Sunday, May 3, 2015

NBA Round 2 Playoff Predictions

  The first round of the NBA playoffs finished last night when the Los Angeles Clippers beat the San Antonio Spurs by two points in the seventh game of a closely contested series. The Spurs' loss left me 10 mythical dollars in the minus side and 2-2 on my predictions (I won $100 on the Grizzlies, lost $100 on the Mavericks, won $160 on the Wizards, and lost $170 on the Spurs). Since the second round is starting in 90 minutes I have no time to waste to make my round two picks and catch up. I'll be making my picks using the Sportsbook.ag lines for entertainment purposes only.

Washington Wizards vs. Atlanta Hawks
The Wizards impressively swept the struggling Raptors while the Hawks played five close games against the Nets before winning a game six blowout. I picked the Wizards to beat the Raptors and I think they will defeat an erratic and banged up Hawks team in six games, betting $100 to win $195.


Memphis Grizzlies vs. Golden State Warriors
I cannot see the Grizzlies beating this Warriors team in a seven game series - they just don't have enough offensive firepower. I think the Warriors win in five games but the 10-1 odds are too much for me to risk an injury and will sit this one out.


Chicago Bulls vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Bulls looked impressive in winning the first three games of their round one series against the Bucks, less than impressive in losing the next two games, and were lights out in winning the game six clincher. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers swept the gritty Celtics but lost Kevin Love for the playoffs with a dislocated shoulder an sixth man J.R. Smith for the first two games when he stupidly threw a punch at Celtics forward Jae Crowder. I say No Love, no Smith, no problem for the Cavaliers who will win this series in six games. The Bulls Derek Rose has been hopelessly erratic but his superstar status allows him to have the ball on every Bulls possession. This will lead to disaster against the Cavaliers who won't focus on who they are missing - they will focus on their having the best two players in this series in LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. I'll wager $220 to win $100 on a Cavalier series win.


Los Angeles Clippers vs. Houston Rockets
The Clippers deserve a lot of credit for ousting the defending champions but I love the way the Rockets are playing right now. Dwight Howard is rebounding everything in sight, James Harden is using his teammates in the early part of the game and saving himself for when his team needs him to score, while Josh Smith is playing at a high level of offense and defense to complement both Howard and Harden. I like the Rockets in seven games. There is no line yet on the series due to Chris Paul's hamstring injury but I'll take the Rockets for anything less than -300.


Friday, May 1, 2015

My Main Function

  I thought I would have felt a lot worse than I actually did after my 0 for 5 performance in Friday Night’s Okoboji Blitz tournament. I was so awful that the tournament took on more of a surreal quality and left me kind of numb. It seemed as if someone else had been losing all those games and I was in a pretty good mode after the tournament rearranging the tables and setting my website up with a page for the pictures and tournament games. I headed up to my room and hung out with Eric Bell (who rented half my room) and had a good night sleep. Without any beagles to walk I was able to wake up at 6am which was the latest I had woken up all year and soon found myself in the Arrowwood lobby.

  I hung around the lobby until the breakfast room opened at seven and then headed over for the free continental breakfast. Slowly but surely the other players filtered in and out of the breakfast room. By eight I was back in the tournament room for the bulk of the next 12 hours.

  Saturday morning used to be really busy with the two day section starting and the three day section beginning their second round at nine in the morning. This year Jodene took the suggestion of one of the players to have the three day section start their second round at ten. This was great for me and dealing with the two day open and reserve sections was only half the work I was used to. I had an even number of players for both sections and the round started on time. The only problem was that two players didn't show which left two players staring at an empty chair. Normally I would have switched the pairings around so the two players who didn’t show up could not play each other while their opponents had a game. I couldn't do that this time because the two players staring at empty chairs were brothers who didn't travel to Okoboji so they could play chess against each other. After 40 minutes one of the no shows arrived and started his game. The other missing player never did show up and left one of the brothers without a game but with a free point which came in handy as he won an $80 class prize.

