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.