Friday, February 5, 2016

Super Thoughts On The Big Game

  The final football of the year will be Sunday’s ‘big game’. Are you wondering why I called it the ‘big game’ and not Super Bowl 50? There is a simple reason. The ‘Super Bowl’ is a registered trademark of the National Football League and I am not legally allowed to say ‘Super Bowl’ unless I have paid the National Football League for the privilege (Here is an explanation). Otherwise people might confuse this Broken Pawn with the actual sponsors of the ‘big game’ like Pepsi and Budweiser so let me make it clear that I am not a sponsor of the big game.

  Unlike last year’s deflate-gate controversy surrounding the New England Patriots there has been no headline grabbing story heading into this year’s contest. One big story are the rumors that this may be Bronco quarterback Peyton Manning’s last game, which got a boost at the end of the Patriot-Bronco AFC Championship game when Manning told Patriot coach Bill Belichick that this may be ‘his last rodeo’. The comments were recorded and publicized. This past week Manning seemed perturbed when asked about his comments saying “What happened to private conversations on the 50 yard line?”, apparently not realizing there are short and long range microphones everywhere all over the field ready to catch every utterance of every player.

  A bigger Peyton Manning story during the year was a documentary published by the Al-Jazeera television network that alleged Manning used human growth hormone issued under his wife’s name in 2011 when Manning was recovering from multiple neck surgeries. The report was widely ridiculed and Manning has threatened to sue Al Jazeera but has not up to the present time.

  The story’s main informant is a former worker at a ‘recovery’ clinic named Charlie Sly. Sly recanted his statements in a You Tube video, saying his remarks were recorded without his knowledge by a known fraudster. When I listened to the retraction it gave me some pause since it wasn’t like he gave false statements to Al Jazeera, he was telling stories not knowing he was being recorded. It reminded me of the Linda Tripp – Monica Lewinsky conversations that were secretly taped where even though the recordings were done illegally the statements were later proven to be true. One thing that came out of this was the information that Manning’s wife really was getting HGH prescriptions from the company Sly alleged was funneling the product to Manning through his wife. This reminded me of the Roger Clemens steroid accusations where HIS wife was getting HGH and it was supposed to be for her and not for Clemens.

  Now none of this was mentioned by announcer Jim Nantz during CBS broadcast of Manning’s return from injury in the Broncos game against the San Diego Chargers in the season finale. This was for a number of reasons. Manning is a golden boy of the league which CBS pays millions and millions of dollars for the rights to broadcast the games, Al Jazeera sounds like the subversive type of organization that would probably love to bring down an American icon like Manning, and Manning and Nantz are both represented by agent Sandy Montag.

  Another big story was Panther quarterback Cam Newton saying that the reason his touchdown and first down celebrations are criticized is because “I'm an African-American quarterback that may scare a lot of people because they haven't seen nothing that they can compare me to…”.

  I think Newton’s mention of race is off base. The people who get upset at African-American athletes’ football celebrations probably stopped following football a long time ago. Most quarterbacks aren’t as flamboyant as Newton but Newton isn’t nearly as flamboyant as wide receivers Terrell Owens and Chad (Ochocinco) Johnson from the last decade or the inane sack dance of caucasian Mark Gastineau of the Jets in the 1980’s.

  The criticism of Newton is coming from the fact that this year he has performed at an MVP level, his team made a deep run at being undefeated, and he has been on national television more since leaving college. He was celebrating last year and the year before and no one cared because he wasn’t on national television as much. Newton also gets celebrated for handing out footballs after Panther touchdowns to little kids in the stands during home games. If he was getting any substantial criticism for his celebrations there is no way he would be a spokesman for something as wholesome as Dannon Oikos yogurt. Last I looked white people eat a lot of yogurt and Dannon Oikos is still in business so there can’t be too many racists running around complaining about Cam Newton.

