Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Immigration Situation

  The immigration debate in the country has hit a flashpoint with the approval of a law making it a state crime to be in Arizona without legal permission and obligates authorities to check the paperwork of those they believe in the country illegally. Proponents of immigrant rights have threatened boycotts and legal action to determine if the new law is unconstitutional. Even the president has chimed in to say that the law is ‘misguided’. The action in Arizona was prompted by 40 years of no border control and a comprehensive immigration policy by both parties. I can recall at least 2 immigration reforms that consisted of forgiving the people who were already here but stern wagging of fingers amid proclamations that this would be the last time the country offered forgiveness(an article about this years version). Just as Iran and North Korea has learned that offers to negotiate away their nuclear capabilities get better as they acquire more nuclear capability, people are more willing to enter the country illegally in anticipation of the next period of forgiveness. Arizona lawmakers were galvanized into action by the murder of a local rancher on his property outside a border town. When the people feel they cannot count on the authorities for protection, they will act in what they perceive to be their immediate self-interest. I’ve always felt the Chernobyl disaster did more than anything else to break the Soviet Union’s hold on their enslaved states.

  Critics of the law say the provision of obligating authorities to check the paperwork on those believed to be in the country illegally will lead to racial profiling. I agree that will happen, despite the clauses in the laws that are supposed to prevent that. I’ll be more concerned when people don’t think it is worth the risk to come into this country illegally, but I don’t think it is a bad law. I would forget about whether the authorities believe someone is here illegally or not, just require authorities to question the paperwork of everyone they come in contact with. In Iowa, not only do I have to have automobile insurance, I must carry proof of that insurance in my car when I am driving. If the police give me a speeding ticket and I don’t have my insurance card, I am getting a hefty fine even if I have insurance. If the police checked the papers of everyone they came into contact with, any charges of racism could be easily proved.

  Breaking the law carries certain risks. When I was younger, many of my friends were drug dealers, petty thieves, or just plain criminals. We all knew the risks of getting caught and once caught, getting off with as little punishment as possible was of prime importance (It helped to be a minor). One of the risks of being in the country illegally is being found out and sent back. The argument that illegal immigrants do work that naturalized citizens wouldn’t do has lost a lot of its persuasive power in a recession where any job is a good job. After the INS had a raid at the Marshalltown meat packing plant, many families were broken up, many good people were deported, and there are many businesses in Marshalltown who claim to have financially suffered by the raid. But the plant also had to raise wages to attract workers and far from closing the plant, they have expanded it. I think that the people who claim that anyone who would support a law like this is racist don't understand the anxiety and anger of the people who are worried about the violence that visited the Arizona rancher coming to visit them next. These are people defending their self-interest just as the people who will be participating in the boycotts and protests will be defending their self-interest. I’m looking forward to seeing the effects of the proposed boycotts (One possible scenario). The segregation of buses in Montgomery, Alabama in the 1950’s was ended by a boycott when the bus companies decided they needed the business of the african-americans who weren’t riding the buses because they had to sit in the back and give up their seats to white people more than the white people who wouldn't ride the bus unless they got to sit in the front and demand seats. As the saying goes, “Money talks”.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Chess Obituary

  3-time Iowa chess champion Tim Mc Entee recently announced his resignation as Iowa State Chess Association president and his semi-retirement from competitive chess in order to concentrate his energies on a food bank project in Des Moines.

Tim Mc Entee after winning his 3rd straight Iowa Chess championship in April 2008

  I first met Tim at the Iowa Open in late 2003. My kids were playing and Tim was going over the games of the lower rated players. Shawn Pavlik from nearby Green Mountain had shown me his first round tournament win and I watched Tim go over the game with Shawn. You would have never thought that Shawn had won this game from how Tim went over it with him. I remember Shawn missed the win of a piece (he was already up a couple of pawns) and Tim just kept saying ‘No, we don’t want to win any material, do we?”. I understand that Tim thought he was helping by pointing out all of Shawn’s mistakes, but Shawn’s confidence was devastated by the critique and didn’t win a game the rest of the tournament. I got to see Tim in action 3 weeks later in Ames at a CyChess tournament. This time the subject of his analysis was my then co-worker’s Rusty Davis’s round 1 loss. Tim’s analysis had almost everybody but Rusty in stitches. While his chess mastery was undeniable, based on my first 2 observances of him arrogant would have been one of the first words I’d have used to describe him.

