Sunday, October 31, 2010

Cut out the election middleman

  Elections always interest me and this year’s is no exception. Who would have thought that 2 years after the Democrats won the Presidency, House and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, the Republicans are looking to win control of the House back and may even win the Senate back?

  Some of the anger against the Democrats is frustration about the economy, but there is also a lot of buyer’s remorse about the bailout, stimulus, and health care bills. Unemployment is over 9.5% even though the stimulus package was supposed to keep it down to 8%. The bank bailouts have led to record profits for banks but people are finding it harder and harder to get loans. And there are still plenty of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran is producing Uranium, and even exporting their nuclear technology to other countries.

  These are all things to be concerned about, but the Democrats have done almost everything they said they were going to do 2 years ago. Their main problem is that the casual voters who put them in power expected instant fixes like the last 15 minutes of a detective or doctor TV show and since the resolutions to our country’s problems aren’t that easily solved, these same casual voters will move on to the next batch of ideas that have ‘quick-fix’ potential.

  There has been an incredible amount of money spent on campaign ads this year in Iowa. I couldn’t even get away from the election advertisements by watching football this weekend. The only positive campaign ads I’ve seen are from Senator Chuck Grassley, whose reelection is a foregone conclusion.

  Living in Marshalltown, I get to see the ads from both the Des Moines and Cedar Rapids media outlets. I’ve seen a lot of pre packaged ads against members of the Iowa Legislature where the incumbent Democrat’s face is shown with President Obama and Nancy Pelosi (mentioning their support for ‘Obamacare’), then noting the incumbent’s vote for the biggest budget in Iowa history, and then pointing out how they voted to cut money for education while voting for ‘heated sidewalks’ (The heated sidewalks were for a pilot project in an Iowa town for a downtown revitalization and were scrapped from the project). The ads conclude by showing me one more look at the face and name of the scoundrel who is wasting my tax dollars and telling me ‘xxx. Wrong for Iowa. Wrong for Us!”. There are 2 different versions of this ads, with a different incumbent pasted into the candidate’s role. The fast food attack ads are a pretty good idea, but with winter fast approaching, I sort of like the idea of heated sidewalks. We wouldn’t have to shovel snow and could save a lot of money and fuel by cutting out the visits to the doctors for shoveling related industries.

  I think the country’s economic problems would be solved if we would have elections every 6 months or maybe even quicker. But why should the newspapers, TV and radio stations, and advertising companies get all this money? After all, aren’t the candidates paying all this money to get our votes? In 2008, Max Sanders faced charges when he tried to put his vote for bidding on eBay, but this is old thinking and I am ready for a change I can believe in.

  I say we should cut out the middle man and allow the candidates buy our votes directly. We could sell our vote early or see if the election is close and we can get a better price. Of course, there is the risk that a blowout would make out vote worthless, but how much would a 2000 Florida presidential vote have been worth? This could be a true celebration of our capitalist system. It would only be a matter of time before the people of China, Iran, etc... revolt over the right to be able to sell their votes also.

  Until that happy day comes, if my blog happens to display the ‘DON’T LET SARAH PALIN WIN’ ad, please be sure to click on it. It is the best paying ad I’ve ever had shown on my blog and I only have 2 more days to cash in. Proceeds willl go to the 'HAHSF (Hank Anzis heated sidewalk fund)'. Thank you!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Comrades in harrassment

  Yesterday, the local Marshalltown paper decided to report on Marshalltown High School sophomore Tim Counts’ Facebook ‘Gay Shame Week‘ entry (article here) and noted that 35 people had decided to ‘attend’ the event. Counts has since taken the event off his facebook page because of his claims that he and his family have received numerous threats. I’m not sure why the paper had to give space to this topic. If they had looked at the child’s facebook profile and saw one of his interests was ‘getting wasted’, the story would never have made it to newsprint. I'm happy it did since the article pointed out some interesting things I never knew.

  “Lisa Koester, director of human resources with the Marshalltown Community School District, said the district has looked into what it can legally do about the situation…Koester said the student has freedom of speech without disciplinary action unless it causes a disruption at school. "If it ends up causing a disruption then that trumps (freedom of speech)," Koester said. Koester also said the act can't be defined as bullying since the posts weren't directed at any one person.
  Unless this was written on school grounds, why is the Marshalltown Community School District looking into legal options and disciplinary action? Why are they seeing if the act can be defined as bullying? Does the student’s freedom of speech not exist off of school grounds? What does a director of human resources at Marshalltown Community School District do anyway?

