Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Original Thinking

  After Saturday’s chess tournament, I requested feedback from the parents of the participants and I got more than my fair share. Most like the change because it keeps players that have morning or afternoon activities involved in chess, but there some who didn’t like a tournament with only 3 rounds because they didn’t get to play anyone at their own level. Tim McEntee came up with a brilliant suggestion on the pairings that I’m going to experiment with, but otherwise I’m going to leave the format alone for a few months and then reevaluate. When I can count on a hundred players a month, I can see having a morning, afternoon, and an all-day tournament, but that’s a ways off.

  I like the format for a lot of reasons, not the least because it’s original. Just like the Big Money Blitz tournament earlier this month, I can’t remember anything like it being done. The next BMB is being planned for October and I hope Cub and Tim see an increase in participation. They are looking for ways to maximize participation by tweaking the prize fund and format. I’ll be watching carefully for clues to see what works and what doesn’t to apply to my next adult tournament.

  A great international chess tournament called the World Chess Cup is going on in the far away land of Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. The tournament takes 128 of the best players in the world and they play a series of 2 game knockout matches. If the match is tied after the 2 games, the match is decided on the third day with a series of rapid games at quicker and quicker time limits.The winner of each match moves on to the next round and the loser goes home. Most of the super-elite GM’s stay away from this tournament because it’s easy to lose one game and be eliminated and it gets ridiculed by some chess writers because it’s not as classical as a formal chess tournament which is either a 8 to 12 player all play all or a 12 or 24 game championship match between 2 players, but I think this is the best tournament of the year. A 2 game match is no different than a 12 game match that’s tied 5-5 after 10 games except we get rid of all the preliminaries and get right down to business. The tournament is only slightly less fast paced than a major tennis championship and features upsets (like US Grandmaster Sam Shankland defeating former world Championship finalist Peter Leko of Hungary) and former top shelf players like Judith Polgar (who made the final 8) and Leko struggling to capture their old form to regain a place on the world chess stage. For the most part, the top seeds make it to the final 4 or 8 players, but along the way there are all kinds of interesting matchups. If the World Chess Federation could find a way to get round of matches done in a day or half a day and have the tournament done in 1 or 2 weeks, I think this format would be great for a professional chess tour just like the tennis and golf tours. As the tournaments moved around the globe, each one would have a lot of the players from the home country competing for a spot in the 128 or 64 player field as the lesser players wouldn’t be able to afford the travel expenses.

  Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has done something original for this year’s attempt to win the World Series. He hasn’t picked up any big name players. I’m not sure there were any top pitchers on the market and I’m glad top prospect Montero didn’t get traded, but I wish the Yankees had another top-flight starting pitcher. The filthy Red Sox’ recent meltdown has left the division open for the taking, but unless young pitchers Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova step up, Sabathia and the cast-offs currently making up the starting pitching can’t win the World Series. The bullpen is championship caliber and the offense is starting to look like the ‘death by a thousand cuts’ offense of the glory days of the 1990s’ that made the starting pitchers throw so many pitches that they had to leave the game to lesser bullpen pitchers, but I can’t see Burnett, Hughes, Nova, Garcia, and Colon competing with the top pitchers from Detroit, Tampa Bay, Boston, Philadelphia, or Milwaukee. I’m sick of even seeing Burnett take the mound. He pitches just badly enough to lose and just well enough to keep cashing checks (yesterdays 11 strikeout win to boost his record to 10-11 notwithstanding). Even Sabathia hasn’t been dominating this year despite his 19 wins. They are mostly the product of getting a lot of runs from the offense and giving up a lot of base runners but relying on strikeouts to give up very few runs. That is a formula for beating bad teams and losing to good ones. The playoffs will be long on good teams while all the bad teams will be home for the winter. The Yankees will have to get very lucky to win a World Series. I’d be happy if they won the division, which has only happened once in the last 4 years.

  Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has broached the idea of expanding the playoffs to include another wild-card team. The 2 wild card teams will play a series to determine who will move on. One of the purported benefits is that the wild card teams will wear out their pitching playing each other and not be as competitive against the division winner they would face in the next round. I wish Selig would just say that more playoff teams mean more playoff games and more playoff games mean more money for baseball. Adding more wild card teams won’t make September any more exciting except for the 5th and 6th best teams in the league fighting for a playoff spot reserved for division losers (and not even the best of the losers at that). There hasn’t been a division race worth adding to the classics since the wild card was instituted in 1995, because now when the 2 best teams in the league battle for a division title, the loser doesn’t go home, they just make the playoffs as the wild card anyway. And no baseball writers are waxing poetic over the battle between 2 teams that weren’t even the best in their division trying to win the consolation playoff spot. And at the same time Selig is trying to expand the playoff field, he is also trying to game the system so the wild card teams are at a severe disadvantage in the playoffs that are being expanded for them to compete in.

  I would offer Selig an original way to lower the competitiveness of the baseball wild card teams. Don’t let them in the playoffs. Give each league’s division winner with the best record a first-round bye and have the other 2 division winners battle it out. If baseball needs to make up for the loss of 6 to 10 playoff games, make the remaining playoff and World Series a best out of 9 or best out of 11 instead of the current best of 7. I’m not too worried about the ‘tradition’ of the best of 7 World Series. That train left the station a long time ago when teams started winning the World Series without winning their division. I have an even more radical idea for baseball. Since the record books have been corrupted by steroid cheaters like Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Rafael Palmeiro, why not throw out the record book and start over. I’d like to see teams play only on the weekend instead of the current 6 games a week. Imagine every team putting their best 3 pitchers on the mound every single weekend. As a Yankee fan, I’d be thrilled to never have to see A.J. Burnett take the mound in pinstripes again.