  From my point of view the tournament ran exceptionally smoothly all day Saturday with my only extra task (aside from the missing player) rounding up some parents to play the odd numbered players in the four sections on Saturday morning. Two parents were willing to help but neither was quite strong enough to be competitive in the open section. Three people suggested that I fill in the open section since I would be more competitive. I patiently explained that when I play in tournaments I'm directing I don't perform well in either capacity and besides if they thought I would be competitive they must not have seen me in action during the blitz tournament. When I helped Tim Mc Entee with the Expert Open last year we paid for someone to be a house player. The idea worked very well there and I'll suggest this concept to Jodene next year if I’m invited to help with the tournament.

  The reserve was running fairly much according to form with only one game where one of the top 5 seeds suffered an upset. The open section was another matter entirely. Grandmaster Mauricio Flores was winning his games fairly easily but the other five master players were having all kinds of trouble with lower rated players. Two of the masters lost in the first round, two more gave up draws in the second round, and the last master with a perfect record gave up a draw in the third round all to players rated 2 classes below them. When the first two rounds of the two day and three day sections ended, I merged them together in my computer and at 4:30 there were only two sections to deal with instead of four. The round started on time and I stayed at my normal post just inside the tournament room, entering the games in my computer and uploading them to my website. Every 15 minutes or so I’d take a walk and look at all the games in progress and occasionally head outside to talk to one of the players. As the clock neared eight, there were only a handful of games in progress and one in particular caught my eye.

  Eric Bell (the three time Jackson Open winner that I had rented half my hotel room to) and Joseph Wan (the youthful expert from Iowa City that was one of many to beat me in blitz tournament the night before) had a position on the board with white squared bishops and a few pawns each. Eric had one more pawn and was maneuvering his king and bishop around to try to run Joseph out of space and make a decisive invasion. Joseph had less than five minutes left and neither side was writing down the moves. There was no way for either player to claim a draw in the event of a three time repetition of position or 50 moves being made without a capture of a pawn move. I took a quick look in the rule book I had on my Kindle app and saw that I could count moves for the players so I sat by the table and started checking off the moves.

  While I was checking off the moves, a player at one of the remaining games came over to me and claimed a threefold repetition of position. I assigned the move checking duties to one of spectating parents and headed over to the board. I looked at the game score and while there was some moving back and forth by the White and Black pieces to and from the same squares they weren’t consecutive moves so I decided to replay the game from the beginning. One of the players suggested we make reverse moves on the game board but I said there was no way I was going to touch the game board. I’d learned my lesson well from two years ago when I created a confusing situation by playing with the settings on a clock that a player claimed wasn't set right.

  I grabbed one of the spare sets I had and replayed the game from the game sheet. When we got to the first time the same set of moves were made I took out my camera and took a picture of the board. There were a few spectators watching this going on. I could see the ones that knew about my blog smiling and rolling their eyes. They may have thought I was taking the picture for a future post but I wanted it as a reference to go back to when the position repeated itself. I resumed the replay and it became apparent to all the parties that by the time the second set of white and black moves had been made the kings were in different positions. The player withdrew his claim and I went back to Eric and Joseph’s game.

  I didn't see that any pawns had moved and resumed counting duties from the parent when the thought crossed my mind that if I wrote down the moves instead of making a mark after each move I could verify a repetition of position claim as well as a 50 move claim. I took a picture for a reference position and started writing down the moves but then the only other remaining game also got short on time in a maneuvering struggle with no pawns being moved. It was getting close to nine and a lot of the people who were heading to the El Parian restaurant for the annual Okoboji Feast had stopped in the tournament room to check out the remaining games.

  Luckily for me Tim Mc Entee was one of the onlookers. Aside from being a master player and a four time Iowa champion, Tim is the most technically sound tournament director I've ever seen and offered to write down the moves for one of the games before I even asked and I wrote down the moves for the other game. Both games shortly finished, Eric winning his game against Joseph. I plugged the results into the computer and printed out the next day’s pairings before heading outside the hotel for the first time in 30 hours to head to the annual feast.