  Cheryl LaVille, MHS staff advisor for the student gay and lesbian support group, Sexual Orientation Alliance Representatives, said the students in her group are frustrated by the website, but are handling it peacefully."We as a SOAR group are disappointed about it," LaVille said. "People are entitled to their own opinions but we don't like the harassment."
  I don’t understand why any group would be frustrated or feel they were being harassed by this. I understand there have been a large number of suicidal gay teenagers in the news lately, but I don’t think this abuse is any less than I remember giving and getting in high school over any number of issues ranging from prowess at sports, what somebody’s sister was up to, your parents occupation (or lack thereof), success with girls, ethnic background, sexual orientation, etc... And nobody killed themselves. Not even the kid that always got caught having sex with his 3-legged dog. I think if somebody is so upset about not being accepted or approved that they would kill themselves, they should work harder at being like everybody else if it is that important. Maybe instead of a slogan like ‘It gets better’, ‘Fit in if you don’t want to stand out’ would be more to the point. I’ve never killed myself, so maybe I’m just out of touch but if you need approval of your choices from other people, you are destined to either have a narrow social circle or a lot of frustration.

  I also never knew there was a High School sanctioned group like this. I’ll date myself by mentioning that when I was president of the Student Government at Union College one of the groups we funded out of the student dues was the Bible Study Club. I don’t think that could happen anymore unless it was the Bible Study Club for Sexually Oriented Alliances or something like that. If Counts was really serious about his protest, he should learn from his ‘adversaries’ and take on a stance celebrating his views instead of denigrating opposing viewpoints. A quick glance at the internet reveals plenty of wristbands, apparel, and bumper sticker proclaiming a heterosexual lifestyle, telling me it’s not a new idea. Wouldn’t there be at least one high school teacher willing to advise the Heterosexual Allied Youth support group. I think I should copyright that name since it has a great midwestern acronym (HAY) and I can see T-shirt sales (HAY, You?) being quite lucrative.

  If this is where our paid school administrators are directing their efforts and attention, it is easy to see why Marshalltown schools have over a third of their students failing basic skills tests. Maybe the town will sue to have a tolerance section added to the standard tests.

  In case anyone thinks I’m being too insensitive, I want to share how I also was discriminated against and harassed and abused last week on Facebook. I met Glenn Panner from Chicago on the Iowa channel of Chess Live many years ago and have played in some chess tournaments he directed. He wanted to be my friend on Facebook a few weeks ago and I was OK with that. Then he posted a ‘Go Rangers’ note after the Rangers went up 2-1 against the Yankees (Not a word about this Ranger fetish when they won the division or beat the Devil Rays in the playoffs). I noted that I was a Yankee fan (it’s on all my profiles) and asked if he was a Ranger fan (most Chicagoans like the Cubs or White Sox) or a Yankee hater and he said he was both. No big deal to me and not the first one I ever met. Last week Glenn posted a question asking what he should be for Halloween and I suggested the Lone Ranger, which I thought was more amusing than the other suggestions of famous bald people which I feel are highly insensitive to the hair-challenged like Glenn and me. Here is the thread:
Glenn Panner is still looking for a good Halloween costume. Suggestions, anyone??
Hank Anzis The Lone Ranger
Glenn Panner@Hank, don't think I forgot about you, I can put a big Massengill label on and go as a Yankee fan!

  I didn’t feel too good reading that, but I’m not looking for the nearest bridge to jump off. However, I am very concerned when men not only know the brand names of feminine hygiene products, but seem to have big labels of them on hand for use as Halloween costumes. What is this world coming to?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Teams from Texas...

  The Yankee baseball season ended last night with their loss to the Texas Rangers in Texas. The Yankees didn’t hit or pitch well enough to even have a chance to win this series. The starting pitchers habit of giving up runs in the first inning was a big problem. It was a lot easier for the Ranger pitchers to pitch with a lead all the time instead of feeling the pressure of a close game. In last night’s game, Phil Hughes gave up a run in the first inning and as soon as the Yankees managed to get a run to tie the game up, Hughes immediately gave up 2 runs and his relief pitcher gave up 2 more runs to seal the game and series. All in all, it was a bad year for the Yankees. The center fielder, Curtis Granderson was big in the playoffs, but the 2 young pitchers, Chamberlain and Hughes have not proven they can be counted on. A new pitching staff is likely in order.

