Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Deflate-Gate and the Super Bowl Preview

  The New England Patriots are under investigation by the NFL for using underinflated footballs in their 45-7 AFC Championship win over the Indianapolis Colts. No one is claiming that the underinflated balls were the reason the Patriots won the game. They were ahead of the Colts 17-7 at halftime when the balls were noticed to be inflated less than the minimum 12.5 pounds per cubic inch and replaced with properly inflated balls whereupon the Patriots outscored the Colts 28-0 in the second half. I don’t think any other team would have been drawn as much attention as the Patriots had their footballs been underinflated but the Patriots are the most successful pro football team this century (three Super Bowls and 14 straight 10+ win seasons) and they have had the patina of cheaters ever since they were found guilty of videotaping opposing defensive coaches signals during games. The videotaping was the infamous ‘Spygate’ scandal which cost Belichick $500,000 and the Patriots $250,000 in addition to the forfeiture of their 2008 first round pick.

  Belichick and Tom Brady claimed ignorance of purposely underinflating the balls in separate news conferences last Thursday. Belichick said he had no idea of how the footballs got underinflated and intimated that Brady would have more answers by saying “I think we all know that quarterbacks, kickers, specialists have certain preferences on footballs. They know a lot more about it than I do. They're a lot more sensitive to it than I am” and “Tom's personal preferences on his footballs is something he can talk about in much better detail …”

  In the same interview, Belichick also talked about how he makes his team practice and train in all manner of weather conditions “Again, anyone who has seen us practice knows that we make it harder, not easier, to handle the football. Our players train in conditions that a lot of people would recommend that we not drive in. That’s what they do. … And I know that because I work them every day.” I find it hard to believe that a football coach so driven to detail wouldn’t have any understanding of what kind of football his quarterbacks and kickers like so if anything Belichick is likely guilt of some deception in his press conference.

  Brady’s press conference was after Belichick’s on Thursday and Brady also claimed that not only didn’t he have anything to do with underinflating the balls but that he pays no attention to the balls in play as long as he can grip them properly “From the first half to the second half, I didn’t think twice about it. I didn’t put one thought into the football at that point. Once I approve the ball, like I said, that’s the ball that I expect out there on the field.”

  I don’t think the issue is whether the Patriots deflated the footballs in the AFC championship game. After all, the footballs were replaced after halftime and it didn’t seem to affect Brady in the slightest. I think the problem most people have is the perception that the Patriots have been cheating by underinflating the balls for years and only got caught this past weekend. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots inflated the balls at the minimum pressure and then figured out a place to store the footballs where they would deflate further, much like the Colorado Rockies store the baseballs for their home games in a humidor (with the blessings of Major League Baseball) to counteract the effects of the mile high air in Denver allowing baseballs to travel further. I doubt they would be knowingly breaking the rules but I would have no doubt they would push any rule to its absolute limit in order to gain the slightest of advantages.

  The Patriots don’t win 10+ games every year and get to the AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl more often than not because the balls are underinflated – they have their accomplishments because as an organization they are just smarter than most other football teams. They drafted a Hall of Fame quarterback in the sixth round but when Brady was hurt on the opening weekend of 2008 and missed the year they still won 11 games with seventh round pick Matt Cassel and then traded Cassel (who has since failed to hold onto a starting job in Kansas City and Minnesota) to the Chiefs for a second round draft pick. The Patriots picked up Randy Moss in 2007 for a fourth round pick, kept him for four seasons (including a record setting 22 touchdowns in 2007) and in 2011 traded him to the Vikings for a third round pick. The third round pick was used on backup quarterback Ryan Mallet who stayed with the team for three years and was traded to the Houston Texans for a seventh round pick. The Patriots are masters at picking up players other teams don’t want, getting production out of them, and then trading them for draft picks or players when their usefulness is at an end. Compare this to the Colts trading a first round pick last year to get running back Trent Richardson from the Browns and one year later Richardson wasn't hurt but also wasn't active for the AFC championship game.