  Newton has been a winner everywhere he has ever been. He was the quarterback of a junior college national champion team, a collegiate national champion, won a Heisman Trophy, and is likely to win the MVP. In this day and age success breeds contempt. That is where any criticism of Cam Newton is coming from. Tom Brady has won 4 super bowls and appeared in 2 others and the media is quick to give him criticism on anything from deflategate to his views on nutrition. If Peyton Manning was a champion like Tom Brady the HGH allegations would be taken more seriously but despite his all his records and one Super Bowl he is the type of quarterback that has come up short more often than come up big and I think that patina of being a loser is what keeps him celebrated instead of criticized. Personally I'd much rather see Newton celebrate than watch Manning endlessly point, gesticulate, and scream 'Omaha' before each and every snap.

  I guess Newton felt the same way I did since later this week when asked about being an African-American quarterback said "I don't even want to touch on the topic of black quarterback, because I think this game is bigger than black, white or even green" adroitly turning the conversation away from race and towards the Super Bowl. For the most part I agree with Newton except for the game being bigger than green since green is the reason all but the official sponsors have to call it the ‘Big Game’.

Denver Broncos vs. Carolina Panthers
I am amazed that the Broncos even made it to the Super Bowl but here they are with Peyton Manning leading a mistake free offense and a rock solid defense. The Panthers were no surprise to me or anyone else since they have rolled through the league on the way to a 17-1 record. Getting ahead is going to be the key to the game since the Panthers defense will tee off on Manning if he has to throw to catch up while Manning can orchestrate his mistake-free short passing and running game if the Broncos are winning.


   I am currently $50 in the red for this playoff season heading into the final game of the season so the pressure us for me to continue my 3 year playoff winning streak. I think the Panthers are going to win the game but the betting line from the Betonline.ag lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page is 4.5 which seems a little high for me so I will bet $110 to win $100 on the over of 44 points. Despite the solid defenses for both sides I like the chances of both sides finding enough big plays to get this game in the 50’s. Please keep in mind that my wagers are for entertainment purposes only with no real money being risked.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

When Animals Caucus...

The 2016 Caucus is hereby called to order. While some states can boast of being the first caucus in the nation only this caucus can claim to be the first ever animal only caucus! I'm your host Kelly Megan. And now let’s introduce our caucus attendees:

Oreo the Dutch rabbit will represent the rodent population, Mr. T the turtle will represent the reptiles...
Pleco will represent the fish, and Sneezy the cat will represent the feline population

And now here are our three candidates in alphabetical order: Baxter – a slightly overweight male beagle, Daisy – a mature fashion conscious female beagle, and Harry – an older male cockatiel that self-identifies as a beagle.

Let’s open the floor to questions. Pleco?
Here's my question, Kelly. Why do the top 28% of all the animals in this house eat more food than the rest of us combined? I only get a few fish flakes each day while the dogs and cats get huge bowls of food. How do the candidates propose to address this inequity?


A wonderful question! Based on a drawing of lots Baxter was chosen to answer the first question. Baxter?
The biggest animals get the most food because they eat the most! What a moronic question. Each animal gets the food they need. Let’s face it Pleco – your recommended diet is a few fish flakes each day. What would you do with a beef stick treat or a bowl of cat food?

Daisy will respond next. Daisy?
I agree that there is an inequity in the food allotment. My plan gives detailed ways to increase the household income so all the animals can have more. It would be my first priority and until then the larger animals can just make do with a little less.


And the last to answer this question will be Harry.
The reason the top 28% of the animals get more food than anyone else is because the economy is rigged. If I’m in charge all animals will share food equally. I’m tired of having the biggest get all they want and the rest of us get scraps like fish flakes and bird seed, aren't you?




Our next question comes from Oreo the rabbit.
Only the dogs and cats ever go to the vet around here. Why don’t all the animals get health care? We all get sick. Just last week I had the sniffles but no one took me to the vet.




It's Daisy's turn to answer first.
Well, the reason only the dogs and cats go to the vet is there are no preventative health programs for rabbits, fish, turtles, and cockatiels. I think this is heartless and unspeakably cruel. I have a plan to provide preventative health services for all animals and once I’m in charge my first order of business will be to implement this plan.

Harry?
This is just another example of the tyranny of the larger richer animals. They eat all the food and then they get sick and use up all the health care resources. Clearly small animal lives don’t matter around here. The only way things will change is if the small animals stand together and demand health care.

