass by inches from the players. Unaware a contest of state wide importance is taking place, these passerbys think nothing of continuing their loud conversations or sitting down next to the players to take a break. Occasionally one will interrupt a game to ask a player how that 'horsey shaped piece' moves. There is a tractor pull at the nearby grandstand that emits a deafening roar whenever a tractor attempts to pull whatever tractors pull at tractor pulls. On the south side of the building is a band shell with bands, clog dancers, and as on this day, a hypnosis act (‘You are getting sleepy…sleepy…sleepy’). The twilight sun pours onto the porch leaving the players a choice of sitting with the sun blinding them or roasting their backs while considering the moves on a board that their own or opponents shadow covers in darkness.
My pool partners were two people I’d never met before named Forrest and Sam. I was scheduled to have Black against Forrest in the first game, watch Forrest and Sam play, and then have White against Sam. I waited by the pairing sheets watching for Forrest to find his name and look for me. Within a minute I heard a young college age man say ‘Who’s Hank?’ so I introduced myself and we sat down to play. Forrest is a college student from Iowa State University in Ames. Forrest isn’t part of the Ames chess scene but he proved to be an experienced player who played the Tennison Gambit against my Center Counter defense (1.e4 d5 2.Nf3 de 3.Ng5). I didn’t try to keep the offered pawn and built a strong center. We castled on opposite sides. I attacked Forrest with my pieces while he launched his pawns forward against my king. With each of us having two of our original five minutes left I disrupted Forrest’s attack by plunking a knight behind his attacking pawns, hitting his queen in the process. That flustered Forrest and he moved a piece in an attempt to trade the knight, forgetting his queen was under attack. I took the queen and Forrest resigned. I marked the score down and saw that Sam’s (the third pool player) name had been crossed out and replaced by Tim, who was none other than Tim Harder. This was unwelcome news to me. I’ve traveled with Tim to the Okoboji and Jackson Opens and enjoy his company but we’ve played blitz three times over the past three years and he’s beaten me twice. Tim beat Forrest much quicker than I did and after a couple of minutes we sat down to play to see who would advance from our pool.
My pool play partners Forrest and Tim Harder battle on the left while on the right David Skaar tries to get out of the 'Group of Death'. The shadows, sun, noise, and passerbys at the state fair chess tournament can be as much a factor as the clock, board, and pieces.
My finals partners were Joe, Cub, and Bob. Bob beat David Skaar in his pool which meant that for the first time in five years David and I would not trade blows at the State Fair. Ben put the pairings up and I had White against Joe in round one, Black against Bob in round two, and White against Cub in round three. I sat facing the sun in pool play which worked out well enough but when I tried to lure Joe into the sunlight for our finals match he suggested we play in the portion of the porch that the setting sun left covered in shadows. That was fine with me and we sat down for our game.
I’ve beaten Joe exactly once in over 15 meaningful games and I knew he was out for blood today when he played the Benko Gambit. For the second time this day I concentrated on development instead of trying to hang on to the offered pawn. I slowly expanded on the king side but Joe pinned my knight against both my queen and rook with his bishop. There were a lot of tricks to watch out for but I slowly untangled myself. My plan was to plant a knight on b5 to stop Joe’s queen side attack while I was attacking his king with everything else but every time I put my knight on b5 Joe would attack it with his bishop. I retreated my knight and he moved his bishop and I put my knight back and he attacked it with his bishop and I retreated my knight and after the third or fourth time we agreed to a draw.
Tim Mc Entee saw the draw and said that my kingside attack would have been faster than Joe’s queen side attack with or without a knight on b5. I’m sure Tim is right but I was happy to get on the scoereboard with the draw and face Bob Keating over the board for the first time in eight years.