  Not only are the Patriots masters at personnel management, Belichick has long been at the cutting edge of game management. There was the famous game against the Broncos in 2003 when the Patriots were facing a 4th down from their own one yard line trailing 24-23 with less than three minutes left. Belichick intentionally gave up a safety to trail 26-23. The Patriots got a free kick after the safety to put the Broncos at their own 15, got the ball back with 2:15 left and drove for the winning touchdown in a 30-26 victory. Sometimes the decisions don’t work out so well like in 2009 when he went for the first down on a fourth and 2 play from his own 28 yard line with 2:08 left and a 34-28 lead over the Colts. The Patriots failed to get the first down and the Colts scored a touchdown for a 35-34 win. The point I’m making is that the Patriots and Belichick know more about their sport than the rest of the league combined. In their playoff game against the Ravens last month, Belichick exploited a wrinkle in the rule book to allow him to have multiple receivers and running backs at the line of scrimmage and confuse the Ravens as to which players were eligible to receive passes and which weren’t. The loophole will likely be closed by this time next year but it may have been the deciding factor in their 35-31 Patriots victory.

  One thing I learned through this entire scandal was that each team prepares the footballs its offense will use in the game while separate balls are prepared by the league for kicking plays. I understand why each team would want its quarterback to throw a ball he is comfortable with but isn’t this just asking for someone to doctor the footballs? A billion dollar operation like the NFL should be able to have games balls made to their exact specifications for game use and if a quarterback doesn’t like a particular ball they can ask for it to be replaced just like a baseball pitcher can. I expect the NFL to prevent this situation from recurring by taking control of all the game balls in the near future. This 'deflate-gate' controversy is much ado about nothing and has only served to distract the football public from the long term excellence of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots organization and kept the attention away from what could be a Super Bowl for the ages. And speaking of the big game...

Super Bowl 49 – Seattle Seahawks vs. New England Patriots.
Thanks to some shrewd money management and a Green Bay Packers choke for the ages, I find myself heading into the Super Bowl week $40 mythical dollars to the plus side on this years playoff predictions after gaining $90 from splitting my AFC and NFC championship wagers. I have no idea who will win this game and neither does the betting public as the game is very close to a 'pick 'em' (the Patriots are currently a 1 point favorite). If I had a gun to my head I would pick the Seahawks since I predicted them to win the Super Bowl but since I don’t have a gun to my head I will bet $100 that over 47.5 points will be scored using the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page . Please keep in mind that while I am serious about my predictions I am not betting any real money and the picks are for entertainment purposes only.

Monday, January 26, 2015

An Interesting Month

  It’s been a busy month in Marshalltown Iowa – the All-American city I call home. The last time I wrote about Marshalltown concerned the controversy surrounding the suspension of a high school football player for three games after pictures were posted on social media of him making a ‘White Power’ W hand gesture. The lawsuit is proceeding apace, the suspension was reduced to two games by the Iowa High School Athletic Association (don’t ask me why), and Hihg School Principal Aiddy Phomvisay has tendered his resignation to take a job with the Des Moines school district as the assistant director of the Central Campus. Phomvisay had been absent for months from his principal duties and if the Central Campus has a football team I hope for his sake he has learned from his Marshalltown experiences and will not cross swords with King Football anymore.

  Last month Vince at the Jiffy was robbed at knifepoint while working the overnight shift. Convenience store clerks are trained to put their large bills in a drop safe so the robber only got a little bit of money and as many cigarettes as he could carry out. Four days later the Kum & Go convenience store got robbed by the same people but this time the crook and his accomplice were caught and arrested. There’s a robbery in the local convenience stores every couple of years but this one was different because the criminals (the robber and his getaway girlfriend) were caught.

  In last year’s post I mentioned how Marshalltown was at the top of the Google search rankings for ‘Iowa Corpse Abuse’ and now the town has another top Google rank – this time for ‘Iowa dousing people with gasoline’. On January 14th, Eddie De Los Santos was having a domestic disturbance with his girlfriend and her mother when he doused them with gasoline and set them on fire which unsurprisingly caused a fire in the apartment building less than half a mile from my house. De Los Santos is currently in custody and many of the convenience stores in town have cans set up for donations for the burn victims.

