Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Crime and Punishment...and Eligibility!

  The Iowa Hawkeyes all-time leading football receiver, Darrell Johnson-Koulianos went on a ‘redemption’ tour of media interviews this past weekend in Des Moines. Johnson-Koulianos was kicked off the Hawkeye football team after being arrested in December and charged with 7 misdemeanor drug charges and keeping a drug house. Johnson-Koulianos was suspended from the team and missed the final game of his collegiate career, the Insight.Com bowl game against Missouri. Ultimately, Johnson-Koulianos pled guilty to possession of marijuana and was given a $315 fine, a year’s probation and the offense will be wiped from his record if he completes his probation. With the NFL draft coming up this week, Johnson-Koulianos has made himself available from interviews in the Des Moines newspapers and radio stations, no doubt hoping to convince some team that he just made one poor choice and is worthy of being drafted to play in the NFL. Currently, he is thought of as a marginally low draft pick, partly because of his arrest and subsequent dismissal from the team.

  This guy had never been in any sort of criminal trouble before but he was thrown off the team and even when his initial charge was reduced to a misdemeanor has been ostracized from the football program, not allowed to wear an Iowa helmet in the Senior Bowl, not allowed to use the gym that all the other graduating Iowa football seniors are using, and not allowed to use the facilities to work out for NFL scouts. I don’t know if Johnson-Koulianos will get drafted or not, but given the not-so sterling character of many of the current players, I think the fact that he was able to be the all-time receiver for a Big Ten school while being a drug user should improve his draft stock as long as he can prove he can stay clean.

  This is a big contrast to other Iowa Hawkeye football players who have been arrested for minor crimes like public intoxication, (like here, here, and here). Most of these matters were handled ‘internally’ and the players were allowed to resume their football careers without incident, presumably after some community service and extra stair running.

  Also in stark contrast to Johnson-Koulianos being ostracized from the Iowa football program is the courting by Iowa and other schools of Maryland’s 6’5’’ 220 pound basketball player Anthony Hubbard. Hubbard is a standout player who was the team captain and a first team all Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference.Hubbard is also an ex-convict who served nearly 4 years in prison for his part in an armed robbery. He has chosen to sign with the Hawkeyes and will surely be good for many stories of personal redemption as long as his scoring average is inspirational.

  I’m not saying that Hubbard doesn’t deserve a second chance or an opportunity to play basketball. I just find it odd that a top producing player who only had one more game to play was cast aside like an old diaper for what turned out to be a misdemeanor, while a player who has the potential to provide a productive 2 years of basketball service is welcomed with open arms despite a felony conviction that resulted in almost 4 years in prison. I know college sports is all about winning but even so, I’d like to think the university of Iowa basketball program could find a better use for their basketball scholarships than on a junior college player from Maryland. Isn’t there even one player from Iowa that that scholarship couldn’t be used for? I never cease to be amused at college sports fanatics who get all worked up over their team out of state pride when most of the impact players come from other states. Why take so much pride in the fact that the Iowa sport imports from Florida, Texas, and Illinios can beat the Northwestern sport imports from Florida, Texas, and California?

  In other legal news, Tanya McDowell of Bridgeport, CT was charged with first degree larceny and conspiracy to commit first degree larceny. Her crime was to use a friend’s address to sign up her son for school in nearby Norwalk.

  McDowell couldn’t use her own address since she is homeless. Since she doesn’t have an address, I’m not sure why she couldn’t say she was homeless in Norwalk to get her son in school there, but I imagine the Norwalk school board buttoned up that loophole long ago. For this crime, McDowell faces up to 20 years in prison and a $15,000 fine if convicted. While it is against the law to deny free public education to illegal immigrants, in Norwalk McDowell’s friend was evicted from her public housing for letting her address be used to get her friend's son in a different school! I doubt Tanya will serve any time in prison or get a fine since she was lucky enough to have her plight hit the news wires, but if she or her son had a jump shot they could attend the University of Iowa and even rob some banks for pocket change on the way to the first practice.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A small view of a big picture

"Politics – The art of appearing to be doing something while actually doing nothing." - Author unknown

  After taking the threat of a government shutdown to the limit, the Republican Congress struck a deal with President Obama and the Democratic Senate to keep the government running in return for 38 billion dollars in budget cuts this year. It sounds very impressive, but in the face of a 1.5 trillion dollar deficit what does it mean? It would be the same as a husband and wife squabbling over money when they are spending 100,000 more that they make. Not just this year, but every year as a part of their lifestyle. Since they are married and don’t really want to fight, the couple compromise on their excessive spending, agreeing to cut out eating out one night out a month and save 211 dollars a month and $2,533 a year. They kiss and make up, and everyone is happy. No one is supposed to notice that the couple is still spending more than $97,000 a year than they spend. I’m happy to see the government cutting down on 2% of their deficit (and .67% of all government spending), but not very impressed that both sides were willing to shut down the government to make a point over what amounts to just a few dollars.

