Sunday, November 29, 2009

One Sick Dog


  Last Wednesday night, my 15 year old dog Queenie went into the backyard and tried to scramble under a fence chasing a possum. On 2AM Thanksgiving morning, she started howling in pain for a few minutes and was limping on her right leg. In the morning, she seemed good and took a long walk, but would yelp occasionally and start limping. I gave her some aspirin through out the day and took her to the vet on Friday. The diagnosis was some strained muscles in her back and neck and we have 3 sets of pills to give her (steroids, pain killers, and a stomach med to keep the steroids down). She is still limping and yelping occasionally, is only walking a few blocks at a time (her normal is at least a mile a day) and doesn't have much of an appetite. When a dog is that old, every little thing is a cause for concern and this is more of a big thing. I'm hoping the steriods are causing the appetite loss and she'll be more like her old self in a week or so.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A new era...

  After being a punching bag for our last few Marshalltown Thursday night blitz chess tournaments, I was happy to win last Thursday's tournament. I had to beat my son Matt in the last round. He has won 4 of the tournaments and had won his first 16 Marshalltown blitz games. He outranks me by 300 points and is 2-0 against me this season, but I got to play White and 'dulled' the game down until he gave up a pawn for the attack. Something went wrong with the attack, I managed to trade queens and won the ending with my extra pawn. A big weapon when playing a stronger player is the threat of a draw game. The better player will usually give up something to imbalance the position and hope to outplay the lower-rated player from there.

  I was sad to see that this year's edition of the Iowa State Chess Association (IASCA) grades chess championships draw 102 players, the 3rd lowest total since at least 1998. I took over the Iowa scholastic chess in 2006 after the lowest attendance of 82 players, down from the decade high of 187 in 2000. There were many reasons for the decline, most notably the disintegration of the Regina(Iowa City) and Center Point chess clubs. The tournament director (Steve Young) didn't help matters by taking it upon himself to berate the parents who did bring their kids when attendance was poor and this tended to derail the fine organizational work of Don Ronnfeldt. Traditionally, the scholastics are handled by someone who has a group of players in their town to provide an attendance base. Since I had no such base, I worked on communications by publishing a monthly web column, and sending e-mails to all the schools to let them know about our tournaments. This would get me in touch with schools and individuals interested in chess programs and I would get 3 or 5 or 7 players from these schools to come to the tournaments. The next 2 years, attendance at the grades tournament reversed the freefall, going from 82 to 111 to 131 players. Of course nothing recedes like success and quickly traditional tournament sites started drying up. The Iowa City scholastic contact (Steve Young) would not get me any tournament dates there for IASCA events (although he could find dates for his tournaments). To be fair to Steve, I wouldn't let him help with events after the money disappeared from the 2 events I did run with him in 2006. I helped with a tournament in Ames and the scholastic chess contact there told me point blank that Ames was his territory and he would fight me tooth and nail to keep me from running IASCA tournaments there. This left me running the main IASCA events in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids with the smaller tournaments in Creston, Marshalltown, Ankeny, or whoever would host them.

  The last straw for me and IASCA scholastics was in January 2008, when Jim Hodina decided to run a tournament in Cedar Rapids the same day as the state High School championship in Ankeny. Normally this tournament loses money and so to compensate, I'd hold a youth trophy tournament that would get me to the break even point. Jim and Eric Stumpf from Cedar Rapids had asked me if I would mind if they held an unrated tournament with minimal prizes on that date for kids in their K-4 school and I said that was OK with me since that type of player doesn't travel. Then Jim started sending me flyers from the tournament and lo and behold, it was the exact same format as my youth trophy tournament and was open for players in grades K-12. I had helped Jim out by directing the Iowa Open for him just 4 months prior and now he was running a competing tournament in terms of format and audience. It was one thing for the Steve Youngs of the world to run competing tournaments, but to compete against people who I do favors for? No thanks. Jim replaced me as Scholastic Director and has accomplished his main goal, which was to bring the Grades tournament to The Iowa City/Cedar Rapids area. The tournament drew 141 players last year due to repeated urging of the area chess players to support the tournament that had been wrenched from the Des Moines area. In the meantime there has been no IASCA scholastic events scheduled for this year in Des Moines and another rich vein of players has been lost. I also don't see the smaller groups I had cultivated continuing to play in the chess tournaments.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Des Moines Winter Classic Chess Tournament

  I helped Bill Broich direct a chess tournament in Des Moines yesterday. The main part of my duties was running the 22 player beginner open while Bill took care of the 18 player open section and the 11 player reserve section (Class C and below). Bill has been organizing tournaments for the past 2 years, and was quite capable of directing the tournament, but he asked for a more experienced director to assist and one of the perks of being a senior tournament director (only 4 in Iowa) is being able to help with a lot of the premier events in the state.

  The beginner tournament went well. Most of the beginners tend to be young kids and they are enthusiastic no matter what so it is always fun. Since I served as Iowa's Chess Scholastic Director from 2006 to 2008, it was a nice chance to meet up with some old friends like Sam Cole's dad
Lee Cole (magician and comedian), and Winterset's Stephens and Konevitch families who I've seen growing up in chess tournament's I've run over the years.

  There was a couple of incidents in the non-beginner section. Long time curmudgeon Wes Ferguson (1996 Iowa chess champion) was playing Brent Walker (Norwalk High School girl's basketball coach). Walker was winning but only had 25 seconds left on his clock. He queened a pawn and while reaching to hit his clock, knocked over a piece. While Brent was putting the piece back, Ferguson banged his clock down and told Walker to 'put the piece back on his own time'. Then Wes accused Brent of making 2 moves. I was called in and since Wes had no claim, there was nothing to do. But Brent was clearly rattled by the ill will and the game eventually became a draw. Quite a shame since Wes is known for his 'odd tactics' and Brent is nothing if not a gentleman.

