Thursday, May 26, 2016

Beagle Staycation

It's time once again for America's favorite beagles - Baxter and Daisy to take their turn at the helm of the Broken Pawn and provide their legion of readers with another guest blog!

Hi Everybody! It’s Daisy… and Baxter… with another blog for our fans. I’m glad Hank stopped writing about Okoboji, Daisy. Although I did enjoy reading about the two Egg McMuffins he ate. Don’t forget the steak at Los Pueblos in Arnolds Park, Baxter. I wish he had written more about the steak. I don’t read much, Daisy but when I do I prefer to read about meat! YUM!! I love MEAT!! I’d certainly like to read about meat rather than how Hank messed up the pairings at some chess tournament. Or how Hank finished second in some blitz tournament even if he did use some of his winnings to buy us beef stick treats. The beef stick treats were yummy and they do qualify as meat, so maybe we’ll give Hank a pass on writing about finishing second in the chess tournament.

I think we've critiqued Hank’s writing enough, Daisy. We should tell our readers about the big news. And big news it is, Baxter! The week before last Hank and Kathy left us alone in the house early in the morning but Kathy didn’t come back! Hank came home all by himself in the morning instead of coming home in the evening like he normally does when he goes to work. We were wondering what happened to Kathy. Hank said she went to help Ben come back from college and would be home in a few days. First Hank went to Okoboji and then Kathy went away. The only ones who don’t get to take trips are us! That’s right Baxter! So we complained to Hank by barking and howling and he decided that we would have a staycation until Kathy came home. A staycation is like a vacation except for the traveling. We decided we wanted to have a taste test during our staycation. I wanted to sample fast food hamburgers! I wanted to sample pizza! YUM!! I love PIZZA! We couldn’t make up our minds so we decided to compromise. We decided on having a fried chicken taste test! YUM!! I love FRIED CHICKEN! I also wanted to watch a movie on our staycation so I told Hank to rent ‘Under Siege 2’ starring Steven Seagal. We watched ‘Under Siege’ and loved it. Steven plays Chef Casey Ryback who also happens to be a Navy Seal martial arts expert. Steven Seagal is so dreamy! He could make fried chicken for me anytime! And after we ate all the fried chicken we could go beat up some bad guys!

Haley's chicken box may lack in presentation, but they more than make up for it with great taste! YUM!!

We hung out with Hank all day Thursday until 5pm when he went to chess club. When he came back we went on a walk and then Hank left the house again. He wasn’t gone long but when he came back he had some Haley’s Broasted chicken! YUM! I love Haley’s Broasted Chicken! YUM! Hank got two legs and one thigh and potato salad and cole slaw for his sides and a biscuit. It cost him $9.20 and he didn’t get a drink so he had some water with his dinner. Hank gave us the meat and skin from one chicken leg each and he ate the thigh and sides. I found my chicken leg to be quite tasty. Me Too! My leg was juicy and but not greasy. It was really big and tasted great. I’m giving Haley’s 4 paws! I’ll give Haley’s 4 paws too. It was an exceptional piece of chicken!
Haley's – 4 paws 

We watched 'Under Seige 2' starring Steven Seagal. Steven is so dreamy...

On Friday Hank left us alone for a few hours while he went to teach chess in Des Moines but when he came back he had 3 movies and one of them was ‘Under Siege 2’. We watched ‘Under Siege 2’ in the afternoon. The action was great but Steven Seagal hardly did any cooking. He was making his niece a birthday cake when the bad guys took over the train. If it wasn’t for those evil men I bet Steven would have cooked meals for the entire train! The action scenes were really cool. Steven ran back and forth on top of the train and beat up all the bad guys. He kept staring in the camera with his dreamy brown eyes. I loved it when he beat up bad guy leader Penn and says ‘No one beats me in the kitchen’. Hee…Hee

KFC has a big chicken box but small chicken legs...

I just wish there was more cooking action in the movie. Anyway after the movie Hank left again but came back with KFC chicken. YUM! Hank got two legs and a thigh like last time but KFC had mashed potatoes and cole slaw for his sides and a biscuit plus he got a soda. And it only cost him $7.70. Hank got the original recipe chicken. The box was really big but he must have gotten a malnourished chicken. The legs were so tiny I needed a magnifying glass to find them. It may have been one of those genetically modified chickens bred to have extra wings and legs. There wasn’t very much meat on the chicken legs but what was there was delicious. I’ll say!! The chicken was tender and the skin was really good. YUM!! Hank should get extra legs next time so we have more meat. There was more meat on the Haley’s chicken. I wan’t happy with the small chicken legs but I really liked the taste. As long as KFC was less expensive than the Haley’s chicken I’ll go ahead and give them four paws for value, Baxter. I’ll give them four paws also since they did give Hank a soda but they better get some bigger legs for our next taste test.
KFC – 4 paws 

On Saturday Hank stayed home with us all day. We watched the Amazing Spider-Man 2. I didn’t like the movie, Daisy. There wasn’t any food in it. That’s right Baxter. The action was fine but as beagles we want to see food in our movies. You would think that if SpiderMan loved Gwen Stacy so much he would take her out to dinner or lunch. And Spider-Man’s Aunt May never cooked any food for him in the whole movie. She could have least made some cookies…or spaghetti with meatballs…or some fried chicken!! YUM! It’s no wonder Spider-Man is so full of teenage angst. He never gets anything to eat. And his girlfriend died in the movie and his movie deal with Sony got cancelled too. Now that Marvel Studios will be making Spider-Man movies I bet he’ll eat more and be happier too. I know I’d be.