You'll know your town is going downhill when the shootings DON'T make the news...

  Those cans didn’t last very long as they were soon replaced by cans soliciting donations for Dedrikk Fisher, a 20 year old man who was shot to death on January 18th on the 1200 block of W. Church Street, a very far away mile and a half from my home. There was a candlelight vigil for Fisher and the suspect (Jose Morales) was swiftly identified and a city wide hunt was on for him. Marshalltown has a few murders every year. I don’t think too much about the crime rate in town. I’ve been parking my car on the street for the past 20 years and once got a bb dent in a door. My neighbor’s house to the south was broken four years ago but I think that was by someone they knew based on the people that were hanging around their kids and that a window was broken and a game system stolen within a few minutes. I’m not saying that I leave my doors and windows open and unlocked when I not home but getting my car windows broken in New Jersey was a every couple of year occurrence and murders rarely made the front page of the paper so I don’t think too much of a couple of murders or robberies.

I went to get my mail and a SWAT party broke out up the block...

  I was working at home on Thursday. I was on the phone with a customer around 3pm and walked out the front door to check the mail. There was no mail but there was a roadblock on the corner and some police cars and one of those camouflage SWAT trucks. The customer on the phone was from Iowa and knew all about the recent news and wanted me to send him a picture of the roadblock. I took a couple of pictures and posted them to Facebook and went back to work.

  At 5pm when Kathy and I went out to take Daisy and Baxter for their walk the street was still cordoned off and there was over 100 people hanging out by the roadblocks. People of all ages, races, languages, and religions were talking to each other like old friends speculating about what was going on and what was going to happen next. There were cars parked on both sides of the street for blocks. Everyone thought that the suspected murderer was holed up in one of the houses but I suggested that maybe someone stole Marshalltown’s All-American City awards and the SWAT team was needed to get it back.

Who needs cable when you have this kind of entertainment up the street?

  I had a meeting at 6:30. When I went to leave the street was still cordoned off and even more people were hanging around. I didn’t want to lose the parking space in front of my house so I slipped down the alleyway and took my Kia Rio out of the garage for a rare trip around town. When I got back an hour later I could hear popping sounds coming from up the block. It sounded a lot more like the machines at the ball games that shoot hot dogs and t-shirts into the crowd than gunfire so I assumed that teargas canisters were being fired. When I got to the front of the house the same crowd was still there talking about whether they could smell the teargas or not so I knew my guess was right.

  The story in the paper the next day said that 30 tear gas canisters were fired into the house up the block at 514 N Center St but Jose Morales was not found in the house. Morales was arrested the next day on the south side of town. So that was the month in Marshalltown and it was all pretty depressing except for the impromptu block party that broke out during the SWAT raid up the block. It was such a busy month that I never even got the chance to talk about the police shooting and killing of an armed man down the block from the Jiffy the week before Christmas. This was during the height of concern over police shootings in Ferguson, Cleveland, and New York but once it was determined the victim was armed and not a minority it became old news quickly.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

2014-2015 NBA Halftime Report

  College football is over and there is only the Super Bowl left in the NFL (I don’t count the Pro Bowl as a real football game) my sports viewing attention has turned to the NBA. Like last year Mediacom is providing the Fox Sports telecasts of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Indiana Pacers. The 2013-14 Timberwolves were a .500 team (40-42) and the 2013-14 Pacers had the top record in the Eastern Conference. This years’ Timberwolves are mess with their the second worst record in the league at 7-33 while the Indiana Pacers are limping along on the outside of the playoff race with a 15-27 mark. Both teams have been decimated by injuries and except for Minnesota rookie Andrew Wiggins are all but unwatchable. I watched the Pacers game at Charlotte last Saturday where they lost 80-71 to the Hornets in overtime. Yes, there was a grand total of 151 points in this game and it went to overtime. It wasn’t as if this game was a rock-ribbed defensive battle – it was a clinic in missed shots. By comparison, Friday’s ESPN matchup between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors saw the Thunder with a 69-60 halftime lead which at the 24 minute mark had only 22 points less than the Pacers and Hornets scored in 53 minutes.

