Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What do I know?

  When I’m stumped with a programming problem or a bug, my first stop in finding a solution is to ask myself ‘What do I know?”. Remembering what I know reminds me what I don’t know and focuses my efforts to find out the things I need to obtain a solution. When I'm with a group of programmers that I haven't worked with before and start asking 'What do we know?' in an almost rhythmic chant, they initially look at me as if I'm insane, but within a couple of weeks, we are all chanting together and solving our problems by using what we do know to help us find out what we don't know.

  The baseball season is half over and I’ll admit my pleasant surprise that the Yankees have the second best record in baseball and are 2 and a half games ahead of the filthy Red Sox in the division. The Yankees are on a pace to win around 96 games, but closer inspection shows a 1-8 record against the Red Sox and 3-4 against the Tigers who they are more likely to see in October than the Orioles (6-0) and the A’s (3-0). There is a 7-2 record against the Rangers to be proud of and 17 more games to be played against Tampa Bay which will decide the division along with the 10 remaining games against the Red Sox.

  The Yankees have hit 20 more home runs than any other team in baseball, but have scored less runs than the Red Sox. The pitching has been passable, but injuries to Hughes, Chamberlain, and Soriano have left the bullpen threadbare and the rotation depending on a host of has-beens behind C.C. Sabathia. Pitching wins in the playoffs and the Yankees pitching doesn’t measure up to the Red Sox or Rays at the moment, but if Cashman is able to reel in a top line starter it could be a World Series year. The Yankees won their 5 championships in the Jeter years not by hitting the most home runs, but by having the best pitching and I hope Cashman knows that. Every team that has the money to copy this formula has done so and bidden up the prices on the best pitchers, but that doesn’t mean that pitching isn’t the single best way to win a championship. It just means that the Yankees need to do a much better job developing young pitchers and keeping them healthy. Bludgeoning the humpty-dumpty teams with home runs is OK, but top pitching wins championships.

  I’ve had 401K plans wherever I’ve worked but have never trusted them. Every company invariably picked some investment agency that shows me some line chart that goes up and to the right and viola, 20 or 40 years later, I’m a multi-millionaire. Then the returns don’t match the little line chart because of a) it was a tough year, b) there were a lot of up front costs to set up the account, c) it was a really tough year, d) the fund that was supposed to mirror the Dow somehow didn’t include the top performers, or e) it was a really, really tough year.

  Eventually, I settled on putting all my contributions and any employer match in whatever fund they had that resembled a mattress (normally a money market account). You don’t make very much money on what goes in the mattress but you don’t lose any, either. While I was sticking my money in the mattress, I would monitor funds that mirrored the Dow or S&P and when these funds would go down 3 percent, I’d transfer a little money from the mattress into the fund and then sell it back when it went up 5 percent, pocketing a couple of percent on every swing. When the fund went down another 3 percent before I could cash out, I’d keep on buying. In 2008, I almost ran out of mattress, but I managed to make all my losses up and more over the next 2 years.

  In 2003, I started to dabble in day trading using the same philosophy. I followed Intel, GM, and Microsoft and noticed that every other month or so, these stocks would go down 5 or 10 percent in a day and then rebound almost as much over the next week. I don’t know why and I don’t care. All I was interested in the fluctuation. I would buy some stock and on the down and then sell on the inevitable upswing a day or a week or 2 weeks later. Sometimes I’d get caught in a severe downturn, but I’d have an exit strategy programmed to limit my losses. I was making a hundred dollars twice a month or so and doing well despite the occasional setback, but then I got a book on investing as a gift for my birthday. I read the book and my head got filled with technical jargon like the moving 30, 100, and 200 day moving averages
, head and shoulders, cup and handle, etc... My head got so full of looking for trends (that are not really evident until after the fact) that I lost all my profit plus more because I forgot what I knew which is that stocks go up and stocks go down, irrespective of reason.

  I eventually gave up on day trading and amused myself with my mutual fund game until the ‘Flash Crash’ of May 2010 which saw the Dow drop 1000 points within a minute and recover in the next minute. It freaked me out and I stopped playing with mutual funds that week and transferred my 401K over to a fidelity account mattress fund. Since last June, I’ve been tracking Intel. On June 25th, 2010, Intel was selling for 20.03 and a year and 4 days later it is selling for 21.39. I bought and sold Intel all year according to the following system.
1) Whenever Intel went down a whole dollar (from 20 to 19; 19 to 18; 23 to 22), I’d buy $2000 worth of Intel.
2) Whenever Intel went up enough to allow me to sell all but 5 of the shares I bought in step 1 plus commissions and break even, I’d sell all but 5 shares.
3) That’s it, no more rules.