  The other incident occurred in the under 1600 section. There was a 9 year old girl named Anastasia who had 2 points out of 3 games (a loss, a win, and a point for being the player in an odd numbered field who did not have an opponent). Her father came up to Bill and said that Anastasia was tired, did not want to play any more, and would like a half point for not playing in the last round. Since in the last round most players are playing for prize money, half-point byes are not normally allowed unless requested in advance so the request was disallowed. So the father then said she would play because 'maybe her opponent would agree to a draw'. As it worked out, her opponent was Jaleb Jay, the high schooler that came with me, who also had 2 points. Jaleb was asked by the dad to agree to a draw and he said no. I tried to explain to the dad that if his daughter got the draw, she would win maybe five dollars, so if her tiredness was an issue, he should just withdraw from the tournament and take her home. I guess the five dollars was important (five, five, five dollar foot long), because little Anastasia played. After an hour (which included her being late from dinner, and a makeshift ice-pack to help with her headache), her father came over to her table and told her to resign (a clear rules violation) since she was down a piece and rook. What a clown! The worst part about all this was that since there was an odd number of players, somebody had to not play in the last round who could have played if Anastasia had went home early.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Trouble in Smallville?

  The Marshalltown paper is reporting that the chancellor of the community college district is going on a sabbatical and will be paid 155,000+ for the privilege. Every time the paper reports on this story, they mention that there were 4 closed door meetings about firing someone and that the chancellor has brought a lawyer to 3 of them. They never say what exactly what happens at the meetings, leaving it up to our imagination as readers (crimes too unspeakable to mention?). 2 years ago the community college district got a $25 million dollar bond issue passed, some of the money going to a new gym so our student-athletes (very few who actually come from Marshall County, Iowa) will have somewhere nice to perform. $25 million would have paid the tuition to the college for a year for almost every kid in the county. I guess the recession is over.
  I have an offer to make to the community college district. If they will hire me to replace the chancellor, I will take a sabbatical for the low price of $79,999 for the year. It is a win-win situation (except for the current chancellor, that is).

Friday, November 6, 2009

World champions!!

  Finally, the 9 year wait is over and the Yankees are champions again. After the debacle of 2004, I felt that perhaps the Yankees had acquired the curse of A-Rod and I'd seen the last Yankee championship of my life time. I'm glad I was wrong. I can't argue making Matsui the MVP, personally I would have chosen Jeter or Rivera. Damaso Marte was the unsung hero. With Chamberlain and Hughes struggling, he held the bullpen together. I was nervous up to the last out since if Victorino got on, Utley and Howard would be the next 2 hitters and possible tying runs, but Rivera was again unhittable when it mattered most. If the Yankees can develop another starting pitcher, this could be the start of another run of 3 or 4 championships over the next 5 years.

  EPSN is showing the Yankee-Dodger 1977 World Series. It is a lot of fun seeing all the great players of my teen years and Billy Martin, Yogi Berra, Dick Howser, and Elston Howard (the manager and coaches). It is amazing to me how skinny all the players from 30 years ago look. Only Reggie Jackson would not look out of place in today's baseball. Part of it is the weight training, but the lack of steroid science in the 70's also has a lot to do with the lack of bulk. Maybe it is the fond rememberance of my youth, but I can't see the 2009 team winning a series from the 77 team.

  Now that baseball is over, I can turn my attention back to chess. I stayed up past midnight Wednesday night to watch the post world series interview and was so tired on Thursday at chess club I gave up a draw a pawn up to the same kid that beat me 2 weeks ago. On the bright side, our Marshalltown Thursday Night Chess tournaments are regularly having 12 players. Last night we had players from Newton and Tama. I have exactly 30 days before my next tournament (Cychess on 12/6/2009) and I am going to spend my time on tatics (50 a day), ending (1 a day from the Karpov book), openings (reviewing my standard lines), and middle games (1 Purdy game a day).

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Failing to Finish

  Burnett didn't have the guts to finish the World Series, but I think Pettite will get the job done tonight. The bullpen has been good so I think even if Pettite struggles, the Yankees will be able to stay in the game long enough for the bats to get going. This has been a long postseason. 10 years ago, I was used to watching the Yankees play for an entire month, but the last 5 years, 1 week of attention was all that was needed. I'm hoping they end it now, because if there is a Game 7, the pressure will all be on the Yankees.

Monday, November 2, 2009

On the brink

  After Chamberlain nearly blew the game in the 8th, A-Rod and company managed to abuse the Phillies closer Lidge to pull out game 4 and get a 3-1 lead. You can tell that Sabathia did not have his good stuff and this (plus the Red Sox debacle or 2004) makes me nervous about the Yankees being able to close the series out. There was a manager in the 60's through the 80's named Gene Mauch who always put his pitchers on short rest in the playoffs and the last week of the season and presided over some of the biggest choke jobs ever because at the end of the season or series his pitchers were exhausted. He was always regarded as a genius. Hopefully, Yankee manager Joe Girardi is not so smart.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Yankees In Control

  Another great game for the Yankees. The bullpen is taking shape and A-Rod and Swisher's bats are coming around. The series has the potential of becoming a bloodbath with the Phillies 4th best starter going. Just like the Angel series, Yankee manager Girardi is taking a huge gamble by going with his starters on 3 days rest, but unlike the Angel series, this is probably a good gamble. Lee was so unhittable, I'd also rather take my chances with Sabathia against a different pitcher and try to get the hammerlock right away.