Baxter, you are the last respondent.
Well it’s just a matter of economics, Kelly. Let’s face it. A dog is a significant investment and naturally their owners are willing to pay for their health care because dogs provide protection and friendship. Cats don’t provide protection but can keep the house clear of vermin so they also provide some value. What value do rabbits, fish, and the rest of you bring? You’re fun to look at? Give me a break! If you want health care you better prepare to work for it. If you don’t like it then you’re just mad at me because I’m telling it like it is.


Oh My! Well, let’s carry on before we have a riot. Next up is Mr. T the turtle. What is your question, Mr. T?
Thank you, Kelly. I would like to know why only the dogs get to go outside. I’d like to spend some time outside when the weather is warmer but I never see any of the animals outside except the dogs.


Harry will be the first to answer this question.
Once again the biggest animals get all the privileges! Look at these beagles! They eat the most food, go to the vet, AND they get to go outside. Meanwhile all the rest of us don’t get quality health care, eat fish flakes and bird food, and have to stay indoors all the time. This world was made for all animals and when I win all the animals will get their fair share of outside time!
Baxter, do you have a response?
Don’t let this cockatiel incite you into thinking you belong outside. How long do any of you think you would last outside? It’s 20 degrees out and snowing. Dogs don’t go outside because we want to. It’s because we have to! All the rest of you go to the bathroom indoors and no one raises a fuss but if a dog tries that – watch out!

Daisy?
Aside from Baxter’s crude remarks about defecation, I think all animals should have at least some outdoor time. I have a plan to allow for all the animals to have some supervised safe outdoor exposure and when I’m in charge it will be the first item on my agenda.


Our last question comes from Sneezy the cat.
There used to be 4 cats in the house and now I’m the only one. I’d like to know where the candidates stand on allowing more cats in the house.


Baxter, you are up first again.
First I want to make it clear that I like cats and cats like me. I think most cats are great and I love to eat cat food when I can. Having said that, we have to be very careful when allowing new cats in the house because many of them are full of fleas and other diseases and many cats are violent. We have to know what cats are trying to get here and until then I favor a temporary moratorium on more cats in the house.
Harry?
Don’t let Baxter play on your fears. He just wants to keep all the perks of his privileged position. Cats are nice animals as long as they are kept out of the room when I have play time and I say the more the merrier.


Daisy, once again you have the last word.
Cats are very peaceful and perform a lot of functions that the other animals won’t do like catching mice. I welcome the diversity cats bring and my first priority would be to allow more of them in the house.


Well, this was an excellent caucus and it is time to make a decision. I see Harry is the early leader and its not even close. It’s time for our candidates' closing statements. By the drawing of lots before the caucus, Harry is slated to go first. Harry?
Thank you, Kelly. Even though I self identify as a beagle I believe in the self-determination of all animals. It’s time to put an end to the privileges enjoyed by the biggest animals in the house while the rest of us do without. I hope you’ll all join me in promoting equality for all animals.


Baxter, do you have any final comments?
I just want to say that Harry is an awesome candidate and I really like him. But he has a problem. He can’t prove he was born in this country unlike me who has papers from the AKC. And there’s also the issue of his felony conviction as this photographic evidence will show.

Oh my. It looks like the caucus goers are switching from Harry and Baxter has 75% of the votes. Our last statement will be from Daisy.
I am so shocked to see these revelations about Harry. Like Baxter I also have papers from the AKC to prove my country of origin. But unlike Baxter I’ve never been tainted by a scandal like the time Baxter was caught surfing the internet looking at promiscuous pictures.
Oh my word! Well, the final results are in and the unanimous winner is Daisy the Beagle. Congratulations, Daisy! What is the first thing you will do now that you've won the caucus?
Thank you to all my supporters. I want to say I won’t let you down but my first official act will be to take a nap…

Friday, January 22, 2016

Sprint Chess?

