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 chessvine.com. 2 judges gave me 2 points and the third judge gave me 1 point for a total of 5 out of 6. Chessvine.com 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.