  Until they lost back to back games in Los Angeles to the woeful Lakers and hopeful Clippers I thought the Warriors were a legitimate threat to break the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls all-time best record of 72 wins against 10 losses. They were 23-3 and slightly ahead of the Bulls pace and winning all their home games (except one loss to the defending champion Spurs) by huge margins. The back to back losses put them at 23-5 and even though they are in the midst of a streak of winning 11 of 12 games their current record of 34-6 means they would have to win 9 straight games just to get back on the Bulls pace.

  This is the closest any team has to the 72-10 all-time record since the 1996-1997 Bulls went 68-10 before losing three of their last four games. The last team to do as well as this year’s Warriors were the 2007-2008 NBA champion Boston Celtics who started 29-3 before dropping 5 of their next 10 games to drop to 34-8 on their way to a 66-16 regular season record. I can’t count out the Warriors entirely since their coach is Steve Kerr who was a member of that record setting Bulls team and understands the mindset needed to attack that record as well or better than anyone.

  I don’t know why the 1995-1996 Bulls never receive the credit I feel they deserve for their record setting season. Coach Phil Jackson and star players Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan are pretty accessible to the media so there could be plenty of chances to interview them about it. Maybe the presence of the tremendous defender and Hall of Fame oddball Dennis Rodman on the team makes the media feel less willing to highlight them. Nevertheless, the 72-10 mark will have stood 19 years after this season and I can’t see it being surpassed anytime soon.

  I predicted the Chicago Bulls to win the NBA championship this year but they have hit a major slump as of late. Coach Tom Thibodeau turned the Bulls into a tough, gritty team but he constantly wears his team out by playing his star players way too much and allowing them to play despite nagging injuries instead of resting even if it means some extra losses. The Bulls signed 34 year old center Pau Gasol in the offseason. Gasol has missed large parts of the last three seasons with leg injuries yet is on pace to play the fourth most minutes of his 15 year career. All-star 2013-2014 Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah has been battling injuries all season but he never takes more than a game or two off before hobbling back into the lineup and aggravating his injuries. At this pace he will never be healthy for an extended playoff run.

  The success the San Antonio Spurs have had while giving key players games off has led the rest of the league to follow suit. Recently LeBron James took nine games off to rest his back and legs and indicated that his injuries wouldn’t have kept him out of the playoffs. Thibodeau has not recognized the usefulness of this new trend and each year seems to exhaust his team a little earlier in the season in order to have a better regular season record. The Bulls have amassed a tremendous amount of talent but I don’t think they can win a championship unless they manage their player’s usage in a better way.

  The NBA trading deadline is almost a month away (February 20th), but the contending teams have already started to beef up their rosters for a playoff push. The Cleveland Cavaliers have been the most active. They picked up center Timofey Mozgov from the Denver Nuggets along with guards Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith from the Knicks in return for semi star guard Dion Waiters and a couple of draft picks. I like the pickup of Mozgov a lot. I think the Cavaliers had dreams of Kevin Love playing center on defense much like Chris Bosh did in Miami but when Love proved he can’t play much defense at all getting a traditional center made a lot of sense. Shumpert should be a welcome addition as a defensive guard that doesn’t need the ball much and Smith will take Waiters place as the guard that sits on the bench because he shoots too much. The rest of the Eastern Conference contenders haven’t made any pickups yet. I think all the leading contenders are pretty much set with their rosters except for the Toronto Raptors who have slumped in the past month. Raptors GM Masai Ujiri was a frequent trader when he ran the Nuggets and I expect a major shakeup in the next three weeks.