  A year later, Intel has gone down a whole dollar 11 times, and rebounded enough for me to sell all but 5 shares 10 times. I never had more than $6,000 invested at a time and I’ve broken even but I have 50 shares of stock to show for my efforts. Not exactly Brewster’s Millions, but it’s a fun amusement and fully automated. All I have to do is program a new buy every time Intel goes up a dollar and hits a new dollar amount and a new sell whenever Intel goes down enough to buy. Intel even pays a dividend of 18 cents a share every 3 months. I wish I had more time to refine my method, but I like the simplicity of it and there is a beauty of sticking to what I know, which is that stocks will go up and they will go down, without worrying about the why and when.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The classroom of the future

A Sociology class 80 years from now...

  “Today we will continue our discussion of the evolution of marriage in the United States in the 21st century. As you may recall, we left off the last class at the year 2011, when marriage was still considered by some to the province of a man and a woman, but many states had endorsed the idea of any 2 humans being able to be legally married. Who would like to continue the discussion? Yes, Barry, go ahead.”

  “Shortly after marriage between any two humans and civil unions became accepted, the Multi-Partner Marriage Alliance was formed with funding from the Mormons. The MPMA decried the idea of marriage as an institution between 2 people as an old-fashioned idea ignorant of the new realities of the 21st century. Doctors and scientists proved that the desire to be married to more than one partner at a time was genetic and not learned. Naturalists found many examples in nature of group mating as further proof that MPM was a natural occurrence and not a lifestyle choice. Group marriages were sanctioned by new churches and the North Dakota Supreme Court ruled in a landmark case that laws against multiple partner marriages were a civil rights violation and that MPMs were to be legal. Groups from all over the United States flocked to North Dakota to get married and in order to get in on the group marriage boom, the other 49 states quickly legalized MPMs.”

  “Well done. Now who can tell me what changes to marriage came about after the legalization of MPM’s? Jennifer?”

  “In the Mid 21st Century, Jeb Olson, a farmer from Nebraska, sued the state for the right to marry his cow, Maribel. He was scoffed at and accused of concocting a scheme to get his cow onto his health care plan, since Maribel was sick and needed a heart transplant. Olsen lost his lawsuit and then Maribel died and Olson took his own life the next day. Within the next 2 months over 20,000 farming families from the Midwest sued for the right to marry their cows and bulls. They formed the Human-Bovine Defense League and part of their trademark was to commit suicide if their cow or bull passed away before they could be married. The HBDL was met with opposition from the religious right, the LGBT community, and the MPMA, who successfully lobbied Congress to pass the 2062 Defense of Marriage Act, which stated that marriage was an institution between humans only. The HBDL were undeterred and continued to sue and protest for the right to marry their cows. The protests were met by counter protests which were sometimes very violent, culminating in the slaughter of 6 men, 3 women, and 9 cows at a Jacksonville, Wyoming HBDL meeting. An Academy Award winning movie depicting the massacre “For the Love of a Cow” was produced and elicited the sympathy of people all over the world. In 2068, the European Union passed a law recognizing the marriage of humans and cows. In the United States, the HDBL was joined by groups of people who wished to wed their dogs, cats, ferrets, etc. Their efforts led to the passage of the Mammalian Marriage Act, which defined the right to marriage between any group consisting of at least one human to any other number of humans and mammals. This put the America in the lead of the human-animal marriage movement.”

  “That’s good Jennifer, but I think any discussion of the HBDL must include the military’s refusal to allow the service of anyone involved in a human-mammal marriage until forced to by the Supreme Court. But that’s a topic for another day. Who can bring us up to the present time? Yes, Qanat, please continue.”

  “Last year, the Maryland Legislature passed a law allowing the marriage of humans to their state reptile, the Terrapin and all other turtles. This has sparked an outrage of the proponents of traditional marriages, who believe the sacred institution of marriage was designed for humans and mammals and that a turtle is not capable of professing love for a human. The law is currently being reviewed and no human-terrapin marriages are being allowed except for the 23 that were performed before the injunction.”

  “That’s correct, Qanat. Let’s see a show of hands. Who is in favor of human-turtle marriages? Who is against? Well, we seem to be fairly evenly split on the issue. Amy, why are you in favor of human-turtle marriages?”