  I got to know Tim a lot better in 2004 when the Iowa players would congregate on the US Chess Live internet site’s Iowa channel. He would go over all of our tournament games if you asked him to and he wasn’t nearly as caustic as I’d observed before. It was very nice to see a master’s thought process.

  When Tim was elected president of the IASCA in 2005, he did a lot of things for Iowa chess. Together, we ran a couple of the state class E championships and Tim would spare no expense for a quality event. He paid the state membership dues for new members in both of the tournaments and we signed over 40 new members between the 2 events. I’ve also seen him pull money out of his own pocket to ensure that the organizers of an event didn’t lose money.

  Tim has also taken a number of players under his wing for training sessions. He spent 8 Sundays with Matt last year to help him prepare for the National High School championships.

  I think the closing of US Chess Live reduced Tim’s interaction with a lot of Iowa’s chess players and the return of his training partner Pete Karagianis from Arizona in 2007 gave him more of an impetus to resume an active playing schedule and less desire for the administrative details of growing chess through the IASCA. I served on the board of the IASCA and found that most of the other board members’ behaviour ranged between indifference, non-cooperation, and just plain obstructionist.

  I played in a 4 man quick chess tournament with Tim in 2006 in Grinnell. He was the highest rated player in the section and I was the lowest. Tim had clinched the tournament by winning his first 5 games and in his last game, he was in a drawn endgame against the second seed when he sacrificed a rook for 2 pawns. His position became objectively lost, but he managed to win a couple of more pawns back and eventually turned his extra pawns into a new queen and won the game. I asked him why he made the sacrifice and he said ‘I’d rather have lost the game than tied it’. I’m looking forward to Tim’s eventual return to competitive chess (it is too addictive to stay away from forever), but if he brings even half that combativeness to his food bank project, hunger in Des Moines had better watch out!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Father Time and other stories from the Okoboji Open

  I finished 3 weekends of chess related activities by directing the Okoboji Open for my friends Jodene Kruse and John Flores this past weekend. The Okoboji Open started out as a small 1 day tournament in January and for the last 2 years has been a 3 day tournament in April. Directing this tournament is very challenging for me. Normally, when I run a tournament, I know almost all the players and they know me, so there aren’t too many problems. In Okoboji, there are players from Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa playing and I feel like I have to prove my worthiness to be the tournament director and am more readily challenged about my knowledge of the rules. This tournament has a prize fund of a couple of thousand dollars and that also makes everyone a bit edgier when it comes to what color they play and who they play, etc… The last 2 years, Grandmaster Alex Yermolinsky has played. He is 29th ranked player in the US and one of only 1300 or so chess grandmasters in the world. Alex is very gracious and plays as a favor to Jodene, but he wants good conditions to play in. Last year he was upset because his table was too close to another table and asked me to please move the table for the next round. Another issue is that I am not privy to the communications between the players and organizers during the registration process, so the beginning of the tournament is prone to miscommunications as to which players want which rounds off and when they will be starting play. There is an option in the tournament to play 2 long games on Friday night and Saturday morning or 2 shorter games on Saturday. All the players play 1 long game Saturday night and 2 long games on Sunday. In addition to all this, my son Matt was accompanying me and I have to make sure he has everything he needs to play at a high level, but since he is 17, it is less of an issue than it used to be and John was great about getting him out to lunch when needed.