Hy-Vee has 'steroid chickens'. No wonder they are always busy!

Speaking of eating, after watching the movie Hank left. But he came back with fried chicken from the Hy-Vee! YUM!! Once again, Hank got a three piece chicken dinner with two legs and a thigh. But this time he got macaroni and cheese and green beans with ham for his sides! Once again there was a biscuit but no soda at the Hy-Vee. And the meal cost $9.62. Hy-Vee’s had the biggest pieces of chicken we saw all weekend! Their chickens must have been taking steroids! They were big but very dry and not nearly as tasty as Haley’s or KFC. The ham in the green beans was outstanding though. It was the only one of Hank’s sides that I liked. Cole slaw? Ewww…. I love cole slaw when that’s all there is to eat. I didn’t think the Hy-Vee chicken tasted dry at all. Of course I ate it so fast I never had a chance to taste it! There was a lot of chicken so I’m giving the Hy-Vee four paws. The Hy-Vee chicken was dry and expensive but there was a lot of it and I liked the side of green beans and ham so I’m going to give them four paws also.
Hy-Vee – 4 paws 

Sunday was the last day of our vacation, Daisy. The only place left to get fried chicken from was the Pizza Ranch. That’s right Baxter. But Hank is still mad about the time he had to wait a half hour for his chicken and decided he wasn’t going to get any chicken from the Pizza Ranch. I was so sad. We did get a lot of walks and beef sticks though. And then we saw another movie. This time we watched the latest Fantastic Four movie. What an awful movie. So slow and boring. Another movie where no one eats anything. No wonder it bombed. They did have some Chinese takeout one time, Baxter. That’s right. But it was a short scene and all I saw were some noodles. The least they could have done was show the Fantastic Four eating red chicken like we get from the China Buffet. YUM!! I love red chicken from the China Buffet. If the Fantastic Four had eaten better maybe they wouldn’t have had to go to another dimension to get super powers. Hunger does strange things to people, Baxter. It took half the movie for them to get their powers and then it took the rest of the movie for them to have their one fight with Dr. Doom. BORING! Dr. Doom was so upset that he couldn’t get anything to eat in the movie he tried to destroy the entire earth. Luckily the Fantastic Four stopped them! I thought after saving the world there would be a celebration with at least some finger food but all they did was talk until the movie ended. BORING! I’ll say. I took a nap during the end of the movie.

Then after we went to bed on Sunday night Kathy came home with Ben! We barked and howled. We were so noisy Hank woke up and let us downstairs to say hi. Now Hank and Kathy are both home and our vacation is over, Baxter. There’s just one problem. What’s that, Daisy? We gave four paws to all the chicken from Hy-Vee, KFC, and Haley’s. We didn’t have a fried chicken taste test winner. That’s no problem, Daisy. We’ll just have a fried chicken-off for our next vacation! That’s a great idea, Baxter! I can’t wait for our next vacation. Me neither! I love fried chicken! YUM!!

After our exhausting vacation......it was time for a long nap!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

In The Zone

I've seen it and now I've lived it!

There was no beginning, there is no end
It wasn't born and never dies
There are no edges, there is no sides
Oh yeah you just don't win
It's so far out, the way out is in

Any Road by George Harrison


  After a 21 hour day in which I walked my beagles, taught a chess class, drove five hours, directed the first round of a chess tournament, got in a hyper-caffeinated state, and finished in the Okoboji blitz tournament I was dead to the world for all of 5 hours when I woke up at 6am on Saturday morning for the second day of the Okoboji Open. Getting up only five hours after being up 21 hours at the age of 55 is insane but since I wake up at 4am every day it's almost impossible for me to wake up much later. I made my way down to the Arrowwood’s free breakfast and by 8am was back in the tournament room getting ready for the two day section of the Okoboji Open chess tournament and the second round of the three day section.

  The entire day went smoothly for me as a tournament director which I attribute to the smallish crowd of 46 players (the lowest since 2012) and that I had two volunteers to be house players. I didn’t need to call on them Saturday but their availability gave me a certain comfort level knowing that I woudn’t have to deal with any unhappy players that travel to Okoboji and don’t get to play all 5 games. What made the 2016 Okoboji Open unique was that since there wasn’t a Grandmaster or International Master present for the first time in 8 years a number of the top players that patronize the tournament year after year had a chance to finish first without having to go through a super strong player. It also meant that losing a game or giving up a draw wasn’t fatal in terms of winning the tournament. Tim McEntee had given up a draw in the first round and battled his way to two wins on Saturday to get near the lead. Bob Keating won his first three games to take the lead heading into Sunday but he was the only master to have a perfect score heading into Sunday since Friday night’s blitz champion James Neal defeated Dane Mattson and Robert Reynolds beat master Okey Iwu to join Bob in the lead. In the reserve Lynn Adams had the only perfect score with fellow long time Okoboji players Sam and Joe Hall-Reppen a half point behind along with young Okoboji newcomer Calvin York. It was an exciting tournament in both sections where any of the leaders could take first place by winning both their Sunday games.