  “People used to think the sun revolved around the earth, smoking was good for you, and that marriage was only for a man and a woman. Now the same people who said the earth is flat say you can’t marry a turtle. Why shouldn’t we be able to marry a turtle if we want to? It’s a basic human right.”

  “A compelling argument, Amy. Jan, why are you against human-turtle marriages?”

  “I think that marriage is something sacred designed for humans and other mammals and allowing humans to marry turtles would destroy the institution of marriage. And if we let humans marry turtles, what’s next? Spiders?”

  “Any response, Amy?”

  “Jan, your mother is married to 2 goats along with 2 other humans. Don’t you think other people should have the same right to marry a turtle that your mother did in marrying 2 goats?”


  “We'll continue this discussion next time. Class dismissed.”

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

It's Hard to be a Champion

The spoils of victory.

  At Saturday’s youth chess tournament, Chandler, the high school kid I brought from Marshalltown to help me set up, ended up winning the tournament. It was only a mild upset since he was the 3rd highest rated player there. I was bringing Jaleb Jay to the youth tournaments and he was far and away the highest rated player. Jaleb won the first 3 tournaments outright, gave up a couple of draws in the fourth and had to settle for a 4 way tie for first, and then skipped the next 2. It’s too bad he stopped wanting to play in them since I always like to have some strong players on hand as an example to the younger players, but it is understandable that Jaleb wouldn’t want to play with a target on his back time after time.

  It was good to see Chandler be a champion. I introduced him to the players of the afternoon adult tournament as the youth chess champion. After the tournament was over, Chandler said it wasn’t a big deal that he won the tournament. I said, “Man, I’ve been playing chess for over 40 years and I’ve been a champion maybe 4 or 5 times. Enjoy being a champion because it’s hard to do!” Most of the rest of the players nodded in agreement.

  When I was driving to work this week, I got to thinking more about the times I’ve been and not been a champion. One year in school, we would have these monthly spelling bees and I never won one even though I also never misspelled a word. I would forget to say the word before or after I spelled it and get called out, never mind that I did spell the word correctly. I’ve always hated spelling bees for that reason. Maybe they should call them saying and spelling bees. I would probably have done pretty well if they had math bees but they didn’t exist back in the day.

  I’ve never been a championship athlete or even been on a championship team, but there have been times when I’ve been a chess champion. Maybe that’s the allure chess holds on me. It’s been the only time I’ve been able to call myself a champion. I started playing tournament chess in 1982 and used to go play in the monthly quads in Somerset. At Somerset there would be between 100 and 200 players who would be divided into groups of 4 players by rating into an all play all mini tournament where you would either play for money or a trophy depending on the entry fee you paid. In 1984, I finally managed to win a quad and took home a handsome trophy I still have to this day. After that, I always played for the money. I’ve run quads myself and seen a lot of adults want the trophy more than the money the first time they win a quad. I won another quad in 1985 and used the $25 prize to buy the 1953 Zurich Tournament book by Bronstien (which I also still have). I remember how happy I was both times to have won a quad. I won some cash prizes after that but never a first place finish. I stopped playing tournament chess in 1987, but when my kids got old enough to play in tournaments, I got the bug and started playing in tournaments again in 2002. It took a few years to shake off the rust but I eventually got back to my old playing strength. In July of 2006, I took Matt and Ben to Joliet to play in the US Game/30 championships. There were only 40 players there, and I got lucky to be able to play (and defeat) the 2 lowest rated players there. That and 3 draws plus a loss got me a tie with Ben and another fellow for the top Class C score. Matt won the Class B section. We were all super happy win the cash and I figured that as long as it was a USCF national championship, we could say we were national champions.

  We went back to Joliet the next year and I had one of the best tournaments of my life. I should have lost my last round game, but my opponent missed the winning move to let me escape with a draw. I managed to win 2 games and draw 3 others without a loss to share first place in Class B with 2 other players. There were 50 players and I was one of 3 undefeated players. I also found out from another player that if you asked nicely, the US Chess Federation would send you a certificate noting your first place finish in a national championship. I called them and asked nicely and they sent me my certificates. They are framed on my wall and even though the 2007 certificate says I won the Class C and not Class B it does not diminish the good feeling I get looking at them.

  I tied for first with Kushan Tyagi in a 3 round CyChess tournament in 2008. I was elated to win a tournament in Iowa, even though it was kind of flukey since I never had to play a higher rated player (Kushan had to beat 2 players higher rated than me), but it was a great feeling to join the list of CyChess winners. I play in the CyChess every chance I get but have yet to get back to the winners circle.