  Directing the Okoboji Open is normally hectic in terms of rounding out the playing field and getting the pairings and prizes figured out. I rarely have to act in the role of the arbiter but that was my main function this particular Saturday night. I thought I handled the situations well enough and was happy to have not made myself the center of attention like I had in past years. Joseph was not pleased at losing his game and thought that the position had repeated itself before I started monitoring the game. I went over the pertinent sections of the rule book with him and his dad, making sure that he understood he could request to have someone write down the moves if he got short of time and it looked like a claim could be made for a draw by repetition of position or the 50 move rule. I left Joseph and his dad with smiles on their faces when I told him that someday he would use this information to save a draw at a big tournament and win thousands of dollars and then I was off to dinner.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Putting the "O" in Okoboji

"Too weak, too slow" ~ Magnus Carlsen

  I arrived at the Arrowwood Inn (site of the Okoboji Open) on Friday at two in the afternoon, checked in, put my bag in the room, and headed to the playing hall. Unlike past years there was no need for me to rearrange any tables or chairs since they were laid out just the way Jodene wanted them with two chairs at each six foot table with plenty of room in between them. I just hung out, posted my Cylinder pictures on Facebook, and waited for the players to arrive.

  I had a longer wait than in years past. The last four years the tournament was fortunate enough to have International Master (and YouTube star - check out his channel by clicking here) John Bartholomew play in the tournament. John would give a simultaneous exhibition on Friday at 4:30 before the first round. John didn't play in this years’ tournament so the first round was at 6pm as scheduled with this years weekend chess activity being a blitz tournament held after the first round Friday night.

  There were 43 signups on the day of the tournament but the weather was great and several players showed up to play on the day of the tournament, including some of the players that came from Nebraska last year and the Heinisch brothers that come to play in Jackson each year. All in all there were 54 players (not counting 2 parents that helped out by giving the odd numbered player a game) which is comfortably in the upper half of the participation in the history of the Okoboji Open.

  The first round came and went and then it was time for the blitz tournament. I had been planning to play in this blitz tournament since Jodene announced it and prepared for the last month. I stopped playing 1 minute internet chess in favor of 3 minute chess and drank an Amp Focus Energy drink at eight to give it time to work its energy focusing magic on me. I did have a ginormous lunch at the Rack Shack which I took as a good omen since the last time I ate a gut busting lunch was the only time I’ve ever beaten Joe Meyer (AKA Joe from Waterloo) in a tournament game (I wrote about it here). Nonetheless, I did attempt to mitigate the effects of eating 3000+ calories in one sitting by snacking on raspberries and strawberries while the rest of the players were either travelling or playing a three to four hour chess game.

  In years past the first round of the tournament ended between 9 and 9:30. This year there were three games that lasted until 10 o'clock. This caused many of the younger players who signed up for the blitz tournament to cancel in favor of a good night’s sleep. All told we had 12 players sign up including my 2014 Iowa State Fair co-champion Bob Keating and Grandmaster Mauricio Flores and myself. Mauricio was going to start play on Saturday but arrived while the first round was going on with Riaz Khan. Riaz convinced Mauricio to play in the tournament so it would have a headline player. I was the fourth lowest ranked player in the field and by far the oldest player with 10 years on Bob and at least 25 years on all the other players. I would have settled for a 3-2 record in the five round tournamaent but I was hoping for maybe something a little better.