  Only the most die-hard of the tea party activists are calling the new budget deal a disappointment. Other members are hailing it as a small victory in a larger war and saying it wouldn’t be responsible to shut down the government as long as incremental progress is being made. I’m not sure how responsible it is to have a deficit of $5,000 for every man, woman, and child in this country for this year alone, but politicians of both parties have contributed to the current state. There have been a lot of tea party protests, but for the most part, the same old politicians are in power doing the same old song and dance about the deficit and very little changes except the rhetoric. And even the 38 billion dollar number could be as little as 352 million dollars. This would be more like my fictional couple not really skipping a dinner a month, but skipping an appetizer at a dinner once a month.

  Childhood obesity has been adopted by Michelle Obama as her signature cause as the First Lady. Part of her campaign has resulted in nutrition standards for school lunches to include less fat and more vegetables. This is all well and good, but I don’t think the meager portions served in school lunches would make a child obese even if the only ingredients were lard and sugar, but there isn’t a lot the first lady can do to keep obese kids from filling up on Little Debbie’s at home so she is trying to use the school system that provides free lunches for 32 million kids to solve the childhood obesity problem. One school in Chicago has gone so far as to prohibit kids from bringing homemade lunches to school.

  I could understand a ban against soda or maybe even chocolate milk, but I’d have to think that most of the lunches someone took the time to pack for a child would be at least as nutritious as anything that could be served up at a school. I’d like to hear the school’s explanation for this rule. Maybe the kids are packing their own brown bags with Doritos and Ho-Ho’s for later resale. I’d hate to have to pay for all the schools to have ‘Twinkie detectors’ next to the metal detectors.

This should solve the childhood obesity epidemic.
It works for cigarettes, doesn't it?...

  Like the budget dealmakers that are patting themselves on the back for cutting 38 billion dollars of a 4 trillion dollar budget, legislating what a child eats at school to combat obesity is missing the point. Kids are not getting obese off of what they are eating in school. The government has historically shown no problem picking winners and losers in health care, auto and bank bailouts, defense contractors, and even a civil uprising in Libya. The government has also shown no problem with attempting to regulate the behavior of its citizens through cigarette taxes, cash for clunkers, rebates for fuel efficient furnaces, gun laws, etc. It would seem a small leap of logic to tax sugar and junk food out of the reach of most Americans and use the extra income to subsidize the purchase of fruits and vegetables. Make the junk food producers put warning labels with pictures of obese people on their products. And no more misleading names like Hostess and Little Debbie. They should be made to call themselves Mostess and Big Debbie instead.

  Americans are not alone in trying to solve big problems with useless gestures. In Afghanistan, some people are in a state of rage and rioting and killing. Why? Because some crackpot pastor in Florida with a church of less than 50 people decided to have a Quran burning. While there is a big debate in the United States over whether even having a discussion on radical Islamism is insulting the religion in general, people in Afghanistan are burning the president in effigy over what some guy in Florida is doing. I guess it doesn’t matter whether their government is being run by a corrupt despot backed by a foreign country or a radical group that will steal their sons to be soldiers and never let their daughters attend school as long as they have someone, somewhere to blame for their troubles.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A winning weekend

16 players chose to start the tournament Friday night.

  I spent the past weekend in Okoboji, Iowa directing the Okoboji Open chess tournament for my friend Jodene Kruse as I have the past 3 years. The family chess tournaments I’ve been holding in West Des Moines are challenging because I have 3 separate tournaments, 50 kids with questions, 50 parents with questions, beginning players that sometimes need a lot of explanation during the game on whether a move is legal or not, etc.... The Okoboji tournament brings a whole different set of challenges. There are a lot of experts and masters who are playing to win money (the top 3 prizes were $300-225-125) and they rightly expect good playing conditions and the tournament director to be on his or her ‘A’ game. Since I am seeing many of the players for the first time or the first time in a year, there is not the level of trust in my abilities as a tournament director than there would be in West Des Moines where I have known many of the players and parents for over 5 years.

Doug and Dave Given
travelled from Nebraska to
play in the tournament and
the father/son duo each
was first in their class.
  The tournament went very smoothly. A large number of players from Jodene’s school club came to play and they didn’t bring sets (normally these are supplied at a scholastic club), but luckily I had my sets and clocks from my chess club in my car and we used those. I also didn’t bring enough score sheets, but the people at the hotel were happy to make copies for me. I had only 2 incidents of note. One game was started with one of the players’ pieces on the wrong squares. One of the players knew they could restart the game as long as 10 moves hadn’t been played, but since I didn’t know the rule by heart, I just grabbed the rule book and verified what I was supposed to do. Later on, a class player was playing a master. Both players had just a few minutes left in a very drawish position. The master wanted to win so as to preserve his chance at winning a top prize and would not agree to a draw and kept trying to induce the class player to make a mistake. I try to be in the tournament room as the games are winding down because that is when many odd situations arise and it is helpful for me to see events unfold. I was observing the game when the class player stopped the clocks and tried to claim a draw. By rule, I had to disallow the claim (since the clocks had a delay set before the time wound down) and this emboldened the master to keep trying to trick his now distracted opponent into making a mistake, which he soon did, and the master won a game he probably had no business winning. I talked to the class player afterward and he knew he should not have let his opponent see his frustration, but he felt he was going to run out of time and needed to do something. It was a shame, but I’ve been on both sides of the table in that situation and it is certainly the right of a player to ‘test’ the knowledge of their opponent in an equal position to try to force a mistake.