A pair of champions. Chandler(l) and Dan Vasto, who won the adult quick chess tournament in the afternoon.

  I’ve won my share of Thursday Night quick chess tournaments at the Marshalltown Chess Club and I feel good when I do manage to win the tournament, but it has been 3 years since I’ve won a championship outside of these quick chess tournaments. I came close at last year’s State Fair and I catch myself daydreaming about past victories and the next time I will feel the high of being a champion. When the Yankees were winning the World Series 4 times from 1996 to 2000, some Yankee fans started treating the championship as something to be relieved over winning and not as a cause for celebration, but I always enjoyed each one since I can remember 18 straight years of not rooting for a champion. I still have a good feeling about the 2009 champions and am well aware that it may be the last Yankee championship I see for a long time. For all except a lucky few, championships are few and far between and should be savored and not be taken for granted.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A day of outdoor chess

Chess in the great outdoors!

  I held my first outdoor chess tournament yesterday at Pioneer Park in Des Moines. Because the kids got cabin fever after a few hours at the May tournament, I designed this one to start at 11:00 and be over by 1:30 with the kids getting 3 games in. Since I had the covered shelter rented for the entire day, I held a cash tournament in the afternoon.

  It was nice being able to leave for the tournament at 8:30 instead of 7. It was barely raining when I got to the park. Half of the picnic benches had been moved from the shelter to some trees over a hundred yards away, but enough tables were left for the players that signed up. I got someone to help me carry one table back and it was heavy enough to convince me to leave the rest alone. Most of the parents were prepared for a picnic lunch anyway and had brought the lawn chairs that parents bring to watch their kids play sports.

  I quickly set up the tournament and the players all arrived between 10:30 and 11:00. There were just 17 players and 4 parents and I got them all signed up and playing just a few minutes after 11. When the kids were done playing, they’d head over to the nearby playground area and enjoy themselves in the sight lines of their parents. The tournament was over by 1 but some of the kids and parents hung around and played until 2. An adult player from Illinois, Guy Kittilsen came over between 12 and 1 for the adult tournament that was going to start at 2:30. He was on a business road trip in Iowa and decided to get in a chess tournament while he was in the area. Guy played chess with some of the parents and kids, giving impromptu lessons while playing them. Then Jose Gatica showed up. Jose lives in Kansas but taught chess at 2 of the local schools this year and is in the process of moving to Des Moines to be a full time chess teacher. I am working with Jose on a chess camp in July and he came up to play in the adult tournament and iron out the course curriculum.

The cash tournament was mostly adults. It was pretty quiet until the family with the ATV showed up.

  I had only 6 players signed up for the adult tournament, but when Guy and 2 other players came to play I had 9. I was planning on playing, but with an odd number I was out. But the top seeded player, Dan Vasto hadn’t arrived by 2:30. This put me in a quandary. Dan has been late to every tournament I’ve ever run, but he’s never been a no-show. The strictly 'by-the-book' thing to do would have been to pair Dan and start his clock. But with only 15 minutes for the game, I felt this would have been a severe handicap. I like to think common sense and courtesy should prevail over the rules. Since I was available to play, I put myself in the tournament. I sat down to play Black against Mark Kende, a law professor at Drake University who is rated a class ahead of me. A few minutes after the game started, Dan showed up. I played most of a really good game against Mark and was a pawn ahead in a Queen and Pawn ending but I miscalculated the King ending by refusing Mark’s offer to trade Queens and had to settle for a draw. As soon as I had agreed to the draw, a couple of the other players came up to me and told me what an easy win I had. Where were they when I was playing??? (Just kidding, they’re not allowed to say anything). Dan took my place and was undefeated in winning the tournament.

If I had traded Queens on the position on the left, I win. On the right, I just move my king over and trade queens next move to win. I played a great game but missed these two Endgame 101 positions, kept avoiding the Queen trade and the game ended in a draw. At least I only gave away half a point.

  When I was playing I didn’t notice any noise, but when I stopped I couldn’t help hearing the refugees from a trailer park that had congregated at the benches that had been taken from the shelter and left by the tree. Their continual feeding frenzy was interrupted by various curses, proclamations of how loud and odoriffic their last gas was, and the arguing every time a little kid had to go to the bathroom over who was going to take them. They also had an ATV that some lady was riding on at top speed with different small kids in her lap and no one had any helmets. If the ATV had flipped over the trailer park family would have sued the ATV maker, the park, and probably me for having a distracting chess tournament. I don’t think the players noticed them too much, but that is the risks of playing outdoors.