Joseph Wan - 0-1
  In the first round of the blitz tournament I had white against Joseph Wan, the newest super strong Iowa youth player. Joseph is an expert player and he’s not even in high school. Joseph's family came to Okoboji along with him. They seemed like a really nice all-american family and Joseph's dad Huishan even helped out by filling in to play the odd numbered player in the main tournament a couple of times. Of course at the time I sat down to play I wasn't concerned with how young Joseph was or what a nice family he had – I just wanted to play and win. Joseph played an unusual setup against my Queen’s Pawn opening, moving his bishop to b7. I knew if I moved my e4 pawn before I developed I’d lose a rook to the oddly placed bishop but just a few moves later I moved the pawn anyway and lost my rook. I managed to generate a huge attack against Joseph’s king using the open line from where my rook was captured and had my queen, remaining rook, and both knights buzzing all around Joseph’s king. In order to avert a checkmate Joseph gave up his queen for one of my knights but his king was flushed out into the center of the board. I was busy trying to figure out a way to checkmate Joseph and he wasn't moving. I thought he was looking confused and trying to figure out where the game had gone wrong for him. After what seemed like an eternity I looked at the clock to see how much time he had left and then I saw it. On my previous move I FORGOT TO HIT MY CLOCK AND I ONLY HAD A FEW SECONDS LEFT. I managed a couple of half-hearted moves before I lost on time.

  What a shock. I can't remember ever forgetting to hit my clock in a blitz game before. Someone asked me if I thought that Joseph should have told me I forgot to hit my clock and I said there was no way he should remind me – that’s blitz. Before I had time to absorb my mistake and shake it off the round was over and I had another game to play.


Will Osborne - 0-2
  My second game was against Will Osborne from Nebraska, the lowest rated player in the field. I had Black and played my center counter defense and quickly won a pawn. Will organized an attack on the dark squares on my kingside. I was ahead on the clock and thought I had a defense on the long diagonal and grabbed another pawn but Will managed to trade off my dark square bishop and then I let him cut my queen out of the action. I was soon checkmated and had an 0-2 record.


Peyton Smith - 0-3
  My third game was against the fourth lowest ranked player in the field, Minnesota teenager Peyton Smith. Peyton shared the information that he had lost his first two games on time. I can’t remember what opening we played but I remember losing a pawn and getting a minute behind on the clock early in the game. I battled back and even got my pawn back and we had an endgame with a queen and a few pawns each. I had three seconds to Peyton’s five seconds but I was checking him with my queen hoping to run him out of time or for an illegal move that would decide the game in my favor under the tournament rules. I might have pulled it off except I knocked my queen over while moving it twice in a row and lost on time while I fumbled to pick it up.


Steven Cusumano - 0-4
  With three losses under my belt and feeling pretty numb, I sat down for my next game against Steven Cusumano from Nebraska. I again lost a pawn early on and again battled back but found myself down on the clock. I kept on defending and when I was down to about 15 seconds I managed to pull off a trick and win Steven’s queen for my rook. While my clock was running down and moved my queen from h1 to check Steven’s king but couldn't find a safe square to check from and dropped the queen onto the e3 square. My chess playing readers might think a queen can't go from h1 to e3 legally and they would be right. Steven called the illegal move and the penalty for making an illegal move was the loss of the game.


Jon Reigenborn - 0-5
  SO, after four rounds of the five round tournament I was 0-4 and in the last round I played Jon Reigenborn from Nebraska who was the only player with one win I hadn't played yet. I really wanted to win this game and I had the White pieces but Jon just came at me full bore with a Benoni defense and I fell apart. I lost a pawn and then I lost a rook for a bishop and then I lost a whole rook and then I resigned.

  What a disaster! My final mark for the Okoboji Blitz was 0-5. In baseball striking out five times in a game is the 'Platinum Sombrero' - I couldn't find a chess equivalent. I wasn't just the only player not to win one game – I was the only player in the 12 man field to not win two games. I trailed the entire field by at least two points. If I was a NASCAR Driver I’d have been the one that crashes on the first turn of the first lap to finish in 43rd place. As I reflected on the tournament I realized I lost games in every way imaginable – I lost because I forgot to hit my clock, I lost when I ran out of time, I lost when I was checkmated, I lost when I made an illegal move, and I lost when I resigned. I suppose you could say I lost on time when I forgot to hit my clock and if that keeps me out of the trivia books I’m all for it.