2nd Place finisher Matt Anzis receiving his winnings from organizers Jodene Kruse(left) and John Flores(right)

  The tournament got off to a good start on Friday night, I managed to figure out which players were no-shows and keep them from being paired against players who were here and ready to play. I hate to have a player drive a long way to a tournament and then stare at an empty chair for an hour, even if they do get a win. Saturday morning was more of a chore since people were registering and checking in to play the 2 short games while the players were filing in to play the longer games. I had an odd number of players and so got my assistant director (Bill Broich) to sit in the tournament so everyone would have a game. I managed a nice finesse by pairing two players who had not shown up against each other and letting the players they otherwise would have played get in a game against each other (Neither of the 2 players showed up for the Saturday morning game).

Grandmaster Alex Yermolinsky (right) won all 5 games to take the $400 top prize at the 2010 Okoboji Open

  It was a nice group of players. Many had remembered me from the year before and we all got along well for the most part. Part of the tournament director’s job is to provide a sympathetic ear for the players who want to discuss their game. You share in their joy and commiserate in their losses. Most of the problems that did arise were from clocks that were not set correctly. There was an 87-year old player named Dick Rostrum who lost his game on Friday night and lost again on Saturday morning. After the Saturday morning game, he went over to the grandmaster’s table, pulled up a chair, sat down to watch, leaning his arms on the table, coughing and wheezing occasionally. No one complained, so I didn’t ask him to move. He said he was from GM Yermolinsky’s hometown and wanted to watch him. I took a break from entering all the games into the computer and posting them on-line to play in Yermolinsky’s simultaneous exhibition (last year I was the last one to lose, this year I lost second fastest), but was fairly busy most of the day.

  On Saturday night, Dick Rostrum yelled at me because he was going to have black for the second time in a row (it happens occasionally). After he lost for the 3rd time in a row he again sat down at the GM’s table, but this time there was a loud ticking noise that seemed to be coming from his bag. I went over, bent down to look at his bag and he yelled “I’ll just keep my bag on my lap, IF YOU DON’T MIND.”, like I was going to steal his bag. I was going to ask him if his clock was running, but the GM gave me a dirty look and waved his hand so I just excused myself, but I’d already managed to make the situation worse. The problem with trying to deal with an old person is that they can’t hear so they start yelling and this guy was already upset over losing 3 games in a row. Since he was old and had a ticking clock in his bag and I was just a little a little ticked off myself, I just started referring to him as “Father Time”. John, Jodene, Matt, and myself had a great dinner with players Riaz Khan (a very nice and funny guy) and Tim Harder (who didn’t have a place to sleep and spent the night on a cot in the room I got for Matt and me) and had a good night’s sleep.

  Sunday’s games went very smoothly and the tournament was over in no time. As a bonus, Matt finished in second place (after surrendering an early draw, he won 3 games in a row) to GM Yermolinsky and took home $250. “Father Time” won his last 2 games and did not sit at the grandmaster’s table after either victory. He even won a trophy for the top scoring senior player. When John went to hand him his trophy, he grabbed the trophy and ran over to Jodene, yelling out “NOT YOU, HER!!” multiple times. He started rubbing up on Jodene and I managed to get my revenge by saying, “Do you want me to hold the trophy so you can use both hands?” We all had a good laugh, but Matt told me Father Time did not seem too amused, although it appeared to me that he had other things on his mind.

Dick Rostrom receiving the senior trophy from tournament organizer Jodene Kruse

  The 4 hour drive home went very quickly and we stopped for gas at the Kum’N’Go in Mason City. I grabbed a ‘Chorizo’ dog and wolfed it down. Either the Chorizo Dog or Father Time had the last laugh because I got food poisoned and was sicker than a dog all day Monday and still am not right 3 days later. While I enjoyed the Okoboji Open very much, I’m looking forward to a chess-free weekend!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Repeating the past’s mistakes