Just as the Brontosaurus had to eat 23 hours a day to maintain it's weight, the pride of the Des Moines trailer park community's 'need to feed' resulted in an occasional respite from the loud cursing and reviews of the most recent 'gas' attack. I used super zoom on the camera because I was afraid if I got too close, my camera would have been stuffed between 2 slices of bread and eaten.

  The tournament finished around 5:30, I packed up and had dinner with Jose while we hashed out the rest of the camp curriculum. The tournament went well enough that I am going to go ahead and have the same tournament next month (I already have the shelter reserved, but I am going to make sure to get all the picnic benches in the shelter to encourage the trailer park family to go elsewhere). The 3 round tournament idea was well received and I think it may be worth a try even when I have winter tournament in the school. A drawback is many parents won’t travel for only a few hours of chess, but it may help to keep the local parents involved knowing that their child’s tournament won’t be an all day affair.

A model spectator at a chess tournament. Quiet, unassuming, and well behaved.
This fellow is welcome back anytime.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Big "C"

  I remember when I was in my 20’s and 30’s saying there was NO WAY I was going to ever get a prostate exam. NO WAY that is, until I turned 40 and people my age and younger started getting cancer and people I went to school with started having heart attacks. Then paying to ‘get the finger’ from a doctor seemed a bit more palatable and being manly seemed a lot less important than the possibility of finding out you waited too long to know you had something serious. I didn’t think too much about this stuff until George Harrison died of lung cancer. There was a fairly young, loaded guy who couldn’t get a cure, just a couple more years. So now whenever I get a checkup, I get the prostrate check and it’s a consolation to know that my doctor seems pretty disgusted by the whole thing too.

  When I turned 50 last year, I went to the doctor for a checkup and he told me now that I was 50 I should have a colonoscopy, especially since my grandfather died of colon cancer. My grandfather was 96 when he passed away, but I trust my doctor, so I agreed to let them schedule one. I must have been a little nervous about it because I mentioned it at my Thursday chess club to a couple of the older guys and they started talking about how disgusting it was to drink this stuff they give you. Then I mentioned it to a couple of other men at work and they told me their colonoscopy stories. My head was filled with visions of drinking disgusting liquid, being hungry but not being able to eat, and having my innards ‘roto-rootered’ (as one man put it complete with a mime impression of a man with a jack-hammer), and not being able to walk straight for a week. Even my boss told me his colonoscopy stories when I told him why I needed the day off and I wouldn’t describe him as the sharing sort.

  Despite all the horror stories (and not one encouraging tale), I went for my colonoscopy as scheduled. I had to drink about a gallon of vaguely salty water which had the intended effect, but it really wasn’t all that bad. I couldn’t eat any solid food the day before, but I was allowed to have ice pops and JellO as long as they weren’t red. I love ice pops, so there were no problems there. I was able to munch ice pops till 10 at night when I wasn’t allowed to eat even ice pops. Kathy drove me to the medical center in Des Moines the next day and the doctor and nurses explained that they wouldn’t be knocking me out but giving me some drug that would keep me almost unconscious, but able to respond to their commands to roll on my side and such. Luckily, I left my checkbook at home and gave Kathy my wallet to hold.They also told me how safe it was while I was signing all the disclaimer forms (just in case). Then Nurse Craig hung around with me until the drugs took effect. Craig told me that when he got his colonoscopy, not only was he awake he was watching his colon on the TV and asking the doctors questions. This sounded pretty weird to me and I was happy to finally pass out (I think) and not have to talk to a colonoscopy groupie. I woke up later and it was all over. My colon must be in good shape because they told me I don’t need another colonoscopy for 10 more years. Nurse Craig had a big old smile on his face, but since I didn’t want to know what he was so happy about I decided to adopt a ‘don’t ask – don’t tell’ policy towards him.

  My experience was so benign, I wondered what all these horror stories I heard were all about. Maybe I’m breaking some sort of ‘man’ code by not continuing the urban legend of the horror of the colonoscopy or maybe I’m just lucky. Or maybe all middle aged men with health insurance get a colonoscopy around my age and it has become a rite of passage just like a first smoke, drink, or date as a teenager. And what’s the point of a shared ritual if we don’t embellish it a little? Maybe someday I’ll tell the exciting story of my first smoke, drink, or date as soon as I can make one up.