  Except for the filthy Red Sox, I don’t really care who the Yankees lose to when they lose, but it bothers me when the fans of these teams that rarely have any success when their team manages to beat the Yanks start crawling out of the woodwork. The Indian fans in 2007 were especially annoying, but I can take solace a few years later knowing that they’ve been awful since and to boot, their ace pitcher Sabathia helped the Yankees win the World Series last year.

  I won’t be watching much more baseball now that the Yankees are out of it. I am much more of a Yankee fan than a baseball fan. It was very comforting to see the Iowa State Cyclones, losers of their last 2 games by the combined score of 120 to 27, beat the Texas Longhorns for the first time ever today. I’m also going to be rooting for the New York Giants to beat the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night. I’m not one to hold too much of a grudge, but for now teams from Texas can’t lose enough for me.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bending and Breaking Wills

  The Yankees are looking like toast after losing 2 games against the Rangers by a combined score of 18 to 3. They finally had a lead going into the 6th inning, but Burnett gave up a huge 3 run homer and the rout was on. There were a lot of chances for the Yankees to score some runs early, but the big hit never came and they had to settle for one run at a time. After the Red Sox disaster of 2004 I know anything is possible, but the beatdown the Rangers are putting on the pitching staff is not leaving me optimistic that the Yankees will to win is not broken. But at least they are still playing, which they wouldn't be if they hadn't made a miracle comeback in Game 1 of the series.

  There have been a huge battle of wills in Iowa this election season. Last year the 3 Iowa Supreme Court judges unanimously ruled that same-sex marriages are legal in Iowa. The majority of Iowans are perceived to be against allowing same-sex marriages and the state legislature could have allowed this issue to be decided on a referendum vote, but by not voting to have a referendum, they are attempting to have their cake and eat it too. They can pick up votes proclaiming their ‘personal disapproval’ or same-sex marriage but how they have to ‘uphold the law’ then getting campaign contributions from the ‘same-sex marriage lobby’ for not allowing the referendum.

  Iowa has a system in place where the Supreme Court justices must stand accountable to the voters in a ‘YES’ or ‘NO’ vote. I’ve never given these ‘judge’ votes a lot thought, but this year opponents of same-sex marriages from all around the country have thrown a lot of money into voting these judges out. There are plenty of politicians of both parties bemoaning the precedent voting the judges out would cause.

  I don’t really care one way or the other about same-sex marriage, but I’m glad my kids are almost grown up so I wouldn’t have to explain to my child why their teacher Mr. G, has a husband. What all the politicians are missing is that people are upset because they don’t feel they have a say in this matter. 3 people on a court say something that is unpopular with the majority of the population and has not been allowed for 150 years is now allowed immediately and the politicians make excuses to not allow the people they govern to vote on the matter (Here is Governor Chet Culver’s explanation - it is the ‘party-line’ of the politicians who feel this way when forced to clarify their positions). This up or down vote on the judges seems to be the only way left for the people to make their opinions on this matter felt.

  In a speech last week, Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus said that the will of the people is expressed in the state constitution and claims her critics “wants our judges to be servants of this group’s ideology, rather than servants of the law.” She also said that “The people always have the last say about the content of meaning of the constitution…As you know, however, amending the constitution is a difficult and slow process. It is much easier for some people to simply complain about lawless courts running amok and exceeding their authority.”

  Ternus is comfortable in claiming she is merely upholding the laws of the State, but then complains the campaign to unseat the judges is an attempt to intimidate judges. But the retention vote is also a law of the state. It is a check on the power of judiciary. If judges make unpopular rulings, they can be voted out. I kind of like the idea. There would be a lot less fighting over the Supreme Court nominees if they weren’t appointed for life.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Waiting at the Wal-Mart

  The Yankee starting pitching was awful against the Texas Rangers and they were extremely lucky to get the win in game one over a melted down Ranger bullpen. I was so disgusted watching Sabathia, I turned the TV off and missed the excitement, only finding out the next morning. Sabathia was even worse than he was against the Twins and Hughes was worse than Sabathia. I’m hoping Pettite can stem the tide, but I keep flashing back to the 2001 World Series when he pitched against Randy Johnson and lost 16 to 1.