  During the weekend I thought that I just went on tilt after my opening round mishap and maybe there’s something to that but the truth was that I just didn't play very well. Except for my second round game I was in early trouble in every game and I’d get behind on the clock and set the stage for every mess I stepped in. I hung around the tournament for around an hour setting up tables for the extra players that had arrived and feeling happy that I’d be directing for the rest of the weekend instead of playing...

Feeling a little down after my terrible blitz performance, I turned on my amazing iPod's Rhapsody music app.
This was the first song it played for me...

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Best Meal in Town

  When I got my coffee from the Casey’s General Store in Garner, Iowa I noticed that I had made excellent time and it was just a little after 11 o’clock in the morning. As I was barreling down the 2 lane stretch of Iowa Highway 18 I thought how ironic it was that I had run into road construction on this highway every year on my annual Okoboji trip except for this year - the year that Iowa politicians of both parties agreed to raise taxes on every gallon of gasoline I buy in order to fund road construction. I felt a bout of road rage coming on just thinking about the extra dime (and 32 cents in total) I now pay the state just to buy a gallon of gasoline. I wanted to be in a positive frame of mind for the Okoboji Open chess tournament so I forced myself to think that perhaps the highway planners and highway administrators were planning their family vacations with the extra money they were taking out of my pocket and how happy their families would be.

Welcome to the Rack Shack in Cylinder, Iowa...
...conveniently located on highway 18 with ample parking on both sides of the street!

  My road rage soon dissipated but my happy thoughts were interrupted when I saw a sign saying ‘Speed Change Ahead’. Then I saw the familiar sign depicting a 90 degree right hand turn with a 15 mile per hour speed limit and I knew I was in one of my favorite places – Cylinder, Iowa. Cylinder is a town of 88 people with a post office, an RV and camper dealership, a restaurant, and a bank. It is most notable for the two 90 degree turns with 15 mile an hour speed limits that are on either side of the tiny and mostly boarded up Main Street. If there was ever a town that could make a fortune from traffic cameras it is Cylinder, Iowa.


Here I am with an actual Cylinderite!
  I crossed an item off my bucket list when I met an actual Cylinderite last year. Jim Micklund (not his real name) is the parent of one of the players that attended my youth tournaments in 2014.When my friend and 4 time Iowa chess champion Tim Mc Entee found out Jim was from Cylinder he couldn’t wait to tell me and I couldn’t wait to meet him. Jim and I talked all things Cylinder for at least two minutes until we exhausted that subject and I was sure to get a picture with him to silence any doubters in case the subject of meeting people from Cylinder ever came up in a conversation which it has not up to the present time.

  It was just a few minutes after noon. In my past travels to Okoboji I’ve always stopped at Mason City for gas and food. I had already gassed up in West Des Moines and thanks to the Burger King hash brown bites I had three hours earlier I didn’t even think to stop for food. Since I was a little hungry and making great time I decided to stop in the only store on the entire Main Street of Cylinder Iowa that had a sign – The Rack Shack.

  I was expecting The Rack Shack to be the worst kind of greasy spoon and my expectations couldn’t have been more wrong. The place was much larger than it looked from outside. It was roomy and spotless with newer wood floors and nice wallpaper. There was deer heads and antlers on the walls with a few video poker type machines spread out between the bar and tables. The kitchen was in full view in back of a small bar with about 20 tables and booths of varying sizes to accommodate different size parties.

Buck and Bill have the inside scoop on all things Cylinder...

  I sat down at the bar and struck up a conversation with Buck the bartender/manager and I presume part owner. Buck said he has been involved with the Rack Shack for 7 years. There was another farmer who I think was named Bill sitting a few bar stools over and a cook wearing a John Wayne t-shirt in the back. I mentioned that I drove through Cylinder every year and that last year I tried to stop in the post office but it was closed. Bill and Buck said the post office closed at noon. I then asked where the people in town get their groceries and was told that they either go to Emmetsburg (12 miles west) or Algona (21 miles east).

