Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Upset Johnny

  Zach, a 4th grader at our club has managed to pull off some big wins in our last few Thursday night blitz tournaments. Last month, he beat Matt Kriegel (the same Matt Kriegel I barely got a draw against at last December’s CyChess) and last week Zach beat Roger (70+ year old legendary Ames chess coach). Both Matt and Roger are rated 3 classes over Zach and according to statistics should beat him 95% percent of the time but no one told Zach. Don’t ask me why, but I’ve always called a player that pulls off wins against higher rated competition Upset Johnny and now Zach is our club’s newest Upset Johnny. High School senior Jaleb Jay is also an Upset Johnny when he plays out of town, but I can’t really call him that at our club now that he is the highest rated blitz player in town with Matt moving to Ames and Jaleb passing by me in rating last month.

  Zach had some help from his opponents in pulling off his upsets, but he also has a lot of chess talent. He reminds me a lot of my son Ben in that they both love to attack and have an innate sense of where to put the pieces for the attack. Zach had winning positions against good players before, but he wouldn’t pull back from the attack and end up losing when he would sacrifice pieces for a checkmate attack that didn’t quite work. A player that gets a lot of winning positions is a lot like a baseball team with a poor closer that throws away games in the 9th inning. As soon as the team gets a new closer and the chess player learns to finish the game it seems as though a massive and sudden improvement has taken place, but in reality a small problem with big consequences has been corrected. Since Zach plays baseball, football, basketball, and the piano maybe he won’t ever become a state chess champion, but he enjoys playing chess and that’s the most important thing.

  I’ve always felt that a player shows their real improvement by being able to beat players at their own level as opposed to being an Upset Johnny for a tournament or 2. I’ve seen a lot of players (including my own sons) who have some great tournament results and skip a rating class or 2 because of their superior results against higher rated competition have a lot of trouble beating the players that are at the rating class that they skipped because they never learned how to beat them as equals in the heat of battle. I see a lot of adult players want to play in the open section of a tournament with a section geared for their current level and even pull off some upsets but the rating points gained generally proves to be temporary.

  At any tournament, you can’t tell who the Upset Johnny is going to be beforehand, but during the tournament you can tell by finding the player with the biggest grin on their face. I played in a tournament in 2004 in Iowa City. I lost my first round game to an expert and then got to play Jacob Uptain from Cedar Rapids, who I outrated by 2 classes. Little did I know I was really facing 'Upset Johnny'.
  I played about as bad as I could in that game, but Jacob beat a player in the next round that was a rating class above me which made me feel less awful. Jacob even beat my son Ben in the High School Championship in October 2005 so it can safely be said Jacob was a player. I won my next game when the player at the next table disrupted everyone around him with his ‘Psycho’ act and I got less distracted than my opponent.

  Normally my best tournaments involve getting draws against higher rated players and taking care of business against the lower rated players who want to be Upset Johnny against me, but I had one tournament when I was Upset Johnny. In 1984, I was rated 1350 and played in the New Jersey Open but in the Open section (the reserve was for players rated under 1800). I was the only player rated under 1600 in the open section, but I beat 2 players that outrated me by 2 classes and drew another to go with 2 losses to masters and I went into the last round with a chance to win the $300 under 2000 prize. Here are my ‘Upset Johnny’ games:

  As you can tell, normally an upset occurs when the higher rated player has a bad day or makes a big mistake (although I did play OK in the second game) and the lower rated player doesn’t make the usual mistakes that a player of their rating normally does, but once Upset Johnny gets a taste of blood, the increased confidence can unlock even greater accomplishments. In the last round of that New Jersey Open, the clock struck midnight and my glass slippers turned back into a pair of old shoes as I played poorly and lost to an expert. I had a lot of trouble for a couple of months when I went back to playing at my own level in quads, but it was fun to be an Upset Johnny for once.

  These 3 games reinforce the 2 things I used to tell my kids (and still tell myself) before every tournament and I think they are as close to a universal truth you can get to in chess. Rule #1: You can beat anyone and Rule #2: Anyone can beat you. As happy as I am that Zach has been beating some highly rated players, I’ll be happier when he consistently beats the people in our tournaments that are currently equal to his playing level.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Hostage Situation

  Of all the snack foods to munch on while on the job, Cheetos are my favorite and puffy Cheetos are my preferred choice. They may well be the perfect food. I love the cheesy taste, the artificial orange color you have to scrub off your hands, and the way they just melt in my mouth. Despite the knock offs that are around, Cheetos brand Cheetos are hands down the only brand for me. I can’t afford to eat them morning, noon, and night (if I could, I’d consider being bulimic!), but they are a great mid-morning snack to get me feeling good about life if I’ve been having a rough morning at work.

  When I first started working in Des Moines in 1994, our office had this snack tray that worked on the honor system. You would put your money into a slot in the tray and take a snack out of the tray. The tray had 2 bags of puffy Cheetos a week. I would buy them and the snack lady would stop by and refill the tray. There were only 4 of us working there so most of the stuff in this tray would just stay there. After a while, snack lady stopped bringing in puffy Cheetos, bringing in the crunchy kind instead. crunchy Cheetos are OK, but I like puffy Cheetos. I asked snack lady to bring back the Puffy Cheetos, but she said that she couldn’t get them from her supplier anymore. In protest (and because there were plenty of convenience stores in walking distance), I never bought any of the crunchy Cheetos and soon thereafter the owner told snack lady that since no one was buying anything from her tray she could just take her tray and not come back. She promised to get the puffy Cheetos back, but the owners mind was made up and I never saw snack lady again. A few years later a guy joined our company as a support person and he also had a small vending machine business. He managed to get his vending machine put in the building but never had Cheetos.

  Occasionally, I’d buy a bag of puffy Cheetos on my way home from work but all that orange stuff got stuck on my fingers and all over the inside of the car so I just would settle for walking to the convenience store at lunch and getting a bag to eat at my desk but no bag of Cheetos survived the walk back to the office. For that same reason, it’s futile for me to pack some Cheetos in my car for the trip to work. They probably won’t even make it out of town. I’ve looked in the vending machines in all the jobs I’ve been in and I’ve never seen puffy Cheetos in any of them. Maybe they take too much room or maybe they get damaged in the machine, but potato chips are just as fragile. It may be the sad truth that time has passed me by and that crunchy Cheetos are just more popular and that puffy Cheetos have been relegated to the dustbin of history as dinosaur food for fossils like me.

  On the 8th floor of the downtown building where I work, there are 2 vending machines for the 30+ employees. One has cans of soda and the other has snacks. I’ve bought one can of Pepsi in the 5 months I’ve been working there, but the other machine is always well stocked with crunchy Cheetos. I had a bag on a particularly stressful day and while it wasn’t puffy Cheetos, they were a satisfying snack and I’ve put a modern twist on my old addiction and have been having 2 or 3 bags out of the vending machine a week.