Bob is an e4 player and I played my Center Counter defense. Bob played an early h3 pawn move. If it was anyone else I would have considered it a ‘soft-serve’ move and made a grab for the center. Instead I made an escape hatch for my queen with an early c6 move that I’ve seen International Master John Bartholomew play at the Okoboji Open a number of times. Bob had the advantage of controlling four rows of the board as opposed to my three rows and we were fighting for footholds on the no-man’s land fifth row of the board. Bob wasn’t pushing the action more than trying to maintain control over the position. After nine minutes Bob had a bishop and I had a knight and we each had six pawns, a rook, a queen, and thirty seconds left. That’s when things got weird. I had played a fine game but at this point I cracked and let Bob get a passed pawn on the a-file. While I was trying to stop his pawn from advancing I lost a pawn so I was down a pawn and soon to be down a queen. In desperation I threw my queen on the same side of the board as Bob’s king to threaten a series of checks. As I made my move I noticed that I had five seconds left to Bob’s eight. Bob considered his move but the change in the game must have disrupted his rhythm - he forgot about the time situation, his eight seconds ran off, and he ran out of time, leaving me as the winner. It wasn’t the way I would choose to win but I’ve lost plenty of games in the exact same way including a 2011 State Fair game where I had a mate in 5 but no time on the clock (there was no delay that year). As soon as the game was over Tim and Joe showed how I had a perpetual check and with a two second delay I could have gotten a draw but with a one second delay I was sure to run out of time. Bob was as gracious in defeat as he’s been the many times I’ve seen him after a victory and correctly noted that under these tournament conditions he was the rookie in the crowd and his inexperience cost him this game.
Joe beat Cub in their game and I sat down against Cub knowing a victory would assure me of at least a tie for first place. The game was a Slav Exchange just like my pool play game against Tim Harder. I had a reasonable game going but allowed Cub to get his pawns deep in my territory while I grabbed a pawn in the center. Cub got a rook and queen in my territory and I was scrambling to try to trade queens. Eventually we reached a similar situation as my game with Joe – I would push Cub’s Queen away with my knight, he would retreat his queen, I’d retreat my knight, he’d bring his queen back, I’d push his queen away with my knight, etc... I offered a Cub a draw and he accepted and as soon as we shook hands Tim Harder showed us that Cub had a devastating knight sacrifice that would have won immediately if I had accepted it. The draw left me with 2 points and gave Joe a chance to finish in first place all by himself if he could beat Bob. The game was equal with Bob having a time advantage when a typical State Fair moment arose. A food concession worker was cutting through the administration building porch with her friends when she saw the game between Bob and Joe and shouted to her friend (directly in Joe’s ear) “OH LOOK…THEY’RE PLAYING CHESS!!!” Joe’s concentration was wrecked and he lost the game a few seconds later which meant that Bob and I tied for this year’s State Fair speed chess championship.
2014 Iowa State Fair Speed Chess co-champions : Hank Anzis and Bob Keating.
What would Casey Stengel have thought of that?
After six trips to the State Fair with no blue ribbon I’ve won it two years running. I wrote last year that I’ve rarely seen anybody win a tournament without some lucky breaks and that went for me in spades this year. I could have lost to Tim Harder in pool play and not even made it to the finals. In the finals I could have lost all three games but every break went my way and I was the only player out of the 15 to be undefeated. Lucky as I was, sharing the championship with Bob wasn’t all luck. I did a lot of things to help me be successful. I brought a t-shirt and some Amp Focus to keep me comfortable, hydrated, and alert as well as doing my tactics puzzles and live game practice. Luck must still be taken advantage of and if I hadn’t been practicing or been too thirsty or hot to function properly I wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of the breaks that came my way.
Once the tournament was over, Tim Mc Entee, his friend Bryon, Bryon’s wife, Joe, and I had dinner before heading home. In the Iowa State Fair tradition I wanted something fried or on a stick or both fried and on a stick and settled on a $6 stickless fried veggie combo at the ‘Veggie-Table’ stand and for desert a $3.50 strawberry smoothie at the smoothie stand next to ‘Veggie-Table’. The smoothie really hit the spot since my Amp Focus was long gone and I was feeling very thirsty. The vegetable combo had all the grease I would expect from an Iowa State Fair food item and then some. I could barely taste any of the vegetables but after winning the blue ribbon I could have been eating mud and it would have tasted great.
After our dinner, the group split up and Joe and I walked to my car so I could give him a ride to his car (parked a mile away on a side street). On our way out we saw David Skaar heading back into the fair after taking a walk around Des Moines. We chatted for a bit and said our goodbyes for yet another year. I dropped Joe off and headed back to Marshalltown for a short but happy night of sleep before another day of work and another year until the next Iowa State Fair speed chess tournament.