  I used to see a bank when I passed through Cylinder and mentioned I didn’t see it this year. Buck told me that the town lost the bank about six months ago, leaving the Rack Shack and Cylinder RV sales as the only two businesses left in town. I tried to turn the subject to something happier and mentioned that I met someone from Cylinder whose son was named Ed Micklund (not his real name). Bill said that he knew Kenny with a son named Ed but didn’t think he had started planting yet. I said I didn’t think he still lived in Cylinder and Bill replied there were a lot of Micklunds in Cylinder.

  I didn’t know what qualified as ‘a lot’ in a town of 88 people since after all at least 3.4% of the Cylinder population was in the Rack Shack with me so I changed the subject and asked what was good to eat. Buck gave me a menu without any advice and I went for the top of the line Rack Shack Burger (a bacon cheeseburger with a fried egg on top), some Reuben Bites (breaded and fried corn beef and swiss cheese balls), and a Mountain Dew since they were the advertisers on the Rack Shack sign outside.

Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner Time!!!

  I got an ice cold Mountain Dew within seconds and could see the cook in the back making my Rack Shack Burger and Reuben Bites. I pulled out my iPod and it found a ‘Rack Shack’ wireless network. I asked Buck if there was a chance I could use the network and he said ‘Sure. The password is taped to that thing over there!’ The ‘thing’ was a router and in a few seconds I was checking my home and work email while sitting at a bar stool at the Rack Shack in Cylinder, Iowa.

  There was nothing of note from my home email but there seemed to be some issues at work with the program I work on that communicates with a government agency. I grabbed my laptop from my car, move to a table near an outlet and was able to remote into my company’s network using the Rack Shack wireless internet.

  As I was taking care of my work problem Buck came by with my Rack Shack Burger and Reuben Bites. I bit into the first Reuben Bite and the hot melted cheese and corned beef exploded into my mouth. I can’t say it was the best thing I’ve ever eaten but it was definitely in the top 10. I gobbled down the rest of the Reuben Bites and washed it down with Mountain Dew while I was solving my work problem which I did quickly thanks to the inspiration of the Reuben Bites.

  With my work problem solved I put away my laptop and returned to my barstool where Buck was ready with a refill of Mountain Dew and I turned my attention to the Rack Shack Burger. And what a burger! The bun was soft, the bacon crispy without being burnt, the fried egg over hard without any of that disgusting runny yolk, and the meat done medium rare just the way I like it. It was like eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner all at once. After so many Reuben Bites I didn’t know if I could finish the Rack Shack Burger so I stopped eating after I worked my way half way through it. Buck and Bill had left without saying good bye but I wasn’t insulted – I’m sure they had some important Cylinder business to attend to. The cook was manning the bar so I struck up a conversation with him and found out his name was Mikey

Here's Mikey the cook. I didn't want anyone to even think I was trying to skip town without paying so I made sure to leave an extra big tip!

  I complimented Mikey on the burger and Reuben Bites. Mikey was pretty self-effacing and said that the burger was ‘just meat on a grill’ and imparted the stunning information that the Reuben Bites came out of a bag! I thought the Rueben Bites were so awesome they must have been homemade and was pretty disappointed until I realized I may be able to get an entire bag of these Reuben Bites in the future. Mikey started telling me how he grew up on a farm and he doesn’t have much and he has this job as a cook and does construction and farm work to make ends meet but he is really happy. I asked Mikey if his wife had a job and Mikey said he didn’t have a wife or a girlfriend and he doesn’t have much and he has this job as a cook and does construction and farm work to make ends meet but he is really happy. I was going to ask Mikey about the education he got in Cylinder but I kind of felt I already knew what he would say. In the meantime, my appetite came back and I ate the rest of my Rack Shack Burger. My bill came to $12.49. I was in such a good mood I gave Mike a $20 bill and told him to keep the change and I left Cylinder for another year (it’s not the same town on the way back on Sunday night) and continued my trek to Okoboji.