  I got Sunday’s pairings posted and we were off to El Parian for our annual Okoboji Saturday night feast of story telling and great Mexican food. I had called ahead to El Parian to let them know a group of us would be there a little after nine. The tournament had gone remarkably smoothly. There were no controversies, the tricky merge between the two and three day sections had gone off without a hitch, and as a bonus when Jodene was recognizing all the players who had participated in at least five of the ten Okoboji Opens she gave me a fancy clock and blanket to thank me for directing the Okoboji tournament 9 of the past 10 years. Life was good.

  I was in a group of three cars with nine people making our way to El Parian, We got to the restaurant which seemed unusually empty and went to the front door which was…

  LOCKED!

  Locked. Locked even though there were a few people eating inside. Locked even though the sign on the door said that the restaurant was open until 10:30 on Saturdays. Locked even though I had called to let the restaurant know that we were coming. Locked. We waited around for a few minutes and then left for the Los Pueblos restaurant in neighboring Arnolds Park, Iowa. I had a great steak at Los Pueblos and spend the night chatting mostly with Tim Mc Entee, author/entrepreneur/chess expert Andres Hortillosa, and Okoboji newcomer Austin. Austin is a waiter/college student who came to the tournament with Tim and since I read ‘Keep The Change’ (a book about tipping that I reviewed here) I insisted on peppering him with questions about what his biggest tip was ($160) and what the biggest check he didn’t get a tip of even a penny ($90). Austin explained that Ames has a multicultural population and some cultures think leaving a tip is demeaning to the server. Andres seconded that opinion which I already knew from ‘Keep The Change’. Someday I’ll tell a server that I’d love to leave a tip but my culture prevents me from insulting them by doing so and see what reaction I’ll get. In case you’re wondering about the tip I left, I was going to pay for Andres’ dinner but one of the other players picked up my check so I left the cash I was going to use to pay for two dinners as a tip. It was a great meal at a great restaurant but since no one knew we were going there the crowd was way smaller than in years past.

After being LOCKED out of El Parian, a small group of us had a great time at Los Pueblos,
sharing stories and feasting on great Mexican food!

  While we were eating dinner a younger player and his parent came to the restaurant. I invited them to join us but the parent told me that the player was going to withdraw from the tournament since he hadn’t won a game yet and it was his birthday besides. When we got back to the hotel I hung out in the lobby with Sam and Joel Katz. I was planning on posting a tournament report on the internet and checking my email but the Arrowwood’s wireless internet had gone down while we were eating dinner. I asked the clerk about it and she said it wouldn’t be back up until the next morning but I was more than welcome to use the complimentary computer in the lobby which had a wired internet connection.

   Unfortunately the complimentary computer in the lobby was also using the wireless internet. I told the clerk who got someone to look at the complimentary computer in the lobby who verified that the complimentary computer in the lobby indeed was using the wireless internet. I hung out with Sam and Joel for a little longer and when I got to my room a little after midnight the wireless internet was back working. I was able to check my email, post my weekly beagle pictures, put up a short tournament update and was in bed by 1pm.

  I woke up at 6m Sunday, had another free breakfast at the Arrowwood breakfast bar (which included eggs, sausage, and waffles) and was once again back in the tournament room by 8am. I took the player who withdrew the night before out of the tournament, repaired the round, and posted the pairings. Some of the players were looking at the new pairings when I realized I was sloppy and forgot that when I repaired the round the software I use removes the players who asked to skip the round in return for a half point. This led to a player that had asked for the round off being paired and I had to repair the round and repost the pairings and then I realized there was a second player who also asked for the round off and I had to repair and repost the round a third time. After all that I had an odd number of players but the two people who had volunteered to be house players didn’t want to play anymore. I eventually pressed Jodene into service to be the house player and the fourth round was underway.

  The round itself went smoothly enough after setting my personal best with pairing a round four separate times. I paired the fifth and final round and only had to redo the pairings one more time when I missed that a player who lost in the first round and reentered the tournament was paired against his first round opponent. In the open section James Neal and Bob Keating drew to get to 3.5 out of four points while Tim Mc Entee beat Robert Reynolds to also get to 3.5 points. Reynolds, Okey Iwu, Dane Mattson, and Joe Knapp were all at 3 points. Tim and James were going to play on board one while Bob and Dane were on board two with Okey playing Joe on board three with Robert on board four with all seven players having a shot at the championship with a win. In the reserve Lynn Adams drew his game against Joe Hall-Reppen and was caught for the lead by Calvin York when he beat Sam. This left Lynn and Calvin to play for the championship. A few people withdrew and left early but there was still an odd number of players in the open section. Jodene was willing to play but the player decided to just head home instead which always leaves me with a crummy feeling to see a player travel all the way to Okoboji and not have a game.

The action was intense on the final day of the Okoboji Open with the players battling to the last second and the last pawn!

  The final round started nicely enough. Tim and James was the first game to end. The result was a draw which left Bob a chance to take first place outright by beating Dane, or share the championship with a draw. Meanwhile Okey, Dane, Robert, and Joe still had a chance to share the championship with a win combined with a Keating draw or loss. All the games in the reserve section finished (Calvin beating Lynn for the championship) and the prizes were given out. Reynolds’ game ended in a draw to take him out of the running. There were three games left with two having a bearing on first place. I was outside the playing hall talking to a couple of players and then a massive lightning bolt flashed around the hotel…

  AND THE LIGHTS WENT OUT!