  While the East contenders aside from the Cavaliers have yet to make any big moves, trading season in the West began almost a month ago when on December 18th the Dallas Mavericks acquired all-star point guard Rajon Rondo from the Boston Celtics for some draft picks and spare parts. The Mavericks were 19-8 before the trade and 11-5 after the trade so while there hasn’t been a dramatic improvement there also hasn’t been the drop off that sometimes happens when the roster is changed. Rondo is an experienced playoff veteran who was on two NBA Finals teams and the Mavericks expect his playoff experience to payoff in May.

  The Oklahoma City Thunder has been one of the league’s top teams over the past five years but have one Finals appearance and no championships to show for it. Superstar Kevin Durant is a free agent after next year and there is wide speculation that Nike will push last years’ MVP to move on to a bigger market. The Thunder have never traded draft picks or gone over the luxury tax but GM Sam Presti may see his championship window closing and spent a first round pick to get sharpshooter Dion Waiters from the Cavaliers as part of the Mozgov deal (The Cavs passed the pick on to the Nuggets for Mozgov). I don’t know if Waiters is the missing piece for the Thunder but his outside shooting abilities should complement superstars Russell Westbrook and Durant and allows the team to trade backup guard Reggie Jackson for another ‘missing piece’ if the opportunity arises. The Thunder look to be making their move to win it all this year but injuries to Durant and Westbrook earlier this year will likely force them to win at least two playoff series on the road this year IF everyone stays healthy and given their recent injury record that is a big IF. I don’t think the Thunder’s championship window is closing – I think it is shut.

  The weirdest trade of the NBA season wasn’t a trade at all. On December 22nd the 5-23 Detroit Pistons released former All-star Josh Smith. Players are released all the time but Smith was in the second year of a 4 year $54 million dollar guaranteed contract. Not only do the Pistons have to pay Smith the remaining $30 million owed to him, they have to count that money against their salary cap over the next five years. Smith was signed on December 26th by the then 20-7 Houston Rockets for $2 million dollars for the remainder of the year.

  Most sports commentators thought the Pistons had released Smith in order to ensure an awful record and get a top draft pick but the Pistons immediately went on a 7 game winning streak and have gone 11-3 since the release to enter the periphery of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Meanwhile the Rockets have gone a pedestrian 9-7 since picking up Smith. I picked the Rockets as my surprise team in the West but while the Pistons have performed addition by subtraction, the Rockets seem to have discovered the fine art of subtraction by addition.

Monday, January 19, 2015

$15 Worth of Customer Service

  I didn’t have a favorite toy when I was a kid but as a grown up my favorite toy is far and away my iPod. Forty years ago no one except science fiction writers could imagine a little computer that fits in the palm of a hand that could play let its owner listen to music, watch videos, send and receive messages, have video chats, display books, play chess against people from all over the world, check news weather and sports, trade stocks, and so much more. The reason I call my iPod a toy instead of a tool is that I used to do all these things before I had the iPod but now I can do them all from this tiny little device.

  My music app of choice on my iPod is the Rhapsody music player. I pay $15 a month to Rhapsody to be able to access their large library of songs. There are plenty of free music players but they all require me to either own the music I want to play or be connected to the Internet to play songs that I haven’t purchased while the Rhapsody app allows me to download music from their library and play it even when I’m off line as long as I occasionally connect to the internet and log in to the Rhapsody server. I have some playlists that I listen to time after time and sometimes I let the app spin out a playlist based on my listening history. There are times where I catch a group of songs that hit me just right and I have a super productive day of work which ends in what seems like an hour or my drive is over before I know it.

  On New Year’s Eve I was working and left a few minutes past my five o’clock quitting time and was having a great day listening to music from the Rhapsody app on my iPod. I was looking forward to a pleasant drive home listening to more music but when I got to my car the music stopped and the app was asking me for my password. I figured I hadn’t logged in for too long and went from my car back to the office lobby to access the company’s wireless internet and log in but the Rhapsody app kept telling me my password was invalid. Thinking I forgot the password, I went from the office lobby to my cubicle, turned on my computer, and went to the Rhapsody website to ask for a new password. After a few minutes I received an email with instructions on how to reset my password. I reset my password and once again tried to login to the Rhapsody app on my iPod and was once again told I had entered an invalid password. Then I went to my computer and tried to log into the Rhapsody website and I was again told that my password was invalid.