  I decided to write about colonoscopies for two reasons. On Saturday at Zanzibar’s, Greg was standing up while he was playing and told me he was getting ready for an upcoming colonoscopy. I resisted temptation and just told him how mine went pretty smoothly and it was no big deal. No point in worrying anyone unnecessarily, but it reminded me of all the stories I’d been told. My other reason involves greed and curiosity. Google puts ads on my blog based on content and when I wrote about dentures last week, I got ads for dental implants on my blog and they paid the most per click than anything on my blog except last elections ‘Tell Sarah Palin NO’ ads. I imagine that dental implants are very lucrative since they can afford such nice payouts to Google. I had to find out if the colonoscopy ads will be just as well-paying.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Return to Zanzibar's

Back to Zanzibar's for good coffee, chess, and friends.

  I had a crummy, crummy, crummy week. While one customer kept changing their mind on what changes they wanted to a project seconds after I finished, another customer’s project kept having emergencies that got me so stressed out that I’ve been waking up at all hours of the morning checking my emails to see what’s happened now. On top of that, the Yankees got hammered by the Red Sox 3 straight nights to fall out of first place and now Joba Chamberlain is out for the year and probably next also. The Yankees have bounced back nicely to take 2 from the Indians, but without a bullpen, I can’t see them winning a championship, even if the hitting can carry them to the playoffs.

  Different people react to stress in different ways. Some people will drink or do drugs, some people will use their faith to carry them through, and a married Congressman from New York may send suggestive pictures of themselves over Facebook and Twitter to girls half his age that he’s never met in person.

  My faith carries me through many rough patches, but when the going gets tough, my main therapy is to play chess. So I decided to head to Des Moines yesterday morning to meet up with my friend Dan Troxell and his chess playing friends at Zanzibar’s Coffee Adventure on Ingersoll Avenue. Dan has just started his blog, which is called ‘Innocent Bystander, and if you get a chance you should check it out. In my opinion, it is most excellently written. After getting up at my usual time of 4:30 and walking Daisy and Baxter to the Jiffy for their Saturday beef stick treat, my very understanding wife Kathy took over beagle-sitting duties for the day while I headed 55 miles southwest to Zanzibar’s.

Greg (left) contesting a game with Dan.

  I arrived around 7:15. Dan and Mike were there and so was Greg Underwood. Greg wasn’t here the last time I visited Zanzibar’s, but we knew each other when he played in my free tournament in Marshalltown last October, where he won 2 out of 4 games including a win over Tim Crouse, who is rated 100 points higher than me. I ordered a big mug of strong coffee, an everything bagel with cream cheese and $3.72 later, I was ready for action. Greg placed a pawn of each color behind his back and I picked the hand with the black pawn so I was defending.
  Except for almost missing the mate threat, I was happy with my play. I missed very little over the board, defended accurately, and struck hard when the opportunity presented itself. Greg and I went over the game and then I switched tables to play Mike. Mike thoroughly outplayed me the last time we played, but made a mistake in giving up a rook for a knight, which allowed me to win. The tension I’d felt from work and the Yankees had completely evaporated as I got another mug of coffee and sat down to play with the black pieces again, ready for a tough struggle.

Mike and I on the 64 square battleground.

  It was an unexpectedly quick game after managing to catch Mike’s queen all by herself in the crossfire of my bishops, so we decided to play again and this time I had the White pieces.

  Mike was off his game today. He told me that he had also been pretty busy with his job and hadn’t had the time to play chess on Tuesday’s like he normally does. I could relate. Then Dan came over and we all talked for a bit. Since Dan is a Red Sox fan, I thought the subject of this week’s sweep would come up, but we both understand that for teams like the Red Sox and Yankees what happens in June isn’t worth crowing about. Only October matters for winning teams. After a little chit-chat, I got another bagel with cream cheese and a refill of coffee, and Dan and I sat to play. Once again, I drew the black pieces.

Richard Gere (or an amazing lookalike) chatting with an admirer at Zanzibar's. I tried to get a picture for enquiring minds, but I failed just like the rest of the paparazzi.