  I’ve been on a new programming assignment for the last two months in nearby Ames, Iowa. Ames isn’t exactly nearby Marshalltown, Iowa. In fact it is 38 miles away. That is much less than the 62 mile one way commute I had been making two days a week to the west of West Des Moines. Unfortunately I don’t get to work from home three days a week like I was so while 38 miles is much shorter than 62 miles it is much farther than the 15 feet I traveled from my living room to the dining room on many occasions.

  The new assignment uses something called the ‘agile’ methodology of programming which attempts to break up work into manageable segments that can be produced in short bursts of a week or two called 'sprints'. In my opinion, the ‘agile’ methodology puts a premium of saying a project is done with no regard as to whether it is done poorly or half done and places needless pressure on all concerned to rush to complete their sprint but that is only my opinion. Fortunately for this company there are so many exceptional programmers that great software will be the result no matter what methodology is used. I imagine agile methodology would be perfect for lazy programmers to keep them accountable and I have been in a few places where it could have been used effectively.

  After setting my all-time Internet Chess Club one minute chess rating of 1619 last March I started playing one minute chess tournaments on lichess.org. The tournaments are 25 minutes long and give one point for a draw and two points for a win with a few unique features. One feature is the ‘doubling streak’. After a player wins two games in a row they receive four points for a win until they draw or lose a game. Another feature is ‘berserk mode’. Before the game either or both players can cut their time in half and get an extra point for a win or draw. That means a 'berserk' player on a doubling streak can get 5 points for each win. I’ve had a lot of high rated players in the tournaments go ‘berserk’ on me and give me their rating points when I managed to win the game (mostly on time) at the odds of 30 seconds to one minute. I’ve also had a number of higher rated players give me the odds of 30 seconds to one minute and trash me. Overall I’d say berserking works in my favor as far as rating points go and it my opponents that are doing the 'berserking'.

  I got my rating over 1900 on lichess and in November decided to resume playing 1 minute chess on ICC. On my first hour back I lost 17 of 21 games to drop my rating from its lofty 1619 (so lofty it was in the 51st percentile of ICC players) down to the low 1300s (around the 25th percentile). In the ensuing 2 and a half months I have not gotten close to 1600 although I have crossed 1500 on two occasions. As I struggled to get back to my peak rating I thought I noticed that if I lost a few games in a row I would continue to play until I won a game or two. This struck me as quite self-destructive towards my goal of getting a new high in 1 minute chess. A losing binge is indicative of some combination of poor play (tiredness, lack of focus, etc..), poor internet service, or lag in the Internet Chess Club servers (which do not seem to be up to the quality of years past). Looking at it with a beginner’s mind I’d be more likely to accomplish my goal by playing less when I’m playing poorly or have a bad internet connection and playing more when I am playing better.

  In an effort to get to my goal of reaching a new height I decided to take a page from the ‘Agile’ book and only play ‘sprints’ of three one minute chess games at a time and if I felt I was playing fairly mistake free and had a good internet connection and the ICC was running good I would play some more but if those three factors weren’t in play then I would stop playing. Here is an example of a morning when I was unstoppable:

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of pgn4web.casaschi.net



  The early results have been less than encouraging. I have no problem stopping after winning three in a row or two out of three but I cannot seem to stop when I lose two or three out of three games I go into addict mode and play for another half hour, losing game after game until I come to my senses and stop. When I do I manage to stop and resume an hour or so later my results are almost always better. I would have expected the exact opposite with my being able to quit when things aren't going so well and thirst for ever more victories when I'm on a hot streak. For now I'll chalk it up to a natural desire to feel like a 'winner' and see what the results are if I ever manage to modify my behavior to play in sprints all the time.

  My predictions on the second week of the NFL playoffs went much better than the first week and it was a shame I had to stop and wait for the conference championship games. I hit on my double bet when the Patriots covered, lost a push on the Cardinals game thanks to the Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary, won the Panthers cover, and got a push in the Broncos-Steelers game. My net profit of $190 for the weekend beings my playoff losses to a manageable $40 dollars with three games left in the season.

