Sunday, November 21, 2010

Finishing strong

  The St. Francis chess club held our second parochial school tournament yesterday at the St. Francis cafeteria. We had 16 players, down from 25 at the initial tournament 3 weeks ago. The parochial school basketball season has started and for most young boys, chess is going to take second place to football, basketball, and baseball, but that also means that the players who came were the ones for who chess comes first. The lesser numbers gave me a good chance to have a lot of 1 on 1 time with the parents and everyone had a great time. St. Francis head chess coach Jim Mona bought participation medals for all the kids and no one left empty-handed. Hopefully, I can retain some of these kids for the beginner section of my open tournaments.

The 'gang of 16' chess players.
They had a great time and played some good chess.

  One of my second grade charges, Nate, had a rough patch yesterday. He finished second in the last tournament, but yesterday he only got one draw out of 3 games. In his first game, he played the player who finished first last time and had 2 rooks, a bishop, and a queen against his opponent’s queen, but he wouldn’t trade queens even though it should have been an easy win. He then proceeded to get frustrated and lost his queen, the rest of his pieces, and the game. In Nate’s next game, he was a queen ahead, but forgot to castle, got his pieces all jammed up around his king, and got checkmated by his opponent’s knight move. In his last game, Nate had a king, queen, and bishop against his opponents lone king, but left his opponent without any legal moves and the game by rule is a stalemate and a draw.

  I had previously worked with Nate on checkmating with a lone queen, but after Thanksgiving we’ll go over the how’s and why’s of winning a game a queen or more ahead. I told him after the tournament, that he could have won all 3 games and he played very well, but he was discouraged and frustrated and I hope I haven’t lost him as a tournament chess player. As a teacher, I spend so much time showing how to play correctly so they will get a winning advantage that I neglected to work on converting the advantage.

If more kids spent an afternoon or 2 playing chess instead of mindlessly watching TV, the nation's education system would be a lot better off.

  When I got home, I was able to watch another example of not finishing strong when I saw the Iowa Hawkeyes play the Buckeyes of Ohio State University. The Hawkeyes had high hopes going into the season. They won the Orange Bowl last year and most of their best players were returning for another season. Even the schedule seemed to be in their favor with home games against their main conference rivals, including the Buckeyes. Sadly, the Hawkeyes have lost 3 games all in the same fashion. With the score tied or the Hawkeyes clinging to a slim lead, the opponents drove the ball the length of the field for a go-ahead touchdown with enough time left for the Hawkeyes for a chance to mount their own last ditch attempt to win the game. And in each of the 3 games, the Hawkeyes’ offense failed to score and the team lost.

  Yesterday’s game was no exception. The Hawkeyes led 17-13 and the Buckeyes were facing a 4th down and 10 yards to go and less than 3 minutes to go in the game. Ohio State quarterback Terelle Pryor dropped back to pass, couldn’t find an open receiver, but managed to scramble for a first down. Predictably, the Hawkeye defense gave up the go-ahead touchdown and the game was lost when the Iowa offense failed to score with a minute left.

  I see a failure to finish strong a lot of times. Many times on the job, a programming assignment will be complete enough to be put into production, but small errors are left in like a misspelled error message or misaligned labels and are never corrected. At some point, a customer gets upset with the company and will point out that you couldn’t even spell an error message correctly. I’ve seen chess tournaments run without an accompanying article to let people know that the tournament was held. No one will make a mental note not to miss the next tournament if they don’t see that a good time was had or the tournament was even held. Then the same organizers will complain about declining attendance. When I did my church’s newsletter, I was continually flabbergasted by groups that would send a notice to publicize an event, but wouldn’t send along a small article (I called it a picture and a paragraph) to let the people who didn’t attend what they missed and also to recognize the people who did attend and thank the people who helped with the event.

  My 2 most disappointing chess losses were due to not finishing strong and expecting the game to win itself. In 2003 at a team tournament, I cost our team a hard earned draw when I not only failed to beat Tim Crouse with a Queen and 2 pawns for Rook and Bishop, I even managed to lose the game. And last year, as soon as I won a piece against Gerald Hawkins, I made 4 awful moves in a row to lose a game I had no business losing. Since my formative years in programming was as a ‘lone wolf’, any mistake big or small would end up coming back to my desk and I learned to write my programs as complete as I could. I don’t know how many annoying phone calls I saved myself with this practice but I wish I had a dime for each one. Sometimes it seems to be the easiest thing in the world to say a project is 'good enough', but I try to remind myself how much time and future effort I'll save by finishing strong. Besides, i don't need any extra proof that I'm not perfect!

  At work, we have a simple 'pick the winner' football pool. Thanks to Peyton Manning's interception, I won all the afternoon games and find myself in a 4 way tie for the lead. I originally picked the Giants for this game, but the Yahoo pool allows you to change your mind until 5 minutes before game time. I figure the other people I'm tied with will pick the Eagles, so I've changed my mind. Hopefully, my change of mind will allow me to finish the pool strong and pocket some $$$.