  A little touch and go, but luckily I had the Qd4 move to keep me from getting checkmated. After this game, Greg left and Dan, Mike, and I just sat for another hour talking about chess, blogging, boxing, and trading stories from our pasts. I think I even spotted Richard Gere at Zanzibar’s. I tried to sneak around to get his picture, but he kept on turning away from me. I figured he was so experienced at avoiding the paparazzi that I had no chance of getting a snapshot, so I took the best picture I could and left it at that. No one else believed I had gotten Richard Gere’s picture, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it! I left around 1, made my way to Half-Price Books across town. I picked up a couple of books and was back in Marshalltown ready for Daisy and Baxter’s afternoon walk for more beef stick treats by 3PM.

  When I checked my work emails to see what new crises had erupted, I was completely stress-free. I’m very grateful for people like Dan, Mike, and Greg who provide a day of respite for chess players like myself to get away from it all in the company of friends.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Genesis of a tournament

  I wrote 2 months ago that I have hit my stride in running my monthly chess tournaments and I have the routine down so the process is almost effortless on tournament day. But in order to make a tournament run effortlessly, a lot of planning is required.

  I noticed at my youth chess tournament on May 14th that the players were getting cabin fever by the end of the day. I had taken a gamble and scheduled my June tournament in Pioneer Park in Des Moines on the 18th. The tournament will be outdoors but under a covered shelter near a playground. I easily have room for 70 players but can only guarantee the first 42 players a spot in case it rains. Based on the sparse amount of early entries too many players in case of rain won’t be a problem, but it is important to keep to a monthly tournament schedule for my core group of players and parents. Luckily, I scheduled only 3 rounds instead of the usual 5, so I already have enough players committed to have a fun tournament.

  Since the youth tournament will be over by 1:30 and I have the shelter rented until 9, I decided to have an adult tournament in the afternoon. The tournament starts at 2:30 and will consist of 4 rounds with 15 minutes per player per game, so I expect to be all done by 5:00 pm. I’m always conflicted in setting the prize fund and entry fee for an adult tournament. I like to play in tournaments with low entry fees that have fairly quick time limits and don’t really care about winning money. Most of the other chess players I know don’t mind paying a high entry fee if they a) get a lot of chess in for their cash and b) have a chance at winning some decent money.

  I’ve had a number of adult tournaments in Marshalltown. Last year I had the free tournament that drew 12 players in the open section with trophy prizes and 18 more players in the beginner section. In 2008 I had an adult tournament that had a $5 entry fee and guaranteed a $25 first prize and $105 in class prizes. I drew 20 paid players and lost about $60 since I covered the entry fees and IASCA memberships of 2 of the players. In 2007, I tried a big money tournament with a $350 prize fund based on 25 players and a $15 entry fee. I had 19 players which reduced the prize fund to around $270 and showed a small profit.

  All my adult tournaments in Marshalltown have shown me I don't really have a handle on what will maximize participation. So for this tournament, I decided to swipe an idea from Ben Ryan who ran tournaments in Nebraska the past few years before moving to Houston a few months ago. He ran tournaments with cash prizes according to what your score was. If a player wins all 4 games, they will receive 4 times the $15 entry fee or $60. A player with 3 wins and a draw (3.5 points) will receive $45, 3 points gets $30, and 2.5 points gets $15. Ben called it the Plus Score Swiss and paid more for a perfect score and less for a score just over even, but I only stole the concept and not the numbers or name. I’ve done the math and if I get 6 players I should be assured of breaking even. I’m even planning on playing myself and am brushing up on my openings and doing some tactic puzzles every morning and night. At our Thursday night blitz tournaments, I’ve been beating the people I’m supposed to, but not pulling any upsets. I’d like to be on my ‘A’ game on the 18th. Every win I get is not just money in my pocket; it’s also money I don’t have to put into someone else’s. The reverse is true of every loss, but that’s not something I choose to dwell on.

  I’m expecting a great day of chess on the 18th, rain or shine. I've done my due diligence and the attendance I get is out of my hands at this point, so I can just relax, get ready to play, and give the people who do show up to play the best chess experience I can provide. I have the shelter rented for a Saturday in July, but I want to see how the park works for a tournament before I commit myself. If ‘Boom-Box Benny’ or ‘Cell-Phone Carla’ shows up to hang around, it may prove to be an unsuitable venue, but everyone should understand the risks of playing outdoors before they start and since only the quick chess ratings of the participants will be affected, no one will stay away for fear of losing their regular rating points.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


  2 weeks ago, Donald Trump decided not to seek the Republican nomination for president. The speculation was that he didn’t want to have to give up his Apprentice TV shows in order to run for president. I think Trump decided not to run after getting a taste of the kind of negative media attention he would have to put up with, and Saturday Night Live hadn’t even started on him.