  At this point I started to suspect that Rhapsody was having a problem but since there was the off chance that maybe I didn’t enter the new password correctly I went through the process of resetting my password. I made sure I knew what my new password was but the app and website would still not recognize my password which confirmed my suspicions that there was a problem in Rhapsody-land.

It never hurts to ask...

  At this point it was 5:30 and I needed to start my hour long drive home. I left a note for Rhapsody customer service telling them I expected a free month’s service for my inconvenience and drove home without any music except for the radio. Normally I wouldn’t have been too bothered about Rhapsody’s temporary snafu but I had really enjoyed listening to music all afternoon and had a playlist all picked out for my drive home. I think what bothered me most was that if I had left a few minutes earlier or the problem had erupted a few minutes later I would have been safely offline listening to my downloaded music and totally unaware there was a problem at all. I got home around 6:30 and after taking Daisy and Baxter on a walk I got an email from Rhapsody letting me know that they knew about the problem was being worked on. I went on Rhapsody’s Facebook page and saw that many other people were having the same problem. I woke up the next morning and was able to log into the app and all was well.

  All was well except that I didn’t have my free month of service. So I replied to the previous night’s email from Rhapsody to let them know that I wanted a free month’s service. And they wrote back to let me know that they were going to give it to me. It was so easy I’m thinking I should have asked for two months but one month is pretty generous for a few hours of outage. When I have problems with Mediacom cable or Internet and I ask for some money back they will throw a dollar or two my way but never an entire month of service.

and it never hurts to ask again...

  The next day I got another email from Rhapsody asking them to rate their customer service. I was a pretty satisfied customer with my free month of service I not only gave them a big Siskel and Ebert ‘2 Thumbs Up’ I left them a positive review on the iTunes store. After all I really do like the Rhapsody app and definitely wanted to give them some positive feedback for giving me a free month of service.

A free month of service is worth a good review from me!

   Our Marshalltown Chess Club had been in some serious downtime with Christmas and New Year’s both on Thursday and the first meeting of 2015 had its attendance cut down by a snowstorm. Last Thursday we had our first real club in a month and I spent almost the entire two hours playing this game with Seth. The game was a lot like my experience with Rhapsody two weeks ago: OK at first, then not so good, but satisfying at the end.

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

2015 TATA Steel Chess

  The 2015 international chess season kicked off on Saturday with the TATA Steel tournament in Wijk Ann Zee, Netherlands. World Champion Magnus Carlsen headlines the 14 player A section that contains four of the top 10 ranked players in the world. This is Carlsen’s first tournament since retaining his title against Viswanathan Anand in November and this year will be his first year of competition since 2012 without the specter of a World Championship match. I predicted that Ding Liren would stun the chess world by winning the tournament but I’m more interested in the prospects of Wesley So’s first international tournament since trading his Philippine allegiance to play for the United States. So is ranked #10 in the world but his recent increase in rating has come by playing in 2 game a day Swiss tournaments that were held in Las Vegas (the Millionaire Open and the North American Open) and not the one game a day super GM tournaments that the rest of the top 10 seem to exclusively play in. The other player I’m keeping an eye on is Hou Yifan. Yifan is rated 12th of the 14 player but is only two rating points behind overtaking the retired Judit Polgar to on top of the Women’s list.

Yasser Seirawan's grandmasterly commentary of round 3 of the TATA Steel Chess tournament

  This tournament used to be called the Corus tournament after the Corus Steel company but the name was changed after being sold to Tata Steel, an Indian multinational company which also owns the IT Tata Consultancy Services company. Tata Consultancy recently laid off thousands of workers. I wonder if it’s possible that this tournament will need a new sponsor in a few years.