  3 weeks ago, I bought a bag of crunchy Cheetos but as the wire wheel spun the bag towards me, I noticed that the Cheetos in the rack had been replaced by JALEPENO crunchy Cheetos. Upon further inspection, I noticed that every other slot in vending machine corridor B3 had been assigned to Jalepeno crunchy Cheetos. I had a bag of the Jalepeno crunchy Cheetos the next day and I didn’t care for them. The pepper taste interfered with the signature cheesy Cheeto taste too much for my liking. 2 days later, the regular crunchy Cheetos were first in line and all was well, but for the next week, the only way I could get some non-Jalepeno crunchy Cheetos was to buy 2 bags. One afternoon, I saw the vending machine guy and asked him why the Jalepeno Cheetos were mixed in with the regular brand. He told me that they had a lot of them and had to get rid of them so he was mixing them in.

Before and after the purchase of a bag of crunchy Cheetos.
Notice how fans of the potato chips on the top row don't have to wait for their favorite variety to be at the front of the line.

  In the 2 weeks since that conversation, I’ve only bought 2 bags of Cheetos, both of the regular variety. I’m lucky that there is either a Jalepeno Cheetos lover in the office or someone who has less patience than me. I had to wait all day Thursday and half of Friday before the regular Cheetos got to the front of the line in corridor B3. While I was staring at that bag of Jalepeno Cheetos, I noticed that while the Almond Joy and Mounds alternated in one row of the vending machine and that peanut butter M&Ms were buried behind the peanut M&Ms, Sour Cream and Onion Lays and plain Lays potato chips each had their vending machine spot.

  On the 50+ mile drive home from work, the more I thought about how my regular Cheetos were being held hostage with a ransom price of the 85 cents it would cost to buy a bag of Jalepeno Cheetos, the madder I got. People who don’t like regular or Sour Cream and Onion potato chips don’t have to take this kind of garbage, why should I? Just because some vending machine company overbought or got a great deal on Jalepeno Cheetos is no reason I should be deprived of my chosen mid-day snack. I’ve decided to boycott this vending machine until they have corrected this injustice and I've also alerted the Obama, Bachmann, Paul, and Perry campaigns about this issue so they can be prepared to tackle it when they head back to Iowa for the caucuses. I didn’t tell the Romney campaign because given his religious views I doubt he would see any problem with the co-mingling of multiple kinds of snacks in the same vending machine corridor.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ladies Day

  I held my last outdoor tournament of the summer on Saturday at Pioneer Park in Des Moines. I had a feeling the tournament would be poorly attended and I wasn’t disappointed with the crowd of 10 players and 2 parents. The winners of the tournament were Chandler, the high school sophomore from my club in Marshalltown that I’ve been bringing to the tournaments in return for helping me set up, and teenager MaryAnn Czizek from Ankeny. MaryAnn had Chandler beat in their last round game, but stalemated him to give them each 2 wins and a draw. The other girl in the tournament, 5th grader Ana Denison also won her first 2 games and had a chance to win the tournament but lost to MaryAnn’s brother in the last round.

  This was the first time a girl had won one of my youth tournaments, a fact which escaped me at the time. Ana’s mom, Christine (who is a doctor and a professor at Iowa State University) has been playing in adult rated chess tournaments for the last 9 months and has finished in the top 3 of all her parent and friends tournaments (which are friendlier affairs), even winning this month’s tournament, where she swept 2 games from Raj Vyas (the mother of 3 time Iowa Girls champion Dhrooti Vyas). I got to play Christine in the May tournament. She played a good game and got a very good position, but overlooked a trick while pursuing her own plans, which is a common ailment among players until they get some experience (and sometimes even after).

  Because I didn’t have an afternoon cash tournament scheduled this month, I was able to hang out with any of the players and parents who wanted to after the tournament. Ana had challenged me to a game during the tournament and had first dibs while Christine sat down to play against Chandler (who she had beat 2 out of 3 games before the tournament). As Ana and I sat down to play, she asked ‘Why do boys say girls suck at chess?’ I just said the first thing that popped into my head, which was “If they can get you to quit playing, then they’ll never have to lose to you”. I hope the person who told her this wasn’t a regular at my tournaments, but if it was it wouldn’t surprise me. This stuff really ticks me off because I'd hate to have the people I work so hard to get to come to my tournament drive other people away.

  I know whoever said that hasn’t played Bethany, Charity, and Sarah Faith Carson of Ackley who (along with dad Tim and brother Daniel) are excellent chess players and ferocious fighters over the board. As much as I try to drill it into the kids’ heads that when you sit down at the chess board everyone gets the same number of pieces and that age, money, size, looks, etc…don’t matter, it isn’t really believed until they both win and lose a game that their preconceived stereotypes had predicted the opposite result for.

  If these young chess players are watching the political news, it would be easy to see why they might think girls can’t possibly play chess. Sarah Palin was made a laughing stock in the media for her folksy way of talking and saying she had some foreign affair experience because she could see Russia from her house. It didn’t help that the Saturday Night caricature of her by Tina Fey was so devastatingly lifelike, but to me the real issue was how so many people, men and women alike were willing to believe that she was some sort of a disingenuous moron. Now I’m not saying that Sarah Palin would make a good President or Vice-President or even that she is qualified. I’m just saying that do you think someone with no brains could go be the governor of a state? I don’t think it is just a republican thing since Hillary Clinton was consistently portrayed as a shrill poor loser when she squared off against Obama in the Democratic primary and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was caricatured as a hag while her replacement’s (John Boehner) crying jags are rarely mentioned anymore.

  This year the media’s new target seems to be Michelle Bachmann, the congresswoman from Minnesota who won the Iowa Straw Poll a couple of weeks ago. Bachmann needs to hire a fact checker and has provided ample fodder for the news media by wishing Elvis a happy birthday on the anniversary of his death and saying John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa on a recent visit there (She was close, serial killer John Wayne Gacy lived in Waterloo). I guess if she was elected it would be good if she knew all that stuff so she could impress all the other countries by winning the United Nations Trivial Pursuit championship.