  I was so full I could have rolled myself the remaining 55 miles to Okoboji but I took my car instead. I got to the tournament site (the Arrowwood Resort) at two, checked into my room, and raved to anyone who would listen all weekend how I ate lunch in Cylinder, Iowa at the best place in town and showed photographic evidence of my awesome meal to any disbelievers. A few wise guys told me that while I did eat at the BEST place in town I also ate at the ONLY place in town. While that was factually correct I was ready with the retort that it would be the best place in MANY towns and some that were bigger than Cylinder besides. Soon enough six PM arrived and with a full stomach I paired the first round of the tournament and the 2015 Okoboji Open was underway!

And here we go...

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Ground to Okoboji

  I went to Okoboji, Iowa for the seventh year in a row last weekend to direct the super strong Okoboji Open chess tournament for my friend Jodene Kruse. Okoboji weekend is by far the most challenging chess weekend of the year for me. In my youth tournaments the players are battling over what color ribbon they are going to get and the most complicated question I get is whether the position on the board is a checkmate or a stalemate (or neither). At Okoboji there’s $2000 in prize money at stake with some of the best players in the region playing. I have to be concerned with which players are paired against each other with what colors and I may have to make decisions at a moment’s notice on any number of arcane topics like how to handle a spectator with a ticking clock in their bag or whether to uphold a claim that a position had occurred on the board three times or what to do when the players are running so low on time that they aren’t writing down the moves but someone has a claim about a ’50 move rule’ or a ‘repetition of position’.

My first stop on my trip to Okoboji took me to this Burger King in West Des Moines Iowa.
The coffee is a bit pricey but the wireless internet is free.

  One thing I expect at the Okoboji Open is the unexpected and if nothing unexpected happens – well that is not something I expect either. Other things I expect about the Okoboji weekend is I will meet friends I see once or twice a year, make new friends, and have a great time. I never went to a family reunion but I imagine if I did it would be a lot like the Okoboji Open tournament. It’s a place I feel like I belong and fit in and that is a feeling I appreciate.

  I arranged to take Friday and Monday off from work and in a perfect world would have left my house at ten to take the leisurely 230 mile trip northwest to Okoboji. Since the world isn’t perfect I got up at four as usual, took Daisy and Baxter for their morning walk at 4:30, packed my car with all my chess directing stuff and a few days’ worth of food (including AMP Focus Energy drinks) and clothes and at 5:30 made a 63 mile trip southwest to St. Francis in West Des Moines for the chess club. I suppose I could have taken the easy way out and left the club in the hands of my capable co-coaches the same way I did when I went to California but that wouldn’t have been the easy way for me. Working with the St. Francis kids is a highlight of my week and if these kids can get up an hour early on a Friday to go to chess club I can drive an hour to run it for them.

  As usual I had a great chess club as long as I discount the child that tripped over a chair and hit his head on another chair and had a knot on his forehead the size of a grapefruit which the school nurse didn’t think needed any attention except a little ice and at 8:30 I was headed to Okoboji. Before I started on the 240 mile trip from West Des Moines to Okoboji I stopped at the closest Kum & Go to fill up my Chevy Spark with gasoline. While I was filling up I checked my iPod to see if there was a wireless internet connection I could use to check my email. The Kum & Go didn’t offer internet access but the Burger King next door did so as soon as I had filled up I drove next door to the Burger King parking lot and went inside.

The hash browns were tasty but there were guests in the coffee...