  It was still daytime but the skies were very dark from the storm that had been going through the area. I went into the tournament room and told the 6 remaining players to stop their clocks. A few minutes later the lights came back on and I resumed the games. Then the banquet manager from the Arrowwood came running up to me holding a piece of paper saying the playing hall was only rented until 5pm and it was now 6pm and she had to set up the room for a state trooper convention the next day and when was ‘the chess going to be over’ and could I ‘hurry them up’. I pointed her to Jodene and was then called back to one of the games to resolve a dispute.

  Bob and Dane's game ended in a draw leaving Okey and Joe playing for a chance to share the championship with a win. Both players had less than a minute left with Okey having a queen and Joe 2 rooks along with two pawns each. Joe claimed Okey had made an illegal move and instead of stopping the clock and getting me he pressed his side of the chess clock which started Okey’s clock. Joe then realized that Okey had not made an illegal move after all and then stopped the clocks and I was called over.

  Everyone agreed that Okey had lost no time from the pressing of the clock because of the delay and that no illegal move had taken place. I believed there was no rule specific to this situation but checked the rule book anyway and couldn’t find one. Given that Joe had illegally touched the clock I could have given Okey two extra minutes but without a specific rule violation it would have had to been done using a sportsmanship clause or distracting the opponent clause that gives me a lot of discretion to impose penalties. I explained to both players that I was going to just rule that the game be resumed without assigning any penalties since I didn’t think there was any intent involved and no one lost any time on their clock. The decision was accepted if not agreed upon with a round of applause and the game ended a few seconds later when Joe walked into a checkmate.

Despite the trials and tribulations of the last 24 hours of the tournament, the competitors that come to Okoboji are a pleasure to hang out with and as usual I had a great time!

  So after having to re do pairings five times in one day, going through a power outage, having the banquet manager asking if I could hurry the players up, the tournament was over. There was a four way tie between Tim, James, Bob, and Okey for first place which was pretty cool since except for Tim winning the very first Okoboji Open none of these players had won this tournament before. The prize money was given out and the pictures were taken and I was ready to post a short report and get the tournament rated except…

  THE INTERNET WAS DOWN!!

  I asked the front desk and the same clerk who told me the night before that the internet wouldn’t be working until nine in the morning even though it was working within the hour told me that the wireless internet would be up in a few minutes. I hung around for a half hour and the internet still wasn’t up so I went across the street to the McDonalds, bought an Egg McMuffin, and used their wireless internet to get the tournament rated. The good part about getting the tournament rated at the McDonalds was that the Egg McMuffin was as outstanding as the one I had 57 hours before in Mason City. The bad part was that the McDonalds free internet wouldn’t allow me to access my databases to update my tournament report so I had to wait until I was home to take care of that.

   Because I waited a half hour for the Arrowwoods’ wireless internet to not come up I finally left Okoboji a little after nine and got home a lot after 1am on Monday. I posted my tournament reports and pictures before going to bed for a couple of hours. Since I had arranged to have the day off from work I spent the rest of the day entering the games, walking Daisy and Baxter, and napping. The last 24 hours of the tournament felt as if I had stepped into the twilight zone with constant repairing of rounds, locked restaurants, power outages, bad internet, and obtuse banquet managers but I made it through the twilight zone and out to the other side. I should have been exhausted heading home but instead was energized like I always am after heading back from the Okoboji Open. Each year brings different circumstances, different winners, different obstacles, and even wildly different results in the blitz tournaments but the one constant is that I always get to hang out with a group of great people I see maybe once or twice a year and hanging out with the players and doing more watching than playing whets my appetite for playing myself. At the tournament I found out that this year that the Twin Ports Open in Duluth has been moved to the first week in August. In previous years the tournament was only a week away from the Jackson Open which made it impossible for me to go to both but this year there is a 2 week gap which will allow me to play in Duluth for the first ever. I have 10 weeks to get ready and not a moment to lose.

As long as I've been on a George Harrison bent I'll leave on this note to remind me why I think I'll find great success in Duluth this summer at the Twin Ports Open

You can worry your life away with
Not knowing what each new day may bring to you
Or take each day as it goes on
Wake up to the love that flows on, around you.
If you believe - if you believe in you
Everything you thought is possible, if you believe . .

If You Believe by George Harrison


Friday, May 13, 2016

Mainline

...It's a game
Sometimes you're cool, sometimes you're lame
Ah yeah it's somewhere
And if you don't know where you're going
Any road will take you there

Any Road by George Harrison


  The first round of the Okoboji Open went smoothly enough with no problems for the tournament director due to an even number of people in each section. The only upset of note was life master Tim Mc Entee held to a draw by Jim Ellis who was rated 400 points below him. It actually wasn’t that big of an upset since Ellis is also a life master who petitioned the governing chess body USCF to lower his rating after he had a stroke. Ellis held International Master John Bartholomew to a draw in 2014 and is capable of beating anyone if he is on his game which he certainly was against Tim.

  The blitz tournament was going to start after the first round ended but there were a couple of long-lasting games which led to two of the younger players dropping out of the blitz in favor of an early bedtime. I was feeling pretty tired around 9 having been up since four in the morning and was only planning on playing if there was an odd number of players in the blitz. I took a walk to Minerva’s bar and restaurant (located in the Arrowwood Resort) and got a $2.00 cup of coffee to go. I started sipping from the 20 oz. Styrofoam cup of coffee and within five minutes felt the heaviness lifting from my eyelids, in 15 minutes I was fully awake, and 30 minutes later I felt like I was back in college taking a pill or two or ten to get me through a day of classes, a stint at the college radio station, an overnight shift at the Bristol-Myers factory, and back to college for a full day of classes! It’s possible that Minerva’s coffee was extra caffeinated but more likely that I had only had the one cup of Burger King groundless coffee 12 hours before and my body was reacting to a sudden infusion of caffeine after going cold turkey for half a day as if I had mainlined it like a heroin addict.