  Saturday Night Live hasn’t had their say yet, but I don’t think the media putdowns aren’t sticking to Bachmann like they did Palin because after 4 years, the jokes aren’t as novel. I think she has an excellent chance to be the Republican nominee. Winning the straw poll proves she has the backing of the GOP fanatics (you had to pay $30 for a vote) a winning nominee needs for all the door knocking and phone calling work in the type of local campaigns needed to win primaries and caucuses and except for one candidate she is running against a very flawed field. I can’t see Romney the semi-liberal Mormon getting the support needed in the Midwest and South even with his nice head of hair, Ron Paul is too marginal, Palin has been too damaged by the media, and most of the other candidates are too underfunded and not well known enough (except Newt Gingrich, who everyone knows and hates). That leaves Texas Governor Rick Perry as the new flavor of the month. Perry possibly has even better hair that Romney and has been talking the conservative talk on issues like gay marriage and economically is touting the ‘Texas Miracle’ of job growth (basically government jobs and jobs created by his state’s proximity to Mexico) as his plan to carry to the US as a whole. As Governor, Perry has a history of being for the TARP and the stimulus packages that the Tea Party hates and his 11 years as governor will show some decisions on the social front that may offend the Bible thumpers he is currently courting. Just as Obama kept successfully hitting his opponents in 2008 with the fact that he was the only candidate to not support the Iraq war, Bachmann has a strong record of voting against government spending and for tax cuts that she can use against Perry. And didn’t we just have a president that was a governor from Texas? How’d that work out?

  Even if Bachmann was to become the nominee, she can’t beat Obama in the general election. But Obama could beat himself if unemployment spikes, the stock market dips, inflation rages, and everyone who still has a job is scared to death of losing it. Bachmann’s speeches remind me a lot of Ronald Reagan in tone in that they are simple and make a lot of sense if you don’t try to reason out the details. 32 years ago, Reagan was seen as a trigger happy actor who would start World War III if elected but when unemployment and inflation both hit 18 percent, Iran took our embassy hostage, the Russians invaded Afghanistan, and everyone had to wait in line 2 hours to get a tank of gasoline all of a sudden Reagan’s ideas of cutting taxes on the rich so they could create jobs for the poor became a lot more palatable since nothing President Carter was doing had worked. Like I’ve said before, stranger things have happened.

  But I wasn’t thinking of any of that when I sat down to play Ana. And I didn’t think about my 2 game losing streak to Charity Carson at the Marshalltown Chess Club either. I just thought of my bittersweet experience at the State Fair Chess Tournament 3 days prior and how I’ve beaten higher rated players and lost to lower rated one sand if I was going to play I may as well play to win.

  I beat Ana pretty quickly in the first game when she got confused and set up a slick combination to checkmate me, but she forgot I had traded Queens a few moves back and gave me a rook in order to swoop her KING (who was standing where her Queen used to be) across the board and checkmate me. She wanted to play again and I was still hungry to play. This time I decided to play the ‘Boris’, the opening my friend and chess mentor Boris Rakita used to play against me in 5 minute chess every lunchtime for 2 years in the 1980’s when we worked together at an engineering firm. Ana went head to head with the ‘Boris’ and reminded me of some of the wild games we used to play during those lunchtimes 30 years ago:

  That was a fun game to be part of. The ‘High Five’ trash talk took me back to when I worked midnights and hung out in Washington Square Park during the day playing blitz. We played another game and I had an advantage, but we called it a draw in order to play some bughouse with some of the other kids.

  It was another fun day of outdoor chess and I hope Christine keeps playing tournament chess and Ana shuts some mouths and opens some eyes this upcoming scholastic season. Christine and Jodene Kruse in Okoboji are the only 2 adult women actively playing tournament chess in Iowa that come to mind. Having more women play tournament chess reinforces that it is a game for everyone and that when kids learn chess they are learning a game that they can play their whole lives.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A fair Iowa State Fair

This wasn't the only shot in the gut I'd be taking from David Skaar this day.
On the right is Ben Munson, legendary Des Moines chess teacher.

  This past week was Iowa State Fair Week in Des Moines and every year on the Wednesday of that week, the Iowa State Fair Speed Chess competition is held. Last year I finished second and have been pointing to this day for over a month to make another attempt at the coveted first place Blue Ribbon to along with my red (2nd), white(3rd) and 2 yellow (participant) State Fair speed chess ribbons.

  I left work an hour early, snaked my way through Des Moines, paid 5 dollars to park in some guys backyard (the state fair lots were full and this guy lives next to their parking lots), walked through the State Fair parking lot, paid my $10 dollar fair entry fee, and walked through the throngs of people drinking $5 sodas in commemorative cups ($3 refills) and eating anything that can be fried in grease and stuck on a stick (including fried butter on a stick) towards the Administration Building where the tournament is held every year. The scholastic tournaments were wrapping up and I was happy to see some of the tournament players from my scholastic events competing. I talked to some of the kids and parents while waiting for the 5:30 start time.

  The State Fair tournament is organized and run by Ben Munson every year. Ben is a concert violinist, an expert chess player, and one of the great people of Iowa chess, spending countless hours as a volunteer chess teacher in Des Moines schools over the last 3 decades. You could say that I’m an offshoot of the Ben Munson School of running tournaments in that we both want low entry fees, lots of prizes, and have no one in our tournaments walk away empty-handed. This is not to say that we agree on everything. For example, Ben doesn’t believe that kids should be playing in USCF rated tournaments until they are rated at least 1200 (ratings start at 100 and all but a few Iowa Scholastic players are rated below 1200) and I think rated tournaments are fine as long as a child’s ratings don’t become all-consuming, but the fact remains that I respect Ben’s opinions a lot and everyone I’ve ever met that knows Ben also has an enormous amount of respect for him.

  There were a lot of strong players at this year’s event like Mike Maloney. Mike outrates me by 2 rating classes, but said he just came to watch and wasn’t going to play. Another player 2 rating classes above me was George Eichhorn (who was there to play). George is an attorney and I registered as a Republican last year solely to vote for him when he ran for Secretary of State. To this date, George is the only member of a major party I have ever voted for. As a chess player, George has made the finals of the State championship 2 of the last 3 years and beat Matt in this year’s final, costing Matt the state chess championship. My longtime state fair nemesis David Skaar was on hand, along with Tim Harder (Tim is in the same rating class as I am), rising scholastic player Cub Noble (who should have beat me last year and is even a stronger player now), Marshalltown Blitz semi-regular Steve Jacobs (who has played me even this year in Marshalltown), and tournament veteran Greg Ward.

3 generations of Iowa tournament organizers: Ben Munson and myself (left).
Cub Noble and Tim Harder, representatives of the next generation (right).

  At the State Fair it is vitally important not to fall too far behind on the clock since you only have 5 minutes for the game and there is no delay before your clock runs down to allow you to make an unlimited amount of moves with just a second left on your clock. Cub offered to play me a warm up game at the time limit. He beat me easily, but I shrugged off my sloppy play and beat him in the next 3 games. Fully warmed up, I took on Mike, who crushed me. After my beatdown, I took the rest of the time to catch up with the rest of the players and Ben, and talk shop will fellow tournament organizers Cub Noble and Tim Harder about their September 3rd Big Money Blitz tournament in Ankeny. While Ben is from the previous generation of tournament organizers that does the pairings, press releases, and promotional mailings by hand, and I am of the current generation that uses a computer for the pairings and email and Internet for promotion, Cub and Tim are the next generation of organizers that accept payment by Paypal and promote via Facebook.