  The Broncos game underscore the difference between a seven point spread and anywhere from a five to nine point spread. The Broncos were losing 13-12 when they got a late touchdown to go ahead 18-13. The spread was seven points and because the extra point would still allow the Steelers to take the lead with a touchdown the Broncos went for a 2 point conversion which they made to go ahead by seven and at least gain a push. Then the Broncos tacked on a field goal with a minute left to get a 10 point lead and cover the spread. The Steelers were driving down the field with less than a minute left. I was worried the Broncos would allow a touchdown as long as there would be no time left. Instead with 30 seconds left, the Steelers decided to kick a field goal and take their chances on an on-side kick with two or three chances to hit a ‘Hail Mary’ pass. The field goal was good, the Broncos recovered the onside kick, and the game ended with a 7 point Bronco win which was good enough for a push since the line was 7 points. When the line is 7 or 3 points a close football game will revolve around the point spread because the teams will take extra risks to expand a lead to 3 or 7 points or to cut the lead to the point where a single play can tie the game. This makes me think more that taking the favorite is the play when the line is 5 or 6 points and the underdog on games with a spread of 8 or 9.

  Pontificating aside, my goal for this week is to win two bets to give me a cushion for the Super Bowl and failing that to at least stay close enough for a catchup bet on Super Sunday. I cannot remember a less impressive group of conference finalists as all four home teams won but either staggered to the finish line like the Cardinals, Patriots, and Panthers or sleptwalked through the first three quarters like the Broncos. I have studied these games carefully and as usual will take the betting lines from the Betonline.ag lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page for entertainment purposes only with no real money being wagered.

Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers
The Panthers were outscored 24-0 in the second half of last week's game against the Seahawks, Luckily they were ahead 31-0 at halftime. The Cardinals were explosive at times and pedestrian at others. I feel the key to this game will be can the Panthers ground the Cardinals high powered passing game with their pass rush. Cardinal quarterback Carson Palmer will be much more of a stationary target than the Seahawks Russell Wilson and after last week's second half letdown I expect the Panthers to not let up if they get the advantage. Mark me down for the Panthers giving the three points.


New England Patriots at Denver Broncos
The Patriots were in control of the Chiefs throughout last weekend but that was at home and they will be in Denver this weekend where they haven't had much success winning only two of their nine games in Denver this century. If there was ever a time to break the streak this would be the game. The Broncos looked horrible for the first three quarters against an injury-decimated Steelers team, only winning the game with the help of a timely fumble and poor game management on the part of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. The Patriots were able to survive the Chiefs without any injuries to their receivers. I feel this will be the key to the game and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will be able to pick the Broncos defense apart and score touchdowns while the Broncos will settle for field goals like they had to against the Steelers. The road Patriots are favored and I will take them to get to the Super Bowl for the second year in a row and will lay the 3.5 points. My main concern is that the NFL may decide to rig the officiating to allow a 'feel-good' Peyton Manning' year but I'm not concerned enough to bet on the Broncos.


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Rhapsodic

  Last year around this time I recounted my problems with my Rhapsody music app on my amazing iPod shutting down their service on New Year’s Eve and leaving me without music for my hour long commute home. That story had a happy ending when I managed to wrangle a free month of service from the company for my discomfort. I was and am well aware of the ‘first world’ nature of my discomfort but as I’m very fond of saying “it’s not my world – I’m just living in it’. I will say that I pay the company $14.99 a month for the use of their music service and that carries the expectation of having their service available for the month.

  I haven’t written about Rhapsody since last January and you may be thinking they must have messed up again to make the august pages of this Broken Pawn blog. If you are thinking that you are thinking wrong. Rhapsody’s service has been stellar since New Years Eve 2014 with no noticeable interruptions. They have upgraded their iTunes app numerous times with improvements such as notifying me when new albums are available or to let me know that I haven’t listened to the Doors lately with a playlist at the ready for my listening pleasure.

  I don’t subscribe to Rhapsody for notifications – I subscribe because the service has a large selection of music that I can download and listen to without being connected to the internet. If the world of podcasts had existed years ago I may never have signed up for a paid music service and I will readily admit it to being a luxury that I could do without.