  I don’t know if Trump would have been able to get the nomination as a Republican, but I think he would have been as good a candidate as any of the others in the field. He had a huge advantage in name recognition. Except for Mitt Romney, can you name another Republican candidate? I know Pawlenty because he is the governor of nearby Minnesota, and I know Palin who isn’t a candidate yet, and I know Gingrich. Normally the Republican nominee must be strictly anti-abortion and anti-gay, but this election is different. The family values crowd is so desperate to unseat Obama that they will make an exception for this election for anyone they think could win.

  I don’t think anyone can beat Obama, but 20 years ago no one thought George Bush could be defeated and it led to a flawed group of candidates running for the Democratic nomination because many of the more serious candidates had decided to wait until 1996 to run after a second Bush term. But when Bush broke his famous “Read my lips. No new taxes” pledge and the economy went into a recession, no one cared about his leadership in Operation Desert Storm and suddenly the presidency was there for Bill Clinton's taking and the catch phrase “It’s the economy, stupid!” was born.

What odds could you have gotten on the
guy with the chimp being President?
  Trump’s celebrity doesn’t exclude him from being president. No one thought Ronald Reagan could ever be president, but when the economy tanked in 1979, people had to wait 2 hours in line for gasoline, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and the hostages were taken in Iran, Reagan got taken more seriously as some one who wasn’t Jimmy Carter and the media stopped playing clips from Reagan’s starring role in the movie “Bedtime for Bonzo”. Arnold Schwarzenegger managed to get elected and re-elected governor of California with nothing but his celebrity going for him. Even if the economy tanks and people start looking for anyone but Obama to be president, Obama has an ace in the hole that previous presidents in that position didn’t. I could see some pictures of a dead Osama Bin Laden being leaked out as a sort of October surprise in reverse.

  In my opinion, the biggest indictment against Trump’s ability to be president is not his bankruptcies or his cartoon character persona, but his stint running the New Jersey Generals of the USFL (United States Football League) in the mid 80’s. The USFL started as a summer football league and had a small but loyal following with a modest ABC TV contract. There were some owners with deep pockets, but they did not start bidding wars against the NFL for players until the Generals signed Heisman Trophy winning Hershel Walker for more than twice the teams salary cap and also breaking the USFL rule against signing underclassmen. Then Trump signed NFL all-pro players like Brian Sipe and Gary Barbaro to big money contracts. In order to compete the other USFL teams had to follow suit and bid for NFL players with money many of the teams didn’t have. Despite his big-name talent, the Generals didn’t make it past the first round of the playoffs. Undeterred, Trump signed Heisman winning quarterback Doug Flutie to a big money contract. In order to ensure his new toy would be the starter, Trump dumped Sipe, last year’s big money quarterback, to another team. The Generals again didn’t make it past the first round of the playoffs. Trump led a charge to change the USFL schedule to go head to head in the fall against the NFL. Since both leagues shared many stadiums, this led to an anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL. The USFL won the lawsuit, but the jury ruled that while the USFL was damaged by the NFL’s monopoly on playing sites and TV contracts, most of the damage to the USFL was self-inflicted and the USFL was awarded damages of $1. It wasn’t all that bad since the USFL’s legal fees were covered, but Trump’s poor Steinbrenner impersonation not only managed to not win a championship, he put an entire football league out of business.

  Trump made the news again last week when he was ridiculed for by John Stewart for eating pizza with a knife and fork with Sarah Palin. This was a funny bit and I agree with the poor taste in stacking pizza slices, but I thought this knife and fork criticism was unfounded. When I worked at a coat manufacturer called Amerex in the late 80’s, the finance V.P. was named Frank Brandi, who was a mentor of mine. Frank was 20 years older then me, but convinced me to wear a suit to work once a week so I would be comfortable being well-dressed. I took that advice and it became invaluable when I got a job that required suits and ties. Frank and I were both big Yankee fans and would go out at lunch time once in a while and get baseball cards. Next door to the baseball card shop was a pizza place and we would grab a slice. Frank also ate his pizza using a knife and fork. At first I thought it was weird, but since Frank dressed like a million bucks and didn’t want to be walking around with pizza stains on his shirt, it made a lot of sense.

  I hope Trump changes his mind and decides to run for President. It would make great theatre and at 65, Trump is too old to wait until 2016. He would also be the type of illogical candidate that would give the ultra-cerebral Obama the most trouble campaigning against. It is a long shot, but stranger things have happened.