  Last year there were only 8 players in the speed chess tournament and we all played each other, but this year 19 players chose to compete. An all-play-all tournament would have taken at least 3 hours, so Ben divided us into 5 groups of 3 or 4 players who would play each other and the winner of each pool would compete in the finals. I was extremely lucky in that my group had 2 beginner kids and Casey Smith, the parent of a scholastic player who has played in my parent and friends tournament but had never played with a clock set to 5 minutes before. I had Black against each youngster and dispatched them in short order and then beat Casey with White to take a spot in the finals. Cub had the misfortune to be placed in George’s group and missed the finals, while Tim lost to Skaar, and Steve was upset by Greg. That’s 3 pretty strong players not even getting in the finals!

George Eichhorn
  The 5 players in the finals were George, David Skaar, Greg, myself, and a guy I never saw before named Robert who won the fifth pool. In the first game I had the black pieces against George, a daunting challenge. I thought George wanted to attack but instead he let me get my pawns on his side of the board and make him defend against me. I crashed open the center and had a monster passed pawn that put his pieces in a horrible cramp, but made a couple of bad moves to lose all my queen side pawns. I managed to come back from that to win George’s queenside pawns back and get a winning position, but then I noticed that I had 20 seconds left on the clock and George had a minute. I raced my pawns down the board and made a Queen with a forced checkmate in 5 moves, but with no delay on the clocks at the State Fair I ran out of time and lost.

  I was happy that I was able to go toe to toe with George, but if I had matched his speed maybe I’m not able to get the winning position I did. I had the second round off and David and George played to a draw, which barring a major upset sealed me off from first place for this year. I had the white pieces against Skaar in round 3. I got a great position and won a rook for a knight, but couldn’t figure out how to break through the chain of pawns protecting David’s king. I glanced at the clock and saw I only had 30 seconds to a minute and a half for David. I tried my best to break through but with 8 seconds on my clock, I moved a piece that was pinned to my king and David took my King. I’m not sure how the State Fair rules handle this, but it didn’t matter since I had no time left so I resigned.

  I was pretty bummed out as I took the black pieces against Greg. I thought I had a great chance to come home with the blue ribbon and instead I was looking at 2 straight losses in positions I could have won. I played listlessly against Greg, got too aggressive and missed a knight fork that cost me a rook for a knight. I looked at the clock and saw that Greg had 2 minutes while I had 3. Instead of attacking me with his material advantage, Greg decided to give me a piece in order to trade queens. I had a crummy position, but with equal material and a time advantage, I was able to slowly get back in the game and was a piece ahead when Greg’s time ran out. I couldn’t take a lot of joy in the victory since I had just lost 2 games in the same fashion, but a win is a win is a win. In the last round I had White against Robert, who had lost all his games. I played a smarter game this round, making safe, quick moves and built up a 2:30 to 2:00 edge on the clock. Robert finally made a mistake in time pressure, lost a piece and I brought home the point to finish 5-2 for the day, 2-2 for the finals, and the owner of my second 3rd place white ribbon from the Iowa State Fair. David and George finished in a tie for first and Ben rewarded them each with a first place blue ribbon.

On the left are the other players in my group and on the right Cub Noble battles George Eichhorn. Over the the chessboard chess players can be a cutthroat bunch, but away from the board we tend to get along great.

  Playing at the fair this year was an interesting dynamic. Except for Robert and the 2 kids I played in the preliminary round, I knew, liked, and respected everyone I played but when we sat down at the board the smiles disappeared and we went at each other like 2 dogs going after a scrap of meat, yet after the game we were as friendly as we were before the first move. We all wanted desperately wanted to win each game we sat down to play, but also understand the randomness of chess, especially the 5 minute variety, and there were no hard feelings about the results.

  I had a great time at the State Fair tournament as always, but I’m disappointed in myself for not playing as good as I thought I could have. It’s just like I tell the kids at the tournaments. My opponents just played better than me and if I can use this experience to get better, I won’t walk away from the tournament as a loser. If I am ever going to capture that blue ribbon, I have to be more aware of the clock and not get into the extreme time pressure I did on Wednesday. I’ve signed up for Tim and Cub’s 5 minute BIG MONEY BLITZ tournament in Ankeny on Labor Day weekend and in the two weeks till the tournament I am going to practice 3 and 5 minute chess on the internet and especially working on getting in the habit of looking at the clock every move to make sure I don’t fall behind on the clock.

  I bought an ice-cold pickle for the mile walk back to my car. It was a fitting reward for my 3rd place finish since as good as the cold pickle tasted on a hot night, it also left me with a sour taste when I was done. I have the white ribbon hanging up next to my monitor at work where I can see it all the time. My co-workers are impressed with my third place finish and maybe they think I have it hanging up to remind myself of my good result or to show off. I graciously accept their congratulations, but don't mention that the real reason my white ribbon is hanging by my computer screen is to remind me as often as possible how much I want that blue ribbon in 2012.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rolling the Dice

I created this mash-up to celebrate my blog's award. It could be a T-shirt, a bumper sticker, or even a tatto, but I think I'll just stick it in the corner of the broken pawn picture for a year or so.

  I got an email Saturday night informing me the results of the 2011 Chess Journalist Awards were posted. I felt like ‘Waiting for Godot’ would have been quicker, but it was only 12 days after the originally promised release date. 4 days were lost due to the rescheduling of the deadlines and judging for the awards and then 8 more days were lost when the Chief Judge was in the hospital. I opened the document containing the results and immediately saw that there were only 3 judges as opposed to 8 from last year. As I scrolled through the spreadsheet, I saw numerous entries with only one point, ruining the uniqueness of my submission last year which only got 1 out of 16 possible points (Scoring is 0=terrible or no merit, 1=acceptable, 2=outstanding or best). Since none of the submissions received zero points, I’m still hopeful that my entry from last year will remain the lowest regarded contribution of all time based on percentage.

  The first category I noticed was Best Tournament Report, which had Matt’s articles about his experiences in the 2010 Denker Tournament of High School Champions that the Iowa State Chess Association submitted on his behalf. It was a great article that stretched over 2 issues of the IASCA chess magazine, chronicling Matt’s journey from having to take 3 planes to get to the California playing site 90 minutes before the opening ceremonies to being in a 4 way tie for the lead at the halfway point of the tournament, drawing the strongest player in the field (and the eventual champion), and a heartbreaking loss in the next to last round to take him out of the running. Matt’s entry in the section was lumped in with 13 entries from the United States Chess Federation (USCF) and ended up getting 3 points and a tie for fifth place.