  This past week the Minnesota Twins opened their new ballpark, Target Field. It is being hailed as an old-time baseball park with a return to outdoor baseball and much better than the old domed stadium which had been described as a drab affront to baseball, with the artificial grass causing the ball to hop 20 feet over a fielder’s head, a gigantic plastic ‘baggie’ serving as the right field fence and the roof that the fielders would lose fly balls in. It seems that everyone has forgotten why the Twin Cities wanted a domed stadium in the first place. I remember when I was a kid the Twins played the Yankees in Bloomington’s Metropolitan Park. It looked like a nice stadium, unless it snowed in April or September in Minnesota. Then the Minnesota Twins would make the nightly news as a joke of a team trying to play in a snow covered stadium, with snow covered seats, and snow covered parking lots. The TV announcers would wonder why anyone in their right mind would have major league baseball in Minnesota during these months. And this was before ESPN and all the cable channels. The ridicule would be exponential in today’s media. As a more practical matter, the Minnesota Twins are a regional team that draws fans from the Dakotas, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Northern Minnesota who will drive as many as 6 hours to see the closest major league baseball team, the Twins. A big rationale for the domed stadium was that the team was losing attendance because families who planned in advance for their one weekend of major league baseball of the year would never return after driving 6 hours only to see the game rained out. An unintended benefit of the quirks of the domed stadium was that the home team figured out how to play in the stadium during the long season, while visiting teams had trouble figuring out how to see the fly balls and play the unpredictable bounces off the artificial grass and baggie fence. When the Twins won the World Series in 1987 and 1991, they did not lose a single home game in either Series. The dome was hailed as a major home field advantage with the loudest fans because the dome trapped in the noise. The stadium did not become drab until the Twins started losing, but most empty stadiums are drab. I’m eagerly waiting for the next big snowstorm in Minnesota during baseball season to see if the fans clamor for the return of what they used to call “Dome, Sweet, Dome”.

  The Yankees are off to a great start, but I am afraid they have also made the mistake of forgetting the past. The Yankees have always bought many of their best players, but some are unsuited to handle the pressure of playing in New York. Javier Vasquez was a promising young pitcher with the Montreal Expos when the Yankees bought him for the 2004 season. He had a so-so season, was awful in the playoffs, and left for Arizona after the season. After some mediocre years with the White Sox, Vasquez had a big year with a mediocre Braves team and now the Yankees have signed him up for this season. His first 2 starts have been awful. I’d have hoped that the Yankees had learned 6 years ago that this guy cannot perform in pressure situations. If the Yankees are lucky, they will ship him off to some other team before he can help ruin another playoff season.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Everybody's doing it...

  On the Easter Sunday Mass, Father Jim touched on the sex abuse scandal in the church. While he did say that there is no excuse for abuse, he pointed out that while it is estimated that 3 or 4 percent of Catholic priests are abusers (I’m not clear if they are abusers or just accused of being abusers), that number is slightly less than the Protestant clergy and that 10 percent of US Public school students have been targeted with unwanted sexual attention by school employees.

  I’m not a big fan of the ‘everybody’s doing it’ defense (except when I’m getting a traffic ticket, of course). If you have to bring up these kinds of facts, haven’t you already lost the debate? I was stunned to be told that out of every 25 to 33 priests, one is a child-abuser, but I don’t care about these or any other statistics. Everything I hear from the Church seems to be either (a) we’re being picked on because we’re Catholic or (b) look at these other groups who are as bad or worse.

  I ran scholastic chess tournaments for 3 years and I wouldn’t let an adult help unless I’d known them for a good long time or they had their own children at the tournament. Having someone abusing kids whose parents I was convincing to take to my tournaments was my worst nightmare. If it had happened, I’d like to think I’d be the first one calling the police to scrape up what was left of the abuser and not getting the abuser to stay away from my tournaments and help some other director with theirs.

  Tearing down institutions is what the media does to market their product and the more sacrosanct an institution, the better for the media. Politicians and celebrities have always been fair game. But at least 1 teacher
(see article)
wasn’t immune from his 15 minutes of fame. In any event, these wounds are all self-inflicted.