  I had ordered a new computer from HP over the internet and am slowly loading all my programs onto it. The upgrade has been fairly painless, although there are a number of programs that worked on Windows XP that need to be configured for Windows 7. I’m sure I’ll like Windows 7 as I get used to it, but for now it is just uncomfortable not knowing how to perform basic functions. I don’t think I felt the same way about Windows XP, which was very similar to Windows 95/98. At my old job where I wrote software that users would install on their computer, a new version of Windows often meant a lot of rushed changes as features that used to work would stop functioning with only a cryptic error message to go by.

  The highlight of the weekend was when I went to the Wal-Mart on Sunday morning to look for a piece of software for my computer. The Wal-Mart has always been good in allowing our chess club to meet there during the summer, but I don’t think it’s good for a town when one store has a better selection of software, books, video games, etc… for sale than any other store in town. There is one cashier that is covered with large warts. I can’t imagine having this affliction, but I always try to go into her line. Not only is she an efficient cashier, people peel off her line to go to a different cashier as they get closer to her. Unfortunately, she wasn’t working and even though I was in the express lane, I got stuck behind a person in a motorized wheelchair with a basket attached. The cashier had to walk around the counter to take each item out of the basket, take it back to scan it, put it in a bag, and walk back around the counter to put it in the basket. Luckily it was the express lane. When all the items were scanned, the customer swiped in their credit card, signed on the machine, but then STOOD UP, pulled out their checkbook, and then meticulously entered the purchase in the checkbook register, only sitting back down and motoring off when satisfied that the correct day was entered and 7 minus 8 was indeed 9. To pass the time, I composed a series of Wal-Mart haikus based on this and other visits to America's favorite store:

Bursting at the seams
Wal-Mart men all notice me
Clothes too tight to breathe

Shopping with food stamps
Children hanging on the cart
I’m pregnant again

In line at Wal-Mart
Behind the wheelchair person
Out comes the checkbook

  I’d like to publish these, but I don’t think the biggest book store in town would be interested in selling them.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

On to Texas!

  Last night the Texas Rangers defeated the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to win the series and will host the Yankees in a 7 game series for the right to go to the World Series. While I’m not happy to see the Yankees face the same Cliff Lee who beat them twice in last year’s World Series against the Phillies, I think the fact that most of the Rangers have never been to a World Series will be an advantage they wouldn’t exist against the Devil Rays squad that went to the World Series in 2008. Since the Rangers had to play 5 games as opposed to the Yankees 3, Lee will probably not start until Game 3 and then not pitch again until a Game 7. This is a double edged sword. Last year, while Lee won both his games, the rest of the Phillies pitchers didn’t win any. If the Yankees are even or down 2-0 and have to face Lee in Game 3, it will be very hard to win the series.

  I was encouraged by the way the Yankees played in sweeping the Twins. Last year the Twins were a playoff joke, getting runners thrown out on the bases and making a lot of fielding errors. This year’s edition was very fundamentally sound and would have won Game 1 if Francisco Liriano didn’t melt down with a 3 run lead. The Yankees had to play well to win, but I think this series was won by the Yankees deep pockets. The Yankees cleanup hitter is Alex Rodriguez, who makes $25 million a year and hit 30 homers and drove in 125 runs even while missing a sixth of the season with injuries. In the last game of the playoff series, the Twins cleanup hitter was ...Jason Kubel. Kubel is a serviceable player and did hit 28 home runs last year, but he is the kind of bargain basement cleanup hitter you get when you are the Twins and your cleanup hitter suffers a season ending injury in August. They just can’t afford to go out and get another player, even with a new stadium.

  It appears the Devil Rays won’t be able to keep some of their most talented players for next year. Even though they have had a winning team the last 3 years, their attendance is 22nd out of the 30 teams. They drew 1.8 million fans, while the Yankees drew twice that much for more expensive tickets and get more money for their TV and radio rights to boot. In baseball, the rich get richer and the poor grow food for the rich so I’m hoping the Yankees can pick up the Ray’s closer Soriano. I’m not sure if he can really pitch in the New York pressure cooker, but it is getting to be time to replace the great Mariano Rivera. Joba Chamberlain should have taken the job this year, but he has regressed so far that he wasn’t allowed to pitch against the Twins.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sometimes it just all works out…

  On Saturday I held my free chess tournament at the Salvation Army. I was originally going to only make it free to the participants of my local blitz tournaments, but when my friend David Coppedge gave me some extra money for some computer work I’d done for him, I removed the entry fee to see how many people I could attract with a free tournament. I had 35 signed up, but one of our local blitz players and a fellow from Iowa City didn’t show and a father who was going to play with his 2 sons called to let me know that he had scratched his cornea the day before and couldn’t drive down. I was still charging $10 for anyone who decided to play without pre-registering, so that left me with 30 players. When my youngest blitz player left for his football game, I pressed comic-magician Lee Cole into service to play in his first tournament so I’d have an even number of players.