  The next category that got my attention was Best Features, for which I submitted my posts about the 2011 Okoboji Open and my April visit to Zanzibar’s Coffee Adventure. This section had 12 entries. My Zanzibar post was not well received and only got 1 point from 1 judge to finish last (and tie my own record), but my Okoboji post got 2 points from 2 of the 3 judges. Unbelievably, the third judge gave this post zero points. I think it is a great idea to see the judges scores, but I think this is the best thing I’ve ever written and I’m not sure how a judge could read this article and say it was terrible or without merit. In any event, the 4 points left me in a tie for 4th place behind 3 of the 7 Chess Life articles, although I did manage to beat out the other 3 non USCF entries.

  Finally, after weeding through all the other categories (Best Art, Best Review, Best Interview, Best Analysis (won by Iowa State Champion Bob Keating!), etc...), the very last entry was for the Best Chess Blog, pitting this Broken Pawn blog against the semi-inactive 2 judges gave me 2 points and the third judge gave me 1 point for a total of 5 out of 6. did not match my total and so a certificate will be on its way to me in a few months for having the best chess blog of 2011.

  I am very happy to have won the award, even though I’m embarrassed by how much time I spent thinking about winning and fretting about the delays in getting the results. It’s just like when I run chess tournaments for kids or any volunteer effort. Thanks and acknowledgements are always welcome and appreciated, but if you aren’t doing it because you enjoy it or are filling a need in your own life, you’re probably doing it for the wrong reasons. I run chess tournaments because I have a need to give back and it is a good use of the talents I’ve been given. I write my blog because I enjoy it, it relaxes me, and allows me to get things off my chest. I’m uncomfortable sometimes by having my thoughts out in the open, but I’m very gratified to have made the friends I have through the blog, the amount of readers I get (100+ a week), and the amount of ad clicks I get, but there are also times I’ll spend an hour looking back at the blog and getting a kick or a laugh or just recapturing a memory from something I’ve written a month or a year ago. Yogi Berra wrote in his autobiography that if everyone wrote one they’d feel better about their life and this blog is sort of my autobiography. There are dozens of chess blogs that are better written and more topical and more informative than mine, but only 2 were willing to risk the rejection that comes with submitting their work to a judge’s scrutiny. I’m lucky I won this year because I bet that after the word gets out to the ‘chess literati’ that a quirky blog about a 50 year old chess player/director/organizer’s experiences in the Iowa Chess scene (along with other semi-humorous and potentially offensive musings) won the CJA award, there will be a serious uptick in entries for this category. I just happened to roll the dice with the Chess Journalists of America and came up with a 7 by picking this year to enter my blog for their awards.

  I’m rolling the dice with a lot more on the line with my upcoming school year of chess tournaments at St. Francis of Assisi in West Des Moines. Jim Mona won’t be coaching chess at St. Francis this year and I’ve been asked to be the head coach at the chess club at his recommendation. I’ve agreed to do so without a fee in return for being able to hold monthly tournaments in the St. Francis Cafeteria. I’ve had a reasonable turnout with my outdoor tournament series in the covered shelter in Des Moines and think that I’ve stumbled on the fairly obvious idea (obvious to non chess addicts like myself, that is) that the kids who play chess in Des Moines are so busy that having 5 round all-day tournaments keeps them from playing chess when they have a sports activity or other family obligation in the morning or afternoon. I don’t have a mission statement, but my mantra for my youth chess tournaments is ‘fun and family friendly’, so I’ve decided to have morning and afternoon 3 round tournaments. I’ve even cut the entry fee in half, but that means I won’t be able to offer every player a trophy. I will have medals for all and trophies for the top 5 players. I made this decision after talking to a number of parents whose opinions I greatly respect, but it remains a huge gamble and I’m running the risk of turning off kids who won’t be happy with medals now when they were winning trophies before. If I roll snake-eyes, I can always back off, but this seems like the best way to get more kids playing tournament chess than making the tournaments an all-day affair.

  As big a risk as that sounds, I’m working on an even bigger throw of the dice. I’ve been in contact with the Salvation Army in Des Moines about setting up a chess program with the possibility of holding chess tournaments. The Salvation Army has a lot of youth programs, but the number and background of the kids I’d be working with is completely unknown. The idea of starting a chess program from scratch seems overwhelming to me at times (even though I’ve done it before), but I know from my experience in Marshalltown that when you have the backing of the Salvation Army, you have it 100% and the welfare of the people who come to them for assistance is first and foremost on their minds. There is no risk involved in this attempt to provide the benefits of chess to a potentially large audience, but the payoff of rolling a 7 could lead to the accomplishment of a lifetime.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

On Any Given Thursday

You can never tell who'll be playing chess in Marshalltown on Thursdays.

  I’ve been running a chess club in Marshalltown at the Salvation Army that has met on Thursday nights since September of 2002 and it has been one of the more rewarding things I’ve ever done. I saw in the newspaper that the Salvation Army had a game night and went down to ask if there was a chess club. Major Joan Stoker said “No. Why don’t you start one?” I started it as part of the SA’s open gym for youth that was held on Thursdays. Most of these kids were there to get the free meal that was served, but sometimes the kids would get bored with playing in the gym and wanted to see what chess was about. Very few ever stuck with it, but the people running the Army saw the benefits of getting kids to use their brains once in a while and I was invited back year after year to have the club on Thursdays.

  In January 2003, I ran the AmericInn Youth chess tournament and got the AmericInn to pay for 13 USCF memberships for the SA kids and some others instead of paying me a tournament director’s fee. Many of these kids came to the club for a few years, but the father of one the players, Jon McCord started coming to club and is a regular to this day. Jon worked at Lennox as an electrician before retiring last year and is a perfect complement to me in terms of helping kids get better at chess. I can show the kids the things they need to do to get better, but when I play them, I end up winning a pawn and trading everything off and the kids don’t get a chance to put into practice what I am trying to teach them. But Jon attacks like a cave man and makes his opponents defend themselves. If they do, they end up beating Jon and if they don’t they lose, but when they play Jon, they always have a chance to put their ideas into action.

  Jon doesn’t care if he wins or loses as long as he feels like he’s playing well, which is rare for an adult when he plays a kid. In the early years of the club, I’d get some adults from town come to play and my son Ben would offer to play them. Ben was 6 to 8 years old at this time, but would just cream these adults. I’d try to tell them that Ben was in the top 40 chess players in the US for his age group, but these guys couldn’t handle losing to a ‘little kid’ and would never be seen again.