  At 10:15 we were finally ready to start the blitz tournament but there were only three players signed up after the two withdrawals. Sam and the younger sister of one of the players were going to play if there was an odd number of players which was also my idea. I told Sam that he was going to play since there was an odd number of players so now we had four players. Then I said I had decided to play and since we now had an odd number of players again the younger sister should play so we would have an even number of players. Almost everyone seemed satisfied and since the tournament had five rounds I set up my computer for a round-robin (all play all) tournament and printed the pairings for each round.

  The only person who was unsatisfied was Jodene the tournament organizer. She charged $10 per player for the blitz and offered $200 in prizes based on 20 players. She assumed that she would only have to pay prizes in proportion of the number of players to the amount the prizes had been based on until I told her that national tournament rules require at least a 50% payout of the advertised prize fund. The rule exists to prevent organizers from fraudulently offering huge prizes based on unrealistic participation. There were 12 players in last year’s blitz and I’m sure Jodene expected at least that many players and wasn’t expecting to lose $40 on a side event. It’s pretty uncomfortable to be around someone who is losing money on a tournament and is upset about it especially if it is someone you like. I eventually offered Jodene $50 so she wouldn’t lose any money on the blitz tournament. She refused the money so I assumed she just wanted to be upset and left it at that.

  Having made what I consider my best effort to resolve the money situation I stopped worrying about who was or wasn’t upset and put the pairings up so the blitz tournament could get started The six contestants were Sam and I, expert James Neal, Des Moines attorney Tom Gaul, up and coming young player Anish Lodh, and Anish’s sister Anjali. I was in the middle of the pack in this crowd with James, Tom, and Anish having higher blitz ratings than me, Anjali rated below me, and Sam having the same rating as me with his regular rating being used since he had never played a rated blitz game before. At 5 minutes a side the tournament was going to be over within an hour. The Minerva’s coffee was still flowing though my veins and I felt hyper-awake as I sat down for my first game.


James Neal - 0-1
  As the random parings would have it I started with the black pieces against the top seed James Neal. I played James in the first round of a 2002 tournament in Ames. James was in high school playing in his 4th tournament and I was playing in my third tournament in Iowa after a 15 year hiatus. In that game I outrated James by around 400 points, had the black pieces, played the Center Counter opening, was completely outplayed, and lost in a big upset. It proved not ot be much of an upset since James proved to be a really good player. I ran into James and his brother Spencer in a number of tournaments I took my kids to in succeeding years. James dropped off the chess radar after high school but returned with a vengeance a few years ago and is playing at a master level. In our rematch 14 years later, I once again played my Center Counter opening, was once again outplayed, and once again lost, taking little comfort in the fact that 14 years later it wasn’t an upset since James now outrates me by 400 points. I didn’t really make any mistakes in the game but James didn’t either and slowly took over the center and broke into my queen side castled position. It was just a case of how better players like James beat worse players like me.


Anish Lodh - 1-1
  With my personal Okoboji Blitz losing streak now at six games over two years I had the White pieces against the talented 5th grader Anish Lodh. Anish pulled off a 200 point upset in the Friday night game of the Open against an adult who was a prize winner at last year's tournament. I noticed that game was pretty complicated with Anish outplaying his opponent tactically. Even though I was pretty jacked up from the Minerva’s coffee I knew I would probably meet the same fate against Anish if I tried to mix it up so I tried to play the way I always play youngsters which is to dull the game down and try to win in the ending. I played the exchange variation against Anish’s Slav Defense which kept the opportunities for tactical adventures to a minimum. The game went into an ending where we each had a knight, rook, and 7 pawns and around 2 and a half minutes on the clock when Anish finally lost his patience and tried to invade with his rook. I caught him in a trick and won his rook for my knight and then won a couple of pawns. I was queening a pawn when I heard some gasps from a couple of spectators and saw Anish’s eyes get as wide as flying saucers. I looked at my hand and saw that instead of grabbing a White Queen I was holding a Black Queen! Luckily I hadn’t let go of the piece since that would have been an illegal move and cost me the game which would have been an even worse loss than when I forgot to hit my clock in a great position in last year’s blitz tournament. I put the black queen away and put a white queen down and quickly checkmated Anish to score my first ever Okoboji Blitz win and put an end to being 0 for Okoboji!


Tom Gaul - 2-1
  After my first win my next game was against Tom Gaul. Tom and I played blitz 6 or 7 years ago when he was stationed in Marshalltown and came to our chess club although we’ve never met in a rated game. Tom outrates me by 300 points (200 points is one rating class) but I remember being able to hold my own against him in those games in Marshalltown many years ago. Tom is a tactical player and when he played a sideline against my Queens Gambit I slow played it, keeping my dark square bishop on the long diagonal behind my pawns for a solid structure instead of trying to prove there was something wrong with his setup. Tom broke open the center and I used my bishop and queen to threaten a checkmate against his king. Tom blocked the mate threat with his queen and we continued maneuvering until Tom threw his queen deep into my territory. My eyes followed his queen which was attacking my unprotected bishop on its long diagonal and as I considered my options I heard Tom utter a loud groan which reminded me that his queen was the only thing preventing me from checkmating him, which I did. I’ve been in that situation myself a few times and I remember keeping a poker face and trying to focus my attention on a different part of the board in the hopes my opponent wouldn’t notice my mistake which happens every once in a while. Would I have noticed I had a mate in one had Tom kept his poker face? I’d like to think so since I had plenty of time but I’ll never know. The one thing I do know is the first thing I thought of was how I was going to defend against his queen’s invasion and not that he removed the queen from his defense.