  One of Rhapsody’s glaring weaknesses is that if they don’t have access to an access to an artist’s music I can’t listen to it. In 2013 they lost the rights to the music of John Lennon and Billy Joel. Both were regulars on my playlists and sorely missed. Luckily both artists were restored within weeks.

  Three of my favorite artists that were never on Rhapsody were Led Zeppelin, George Harrison, and the Beatles. I have plenty of their CD’s which I put onto my iPod using my iTunes app. The desktop Rhapsody application allows me to mix my music into my Rhapsody playlists but iPod app allows no such mixing. It wasn’t a big deal but an annoyance nonetheless. Then in the February I got a notification from Rhapsody to let me know the Led Zeppelin catalog was now available.

  I quickly downloaded all of my favorite Led Zeppelin songs and put them into my playlists. Judging from radio playlists I assume most people would pick ‘Stairway To Heaven’ or ‘Whole Lotta Love’ as their favorite Led Zeppelin songs. My tastes run a little different. When I want to hear some of the slower Zeppelin songs I turn to ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ from the Presence album or “Kashmir’ from the “Physical Graffiti’ double album (which I consider the best Zeppelin album) and if I’m in the mood for something faster I’ll go for Physical Graffiti’s ‘Brandy & Coke’ or ‘Custard Pie’, ‘Hots on For Nowhere’ or my personal favorite Zeppelin song ‘D’yer Mak’er’ from the Houses of the Holy album.

  It was a treat to be able to play Led Zeppelin in my Rhapsody playlists on my iPod and in October it got better when Rhapsody added George Harrison‘s music. There isn’t any sound like Harrison’s guitar and his solo music always struck me as square in the middle of John Lennon’s in your face style and Paul McCartney’s ‘all happy all they time music’. It was realistic and at the same time hopeful. When I’m feeling overwhelmed by a tall task in front of me whether it’s a programming project or a tough position at the chessboard at hand all I have to listen to ‘Dark Horse’:

You thought you had got me in your grip
Baby looks like you was not so smart
And I became too slippery for you
But let me say that was nothing new.


  And I remember the underdog always has a shot as long as they keep punching. Harrison’s ‘Live In Japan’ is one of the best live albums I’ve ever listened to. I loaded up my iPod with most of Harrison’s hits but also two of his albums from the mid 70’s that weren’t critically acclaimed or best sellers but were certainly among my favorites 1979’s ‘George Harrison’ and the 1976 ‘Thirty Three & 1/3’ which contains my favorite Harrison song ‘It’s What You Value’:

It's all up to what you value
Down to where you are
It all swings on the pain you've gone through
Getting where you are


  A song ostensibly about motor racing but it applies to almost any situation I find myself in. As you can imagine I was well pleased with Rhapsody in the second half of 2015 but they were saving the best for last. In the last week of 2015 the entire Beatles discography became available on all the major streaming services, including Rhapsody. This change of events came with much fanfare and for good reason since the Beatles were music and society game-changers on the level of Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and Michael Jackson. If you don’t think of the names I just mentioned as game changers I would remind you that Sinatra had the women of the 30’s throwing their underwear on stage during his performances and Elvis Presley’s gyrations were deemed so subversive that he was only shown from the waist up during his national appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. It may not seem like it now but the Beatles were even more radical then Presley and Sinatra. During the early 60’s the Beatles longish hair was made fun of but while Elvis joined the Army in 1957 and emerged as a film star singing Blue Hawaii and Sinatra became a Las Vegas act, the Beatles broke that mold and went psychedelic. While the Beatles weren’t on the same level of provocation as Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix (except for John Lennon’s famous statement that the Beatles were more ‘popular than Jesus’), the Beatles fame and popularity took any movement they embraced to a new level in popular culture whether it was meditation, drug use, or being anti-Vietnam.

  I didn’t download the Beatles catalog right away but I listened to all the albums from start to end except for the song Revolution 9 from the White Album that you had to play backwards to hear someone say ‘Turn me on, dead man’.

