Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Search for Perfection

  In chess, if you want to win a tournament, you normally have to win all your games. Sometimes you can give up a draw and still come in first. A lot of players will offer their last round opponent a draw before the game even starts in order to secure their prize money. In matches, once a player has a lead, they will stop playing to win and only play not to lose in order to keep their advantage. Part of the reason Bobby Fisher is so revered by chess players is that he played to win every game. In 1971 he won 2 matches by 6-0 scores against top-shelf competition, an unheard of feat. In his 1972 world championship match against Boris Spassky, even Fisher succumbed to draw-itis once he had a big lead, drawing 7 games in a row before winning the 21st and final game.

  The Indianapolis Colts had won their first 14 games of the season, clinched the best record in their conference, and were assured of having all their playoff games in their home stadium going into this past Sunday’s game against the New York Jets. After getting a 15-10 lead into the 3rd quarter, Colt’s coach Jim Caldwell removed all his best players (including All-world quarterback Payton Manning and Iowa native Dallas Clark) and the Colts lost the game 29-15. The star players looked upset at being pulled from the game, but didn’t complain publicly. The coach and general manager Bill Polian both said that a perfect regular season wasn’t part of their master plan of winning the Super Bowl.

  I’m confused by the Colt’s reasoning. If they were afraid of their top players getting hurt, why play them at all instead of over half the game? If the Colts wanted to keep their top players sharp, why not rest them in the first half and then play them in the second half under real game conditions? Another factor was Payton Manning’s consecutive game streak. But what if he got hurt on the first play?

  Why not just play to win? There has only been 1 team that has won all their games, the 1972 Dolphins. The Patriots came close 2 years ago, not losing until the Super Bowl due to an inspired (and lucky) comeback by the Giants. The 72 Dolphins had their best record clinched before their last 2 games, but still played to win. I think it shows softness by not playing for perfection when afforded the rare opportunity to do so. Now the players may have a doubt in their minds as to whether they could have beaten the Jets. I think the aura of invincibility is more valuable than the risk of getting a player hurt.