  The tournament had 2 sections. 12 advanced players were playing in the library and beginner/intermediate players were in the bigger fellowship hall where I could set up some extra tables so the parents could keep an eye on their children. I set up my computer in a hallway in between the 2 rooms and after spending the first hour of the day moving tables and chairs into place and the second hour checking in the players and showing them to their respective playing areas, I spent the next 6 hours walking around and between the 2 rooms, answering any questions and talking with players and parents alike.

  The only major issue came up when one of the advanced players was so upset after his first round loss where he threw away a drawn game he was going to withdraw. I didn’t want to leave a player without a game for each of the 3 remaining rounds, but I managed to talk him into playing. He won his next game but then lost to Iowa Girls Champion Bethany Carson and withdrew for real with one game left. Luckily, by that time the other tournament had finished and I got one of the intermediate players to fill in for a game.

When a third grader left early to play in his football game, I pressed comic magician Lee Cole ( into service to play in his first tournament so I'd have an even number of players. Lee won 2 out of 3 games and here is displaying the first tournament pawn he has ever captured.

The beginner/intermediate section was a great group of players. There were 3 chess parents playing in their first tournament and 4 other adults along with 13 school age players. Sometimes this can be a problem because some adults hate playing kids (if they lose they feel humiliated and if they win it was just a kid…) and some kids get intimidated by playing adults or even older kids. I’ve even seen parents go nuts and start yelling at adults for playing in a 'kid’s tournament'. Pure nonsense, but it serves to get everyone upset. If I don’t want adults at a tournament I specify an age limit, but there are always those parents who need an excuse why little Billy didn’t win first prize.

  In this case, the chess parents of course knew how good the kids are and the other adults all play with kids at my club and also knew how good the kids can play. Most of the kids had already played adults before and weren’t bothered, either. When a kid comes to me with his or her worries about playing someone older, I ask them if the older player got any extra pieces to start the game and when the kids says no, they start to understand that it is the ideas you bring to the board and not the age you bring that matters. And once they beat an older player, they puff their chests out like a superhero. I also try to point out to the adults that many of the kids they will play have been in many more tournaments than them and in this tournament chess situation the kids are really the adults and the adults are really the kids. Not only is it true, it also seems to settle the adults down.

Beginner tournaments are more casual. You don't normally need a clock or even write down your moves. Lee's son Sam Cole is at the front right. His opponent Dan Troxell was playing in his first tournament other than our Thursday night quick chess matches. Sam has been playing in these types of tournaments for 6 years. In this matchup, tournament experience won out as 6th grader Sam defeated the 50+ year old computer programmer.

While the beginner games rarely took more than 40 minutes, the advanced section allowed each player 1 hour to make their moves so the game can last 2 hours. Even this is a fairly quick time limit as some of the tournaments allow each player 2 and a half hours and you can easily play chess for 15 hours in one day! In this picture, Iowa Girls Champion Bethany Carson (back left) took all 2 hours to beat Tim Crouse who is 2 rating classes above her. Bethany's dad Tim Carson (front right) also pulled off a 2 class upset over Tim Harder while sitting at the same table. The intense concentration you see here is commonplace at advanced tournaments.

  The tournaments went very smoothly, with Daniel, Charity, and Sarah Faith Carson finishing in 3 of the top 4 spots of the beginner/intermediate section. They had to play each other, but that was only after they had beaten all the other top players in their section, some of whom were higher rated than they. In the advanced section, experts Dr. Bob Keating and 13 year old Kushan Tyagi tied for the first place trophy. I had planned for a playoff game in case of a tie, but Kushan wanted to go to a party in Ames and so abdicated his playoff rights, leaving Keating with the trophy. When I mentioned that I had turned 50 the day before, the players and parents sang happy birthday to me after the awards ceremony.

  Once the tournament ended and all the prizes were given out, I had a whole new set of tasks. I cleaned up the rooms (but forgot to throw out the garbage – oops), packed up the sets and boards, and entered the tournament results with the national office to get rated. I took a break after that to watch the end of the Yankees sweep of the Twins.