  I did my best to take care of the players main concerns. I kept the playing hall as quiet as possible and I made the pairings available as soon as I could. The top players like to know who they will play the next morning and they appreciated that I let them know as soon as the last game ended instead of just going out to eat and taking care of the pairings in the morning.

  I was really happy to see that Jodene and Sam Smith from nearby Jackson, MN had about a dozen local players in this weekend’s tournament and I encouraged them as strongly as I could to find a way to have a low cost monthly tournament for these players so they could continue their tournament play. I feel very strongly that while it is nice to have a great tournament like the Okoboji Open that attracts players from a 4 hours driving radius, they are not viable in the long-term without the support of a local base of players. But a local base did support this tournament and that is not something I saw in my last couple of trips up here so I think that Jodene, Sam, and John have hit a new level in their journey to establish a long term chess culture in the area.

  Every chess tournament and most chess games have winners and losers, but I felt like I got to hang out with a lot of winners this weekend and I felt so energized by being around people who play chess, enjoy chess, understand what it can do for people, and have a need to share their understanding that I want to share my insights on some of the winners I got to hang out with.

  Jodene Kruse is someone who is very inspirational to me. Here is someone who has been afflicted with cerebral palsy, but doesn’t let it stop her from teaching chess to kids, and organizing the Okoboji Open every year. In a world where I constantly see people get upset over petty annoyances and give up on their plans and dreams because of a minor setback, how nice is it to know someone who refuses to get sidetracked by a major annoyance? I got to watch her work with her chess kids and their parents this weekend and they see the same things I do. The kids gravitate to her and she is good at getting them to think about enjoying playing, not just winning and losing. Once a lady at a tournament my kids were playing in was effusively telling me how she tried to get all her kids to enjoy chess and not think about winning or losing because after all “it’s just game”. But when each of her students left the playing hall and passed her, she’d ask them if they won. If they said yes, it was ‘high five time’, but if they said no, she’d make an exaggeratedly pouty face and then brightly say, “maybe next time”. After seeing this for around the 5th time, I asked why the first thing she asked them was whether they won if she didn’t want them to think about winning and losing. She turned beet red, muttered something I couldn’t quite make out, spun around and left. I listened to Jodene interact with the kids from her club for about an hour and a half on Sunday and I don’t think I heard the words 'win'or 'lose' come up more than a couple of times.

  Sam Smith is a chess organizer and player from Jackson, Minnesota about 20 miles north of Okoboji. He lost his long-time job a while ago and has bounced around at different places and is now assisting at a group home. Sam also helps teach chess at his local library, and this weekend brought his friend Joel to play in the tournament. Joel has leg problems and has to walk around with crutches. Joel told me he played 60 tournament games before he won his first. I doubt Joel would still be playing chess without Sam’s encouragement. Joel won a game and drew a game in the tournament and was delighted. He kept saying how it was the best tournament he ever had, but when he had lost his first 2 games, he was saying he thought he was playing well and what a great time he was having at the tournament. He sounded almost like Sam talking and I could see the influence. Sam is a chess idealist and is on a quest to play the perfect game. I was happy to see Sam play an almost perfect game in the last round to get a tie for second place in his section.

  I’ve written about John Flores before. He is someone I know I can trust and a man who has proven his honesty to me personally and commitment to chess in general. He’s a former Marine who’s been working 14 hour 6 day weeks to support his family, but was willing to make the time to support the Okoboji tournament. He’s spent many hours helping to support chess in impoverished schools in Texas and has tried to start some initiatives in Iowa chess. This weekend, John won his first 3 games, but lost his 4th game to the eventual champion in his section in a heartbreaking manner. He looked so tired that I thought he was going to fall asleep in the chair he was sitting in. It would have been easy for him to withdraw from the tournament, but he decided to play his last game. After he won against a promising junior player from South Dakota when his opponent made a horrendous oversight and lost his queen, it would have been easy for John to finally call it a day and go home for some rest, but I saw him spend an hour with the junior player (who was pretty upset), encouraging him, telling him some of the mistakes John had made over the board in the past, and going over the first 20 or so moves showing the kid all the good moves he had made before his one mistake. John wasn’t going to let that player leave for South Dakota until he felt good about the great tournament he had (3 wins and 2 losses). Once he got that done, John left to home and sleep without sticking around to collect his prize money, but not before giving me a pep talk to make sure I knew that he knew I could accomplish what I am hoping to get done with my Des Moines chess program.