Anjali Lodh - 3-1
  In any event I had two wins out of three games played against the highest rated players, was still super alert from the Minerva’s coffee, and was feeling great about being in second place with a chance to tie for first should someone find a way to upset James. My fourth game was against Anjali, the lowest rated player in the field who was only playing because there were an odd number of players and her brother was playing. I had black and got to play my Center Counter defense. I thought Anjali was a pretty good player. She had the same idea most strong players have against the Center Counter which is to slowly take advantage of my early queen moves with superior development. I was equally patient in rearranging my pieces. When it was time to launch her attack, Anjali instead made some weakening pawn moves on her queen side which allowed me to attack a loose piece combined with a queen sacrifice that would lead to a mate in two moves. Anjali saved her piece but fell for the queen sacrifice and I had my third win to clinch at least a tie for second place in the tournament.


Sam Smith 4-1
  For my last game I was playing my friend Sam Smith for the third time in a tournament and had the white pieces for the third time. I watched Sam play Anish in the previous round. Sam had a good game going but seemed to tire noticeably in time pressure and made some mistakes in the ending. This wasn’t too surprising since at 62 Sam was the oldest competitor by far in the tournament (Tom was the second oldest, a year and a half older than me) and wasn’t filling his veins with Minerva’s coffee like I was. The previous times I played Sam were three hour games in the Jackson Open. Both times I avoided Sam’s favored Budapest Gambit. Since I had at least a tie for second place clinched I decided to try playing against Sam’s pet opening. Sam played his gambit and I allowed him to reclaim his pawn so I could catch up in development. I felt like I had a nagging pressure in the center of the board and we slowly boiled the game down to a rook ending which was objectively drawn but still had a lot of play. My hyper-caffeinated state led to me winning a pawn and I proceeded to put the pressure on Sam for the remainder of the game until he made a mistake and allowed me to trade rooks into a winning king and pawn ending for my fourth straight blitz win to follow my six straight Okoboji blitz losses.


Here's to the winners!
  To say I felt pretty good about the blitz tournament would be an understatement. I beat two higher rated players, held serve against the two lower and equal rated players, lost only to James like everyone else did, and didn’t let my opening round loss or my near blunder in the second round affect me. Best of all, I felt like I played well with no over the board blunders. I never was in time trouble but I never felt I was moving too fast and felt like I even pushed the action for the most part. Some people say second place is great and others say second place is the first loser but I just say I finished second and that's all right by me. Maybe I won't feel the same about finishing second next year but if I go 0-5 next year like I did last year I know second place will look pretty good in two years. I felt a sense of redemption after my tank job the year before and I was happy to get my $25 winnings. James took $50 for first, and as the only player rated lower than 1200 Anjali got $12.50 which paid for her entry fee and a couple of candy bars besides. Once the tournament was over I thought I would go straight to bed but the Minerva’s coffee was still pumping me up and I was still pumped up by my second place finish so I hung around the hotel lobby talking to Sam till after midnight and finally rolled into bed at 1 in the morning, 21 hours after I started my day.

If you think finishing second in the Okoboji Blitz is a good result, I'm with Smokey Robinson...

And if you don't please follow Mick Jagger's advice and...

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Long Way Way Back

George Harrison recorded this song in 1997 - a year before his death.
I could listen to it all day and sometimes do!

You may not know where you came from
May not know who you are
May not have even wondered
How you got this far

Any Road by George Harrison


  Two Fridays ago I got up at 4:00 like I do 360 or so times a year, took Daisy and Baxter for a walk like I do 360 or so times a year, left the house at 5:30 and drove to West Des Moines to teach at the St. Francis Chess Club like I do 40 Fridays a year. 39 of these Fridays I’d head to work after chess club but this particular Friday I did what I only do once a year which to head 200+ miles northwest to Okoboji, Iowa to direct the Okoboji Open chess tournament for my friends Jodene Kruse and Sam Smith and hang out with a bunch of great people for a weekend.

After filling up my Chevy Spark at the Kum & Go, I went to the Burger King for a
breakfast of Hash Brown bites and ground-free coffee.

  After a great walk with my beagles I packed up my Chevy Spark with a travel bag and tournament directing stuff and made my way 60 miles southwest to St. Francis. I was running late so I skipped my Friday morning cup of coffee at the Marshalltown Git’n’Go. I was feeling a little tired but the 35 or so chess players at St. Francis had so much energy it was impossible not to be enthusiastic for a weekend chess tournament as I left West Des Moines at 8:45. My first stop was to fill my Spark with $2.09 a gallon gasoline at the nearby Kum & Go and then I headed next door to the Burger King to get some coffee and check my email using their free wireless internet. This was the same Burger King I wrote about last year when their coffee was more grounds than coffee which gave me an entire blog post. The hash brown bites were as good as last year but the coffee was ground free this year and only worth a paragraph as I headed to Okoboji.