  The next morning, I entered the game scores from the advanced section into my computer and loaded the games and the pictures onto the internet. Finally, I wrote a tournament summary and posted it to the state’s chess web site. And then I was almost done. I had originally scheduled the date at random and the point of the Open section was to give my son Matt a chance to play in a tournament close to home, but Saturday was the only day he could take the SAT test this month. Saturday also happened to be National Chess Day and the USCF was soliciting stories of the day’s chess events so I repackaged my article and submitted it in the hopes of getting some publicity for our chess club. Not only did USCF web site put my submission in their National Chess Day article today, my picture of Keating and Tim Killian was on the banner of the article, and there was even a picture of me way at the bottom.
You can see the article here.

  Running a tournament is a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun for me because everyone except the guy who withdrew had a good time and it is an excellent way for me to use my talents to help others. The players and parents were very appreciative and a freewill donation to the Salvation Army was well received. And getting my 15 minutes of fame on the national web site was an extra bonus. I don’t run tournaments for my personal benefit, but it was pretty cool to show my wife when I got home.

Nothing like the happy faces of the prize winners at a chess tournament.

Friday, October 8, 2010

When 3-0 is better than 2-0, 7-0, or a big 5-0

  I missed most of the Yankees win last night since it started at 5PM, when our chess club meets every Thursday. Normally I only play in our clubs weekly chess tournament when we have an even number of players. Yesterday we had an even number for the first round so I played, but then Matt Kriegel showed up late so I sat out the second round, but then one of the players (Logan) disappeared, and after spending 10 minutes walking in and out of the building looking for him, I sat in against his opponent, Dan from Des Moines to give him a game. I was pretty annoyed at Logan for disappearing and won 2 pawns quickly from Dan, but then he snuck an attack in, won his pawns back, but I managed to win by running to an endgame, where I think I’m pretty strong. Tim McEntee once told me, “You aren’t strong in the endgame, you just think you are!” I thought a lot about that and while it’s true, the fact that I think I am good in the endgame gives me an aura of confidence that my opponents who KNOW they aren’t strong in the endgame pick up and helps me save a lot of half-points. In this case, ignorance is bliss. Before the last round Chris had to go to help coach his Lego League team as he had been doing the last few weeks so I was ready to sit out again, but then Logan came back. It turned out he had just remembered he had to turn in a paper on-line that was due tonight so he walked to library to use their wireless internet. Don’t forget, when you deal with kids, you have to deal with kid stuff!. So I got to play a third game. I won all 3 games but since I was filling in for other people, I didn’t play the strongest players. In any event, I’ll take going 3-0, even if my game against Dan was pretty touch and go.

  I am very pleased to see the Yankees take a 2-0 lead on the Twins with a workmanlike effort yesterday. Pettitte pitched the best he has in months and kept the Yankees in the game until the Twins loser pitcher Carl Pavano found an excuse to give up a big hit after the mean umpire wouldn’t call strike 3 on the big bad Yankee hitter Lance Berkman. I can’t stand Pavano. He took millions of Yankee dollars, was hurt all the time, and only pitched well when he was at the end of his contract and needed a new one. He’s a loser and he can’t lose enough to suit me. It is great to see Granderson and Berkman come up big. You never know if the new players are going to choke in Yankee pinstripes until they are in the crucible of the playoffs. And now with the 2 game lead, Hughes shouldn’t feel too much pressure in game 3 and hopefully can wrap it up at home. It is nice to have a 2-0 lead, but a 3-0 lead and ending the series on Saturday would be better. After the Red Sox disaster of 2004, I won’t discount the Twins until like the old pre-Twilight vampire movies, the Yankees put a silver stake through the heart, cut off the head, stuff it with garlic, and bury them.

  Tomorrow is the 70th birthday of one of my two favorite musicians, John Lennon. I am a bit too young to be a huge Beatles fan, but I can always recapture a bit of my youth listening to ‘Nobody Told Me’, ‘Instant Karma’, ‘Well, Well, Well’, ‘Jealous Guy’ to name a few. I remember working in the Bristol-Myers factory the night he got shot dead by psycho Mark David Chapman. He had just released his first record in 5 years and the next morning I was the first DJ up on our college radio station. People just came in to the station to talk on the air about John Lennon and I played ‘Watching the Wheels” a lot that morning.