  I first met Riaz Khan at last year’s tournament and immediately knew he was a good guy. When I took Matt to play in a tournament at Minneapolis last summer and brought Ben with me, we ran into Riaz again. We were looking for a Wendy’s to eat at (Ben’s a fairly picky eater) and I asked Riaz where to find one. He insisted that we all get in his car and he drove us 10 miles to the Wendy’s and 10 miles back and he wouldn’t even let me buy his lunch. He really went out of his way to make us feel at home in Minneapolis. Riaz has been promoting the Okoboji Open since January, when he asked me to email him the tournament flyer. Now that’s a very nice gesture, but instead of letting the flyer just be a piece of paper on some wall, Riaz spent a lot of time and effort telling chess players he knew what a good tournament he thought it was and trying to convince them to come and play. When grandmaster Alex Yermolinksky pulled out of his commitment to play in the tournament (after the announcements of his participation had been advertised), Riaz managed to get John Bartholomew to play in the tournament so Jodene would still have an elite player competing. Then at a scholastic event in Minnesota last weekend, Riaz got the parents of a number of Minnesota’s top scholastic players to come and play, some of whom Riaz drove over and took responsibility for. This was well above and beyond the call of duty and it probably cost Riaz a chance at first place in the reserve section. He finished tied for second, but took a bye in the 3rd round just to unwind and finished a half point behind the winner, whom he played to a tie in the last round. Riaz also spent a lot of time encouraging the less experienced kids to keep playing chess and improving and then would talk to the parents about all the good things that chess can do for kids. I was mostly glad the tournament went so smoothly because Riaz put his reputation and credibility on the line to get a lot of chess players to come and play who otherwise wouldn’t.

  I first heard of John Bartholomew when the AmericInn motels would have a tournament in each of their properties and all the top finishers would be invited to a free tournament in Minneapolis with thousands of dollars of scholarships being given to the winners. We went 3 years and John won a $2,500 scholarship all 3 years. I ran the tournament at the Marshalltown AmericInn each year. Unbelievably, the IASCA would not get on board and support the AmericInn tournaments because some of them were being held at the same time as the state grades championships and they weren’t asked beforehand. If I had been running the scholastics at that point, I’d have moved the grades championships to another month (or year or decade) and tried to support a company that was putting on 50 or 60 chess tournaments in Iowa. Sadly, AmericInn was bought out by another company that did not support chess and the tournaments died. John went to University of Texas at Dallas on a chess scholarship and graduated in 2009. He is an International Master and is going to take a crack at getting the Grandmaster title before letting chess take a back seat to another profession. Grandmaster Alex Yermolinksy was very gracious when he played in Okoboji the last 2 years, but John was really impressive. He made a point of thanking Jodene for inviting him to the tournament and after his games would hang out in the skittles room going over the game with his opponent. As you could imagine, he drew a big crowd and never seemed bothered or irritated by the attention. I wrote in my last posting how he went over his first round game with his 11 year old opponent for more than an hour. John had won with a sacrificial attack and went over all the defenses the 11 year old could have tried. There was one narrow path to avoid defeat, but it probably would have been easier to walk a tightrope over the Grand Canyon. When I was entering the 11 year old's fourth round game into the computer, I noticed that he played the same opening John played against him in the first game and won the game with almost the same attack. I asked his father about it and he said his son told him that he just tried to remember everything John had taught him about the first game they played and it was easy. John is headed to New York to take a job teaching in the 'Chess in Schools' program while training to get his grandmaster title. I think there are going to be some very lucky kids in New York this fall! Here are the two games of teacher and pupil:

  There were a lot of other great people at Okoboji this past weekend. For the second year in a row, Master Okechukwu Iwu reworked the games I placed on the internet to a better format for chess players around the world to load into their libraries. I got to meet Kent Nelson, who edits the Nebraska chess magazine ‘Gambit’ and is a true gentleman on and off the board. Alex Golubow has played at Okoboji the past 3 years and brought Kent. 2 years ago he was the victim of the largest upset in the tournament and this year he had the second largest upset. He writes articles for the Gambit magazine about the wild opening systems he plays and enjoys and give a unique perspective on the merits of playing openings that are frowned upon by the Grandmasters, but club players have a surprisingly hard time beating over the board.

   The way I’m gushing about these people might give you the impression that they are a combination of Mother Theresa, Captain America, John F. Kennedy, and Michael Jordan. They are just folks dealing with the same issues, faults, and struggles that everyone does, but they don’t let it distract them from trying to help others and enjoying their times at the chessboard. And I’m in the same boat in terms of having ups and downs and faults. If you’ve read my blog for awhile, you may have noticed that I not only can hold a grudge, I nurse them, collect them, display them like trophies, and occasionally buy storage space for them. There are also more than a few times when I cross the line from being blunt to being just mean-spirited. And that’s just scratching the surface.