  It took a couple of days to listen to all the Beatle songs and I found myself downloading a number of them and adding them to my playlists. What struck me was how crisp the songs still sound over 45 years later. The albums I found myself listening too the most this past week were ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ and ‘Rubber Soul’. Although the albums were released only two years apart the styles seem completely different. The Magical Mystery Tour album has some of the bands greatest ‘trippy’ songs like ‘Flying’, ’I Am The Walrus’, and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ while Rubber Soul is like a greatest hits record with only one of the 14 songs over 3 minutes long (‘You Won’t See Me’ at 3:19).The other day I listened to Rubber Soul’s ‘I’m Looking Through You’ at least a dozen times on my 37 mile commute. I’m sure you’ve met at least one person that made you feel this way:

I'm looking through you,
Where did you go?
I thought I knew you,
What did I know?
You don't look different, but you have changed
I'm looking through you, you're not the same
Your lips are moving,
I cannot hear
Your voice is soothing,
But the words aren't clear
You don't sound different,
I've learned the game


  I’m sure there are many artists that Rhapsody doesn’t provide the songs for but none that I miss. Since I hammered Rhapsody pretty good last year I thought it was only right to get it in public how very pleased I am with their service now that they have added some of my favorite artists to their catalogs.

  Speaking of getting hammered, ny NFL playoff predictions stated great with the Chief's shutout but quickly went downhill as the torrential downpour left the Steelers-Bengals under, the Seahawks failed to cover against the Vikings, and the Redskins only played one half of a game against the Packers. The three losses leave me down $230 mythical dollars heading into this weekend's games. All four road teams won a playoff round for the first time ever and I think this weekend will lead to the revenge of the home teams. As usual I will take the betting lines from the Betonline.ag lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page for entertainment purposes only with no real money being wagered.

Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots
The Patriots were the team that most needed a week off to get their offensive line and receivers healthy. The Chiefs looked great against the Texans and hammered the Patriots last year in Kansas City. I expect the Patriots to show why they are the defending champions and easily win this game so I will bet $220 to win $200 that the Patriots will cover the 5 points.


Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals throttled the Packers 38-8 on December 27th in Arizona. The Packers are on a short week having played on Sunday. I am not buying the resurgent Packer offense that appeared against the Redskins and will take the Cardinals for $110 to win $100 and give the 7 points.


Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers
The Seahawks could barely move the ball against the Vikings and the Panthers defense is even better although the temperature will much higher in Charlotte. West coast teams traditionally have a difficult time heading east and I like the Panthers on a $110 bet to dethrone to two-time defending champions by more than the 2.5 line.


Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos
It doesn't look like Steeler's quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be close to 100% for this game. I don't think Broncos QB Peyton Manning is anything close to 100% either but I expect the Broncos to score enough to put this game away and will bet $110 that they will cover the 7 point spread,


Thursday, January 7, 2016

Magnus is Back

  When FIDE the world chess federation published their December 2015 ratings Chessbase’s headline was ‘Carlsen Slumps’ in reference to World Champion Magnus Carlsen’s rating reaching 2834. While a rating of 2834 was still the best in the world it was the lowest Carlsen’s had been in four years. Since reaching his peak rating of 2882 in May of 2014 Carlsen’s rating held steady for around a year but had poor results in Norway Chess in June and the European Team Championships in November without any offsetting successes.

  It’s tough for a guy like Carlsen to improve his rating. As the highest rated player in the world he can only gain points by winning. In December, Carlsen played against the second, third, and fourth rated players in the world. He tied all three games and lost 1.4 rating points. Carlsen competed in the London Chess Classic in December against most of the top 10 players in the world. In a closely played tournament (35 of the 45 games were drawn) Carlsen was one of six players to not lose a game, winning two games and drawing seven. Two players drew all their games. Carlsen tied for first with Anish Giri and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, won the playoff to win the tournament, and the victory also meant an extra $150,000 for winning the inaugural Grand Chess Tour.

  Carlsen gained three rating points in London which he promptly lost in the first round of the Qatar Masters when he drew 2498 rated Nino Batsiashvili, which was the top news of the day in the Chessbase web site. Carlsen finished the tournament with draws against three top 10 players and five wins including an instant classic against top 20 player Li Chao to tie for first in the tournament which he won in a tiebreak playoff against 2014 Qatar champion Yu Yangyi to pick up another $27,000.