  Today will go down in history as the day I turn 50 years old. For me it is just like my last few Fridays. I helped with the St. Francis chess class this morning and then off to work. I’ve gotten the usual assortment of cards ranging from the sentimental to the kidding to the obligatory picture of the ginormus, underdressed wrinkled backside reminding me that there are scarier things than a birthday. When I was a kid we celebrated birthdays by having spaghetti the next Sunday and the only card I got every year was from my grandfather, grandmother, and my Aunt Elaine (I wish now I had saved some of them). Not a lot of fanfare, so maybe that’s why while I enjoy the attention and the presents and cake, I don’t especially relish them. Maybe they will mean more as I get older, but since I plan on living till at least a hundred and five I’m not even halfway done with birthdays. As long as I’m more than twice as fast as people twice my age and more than half as fast as people half my age, I’m still going strong.

  Last week at St. Francis, I played 2 of the stronger kids at once in separate games and this week the kid I consider to have the most chess talent in the whole school (2 time state grade champion before stopping serious play a couple of years ago) wanted to play 2 kids at once the same way I did the week before. He would have been bored playing either of them separately, but seemed energized by trying to tax himself to beat them both. If I have rekindled his enthusiasm for chess, I will have given myself the best birthday present of all.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

If you build it, will they come? *

  Last month I wrote about the poor attendance at the Iowa Open and noted that I would be having a chess tournament in Marshalltown on October 9th with a $5 entry fee. Since then, I was able to waive the entry fee to the tournament and anyone can play for free if they just let me know they are going to attend up to the day before the tournament.

  I thought a free tournament would attract at least 40 players. 3 days before the tournament, I have 27 players signed up, including 5 players from our local club. This is slightly disappointing but not unexpected, since Marshalltown is a 45 minute drive from Ames, an hour drive from Des Moines and Cedar Rapids and 2 hours from Iowa City, which are the major chess centers in the state. I’m sure there will be a few players who decide to play on the spur of the moment, so I should top the 30 number. My major goal for this tournament was to bring in some outside competition for our Thursday night club members and that will have been accomplished.

  A possible problem I may have is if the players who have pre-registered don’t show up to play. I’m obligated as the tournament director to assign pre-registered player a first round game. Normally, if someone doesn’t show up, their opponent receives a free point and the entry fee is forfeited, but in this case there is no entry fee. I don’t expect any problems, but it is something to be aware of.

  Because Marshalltown is central to most of Iowa’s major chess centers, I generally get an eclectic mix of players who don’t normally play each other, so I’m looking forward to a great tournament. I’m hoping I get the chance one day to try this same free chess tournament concept in Des Moines or another large city, but for now, I can say that in Marshalltown at least, it I build it, they MIGHT come.

  A side benefit of the tournament has been to get me back into the mind set of running tournaments as I gear up for my Des Moines scholastic series. Ordering trophies and prizes, sending out emails, getting the tournament posted on-line, making sure my tournament box is supplied with pens; tape; and other materials, and all the other little things that go into putting on a tournament took some getting used to, but at this point, I can just relax and watch the Yankees in the playoffs today and tomorrow while on Friday I can celebrate the 54th anniversary of Don Larsen’s pitching the only perfect game in World Series history for the Yankees against the Dodgers at the same time as my 50th birthday.

  I was hoping to relax watching baseball, but not only did Halladay of the Phillies pitch the second postseason no-hitter in baseball history (sullying the uniqueness of my birth date), the Yankees are losing 3-0 in the 5th inning. When Sabathia is winning, he look like a BIG man to me; but when he is losing, he just looks FAT. If you think it is hypocritical how my perception of a player can change with a home run or 2, remember the word fan is derived from FANatic.

* The actual line from the movie 'Field of Dreams' is "If you build it, he will come", but it seemed a little poetic licence was in order.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Return of the Chess Jedi

  The opening of the move 'Return of the Jedi' is one of my all-time favorites scenes. Han Solo is frozen in carbonite, Pricess Lea is chained to Jabba The Hut, Chewbacca is a prisoner, and all looks lost for the resistance. In this hopeless situation, Luke Skywalker walks right into Jabba's lair, cooly gives a chance to surrender, is forced to walk to plank over a 10,000 year old desert worm, only to save the day, rescue his friends, and cause the death of Jabba and all aboard his desert 'yacht'.

  When I gave up my role as Scholastic Director of the IASCA (Iowa State Chess Association) in the spring 2008, I had established a series of youth chess tournaments in the Des Moines area at the Golden Teapot in Des Moines. The Teapot was run by Ling and Shannon Zhou as a combination Chinese cultural center, Chinese grocery store, and tea and coffee house. The Zhou’s had a spare room off the coffee house with the 4x8 foot tables that are needed to have a tournament (A lot of the new school cafeteria’s are remodeled with round tables that don’t lend themselves to kids playing chess, but I’m sure get high marks from social engineering experts). The tournaments generally drew between 25 and 50 kids and attracted some of the top scholastic talent in the state.