  But what we all have in common is that we all are trying to reach people and we all have chosen chess as one of the ways we try to reach. When I get to make a trip to Okoboji for the Open, I have the opportunity to get together with the group of people that ‘get it’ in much the same way I do. And that makes me one of this weekend’s winners too.

Last year Riaz and John Flores started a new tradition of going out for a feast on the Saturday night of the tournament at a local Mexican restaurant. A whole group of us have a great time eating and laughing all night. From the left is half of me, Joel Katz, John Flores, Bill Broich, Riaz, John Bartholomew, Okechukwu Iwu, and a tiny part of Sam Smith. Not shown is Tim Harder, but one picture couldn't hold us all.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A busy, busy, day

  Today was my first day off from work this year. I walked the beagles at 5 and hung out with them until a quarter till six. Then I packed up my car with my computer and tournament directing supplies and drove 60 miles for chess club at St. Francis of Assisi where I’ve been the assistant coach this year. Normally, I would have skipped the club, but it was the last meeting of the year and not attending would be sending the wrong message to all the kids about how much I enjoyed working with them this year. Besides, I committed to helping coach, I haven’t missed a single class all year, and I wasn’t about to start now. Anyone can start and quit, but I believe in finishing what I start.

  Once the club was over (head coach Jim beat me 2 out of 3 speed chess games and I’m not so sure the one I did win wasn’t out of pity), I headed 200 miles northwest to Okoboji, Iowa to direct the Okoboji Open chess tournament and help out my friend Jodene Kruse. I took a couple of breaks from driving in the rain to eat a $4 Big Mac (4 DOLLARS?) in Emmetsburg and fill up my gas tank with some $3.79 a gallon gas in Mason City and got to Okoboji at 1:30 in the afternoon. I checked in my room, set up my computer and waited for the players to arrive for the first round at 6.

The highly impressive International Master John Bartholomew.

  It was very touch and go as to whether the tournament was going to be able to make expenses, but Riaz Khan from Minnesota not only talked International Master John Bartholomew to play, he also took 4 other players with him from Minneapolis and promoted the tournament last weekend at a huge scholastic tournament. Thanks to his efforts, the tournament is certain to show a small profit. Riaz is a great guy that everyone likes and trusts and Jodene is very lucky to have him in her corner. Bartholomew attends the University of Texas at Dallas on a chess scholarship. I remember taking my kids to the big AmericInn tournaments in Minneapolis and watching him win 3 $2,500 scholarships. You'd almost expect a guy whose had that much chess success to be a little standoffish, but he is a great guy who thanked Jodene for holding the tournament. He won his game against a strong 11 year old and spent well over an hour with him afterward going over their game. The 11 year old got an invaluable glimpse into a top level player's thought process that he'll probably never forget. It was a very gracious thing to do and it impressed me to no end.

  16 players showed up to play 4 hour games tonight and tomorrow morning with another 30 or so coming to play 2 3 hour games tomorrow before everyone finishes up with a 4 hour game tomorrow night and 2 more 4 hour games on Sunday.

Alex Golubow pulled off a big upset in his first game and autographed the Nebraska state chess magezine "Gambit" that featured his article for me.

  I got to meet a lot of friends like Riaz, Sam Smith, Jodene, and Alex Golubow that I only get to see once or twice a year so it was a nice treat just to hang out with them and chat about chess and life in between checking in on the tournament games, chatting with Kathy on Facebook (a first for us), and keeping an eye on the Yankees losing to the Rangers. The last game finished around 9:40 and I got the games posted onto the internet within an hour. In most of the Iowa tournaments, the games aren’t available until the quarterly state chess magazine comes out and sometimes the games are never posted. When I directed the state championship in 2009, I made the first day’s games available that night and the response I got was overwhelmingly positive. I did the same for the Okoboji tournament the next week and the players really enjoyed having the games available quickly so i did it last year and intend on doing it this year also. It is an extra touch to help make the tournament something the players will want to go to every year. Other tournament directors know the rules better than me, or can do the complicated pairings and figure out the prizes better than me, but no one works harder than me so when I have an opportunity to play to my strength by making sure the pairings are done for the next day’s round; the games are posted; and a tournament summary is written, I take full advantage. I’m just getting to bed at midnight, but I thought I’d get my blog posted this before Sunday because as busy as today was, the next 2 days promise to be even busier!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A new baseball season

  The 2011 baseball season started 2 weeks ago and the Yankees look to be a good but not quite good enough team, the same as last year. There are a few differences. Andy Pettite is gone and Phil Hughes has seemingly melted down but no able replacements have stepped up. The Yankees bought the scrapbooks of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, but Garcia has only pitched an inning and Colon has given up a lot of runs in his first 2 appearances. I have some hope that both can contribute. Colon has eaten himself out of the league but he has struck out 10 batters in 6 innings and may pitch great in his quest for one last big payday. Garcia is a professional pitcher and he can contribute innings if nothing else. But Hughes was supposed to challenge to be the best pitcher in the league instead of the worst. He looks like he’s hurt to me and that would be a big blow. The hitting and bullpen should be good enough to win with any average pitcher, but you can’t win in October without top shelf pitching.