  Carlsen gained seven rating points in Qatar and his rating is now 2844. This is his second lowest rating since 2013 but there is no more talk about any slump with his two tournament victories. I think the London Chess Classic and Qatar showed me that Carlsen is no longer taking undue risks in order to outplay his opponents in the middlegame unless the tournament situation requires it and he is still head and shoulders ahead of anyone outside the top ten in the world.

  Carlsen has been playing a lot and his next tournament will come in less than two weeks in the Tata Steel tournament in Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands where he will take part in the 14 player round robin that includes top ten players Caruana, So, Giri, and Ding Liren. In March Giri and Caruana will take part in an eight player candidates tournament that will decide who will challenge Carlsen for the championship in a match that is scheduled to take place in the United States later this year. Also taking part in the tournament will be former champion Anand as well as sort of former champion Topalov, top US player Hikaru Nakamura, and the winner of the 2013 and 2014 Norway Chess tournaments Sergei Karjakin.

  While the Grand Chess Tour is, well grand, the Candidates Tournament is in my opinion the most anticipated tournament of this year or last year because the stakes of a shot at the World Championship trumps the Grand Chess Tour’s prize money. All these players (Peter Svidler and Levon Aronian round out the field.) have won top level tournaments in the past and are capable of doing so in March. A lot will depend on if anyone breaks out to a fast start and forces the rest of the field to play catchup. Two years ago Anand won the tournament with 3 wins and 11 draws while Topalov finished last with 2 wins, 4 losses, and 6 draws. If this year’s tournament plays similarly close to the vest I can see Giri winning the tournament since he rarely loses. If it becomes a race to get wins I like the chances of Nakamura, Karjakin, or Caurana since they have demonstrated the ability to pile up the wins. Anand, Topalov, Aronian, and Svidler seem too old to win this sort of grueling 14 round tournament but it didn’t stop Anand two years ago.

  With the Candidates tournament, a World Championship match, the Grand Chess Tour, traditional tournaments like Wijk aan Zee, Qatar, Gilbralter, etc.. as well as an actively playing world champion 2016 has the possibility to be the best chess year ever.

  Another great tournament kicks off this week – the NFL Playoffs. For the fourth year in a row I will be making predictions for each of the four rounds in an attempt to win mythical cash and maintain my own playoff winning streak. In 2013 I won $95 after winning my Super Bowl catchup bet. 2014 saw me up $380 heading into the final three games of the season which I promptly lost to end up only $50 in the black. Last year I picked the over on the Super Bowl and ended up with $140 profit when the Patriots scored with 2:02 left in the game to make the score 28-24 and comfortably over the line of 47.5. The first round of this years playoffs are the most evenly matched I've ever seen so I will have to be on my toes to try to get off to a good start. I will be using the betting lines are from the Betonline.ag lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page for entertainment purposes only with no real money being wagered.

Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans
The 9-7 Texans are starting Brian Hoyer at quarterback while the last Chief quarterback to win a playoff game was Joe Montana in 1994. This should be a game where the defenses dominate, I think the Texans will be undone by offensive turnovers and will take the Chiefs for $110 to cover the 3 points and make me $100.


Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings
The high in Minneapolis is scheduled to be 10 degrees above zero on Sunday which is drawing me away from picking the over of 40 points. Instead I will pick the Seahawks to shut down Adrian Peterson, force Teddy Bridgewater into mistakes, and win this game by more than the 5 point spread and win me $100 on a $110 bet.


Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals
It should be a rainy day in Cincinnati with temperatures in the 40's. This may hold down the scores but I think the Steelers offense is so dynamic and their defense is so porous that I will bet $110 on the over of 46 points. A 27-20 game sounds about right to me!


Green Bay Packers at Washington Redskins
The Redskins haven't beaten anyone of note this year while the Packers have beaten their division rivals Vikings, Bears, and Lions on the road while losing to each of those teams at Lambeau Field. The Packers have been playing so poorly over the last 10 games (4-6) that I will bet $110 on home cooking and take the Redskins to win and cover the point they are giving the Packers.