Getting a blue ribbon this year was an improbable result. I was one of the oldest participants and much older than the other finalists. I wasn't close to being the best player yet I was still standing at the end. It was a surreal couple of hours. My old friend and mentor Dale Steiger had a word for this – he called it ‘serendipity’. I thought about the events of the day on the hour long drive home and came to the conclusion that my getting a blue ribbon at an Iowa State Fair speed chess tournament was no more improbable than a kid from New Jersey spending half his life getting wasted and playing in an Iowa State Fair speed chess tournament in the first place and I've been there and done that plenty. When I plugged my amazing iPod into my car and turned on the Rhapsody Music app the first song that played was a 1983 song by Yes called ‘It Can Happen’...
“It can happen to you
It can happen to me
It can happen to everyone eventually
As you happen to say
It can happen today
As it happens
It happens in every way”
...and there was no argument from me.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
In the role of coach or General Manager those four account for 39 of the 65 championships in the history of the NBA. Rose believes that players win championships but they have a much better chance of doing so on a team run by a member of his NBA Mount Rushmore. Despite Rose’s unique take on the subject my NBA Mount Rushmore would be all players that I’ve seen play: Julius Erving, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are no brainers and my fourth is LeBron James (who only recently made it to my top four). I don’t know if it’s the best four ever but I’ll take my chances.
I find it odd that Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson are joined by Teddy Roosevelt on the actual Mount Rushmore. Roosevelt doesn’t seem to fit. One hundred years after his presidency he is rarely if ever talked about and isn’t on any paper currency like his three fellow Rushmorians or Andrew Jackson or U.S. Grant. Even William McKinley and Grover Cleveland were briefly on $500 and $1000 bills (click here if you don't believe me). T.R. being on Mount Rushmore tells me that he was highly regarded when the monument was being designed in the 1920’s (only ten years after Roosevelt’s death and twenty after the end of his presidency). Who would be on a 20th century Mount Rushmore? I think it would be a real fight but the winners would be Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan. If it came to a public vote I think Bill Clinton would get the nod over Eisenhower but the current political divide would not allow anything other than a split ticket on ‘Rushmore II’. Since Teddy Roosevelt was a Republican he may be a better choice than Eisenhower. When it comes to Republican Presidents of the 20th century there are some pretty slim pickings – I haven’t noticed any groundswell to make monuments honoring Richard Nixon, Herbert Hoover, Calvin Coolidge, or Warren Harding, have you?
The idea of picking the Mount Rushmore (top four) of anything is pretty challenging. Four is a good number to choose a best of list. There's no room for slackers and some top shelf material is going to be off the list. In my NBA Mount Rushmore I could rattle off players (Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Tim Duncan, and Wilt Chamberlain for example) that would be on the top four of many other lists. I could probably do it two or three more times before I got to names that clearly shouldn’t make the top four.
I’ve donated some chess lessons to the Des Moines Animal Rescue League the past two years. The lessons have been auctioned off with a ‘cats and dogs’ chess set. Last year the parents of a promising scholastic player won the auction. There was a lot I could show him and I thought the lessons were successful. In any event, since this player was the state grade champion the year before the lessons and was the state grade champion the year after the lessons it can be safely said that I didn’t screw him up.
This year's auction was won by an older player who's about as good as I am. He had some specific ideas what he wanted to accomplish from the lessons and I asked him to send me his chess Mount Rushmore - his four best games. I did this so I could find out how he sees himself, what kind of style he plays when he is at his best, and to create a web page of his best games to review when he is in a slump to remind himself of the great games he has played. And since my student is around my age, I asked him to watch the movie ‘Rocky Balboa’ not only because it is the anthem for overage overachievers – it gives me a chance to quote Rocky and say stuff like ‘Nothing will hit harder than life! It will beat you to your knees and keep you there if you let it!’ and who could resist getting a chance to say stuff like that when given the chance!
I received four games. One game was a well played 500 point upset but the rest were not exactly what I expected – a loss, a draw, and a game where my student lost his queen early but came back to win. All the opponent’s names were ‘redacted’. My student was clearly too humble for his own good – when I need a pick me up, the last thing I need to see is a loss or a game where I lost my queen! From the games we concluded that my student liked to attack and was pretty good at it so we spent the lessons devising some more aggressive opening play and did some play testing of critical positions in the middle games that he frequently encountered. The lessons were productive and while I don’t believe they were worth the auction price my student seemed satisfied and that’s good enough for me.