  Speaking of top shelf pitching, the bullpen has been outstanding. Mariano Rivera has been unhittable even at the age of 41, Chamberlain has been great now that he is not pitching in high-pressure situations, and Rafael Soriano has been very, very, good except for one bad inning against the Twins where he walked the bases loaded. Most of the Yankee fans were drooling for Cliff Lee, but Soriano was the guy I wanted them to buy. Lee pitched good against the Yankees, but he wasn’t so hot in the World Series against the Giants when he was expected to carry the team and I don’t think he could be successful in New York. By getting Soriano, the Yankees took a hard to replace closer away from the rival Devil Rays and they get a year to see if he can pitch in New York and replace the great Rivera. You can’t really replace a once in a lifetime pitcher like Rivera, but Chamberlain wilted as the set up man last year and if you buy a closer that can’t pitch in New York the season could be shot before June. I was very impressed with the way Soriano bounced back from his bad outing against the Twins to help with the win 2 days later.

  It’s too early to tell about the offense. Cano is still an All-Star and Rodriguez is off to a good start, but just like last year the outfield doesn’t have the pedigree of a world champion. Gardner hasn’t hit well since June of last year, Swisher doesn’t inspire my confidence, and top backup Andruw Jones is a guy who no one wanted for the last 3 years. After his fine playoffs last year, I was expecting Granderson to get off to a hot start, but it is another slow start. I don’t know what to make of Jeter. I had no problem with the Yankees paying him whatever was necessary to keep him in the pinstripes, but facts are facts and the facts say it is time to think about a replacement. It is hard to think of the Yankees without Jeter, but Jeter isn’t Jeter anymore.

  Despite all the Yankees problems, the season is only 9 games old, they are only a game out of first, and ahead of both the filthy Red Sox and the pesky Devil Rays. I'm sure both teams will be back on top of the standings battling the Yankees before long. I’ve been catching a lot of the games on the radio via It is the best bargain around. For 14.99 a year, I get access to every team’s radio broadcasts. Younger fans like the TV internet package, but I’m used to getting my baseball on the radio where you can be doing something else and almost listening to the game in the background, letting the announcers voices clue me in to pay extra attention.

  I’m not as much of a baseball fan as I am a Yankee fan, but the cool thing about baseball is that your favorite team is playing 6 days a week as opposed to football when each game is almost a national holiday because you have to wait another week for the next game.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hitting my Stride

  I had the latest chess tournament in my monthly series yesterday in West Des Moines. I expected some serious slippage with the school chess clubs winding down and spring sports starting, but I was pleasantly surprised to have 54 players attend, only 6 less than last month. I caught a bad break when the St. Francis chess club I help with didn’t have school on Friday and I lost a chance to remind them one last time. I only had 3 players from the host school, which makes the 54 seem even better today.

  In the 4 tournaments, I’ve had a 154 different players and 224 total. Yesterday I had 24 new players out of the 54. I’m encouraged by how many different players have shown up, but I’d hope to have retained more players. In particular were 3 or 4 families who played in the first 2 tournaments but not the last 2. I wonder why but think it would be a little too forward to ask. Next month is my last scheduled tournament but I’m working on a summer initiative to keep the tournament momentum going. With 150 separate players, I have the possibility of having a tournament with 150 players any month. When I started these tournaments I thought it would take me a year to get to 50 players, so averaging 55 is fantastic. My next job is to try and get attendance to 100 players, but that will have to wait till next year.

  Something that has happened at the last 2 tournaments is that players in the beginner section are finishing their games so much quicker than the advanced section that rather than make them wait for the advanced section to finish before starting their next round, I’m just making the pairings and letting them finish their tournament an hour before the other section. I could make them wait to see how the more advanced players take their time, but I know that if I was a parent, I’d like to get home an hour earlier if I could.

  The tournament went very smoothly and I think most of the players and parents had a great time. I’ve got my routine down and the tournament process ran like a well-oiled machine from the pre-tournament publicity to the post-tournament write-ups. My son Matt was in Iowa City playing for the state championship and Kathy took him, so that left me with beagle duty on Friday night so I got very little sleep. I was really tired when I got home, but stayed up till midnight getting the tournament rated and posting the tournament report and pictures on the internet. I wish I hadn’t posted the report because when I reviewed it this morning, I caught at least 20 errors. I fixed them by 8 and hopefully, there weren’t too many night owls!