  I do think the Catholic Church is being held to a higher standard, but I say ‘so what?’ In order to be exceptional, a higher standard is required. If the church was firing and prosecuting abusers instead of transferring them or limiting their public appearances, they would retain the moral high ground and be in a better position to point out the abuses of the other groups and maybe even help to stop the abuses of all groups. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a voice of moral authority ask why perverts get probation and time served
(see article) , instead of some sort of justification that pedophile priests are just indicative of the rest of society? As so often happens, the pretense of denying the truth ends up causing more trouble than admitting the problem and dealing with it in the first place. Based on the news this week, I think the church may be finally getting it.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Riding the chess roller coaster

  On Thursday, the Carson Family from Ackley came to the chess club for the weekly blitz tournament. It was nice to see them and great to have them at the tournament, which has had 6 to 8 players lately. This week we had 13 players. The best player of the Carson family is 3 time Iowa girls champion, Bethany Carson. I’ve played her a few times and I’ve found that her chess game tends to the passive side (retreats when attacked and readily trades pieces). I can take over the board a little at a time and eventually turn my space advantage into a large endgame edge when we trade the pieces off. I beat Bethany’s sister Sarah Faith using this strategy in the first round. I had an unexpectedly easy win over Bethany’s dad Tim in the second round and was paired against Bethany in the final round. I was rolling along with my strategy when she unexpectedly gave me a pawn. The move after winning a pawn, I missed a threat and not only lost the pawn back, but got my king’s castled position wrecked and dealing with the threats to my king cost me another pawn. Bethany played well after that and won the game. I was disgusted with myself for not taking the time to reorient myself to my unexpected good fortune. If I had, I would have realized that I should just keep to my play and my win would be easier than usual.

  I accepted an invitation to direct the Okoboji Open next weekend. Okoboji is a 5 hour drive from the rest of the Iowa chess players so we offered the players the opportunity to play the first round in either Ames or Minnesota and then not have to leave to get to Okoboji as early next week. Yesterday was the Ames satellite tournament and I agreed to play in case there was an odd number of players to make sure everybody had a game. Only 1 player showed up and so I found myself playing Dan Vasto. Dan is a psychologist from Adel, is an expert chess player, and was the Iowa state chess co-champion in 2004. I saw Dan last week when we were both helping at the Des Moines Chessathon. He is enjoyable to talk to and a great friend of Iowa chess. I’ve played Dan in tournaments twice before. Both times I had Black, lost a pawn in the opening, missed some chances to get attacking chances for my pawn, got in time trouble, and lost. We drew for colors and I had black again. Dan strikes me as a player who wants to dictate the terms of the battle and is willing to invest material to do so. My confidence was down after losing to Bethany 2 days prior, but I was ready for battle. Statistics say I have a 1 in a hundred chance of even drawing Dan, so I had nothing to lose.

  A lucky win, but I don't think I was ever really losing the game. It's amazing that I can lose to Bethany on Thursday and beat Dan on Saturday, but that is life on the chess roller coaster!! You can read all the chess improvement books you like, but I haven't seen a book that teaches how to get your opponent give you a piece.

  This was the highest rated player I’ve beaten since 1983. Winning the game will push my rating over 1690 and means that for the 4th consecutive year, I will have a new personal high rating (2007:1662, 2008:1684, 2009:1687, 2010:1690+).

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Silly Season!

  On Saturday I helped at the Valley High School Chessathon in Des Moines. It was organized by 3 time Iowa Girls champion Dhrooti Vyas with the proceeds going to help the Haiti earthquake victims. It was a fun day. I gave an endgame lecture that was well received, played some chess against beginners, managed to get in an offhand game with Kushan Tyagi (a draw), and played in a tandem simultaneous exhibition where Kushan and former Iowa champion Dan Vasto would alternate moves (I was the only non-beginner to lose). At the Chessathon, I was told one of the silliest things I ever heard. On Sunday, I watched the Yankees’ opening game of the season against the hated Red Sox. Sadly, the yanks lost a big lead to the Sox. At work the next day, a coworker talked to me about the game and made me make even more room on my personal ‘silly things I’ve heard list’.