  After four rounds So has proven he belongs among the world’s elite with a win against top 10 player Levon Aronian and draws against Carlsen and Caruana with Black. The world champion started with two draws while world #2 Fabiano Caruana started with two wins. Carlsen then overpressed in round three against Radoslaw Wojtaszek and lost. Perhaps Carlsen is feeling the footsteps of Caruana closing in on him not only on the live rating lists but also as the favorite of the world’s chess fans.

  My predicted winner Ding Liren lost to Caruana in the first round but rebounded nicely with three straight wins to share second place with Caruana a half point behind the veteran Vasilly Ivanchuk with his round three win over Jabova being especially crushing. Hou Yifan has two draws in her first four games and now finds herself 10 rating points behind Judit Polgar for the ‘title’ of the top ranked women player in the world.

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of

The 2015 TATA Steel tournament has been full of fighting chess. Check out Ding Liren's round 3 crush of Baadur Jobava!

  Unlike most major sports, chess has not been able to find a way to maintain control over its broadcast rights. The tournament games can be viewed live on the tournament web site or can be viewed with live commentary on the Internet Chess Club,, or the Livestream broadcast sponsored by Normally I would listen in to the Internet Chess Club broadcast but for this tournament I’ve been drawn to the Livestream broadcast because the commentator is former US champion Yasser Seirawan.

  Seirawan is commentating solo with an occasional interview with the winner of a game and on Tuesday interviewed 1972 world checker champion Ton Sijbrands. Sijbrands holds the blindfold simultaneous draughts record and is also a keen chess fan. There is very little in the way of silly jokes or banter – Seirawan pretty much sticks to the chess and talks about what is happening on the board without the aid of any computer analysis. Sometimes he suggests a move that immediately loses but admits to his mistakes with a good humor when corrected on Twitter by computer armed non-grandmasters. What I like most about Seirawan’s commentary is that if he finds a game particularly interesting he will focus on it with his complete attention for a half hour or more. I can hardly pay attention to a game for more than a minute but it is fascinating to watch Seirawan construct and deconstruct the possibilities as he decides what course the game will take and when he does take this time he is rarely wrong.

  Ivanchuk is the leader heading into the first rest day. At 45 he is the oldest competitor (and one of only three over the age of 30) and I doubt he will be able to maintain his pace. Before the tournament I predicted Ling would win but if I had to make a bet now I might put my money on So, who has played the top three seeds and has a +1 score and could be primed to go on a long winning streak.

If live commentary isn't your thing, the tata steel website provides coverage of the games complete with computer analysis and live video.

   Speaking of placing bets, I was both lucky and unlucky in last weekend’s games on the way to my 2-2 record. If the Dez Bryant catch had been allowed to stand the Cowboys would have likely scored a touchdown to put that game over 53 points and make me a loser. Luckily the officials called it a non-catch and instead of losing my mythical bet I got to see the Cowboys lose in heartbreaking fashion which made this abdominally cold winter just a little warmer. My unlucky break came when it was revealed that the Broncos had covered up quarterback Peyton Manning’s torn quadriceps muscle for a month. I thought Manning had a tired arm but if I had known he was seriously injured I wouldn’t have picked the Broncos to cover the seven point spread. So with three games left in the playoffs I find myself down 50 mythical dollars heading into this weekend championship games and I intend to go big or go home on this week’s picks using the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page and as usual for entertainment purposes only.

Green Bay Packers vs Seattle Seahawks
The Packers were crushed in Seattle 36-16 in the opening game of the season. Since then, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been hobbled by a calf strain but the team will have running back Eddie Lacy (who missed the first Seattle game) available . I think this game will be closer than the week 1 encounter but I just can’t see Seattle losing so I will bet $600 to win $200 on the money line and pick Seattle to just win this game.

Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots
When these teams met in November the Patriots broke open a close game in the fourth quarter in a 42-20 win in Indianapolis but I think the Colts have come of age and won’t fold as easily even though this game is in New England. The Ravens’Joe Flacco shredded the Patriots last week and Andrew Luck is every bit as good even if he doesn’t have as good a supporting cast as Flacco. I will bet $110 that the Colts will stay close enough to cover the 6.5 point spread and pocket $100 if they manage to.