  Next week, I’m off to Okoboji, Iowa to direct the Okoboji Open for my friend Jodene Kruse. The tournament has lost money the last 2 years and the prize fund has been scaled back considerably as a result. Alex Yermolinsky, the grandmaster that has attended the past 2 years, won’t be playing and there are some good and bad points to that. Having a grandmaster gives the tournament a lot of prestige and convinces some players to attend that otherwise wouldn’t, but on the other hand it is customary for a grandmaster to have his room paid for and not pay an entry fee when playing in a minor event. With one week to go, it looks like the tournament has an excellent chance of breaking even but there is very little participation from Iowa players (Okoboji is less than an hour drive from South Dakota and is just south of Minnesota. 2 years ago, IASCA president Tim McEntee saw the value of the tournament. He scheduled the state class championships for the month after the open and held the IASCA annual meeting at Okoboji during the tournament as a way to entice Iowa players to make the trip to play. 16 Iowa players played, but only 13 from Iowa attended last year and this year the class championships were set up the week before the Okoboji Open. This is very typical of Iowa chess. While Tim, myself, and precious few others will invest time, money, and effort to groups who are trying to get chess initiatives going, many of the others who could be helpful will mouth their support but immediately set to work to protect their little chess territories by counter scheduling, bad mouthing the organizers, or just plain trying to sabotage the initiatives. I've worked very hard on trying to have my Des Moines chess tournaments as self-contained as possible for that reason. Jodene wants to have a premiere chess event in Okoboji, but she will always be at the mercy of other chess groups to make her events successful unless she builds her own base of players in northwest Iowa.

  I’ve had a great time directing the Okoboji open the last 2 years and am looking forward to meeting old friends and making new ones. It will also be my first 2 days off from work this year so I’ll be having a mini-vacation at the same time.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

When Good Beagles Go Bad

January 5th on the left, April 6th on the right.
What a difference 3 months make!

  Daisy and Baxter will be 5 months old Friday. For the past 3 weeks, I’ve been taking them out for morning walks around the block and Kathy and I have been taking them for a half mile walk in the afternoons. The last 2 Sundays, we took them on a mile and a half walk to the Jiffy for a beef stick treat. On Friday and Saturday, Matt and Kathy took them to walk around a pond on the south side of town. Walking on grass is good for Baxter. When he walks for a long time on cement, he drags the toenail on his foot with the one toe against the sidewalk and the nail gets all bloody.

  Aside from going potty away from the potty pad on occasion, Daisy and Baxter have been very well behaved. They haven’t chewed too much stuff, but it’s not for lack of trying. I’ll be sitting on the couch working on my computer and if I’m not paying attention, one of the beagles will dart up, grab my mouse, dart away, and commence to eating. I’ve only lost one mouse this way.

  When you have young dogs, you have to let them know when you are disappointed in them no matter how adoringly they look at you, but it’s not something I’m very good at. I’d much rather just enjoy my beagles than get mad at them. So when they wake me up in the morning whining, I’ll just go in their pen and lay down with them rather than try to scare them into being quiet and when they make a mess on the floor, I’ll scold them a little and just clean it up. Sometimes I think they’re training me as much as I’m training them.

It seems quiet...maybe a little too quiet....

  Yesterday, I got home from work at 6 and no one was home. The pups were in their pen in the kitchen and they had torn their potty pad to shreds. It looked like a diaper had exploded over their area. Kathy left me a note saying she had gone to Newton to watch Ben play tennis and the beagles were whining and wagging for attention since they had been alone for at least 2 hours. I opened the pen to let them wander around the house like they get to do when someone is home and started the tedious process of sweeping up the shredded potty pad and cleaned up the pee they made on the floor after tearing up their pad. Once I cleaned up, I gave them their bowls of dog food and checked my email on my computer. They finished their food and went to the other room while I got the salad Kathy had left for me out of the refrigerator, put some dressing on it, and started eating.

  I brought my salad out to the living room and saw that the pups had gone potty on the wood floor in the dining room. I put my salad on the table and cleaned up the new mess. When I put away the cleaning stuff, I started eating my salad and noticed that the pups had gotten a photograph off the end table and were fighting over it and tearing it to little pieces. I put my salad on top of the couch and started gathering all the little pieces of photograph. I left the room for a few seconds to throw out the photograph pieces and when I got back into the living room only a few seconds later, there were Daisy and Baxter snuffling and fighting over what was left of MY SALAD, which had been knocked onto the floor, devoured by the beagles, and was all gone except for some remnants of lettuce and some smears of salad dressing on the carpet that the pups had left for me to clean up.

A re-enactment of the attempted getaway.

  This looked like a planned caper to me. Chew up the photograph to distract Hank, and then make a run for his salad. I lost it. I picked Daisy up by the scruff of her neck, rubbed her nose in the salad dressing on the floor gave her a whack on the snout, and put her in her pen in the kitchen. She gave a howl when she got her whack, and I turned my attention to Baxter. He was hiding in the next room, looking at me with his big puppy eyes. I picked him and gave him the salad dressing nose rub and a whack on the snout also, and put him in the pen. At first they looked scared because I was so upset, but once they realized that was the end of their punishment, they started edging up to the wall of the pen where I was standing and started wagging their tails. I gave them some pets, but left them in their pen while I cleaned up the salad and relaxed by playing a couple of games of chess on the internet. When I looked back at them, they were asleep.