  Even when the afterschool program was discontinued, the chess club was invited to still meet at the Salvation Army and instead of moving the club to the Wal-Mart for the summer, we now meet at the SA year round. 2 years ago it seemed the club had turned into the type of gathering where no one wanted to play, but they would just watch whoever else was playing (which was normally me and whoever I was playing). This was no kind of club, so I decided to have a rated tournament every Thursday in order to make everyone play. The only problem was that none of the club members were USCF members (you have to have a national membership in order to play in rated tournaments). Luckily, everyone bought memberships and we started the tournaments.

  The weekly tournaments are 3 games with each player having 10 minutes per game so the tournament takes about an hour. Because It is rated, I advertise it on the state chess web site and we have players from Des Moines, Ames, and Tama show to play occasionally. Once we had 16 players, but 6 to 8 is the normal amount and sometimes we only have 4 players. The last few months we have skipped the tournament if there are no out of town players, but that’s only happened a couple of times this year.

  I don’t charge an entry fee and the fee to rate the tournament is 3 or 4 dollars a week out of my pocket, but that’s a small price to pay to have a more active club and to encourage out of towners to come to Marshalltown. Last May, Brian Salomon, an expert player from Massachusetts came to play. He was originally from Cedar Rapids and had come back home to take care of his deceased fathers affairs. His dad had made a chess board and he wanted to find someone who could use it. He came to Marshalltown, won the tournament, and dropped off the chess board with pieces (which after a couple of months found a home with a top Iowan chess playing family).

Brian Salomon (standing) from Boston by way of Cedar Rapids came, saw, and conquered at the Marshalltown Chess Club in May of 2010. I fought hard in our game but a pawn down was too much against the expert.

  Starting in May, some of the members of the CCC (Cyclone Chess Club) in Ames have been traveling to town for our Thursday tournaments now that the CCC (which also meets on Thursdays) has gone to a summer schedule of bi-weekly meetings. The patron saint of the CCC, Roger Gotschall, runs the CyChess tournaments I enjoy playing in so much and that we all came over to last December. Roger is an ardent Iowa State University supporter. The ISU sport teams are called the Cyclones and not only does Roger run the Cyclone Chess Club, his license plate is ‘CyChess’ and he has a Boston Terrier named Cypher that has come to the tournaments. Cypher is very well behaved and is allowed in the building since the current Majors, John and Judith McCarthy’s dog Henry frequently roams the building. Roger is a national chess champion (2004 US Open Class D) and he and his friends provide a good way for our club to test themselves against some seasoned competition. Dan Troxell, the author of the excellently written InnocentBystander blog and the leader of the club at Zanzibar’s Coffee Adventure that I visit occasionally stops by, lured by the competition and the Taco Bus that is parked across the street.

Left: Dan Troxell of 'Innocent Bystander' blogging fame is a semi-regular at the Marshalltown Chess Club; (Right) Roger Gotschall's Boston Terrier 'Cypher' came from Ames to check out the Thursday night chess action in Marshalltown. Cypher didn't play in the tournament, but may have been studying our styles for a future encounter.

  Last Thursday, I was playing a game when a young kid I never saw before came in and said his name was Ted and he wanted to sign up for chess. I thought he was a beginner from the high school so I just pointed him over to play against Jon. Jon lost quickly and came up to me and said that the new guy was a player. I asked Ted if he was a USCF member and he said yes, his name was Ted Belanoff. It turns out Ted is an expert player from California who was on his way to Indianapolis for a weekend tournament and decided to drive through Marshalltown on the way and play in the Thursday tournament. I called Matt and told him there was an expert player visiting. Matt headed on over and played a few games with Ted and the tournament started at 6. Normally if there‘s an odd number of players I sit out, but today there was an even number including me so I got to play.

  Ted was a great sport and wasn’t the least bit upset when Jerry managed to force a draw from a lost position in the first round. I got to play him in the second round. I was getting pushed around a lot, but managed to get to an endgame where I had some winning chances, but with only seconds left on my clock, I made a number of errors and was lucky to hold the draw. After the tournament, Matt, Jaleb, and Ted spent the next hour and a half playing 3 minute chess. It was the latest chess club ever, but I was happy to show extra hospitality to our travelling guest. I looked up Ted’s tournament history on the computer and since July 17th, he has played in Wyoming, Alaska, New York, Vermont, Connecticut, Ohio, Minnesota, and now Iowa.

Here I am on the left with world class chess traveler Ted Belanoff. On the right is Jerry Mason's final position against Ted. With the Black pieces and 3 seconds left on his clock, Jerry just checks Ted's king over and over. If the rook is ever captured, Jerry has no moves and is stalemated. A clever trick to pull off against someone 5 rating classes higher.

  Having the tournaments on Thursday Night has turned out to be a great idea. Not only has it given the club regulars a purpose, but you never know who’s going to show up.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Downtown Life

The Capital Square building in downtown Des Moines. The inside of the building is a giant atrium with the offices ringed around the edges. At lunch I sit by one of the trees in the lobby in the picture on the right.

  I’ve been working for the last 5 months at the Capital Square building in downtown Des Moines. It is an cool building to work in. I drive 50 miles to Des Moines, park in a 4 story garage (paid for by the company), walk 2 blocks to the building through the Des Moines Skywalk, (an interconnected series of above ground walkways connecting all of downtown) or just walk the 2 blocks on the street to the building lobby and take an escalator to the elevators that bring me to my cubicle on the 8th floor.

  The elevator and escalator can be a site of unspoken aggression. Were you ever late and tried to walk up the escalator while it’s carrying you only to have to stop, stand, and wait behind some sedentary person who looks like they couldn’t climb a flight of stairs if their life depended on it. Or how about taking a leisurely trip up the escalator only to have some fool that’s in a hurry to brown-nose their boss vault up the steps only to come to a screeching halt right behind you and give you a look like you couldn’t climb a flight of stairs if your life depended on it? Been there, done that. But since I work on the top floor of the building, I reserve my scorn for those people who insist on turning my express elevator trip into a local by getting on the elevator at the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, or 7th floor. I can never make these people wait for me, so I have no recourse and just have to grin and bear it.

  In my other jobs in Des Moines, I’d spend the occasional lunch hour going to the parking lot and using my car to attend to errands, but with a 2 block walk (plus elevator and escalator rides) to the parking garage, I’ve rarely gone out of the building during my lunch break. Instead I prefer to head down to the lobby of the building and take advantage of the free internet and use my amazing iPod to check email and view chess games on the Internet Chess Club’s iPod App. Once in a great while, there is an attraction like a book sale or wine tasting in the lobby, but mostly there is just people walking back and forth to get lunch at the Big City Burgers that is off the building lobby or just getting outside to have a smoke.