This place puts the 'X' in Xpresss!

  I’m always nervous before a long trip and wanted to make sure my car was ready. I got new tires last month and arranged to have my car’s oil changed at the LOFXpress in Ames, Iowa during my work lunch time the week of my trip. I had gone to the LOFXpress once before and was very impressed with how I got my oil changed in 15 minutes and I didn’t even have to get out of my car. I wasn’t so lucky on my second visit. Even though there was no one in front of me I had to get out of my car and go to the lobby where I waited and waited. Then the technician called me over and showed me an air filter that needed replacing, a cabin filter that needed replacing, and manual transmission fluid that needed replacing. I patiently explained that I wanted an oil change and really didn’t have time for all this replacing since I was on a lunch break. I was ushered back to the lobby where I waited and waited some more. Eventually my oil change was done and it was time to pay. The cashier explained all the replacing I had refused and asked me if I had any questions. I asked how long I been there and the cashier told me 50 minutes and I said we must have different ideas about what ‘Xpress’ meant. The cashier told me they were very thorough and then asked me if I wanted to join their loyalty program. I told him there wasn’t any point in me joining since I had no intention on being a loyal customer and that they should rename the business to UpsellXpress. My car ran fine the rest of the week and I wasn’t too concerned about the LOFXpress upsell warnings as I made my way to Okoboji.

Welcome to Cylinder! I took a picture at the corner of Main and Parallel streets.
Maybe someday I'll figure out what Parallel St. is parallel to.

  I listened to music on my amazing iPod's Rhapsody app and found myself playing 'Any Road' by George Harrison repeatedly. While almost any road will take me to Okoboji, Iowa, I take a longish route using Interstate 35 and state highways 18 and 71. It's 30 or so miles longer than the 'quickest' route but with a 70 mile an hour speed limit for half the drive and only three roads I make up the time with more speed and not getting lost or making a wrong turn. I made it to my halfway point of the Mason City McDonald’s a little before 11 which was excellent time. I had an Egg McMuffin and ate it while I stretched my legs and checked my email using the free wireless internet, thinking how McDonald’s offering breakfast items all day may be their best idea since the Egg McMuffin in the first place. I had hopes of getting to Cylinder before the post office closed at 12 but was undone by road construction in Britt Iowa which seems to have road construction every time I pass through on my way to Okoboji. This time there was 5 miles of one lane traffic in two separate wait lines while construction crews were sawing square holes in the Route 18 westbound lane – don’t ask me why.

  After an interminable wait during which I fell asleep and was woken up by the honking horns of the cars behind me and the screaming of the person holding the Slow/Stop sign in front of me I finally got past the traffic and made my now annual pilgrimage to the sleepy town of Cylinder (population 88) at 12:30, a half hour after the post office closed.

The skyline of downtown Cylinder changed drastically in 2016 with the new 5 bay fire department and the Rack Shack giving way to 'Haack's Nest'.

  Cylinder seems to have changed quite a bit in the last year. The Rack Shack restaurant I ate in last year turned into the Haack’s Nest sports bar and there is a brand new fire station building with 5 bays for fire trucks. I doubt Cylinder has 5 fire department vehicles although I couldn’t find any statistics on how many fire department vehicles are in Cylinder or even how many fires the Cylinder Fire Department responded to in the last year or decade or century. I thought about stopping in Haack’s Nest but decided to leave that until 2017 and soldiered my way on to Okoboji.

  I arrived at the Arrowwood resort in Okoboji at 1:30. I wanted to arrive early was so I could get a nap and be rested for the Okoboji Blitz tournament. I embarrassed myself in last year’s blitz with an 0-5 performance and a 12th place finish which could have been worse if there were more than 12 people since I finished dead last and at least 2 points behind everyone else. My poor play is on me but I didn’t help myself by being up for 18 hours before the 10:30 blitz tournament without a nap and having an 18,000 calorie meal of an egg bacon cheeseburger, a plate of Rueben bites, and two Mountain Dews at the Rack Shack for lunch. I wanted to play in the blitz this year but wanted to give myself the best chance at success so I made sure to arrive early, get a nap, and not be filled up with thousand of calories worth of eggs, cheese, and meat. Unfortunately even though I was told I could get an early check in my room wasn’t ready so I went into the tournament room to hang out.

  The big tournament room was all set with 25 tables. This year’s crowd wasn’t going to be very big so there was no rearranging needed on my part. I set up my computer and puttered around until Jodene and the players started arriving around 2:30. At 4 the Arrowwood called Kathy to let me know my room was ready! Kathy sent me an email but by that point it was too late to get a nap since players were arriving and there were entry fees to reconcile, questions to answer, and late arrivals to put into the computer. I had an odd number of players and was going to press Sam into service to be a house player but one player called to tell me he was stuck in traffic and needed a first round bye so I was back to even numbers. I paired the round and the 2016 Okoboji Open was underway...

Friday, April 29, 2016

TV Review - The Walking Dead Season 6 Episodes 15 and 16

   WARNING : WALKING DEAD SEASON 6 EPISODES 15 & 16 SPOILERS BELOW!!!