  On Saturday, one of the chess parents I was acquainted with from my time as Iowa Scholastic Chess Director was asking me about national regulations concerning youth team tournaments. A 6th grade player I know missed school on the sign up date for the middle school chess club and since all 30 spots on the club were filled for the year, was not allowed to participate in the club activities. The young player was not deterred by his exclusion from the club and went to tournaments during the year. The national middle school team chess tournament is this weekend in Minneapolis and the player has signed up and noted that he would be playing for his middle school. In the national team scholastic tournaments, schools can bring as many players as they want, with the top 4 scores per school comprising the team score. The middle school coach is working to have this player removed from his school roster for the national tournament even though it won’t cost his team anything by allowing him to be included. And this was a player that had participated in the coach’s elementary school teams for many years and has attended his non-scholastic tournaments. I’ve seen this coach separate 4 girls at a tournament he was running into a separate section (even though it was not advertised as such) and then only give out 3 ribbons for prizes even though there were more prize ribbons than players. After all, what’s a youth chess tournament without somebody feeling excluded by being the only girl without a ribbon. This coach does a great job selling kids and their parents on to chess, but his silly adherence to a vision of the ‘proper’ way to do things does an equally great job of turning these same kids off to chess as they get older. I had a similar problem with this coach at an elementary team tournament in 2008 concerning another young player. The coach didn’t want the players score to count for the school. I pointed out that since the player attended that school, his score would count towards the school’s score. The player’s score ended up helping the team win the K-6 championship and the coach didn’t seem too displeased while accepting the championship trophy. I ended up telling the parent who asked me the question that while National Scholastic rules may cover this situation, there was probably not any National Infant rules to prevent the 70+ year old chess coach from acting like a big baby.

  At work on Monday, my coworker told me ‘Yankees Suck. All they do is lose!’ How silly. While his comment is technically true so far this season, the season is only 1 game old. I tried to tell my friend that as a Yankee fan, the games don’t count until October. A Royals fan may really need to win the first game of the year because that will be the only time they are over .500 all season. My co-worker has a win-now soccer mentality, and just doesn’t understand a sport where the Yankees can lose 9 games in a row to their hated rivals and still win the championship (like last year). I got my revenge when the Red Sox gave away last night’s game and this morning I asked my friend if he heard who won the game last night because I didn’t hear about it. He wouldn’t admit that the Red Sox lost so I got to say, ‘Well, I guess the winners WON and the LOSERS LOST’. It was a silly thing to say, but it felt very good. I’m glad I didn’t work with this guy in 2004 or 2008, but it would have been nice to work with him last year.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Birthday Queenie!

Queenie and I today.

This was the day we got Queenie. She was seven weeks old and we had just moved to Iowa a few days before.

Thursday was my dog Queenie’s birthday. She is now a 16 year old beagle. Before you think that’s old, my father-in-law has a 17-year cocker spaniel. My family had 3 beagles when I was younger. They all passed at the age of 13. I wish I knew the secret to her longevity, but the only things I can think of is that she gets at least a half mile walk every day and is treated like a member of the family. She gets her exercise and is connected to others. We got Queenie the summer we moved to Iowa from a beagle farm in Postville. She had 1 puppy in 1996. We named him Tuffy and kept him. Having a canine companion probably also helps to keep Queenie going strong. She has never been fast so I can’t say if she is slowing down a lot, but all the gray on her face gives away her age. I carry her downstairs every morning for our walk, but that is more of a matter of me not wanting to wait for her to sloooowly climb down the stairs.

Kathy and I taking Queenie and Tuffy out for a walk today.

Tuffy was born on May 1st, 1996. This picture was taken when he was 5 weeks old.

Aside from hurting her back a couple of times and having a cyst removed from her tail many years ago, Queenie has had good health. She lost a piece of her ear when she was kenneled at the Animal Rescue League in 2001. No one would tell me what happened. I’m very lucky to have a dog that can cheer me up just by looking at her. I’m not sure how many days Queenie has left, but I intend to enjoy all of them.