  I’ve had a turkey burger ($3.95) at the Big City Burgers 3 times in 5 months. Twice a customer paid for my turkey burger and once I bought Jose lunch while we talked about our chess camp. You can easily spend $10 for lunch but the turkey burger is really big and tastes great. There is a Mexican restaurant on the second floor that has a $5 lunch menu (standard fare only) that my boss has taken me to twice. Both restaurants are only open 3 or 4 hours a day and seem packed all through lunch time. It must be nice to own a restaurant and be able to make a living without having to deal with weekends and night shifts, but there is little room for expansion as well.

The News Depot store doesn't have a lot of newspapers, but thanks to yours truly, there is more than enough fresh chewing gum on hand.

  I’m a much more frequent visitor of the small newsstand/convenience store in the lobby. I think that the lady that works there is the owner since she hasn’t missed a day since I’ve been there. The little store is open from 6 to 4 and has the normal assortment of snack foods, cigarettes, and sodas. Even though it’s called the ‘News Depot’, there are only a couple of newspapers there. When I first started working there, I would buy a pack of 35 cent Wrigley Doublemint gum at lunch. The gum was so old that just opening the wrapper would cause the sticks of gum to crack and desiccate. I kept on buying it until there was no more Doublemint gum. Every time I went in after that to see if she had gotten any more Doublemint gum, the lady would see me come in and glance at the many dried out packs of JucyFruit gum that were available, but I would just put on a disinterested face and leave the store.

  After a week of this staredown, the gum supply was replenished with not only new Doublemint gum, but JuicyFruit and Spearmint gums also. I bought a pack of gum from her for the next week, but then the Hy-Vee Drug Store put their Doublemint Gum on sale and I haven’t bought any gum from her store since. For the next couple of weeks, I got some pretty dirty looks from her when I went down to my lobby for my lunch break. I didn’t even go into her store for a while but when the weather turned warm, I went back in and bought an ice cream sandwich from the tiny freezer in the back of the store. The only ice cream sandwiches she had were about a dozen frostbitten chocolate and strawberry of the Blue Bunny brand. I bought about 2 a week and they had that gritty taste that ice cream gets when it melts and refreezes. I counted the sandwiches so I knew I was the only one buying them. Eventually I bought all the sandwiches leaving only some lonely ice cream cones, Eskimo Pies, and Snicker Bars in the forgotten freezer.

  I didn’t want the psychic pressure of another stare down over the ice cream, so I stayed away from the convenience store for a week. When I went back in there was a new stock of ice cream sandwiches and the store owner and I have resumed our tenuous relationship. After I went through the first box of Good Humor treats, another box made its way to the freezer within 2 days even though I was starting to work my way through the Good Humor ice cream bars. I think I’ve even seen a few dents made in her gum supply (but not by me, I still have a large supply of gum, thank you).

On the left is the freezer before I bought the last lonely freezer burned Blue Bunny Strawberry ice cream sandwich on June 17th. On the right is the freezer today after I got yet another fresh Good Humor ice cream sandwich. Notice the Swiss Miss, frozen Snickers, and Eskimo Pies in both cases. Either they are very popular or very old.

  Our company will be moving to its own building just off the parking garage in October, so I’m trying to remember to enjoy my last few weeks working in a downtown office building. I’m not sure what my lunch plans will be at the new building, but I think I’ll know where to find a ice cream sandwich in case I need one.

  One of the things I think I’ll miss most is not seeing all the blind people walking around. The Iowa Department for the Blind is only a couple of blocks away. When I was carpooling, I’d wait for my ride outside the building and see half a dozen blind people making their way down the street. I have a lot of admiration for these people. If I was blind, I doubt I’d ever leave my house, and these people are even crossing the street. I captured this video of two blind men making their way around during my lunchtime. I’m not sure if they were taking a walk or playing tag or what, but If I had to put my money down, I’m betting that the dark haired guy lifted the other ones wallet.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Birthday wishes for a lazy day

  I’ve been waiting all week to find out whether this blog had managed to beat out the semi-inactive as the Chess Journalists of America’s best chess blog of 2011 (we were the only 2 entries). I had been planning on writing a final blog post on the CJA saga either praising the judges wisdom or mentioning their short sightedness. The revised timeline said notifications would be sent out on August 1st, but since I didn’t receive any notification on Monday, I looked at the timeline on the awards website and that schedule said notifications would be sent out on the 5th. I waited and waited all day Friday and received no notification. On Saturday, I emailed the awards chairperson and he emailed back to tell me that while all the ballots had been counted, he had been in the hospital for 4 days and wouldn’t be able to finish the committee report until sometime next week. I was sorry he was in the hospital, but happy that the ballots had been counted since badgering the hospital-bedridden awards chairman would probably not help my chances.

  Having my celebration or day of rage postponed by the CJA, I decided to think of something happy, like what I might want for my birthday (it’s 2 months away from tomorrow). I would have liked air conditioning in my car for the 50+ mile commute to Des Moines the past couple of weeks, but I don’t want to have to pay for an air conditioned car the other 50 weeks of the year. But after a great deal of thought, I’ve come up with a pair of gift ideas.

  When Kathy and I went to the JC Penney 3 weeks ago to get me a new belt and a pair of shoes (they were so worn out they couldn’t have lasted till my birthday), we were following a large family into the mall where the store is located. All of a sudden the entire family stopped and started examining the back of the mother’s jeans, which seemed to be wet. Kathy and I went into the mall while the family talked loudly among themselves, but as we were paying for the shoes and belt (and all the other stuff that is inevitably bought whenever we make a rare trip to JC Penny because it is on sale) we saw the family in the next checkout counter. The mother was holding a very large handbag behind her back to shield prying eyes from the unknown indiscretion that had occurred somewhere between the journey to the mall and the parking lot. I wanted to use my amazing iPod to capture the scene on video but it would have been too noticeable and I like my teeth attached to my jaw, but if I had one of those cool pocket video cameras, I could have taped everything and possibly been a viral hit without anyone noticing.

  The pocket video camera also would have come in handy last night when Kathy and I went to the local Redbox to rent “Unknown”. I had gone on the internet and reserved the copy, but when we got to the actual box we got stuck behind a lady who didn’t know what she wanted and was reading review after review after review. The pocket cam would have been great to record this but I would have had to dub some sound to match her repeated attempts to sound out the infrequent multi-syllable words in the review. I’ve also seen a lot of family feuds at the Redbox as an entire family tried to decide on what movie will be shown on the family TV at the trailer park. Recording these and placing them on a web site could pay for the pocket cam in no time at all.