  My favorite television show, AMC’s The Walking Dead wrapped up season 6 two weeks ago by portraying the events leading up to the comic book’s iconic 100th issue that introduced mega bad guy Negan by having him beat one of the original group of zombie apocalypse survivors to death with his barbed-wire covered bat (named Lucille) in full view of the rest of our intrepid band of survivors. I don’t read the comic but since I keep up on TWD press I knew where the story line was heading. Jeffrey Dean Morgan (the Comedian from the epic movie ‘Watchmen’) had been signed up to play Negan and the second half of the current season revolved around our band of survivors having run-ins with Negan’s crew (called the ‘Saviors’), even going as far as entering into an arrangement with the nearby Hilltop community to kill Negan and his crew in return for half their food.

  With the exception of losing Denise the town doctor in an ambush during an ill-advised supply run in episode 14 everything seemed to be going according to plan for Rick and his group of survivors in the Alexandria walled community. There were a few close calls but our intrepid band of survivors had managed to kill dozens of Negan’s crew and even thought they had killed Negan himself in a raid on his compound in episode 10. In the beginning of episode 15 Rick Grimes (the leader of our band of zombie apocalypse survivors) tells his current love interest (the katana wielding Michonne) that this new world is theirs for the taking. And then everything starts going wrong. Darryl (the crossbow wielding motorcycle riding bad actor of the crew) headed out to avenge Denise’s murder and was followed by core group members Glenn, Michonne, and Rosita. All four were inexplicably taken by surprise and captured by Negan’s savior crew. The reason I say it is inexplicable is that all four have such survival skills that they should only rarely be taken by surprise and certainly not in two separate ambushes.

Carol (aka Nancy from Montclair) has turned into a reluctant killing machine...

  Then Carol left a note saying she was leaving the community and for no one to follow her. Naturally Rick and Morgan leave Alexandria to follow her. Carol has had the weirdest season 6 of all our survivors. She saved the town from the attack by the Wolves in the beginning of the season, killed the last surviving member of the Wolves in episode 9, and followed that up by killing a bunch of Negan’s followers after being kidnapped by them in episode 13. With each kill Carol has come to realize that to stay in Alexandria she will always have to kill to protect her friends so she leaves. But when confronted by a group of Saviors with only herself to defend she kills almost the entire group with an assault rifle she had sewn into the arm of her coat.

  While Rick returned to Alexandria (leaving Morgan to follow Carol), the final crisis of episode 15 erupts when pregnant Maggie starts having severe abdominal pains which lead Rick and company to gather their best fighters for a road trip to the nearest doctor at the Hilltop Colony. This set the stage for the 90 minute season finale which I found to be a gripping tale of suspense. Our survivors slowly discover that each route to the Hilltop is heavily guarded by the Saviors and slowly realize they are surrounded. I would have expected Rick to try to fight his way through but with a sick pregnant woman and plot device demands to take care of he continually backs away to try different roads but every one is barricaded. The sense of desperation is palpable until a desperate is made to reach the Hilltop doctor on foot using the RV as a distraction. The last ditch plan doesn’t work and Rick and company are surrounded by the Saviors, reunited with the captured survivors from the previous episode, and all are forced to their knees as we finally meet Negan and his barbed wire baseball bat that he calls Lucille.

  This is one of the signature moments of the comics. In issue #100 we meet Negan and Lucille for the first time. Negan gives a profanity-laced speech and tells Rick that his group now works for him and will give him half of everything they have and get from now on. To prove he means business and as a ‘punishment’ for the Saviors that were murdered by Rick’s group Negan plays a game of ‘eenie-meenie-minie-moe’ and one unfortunate survivor gets his head brutally bashed apart by Lucille. Just 2 and half hours after proclaiming the world was theirs, Rick and company are on their knees before Negan who could kill all of them if he chose and there is nothing any of them can do about it. This moment from the comics has been anticipated for years by television viewers and it finally took place in season 6. Morgan plays Negan as a man that rules the world through his brutality and enjoys it. He makes his speech, plays ‘eenie-meenie-minie-moe’ with the survivors, raises his bat and…

  And then we switch to the point of the view of the victim as they are bashed in the head with Lucille. We see Negan mockingly say ‘You’re taking it like a champ!’ through a blood covered camera lens, and fade to black. The season is over and we never find out who died.

  The Internet is up in arms over the cliffhanger. Bloggers and critics alike thought the season should have ended with us knowing who has been murdered so we could worry about how the group would move forward. I completely disagree and think this was a masterstroke by the showrunners. I have seen hundreds of videos and discussion board posts outlining various theories of who was killed. The ratings for ‘The Walking Dead’ were down this season but I would bet that the season 7 premiere will break all Walking Dead records. Who was killed is what everyone is discussing and it will be a hot topic until the season begins in October.

And in the end we are left waiting to see who got the bat...

  Who do I think was killed? The television show does not follow the comic exactly so it’s not a sure thing that Glenn will be the recipient of Lucille’s attention like he was in the comics. I’m not a big fan of trying to figure out who got Lucille by discerning the background of the victim’s point of view or the camera angles on Negan as he parades around. I believe multiple scenarios were filmed and that the showrunners are still deciding who the victim will be and it will depend on a lot of factors besides storytelling. Which actors are under contract? Are some characters so beloved that viewers tune in to watch them and may not keep watching if their favorite character is terminated? The Walking Dead has not been shy about killing major characters in the past so no one can be said to be really safe. Somehow I feel this scenario will be different. I feel the core characters are so popular that Aaron or Rosita will be up close and personal with Lucille because they are the most minor of all the characters. In any event I am happy that all the Walking Dead characters will be around in my mind until at least October.