  I had not intended to give up on the youth tournaments when I gave up my scholastic directorship and was even planning on having a chess camp at the Zhou’s request, but then national master and local chess teacher Pete Karagianis moved back to Iowa from Phoenix. He told me he had contacted the Zhou’s and was going to hold his own chess camp there as well as a series of youth tournaments and I was more than welcome to help him if I wanted. I contacted the Zhou’s and they were not interested in my running their chess camp and were looking forward to Pete’s chess program.

  Now Pete is a very talented chess coach, an excellent chess player, kids and parents like him, and he should have a good future in sales someday. I hired him to work with my son Matt for a year after Matt came within a game of winning $2500 in scholarship money at the 2003 Americinn National Tournament. Pete cleaned up a lot of the defects in Matt’s game and turned him on to a whole new level of chess. When Pete moved to Phoenix, we had arranged to do the lessons over the Internet on Tuesdays. Pete made the first lesson, e-mailed to say he was going to miss the second lesson, missed the third lesson without an e-mail, and then wrote after a month of non-contact to say his schedule didn’t fit with Matt’s lessons anymore the next week. I don’t know for sure, but Matt seemed like he thought that Pete didn’t think he was worth the effort, his chess went into a nose dive, and he didn’t play for almost a year after that. A few months before Pete was moving back to Iowa, he wrote to apologize and to see if he could start up with Matt’s lessons again. Matt wasn’t interested.

  I like Pete as a person, and I know when you deal with kids (he was 20 at the time) you have to deal with kid stuff, but after the stunt he pulled on Matt I wasn’t going to be working with him on anything anytime. It turned out he never had any youth tournaments at the Teapot, but did hold 3 adult tournaments. The first tournament had a very impressive 29 people, the second drew 20, and the third tournament drew 16 people and his wrath when Teapot’s furnace didn’t work on the winter day. He renamed the tournament the Siberian Open and never had another tournament at the Teapot. In the meantime, the IASCA has not scheduled a scholastic tournament in Des Moines the past 2 years, having to have one there in an emergency situation when a site cancelled at the last minute.

  Now that I’m back working in Des Moines and am planning to move there once my kids are out of school, I’ve been looking up some old contacts about running some tournaments like I had at the Teapot, which has since closed. I’ve run into a lot of dead ends and stone walls, but I didn't get discouraged. Everything meaningful that I’ve ever accomplished has only happened with the grace of God and this was going to be no exception. Things just have a way of falling in my lap when the time is right and I've kept to hard work and faith to see me through when all the doors look closed.

  I got an email last month letting me (among others) know that St. Francis of Assisi was looking for a chess coach since Pete has recently moved and left his position as their coach with little notice. St. Francis is a few miles from my workplace and their club meets so early in the morning that I would only have to miss 15 minutes of work once a week, so I volunteered. I met the parent contact and when we discussed payment, I told him I’d coach for nothing if I could hold a series of chess events at the school. We arrived at a compromise and I am starting to set up the schedule.

  Although this may turn out to be a false start, I’m looking forward to my return to scholastic chess. Like Luke Skywalker in the Return of the Jedi movie, I'm older, wiser and more experienced, even if I don’t have a cool black Jedi costume and a better looking, chiseled physique. And after seeing the neglect of Des Moines youth chess the last time I left it to other ‘caretakers’, I’ll not be quick to step aside this time.

  I think it will take about a year to get tournament attendance back to the levels I attained in 2008. The success of this venture will be measured by how hard I work at it and how successful I am at turning kids on to tournament chess.

  This year's St. Mary Fall Festival made $19,000 before expenses this year. It was a staggering amount. The big increase from the other 2 years I worked on the festival was due to a cash contribution from a generous parishioner and a well-received auction. The other committee members were thrilled and the church newsletter made a couple of special mentions about the 'success’ of the festival this year, but I didn’t consider it any more or less successful than the other years. We worked just as hard to put on a quality event in years we didn’t make as much money and the people who attended enjoyed themselves just as much, even if those efforts weren't as recognized as this year. I was happy we made a lot of money, but just like any other volunteer effort, success should be measured by the effort expended and not by comparing a number to years past.