  I checked my work and home emails and thought it was only right that I buy something from the Burger King since I used their wireless internet. I went to the counter and ordered a medium coffee and a small bag of hash brown bites. The hash browns were great but I was stunned to find out the coffee was $1.69 and my bill was $2.85. I started popping the hash brown bites into my mouth while I looked for some creamers to put into my $1.69 medium coffee. I went to the Burger King counter person and asked for some creamers. She let out a big sigh, disappeared for a second, reappeared with a container of creamers and gave me one single creamer for my coffee. I was going to ask for a second creamer to put in my $1.69 medium cup of coffee but thought the better of it and took the lid off my coffee to put my lone creamer in. As I was pouring the creamer into my coffee I noticed some floating objects in the coffee and stuck on the sides of the cup. My $1.69 coffee was loaded with coffee grounds!

  I would normally be pretty upset at having bought a $1.69 cup of medium sized coffee that was full of grounds but on Okoboji weekend I was almost deliriously happy. Every year I write about my travels to Okoboji and let’s face it – there just isn’t a lot that happens between here and there. It was awesome to have a fascinating topic to write about before I even left West Des Moines and I still had 240 miles of adventure left! I pulled out my camera and started taking pictures of the coffee and hash browns and the receipt for 2.85. The clerk came over, looked at my cup, and said "Oh...there are grounds in the coffee again". I kept on taking pictures. The coffee was steaming hot and clouding my camera lens whenever I tried for a close-up. I was experimenting with distance and exposure when the manager came over.

  The manager asked what I was taking pictures of. I'd seen her coming and had decided to take a self-absorbed artistic stance. I didn’t look up from my photographic experiments and considered asking the manager if she had a spare beret but instead casually mentioned my coffee was full of grounds. The manager offered to make me a new cup and I said not to bother because I’ve had grounds in my coffee plenty of times at the Jiffy in Marshalltown so it was no big deal to me. I did mention that the Burger King coffee had more grounds, less coffee, and cost more than Jiffy coffee.

If you want extra customer attention at the West Des Moines Burger King I recommend you buy a cup of coffee with grounds in it, then wheel out a camera and start taking pictures. I was offered more creamers and a new cup from a freshly made industrial size pot!

  The manager asked again why I was taking pictures and I mentioned that I was the author of an award winning blog (leaving out the part about the self-nominated chess blog award that is four years old) and my $1.69 cup of coffee with grounds was going to be prominently featured. The manager poured herself a cup of coffee, swirled the cup around, took a look, and decided to let the entire contents of this huge coffee dispenser drain out into a garbage can.

  Meanwhile I kept on taking pictures and the manager said she was making more coffee, that it would be done in just a few minutes, and asked me if I wanted a different cup of coffee. I said no thanks but did ask for another creamer which I got in record time and even got to pick my own creamer out of the container. I thanked the manager, put my second creamer in the coffee, and took a sip of my $1.69 coffee with grounds and two creamers, which caused the manager to involuntarily wince and almost gag. I checked my email one last time and headed out of the Burger King towards my car and the road to Okoboji.

I wanted coffee from this truck but eventually settled on a cup from the Garner, Iowa Casey's!

  I really wasn't very thirsty and the $1.69 medium size Burger King coffee with grounds lasted well over 100 miles past my Mason City exit on Route 35. The hash browns didn't see Interstate Route 35 - they were gone in the 20 miles from the Burger King to my exit on Interstate Route 80. I saw a truck that was carrying the best coffee on the interstate (I know because the truck said so!) and followed it until I had to turn off Route 35 at the Mason City exit onto Iowa Highway 18. A little past Mason City I took a sip of my $1.69 medium size Burger King coffee with grounds and finally got more grounds than coffee. I wanted more coffee and less grounds so I stopped at the next convenience store I came to which was the Casey's General Store in Garner, Iowa. I got a 20 ounce refill cup for 74 cents and can report it was ground free as I continued my travels to Okoboji....

This clerk at Casey's was making fresh coffee from the moment I walked in until the moment I left. The price of 74 cents was less than half of the Burger King coffee and didn't have any grounds, either.
I didn't ask if grounds are extra...