  Whenever a Rogaine commercial is on TV this time of the year, my son Ben makes a joke about getting me some for my birthday. I don’t mind having lost a lot of my hair until somebody tells me that I look old because I don’t have any hair. Once some guy who had a full head of graying hair asked me how could he be older than me? Now this fellow had nice hair, but in MY opinion, he also had a creased and wrinkled face, skinny little arms, and a little pot belly just perfect for resting his hands on. When I got together with this fellow, I asked a third party who looked older and he said I looked older and he didn’t even have to think twice. I asked why and was told, ‘you don’t have any hair’. At work a couple of weeks ago, a guy I only talk on the phone with asked me how old I was and was surprised that I was 50 because he said I only sounded 40. But a fellow at the chess club asked me how old I was and when I said 50, he was in shock because he said I looked 60.

  I’m not really that concerned with how much hair I have or don’t have or how old people think I look, but I’m thinking maybe it is time to do something about being hair-challenged. I haven’t seen very many Rogaine commercials on TV lately and I doubt it works anyway since I don’t know of anyone who has successfully used it. I was at a book store a couple of weeks ago and saw a copy of “Natural Cures ‘THEY’ Don’t Want You To Know About” by Kevin Trudeau, the noted infomercialist. There was no useful information about hair growth in that book, but there was an old leatherbound book behind a display case called ‘Ancient Remedies’. I asked to look at the book and there was an easy remedy for hair regrowth from Ancient China.

No doubt this remedy was lost to the ages when beagles fell out of favor with an ancient emperor.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Unwritten Rules

  On Sunday, Detroit Tiger ace pitcher Justin Verlander took his 100 mile an hour fastball into the eighth inning of the game against the visiting Los Angeles Angels with a 3-0 lead having given up no hits and within 6 outs from his second no-hitter of the year and a chance to be only the 4th pitcher since 1900 with 3 or more no-hitters. Angel shortstop Eric Aybar led off the inning with a bunt that Verlander mishandled and threw away for an error, allowing Aybar to get to second base where he scored on a pair of ground balls. Only 4 outs away from the no hitter, Verlander gave up a single to Maicer Izturis to bring the Angels to within 3-2 and finish his no-hit bid.

  After the game, Verlander said Aybar’s bunting was “bush league” or poor sportsmanship. Aybar’s response was that he bunted because he’s not a power hitter and bunting is a good way for him to get on base and he also mentioned that Verlander told him he’d ‘get him’ next year. There was also an incident where Angel starter Jered Weaver threw a pitch over the head of a batter after Tiger Carlos Guilen took his time admiring his long home run off Weaver.

  I knew about the ‘unwritten rule’ of just putting your head down and getting around the bases after a home run, but I’d never heard about the rule against bunting to get a hit until the opposing pitcher has given up a hit. There was another incident a couple of months ago when Big David Ortiz of the filthy Red Sox got all upset against Orioles Kevin Gregg for pitching too close to him in a game 3 weeks ago and then mocking him for not running out the popup he hit to the outfield.

  Baseball has a lot of ‘unwritten rules’ and most are pretty nonsensical. If you don’t want someone to preen after they hit a home run, don’t let them hit one. And I don’t see anything wrong with bunting even if the other pitcher has a no-hitter going or even stealing a base with a 10 run lead in order to score another run. I remember Phil Rizzuto complaining when a Yankee opponent would pull a stunt like that and his broadcast partner Bill White would say, “Are the Yankees still trying to win the game?” When Rizzuto would say of course they were, White would pounce and tell Rizzuto that in that case the opponent should get as many runs as possible. I don’t know what got into Gregg’s mind to bother an opponent for not running hard. Just let him be lazy and reap the benefits when a player drops a pop up and still throws him out at first base.

  There used to be an unwritten rule about payback for a pitcher that threw at a batter on your team, but it has been lost in history. The payback involved a hitter bunting the ball down the first base line in order to make the pitcher field the ball and then instead of running TO the base, the batter runs THROUGH the unsuspecting pitcher, who has his back turned on a perfect bunt. I used to see this in the 70’s (especially on teams managed by Billy Martin), but the last time I saw it pulled off was by Toby Harrah when he played for the Yankees in 1984. I was a pretty good bunter and managed to pull this off in a fast pitch softball game once. I was catching and the pitcher smacked me in the elbow with his bat while taking some exaggerated warm-up swings in the batter box. He then let me know that if I didn’t like it, I should back up in the catcher’s box or else I’d get more of the same. When it was my turn to hit, I bunted down the line and nailed the guy with a beautiful flying tackle just as he bent over with his back to me to field the bunt. We ended up throwing punches, but at least the other guy didn’t have a baseball bat in his hands.

  Chess has quite a few of its own unwritten rules. The handshake at the beginning and the end of the game is not required, but everyone does it. Most people (me included), just give a perfunctory handshake, but there is the occasional ‘hand-cracker’ or the 2 finger ‘I can barely bear being in contact with you’ handshake guy.

  Another unwritten rule between more advanced players is to be a gracious loser. When one side has an overwhelming advantage, the other player does not play it out to checkmate, but resigns the game in a mannerly fashion. I’ve seen more than my share of games where a strong player would make an equally strong opponent checkmate him with a queen and king vs. king situation. Normally, this is a sure sign of bad blood, but in a blitz game or when the winning player is short of time, anything goes. I was at one tournament where the player who was losing just sat at the board for more than an hour until his time ran out, whereupon he picked up his scorebook and pencil and left the playing area without so much as a nod to his conqueror.

  At a tournament in New York, my opponent was adjusting the pieces every 20 seconds or so, but only while it was my turn to move. I thought it was against the rules and asked the tournament director, but he said while there was an unwritten rule against it, it was not illegal. I know now that there were a number of rules about distracting your opponent that could have been invoked, but none of that helped me from getting distracted and losing a game.

  One unwritten rule I rarely follow at the chess board is to go over the game after it’s over unless it’s the last game of the day. I’d much rather get a nap and relax to prepare for the next game. I’m sure some people think it’s really rude, but when I’m playing, the goal is to do my best and my psyche isn’t helped by finding all the ideas I overlooked moments before I have to play another game.

  An unwritten chess rule that can be broken to advantage is that when there is a great difference in the ratings of the players, the lower rated player should not offer a draw because the higher rated player will never accept it and that the lower rated player should be honored to accept the draw offer of the higher rated player. The higher rated player will use the latter ‘rule’ to offer a draw in a losing or lost position and allow the lower rated player to grab a few rating points rather than test their technique against a superior player. As a lower rated player, I’ve found that the moment I make the draw offer to a higher rated player is when they are most likely to be over-confident and careless for a move or two. The lower rated players draw offer is almost an extra move when played properly.

I would have asked which of the genuises at the Bondurant Git 'n Go decided to label a 5 ounce 500 calorie pack of Twizzlers as a 'Healthy Treat!, but I think there's an unwritten rule against it. Anyway, they were probably off for the day working on their Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.