I wasn’t just practicing what I preach – I made a site with my own Mount Rushmore games to show my student (and to have a ready example for future students) and it was a good thing I did after this train wreck of a game I played Saturday against Christine Denison at my monthly youth tournament.
A pathetic effort and the worst part is there was no reason to resign. I could have played Qc3 attacking the knight on e5. I would have lost a pawn but instead I lost my head. That was the second game I lost to Christine Saturday. I won a piece in our first game but instead of giving up like I did, Christine started attacking with the pieces she had left and I lost on time defending. I give the players at club a hard time when they give up too early and here I am doing the same thing and I won't be quoting Rocky any time soon. The clinical term I use for such behavior is ‘soft-serve’ as in the soft serve ice cream that pours out of a spout and quickly turns into a puddle of goo in all but the coldest weather as opposed to ‘hard’ ice cream that has to be wrenched from its container with a scoop and melts reluctantly so it can be enjoyed for a long time even on the hottest days. If I ever make a Mount Rushmore of ‘soft-serve’ this game will have a prominent spot!
After a loss like that I could use a boost of confidence so it’s as good a time as any to show off my Mount Rushmore of chess games. Game #4 on the mount was a game I played in 2003 in Cedar Rapids in the Rockwell-Collins cafeteria against Shawn Pavlik. Shawn used to live in nearby Green Mountain and would come to our Marshalltown Chess Club along with some of his students (Shawn is a math teacher). Shawn also played with Matt, Ben, and myself in couple of Iowa team tournaments. When we chatted before the game, Shawn told me went to the newly started Friday club at the Marshalltown Wal-Mart (run by a paid Wal-Mart employee with the store's blessing) and told me how bad the players were and that maybe one knew the name of a chess opening. My sons and I used to play with the guys at the Wal-Mart. I liked them and thought they were a competitive bunch of farmer types who gave my kids very challenging games and beat me more than once. When Shawn and I sat down to play in the third round we had each won and lost one game and I not only wanted to win the game for its own sake – I wanted to win one for the Wal-Mart chess players.
The #3 game on my chess Mount Rushmore was also played in Cedar Rapids in the Rockwell-Collins cafeteria, this time in 2006. I left the kids home with Kathy to play Little League baseball and went to the Cedar Rapids Open which in 2006 was a six round unrated tournament with a time control of 30 minutes a side. In the first round I lost to a player rated a thousand points below me in a game that made my effort against Christine on Saturday look like one of these Mount Rushmore games. I managed to win the next three games and found myself paired in the next to last round against Bob Keating. At this point Bob was a 2 time national correspondence champion who had been playing over the board for just two years and was an expert chess player. He is an orthopedic surgeon who has since gotten his master certificate and was the Iowa chess champion in 2011. He is also a chess writer who won a Chess Journalists of America award in 2011 for game analysis. In other words, I was going up against a chess superman! The only things I had going for me were the White pieces, Bob had rarely played in tournaments with this quick of a time limit, and since we weren't playing by 'loser gets dipped in a pit of molten lava' rules I had nothing to lose.
Game #2 on my Rushmore list was played in the third and final round of a CyChess in Ames in 2008. I hadn’t played in a tournament in a year but I won my first two games and found myself on board 1 against Gerald Hawkins with a chance to win a tournament in Iowa for the first time ever.
The #1 game on my Mount Rushmore list isn’t a big upset or a win to settle a score or a tournament winning game. It was a game I played in the third round of a tournament in Mount Vernon, Iowa in 2005 against a lower rated player who didn’t play very well at all and yet it is my all time favorite game. The USCF magazine runs a monthly guest column in which the writer goes over the game in which they played their best move and my 14th move would my ‘best move’.
So that’s my Mount Rushmore of chess. If you want to send me your Mount Rushmore games I’ll make a post of them as long as you include a paragraph about each game for entertainment purposes. The newest of my Rushmore games is over six years old. I’ve had more recent games (and games from the 1980’s) that could have been included but for one reason or another didn’t make the list. As I said at the top of the post, that's the beauty of the Mount Rushmore concept – picking four and only four will leave some great stuff on the cutting room floor but there will be 100% cream at the top. Hopefully I'll have another Mount Rushmore game soon but until then I’ll settle for these.