Doing the time for doing the crime.

  Kathy came home a half hour later and the puppies woke up and greeted her enthusiastically. We took them for a walk and all was forgotten. Forgotten by everyone but me, that is. I’m thinking about how I can get back at them for scamming me out of my salad, but so far I haven’t come up with a response that doesn’t include me getting an appetite for Purina products.

After having their sentenced reduced to time served, Daisy and Baxter took a walk to visit Mindy, the Cairn Terrier that lives down the block and plot their next caper.

  When we took the dogs on a walk this afternoon, Baxter got scared, wriggled out of his collar and ran all 3 blocks home, crossing 2 busy streets on the way. I was so scared he was going to get run over, but he was faster than me, bum leg and all. I was so happy to see him stop on our front steps that I’m going to forestall my revenge. For now...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Coffeehouse Chess

Zanzibar's Coffee Adventure in downtown Des Moines.
Home of fine coffee and good chess.

  Dan Troxell from Des Moines has been coming to our Thursday night quick tournaments at the Salvation Army in Marshalltown on a regular basis since last summer and we had been planning to visit Zanzibar’s Coffee Adventure in downtown Des Moines where Dan and some his friends get together to play chess on Saturday mornings once the weather got nice. At the club on Thursday, Scott agreed to join me and I asked Jaleb on Friday if he wanted to come along and he said yes, so yesterday the three of us set out at 7am for the 60 mile drive to Des Moines.

Zanzibar has a lot of coffee, but the tables are the right size for a game of chess!

  Chess in coffee houses is a tradition dating back to the 1700’s in Europe, where chess players would congregate and play for pride and money. Zanzibar’s is located in a gentrified section of Des Moines in a neighborhood full of houses, apartment buildings, businesses, and restaurants. It is a narrow shop filled with giant bags of coffee beans and round tables just big enough for chess board. We came in and Dan was playing his friend Mike. I got a big mug of Ethiopian Dark coffee and a sesame bagel with cream cheese ($3.85) and played a couple of speed chess games with Jaleb at a square table by the window while Scott waited to play at Dan and Mike’s table. There were all sorts of different people wandering in and out of the coffee house while we were playing and the tables were full of people writing on their laptops, college kids doing their homework, and people having breakfast and socializing.

Dan and Jaleb battling.
  After my 2 games with Jaleb were over (I lost one and won one on time), Dan played Jaleb and Scott played Mike while I just hung out, had another Ethiopian coffee and bagel with cream chess and watched. As opposed to our Thursday night tournaments where we play with 10 minutes on our clock, on this day we were just playing chess without clocks or time limits. At about 8:30 a fellow named Paul stopped in to play chess. He watched Scott and Mike play and after about 10 minutes Dan introduced me and we started to play a game. I had no idea how good Paul was so when we sat down to play, I just tried to take my time, make good moves, and enjoy myself playing. I probably broke the rules of casual chess by writing the moves down, but I wanted to give a feel for the play of the 'Zanzibar regulars'.

  The game took about 45 minutes. Paul defended really well after losing a piece in the opening and we decided to play another game. Jaleb had beaten Dan a couple of times and Mike did the same to Scott, so Jaleb matched up with Mike, Scott played Dan, while I had the white pieces in my rematch with Paul.

  This game was a long grind that took about an hour. Paul is a very good player and a tenacious defender. If we played each other more often, he would be more aware of the tricks I try to pull and be quite hard to beat. It was a nice change to spend a couple of hours at the chess board while only playing a game or two and I enjoyed matching wits with Paul.

  Jaleb was playing speed games with Mike and winning more than he was losing and Dan was still playing Scott. It was a little after 10 and I wanted to leave at 11, so Jaleb played Paul in a game and I took on Mike for my last game of the day.

  Another long, close, grinding game and one that I felt lucky to win. It was a quarter past 11 at this point, but Jaleb and Paul were locked in a titanic struggle. Jaleb lost his queen and was trying desperately to survive, while Scott was following the action. I hung out talking with Dan and Mike for awhile until they left and around noon, Jaleb managed to win Paul’s queen and take the ending, so we headed back to Marshalltown after I got one more cup of Ethiopian coffee for the road.

From the left, Jaleb, Mike, Scott, Paul, Hank, and Dan.

  It was a lot of fun being invited to playing some no-pressure relaxing chess at Zanzibar’s and we’ll be heading back this way in another month or so. Paul and Mike have never played in a rated tournament, but they proved to be strong players who have a lot of tricks up their sleeves. It was a fun day for playing chess and making new friends. I’ll bet there are more players who meet for casual play at places like Zanzibar’s across Iowa than there are players who go to clubs and tournaments and maybe one day there will be a way to get them all to know about each other to meet and play.