Sunday, October 30, 2011

Tactically Speaking

  Tactic - An expedient for achieving a goal; a maneuver (

  I was hoping to be playing chess this weekend, but I got waylaid by a cold on Thursday. I felt so crummy that I stayed home from work sick for the first time in 5 years and decided to pass on the potential 25 hours of chess during the weekend-long tournament in order to get better and rest on the weeknd for a busy week of work ahead. I didn’t miss a day of work, instead using the miracle of modern technology to remotely take over my work computer 60 miles away in Des Moines. I took an hour sick time for a nap, but working from home was a useful tactic to convert 2 hours of driving time into some extra sleep. Maybe I should get sick more often, since after finishing 4th out of 6 players at last week’s blitz chess tournament thanks to poor efforts against Joe from Waterloo and Dave the Barefoot Chess Player, I managed to beat Dave and Dan Troxell to win this week’s 4 player tournament and now my quick chess rating is at it’s all time high. I didn’t win with dashing attacks, but I managed to keep from making any big mistakes and all 3 games my opponents lost a piece and I was able to push to victory after some various misadventures.

A great iPod chess app!
  Almost all chess games among players at my level or below are won or lost by tactics. Being able to take advantage of a sudden opportunity to win a piece or a pawn is a key skill and once the skill is acquired, you can get your opponent go wrong by setting traps or complicating the game to rely on your superior tactical skill to win. Denying your opponent those opportunities is just as key. Players better than me beat me a lot by baiting me into leaving those opportunities while not leaving me any tactical shots. When I’m at a tournament, most players blame their losses on the openings. I’ve learned to nod sympathetically, but when the game is replayed most of these games are lost due to a tactical oversight in the opening and the player buys yet another opening book or spends some money on chess lessons from an expert in their opening of choice instead of the hard work of eliminating tactical blind spots and other deficiencies.

  I’d done some programming work for Andres Hortillosa’s SmartChess iPhone application last year, writing a program to convert some chess books in PDF chess formats into his iPhone app’s proprietary format. The arrangement was that I would get a percentage of the books sales, but then Andres wasn’t able to get the app certified by Apple. I never saw a penny for my efforts. I had even bought an iPod to test the program but was never given a working copy that would download the books my program created. After months of non-contact, I got a couple of emails from Andres over the summer to ask to set up users for my program and would get a quick email when the database server would prevent him from logging in. In late September, I got an email advertisement saying that Smart Chess had been approved by Apple and was now on sale, but I’ve had no other contact with the company since since August. I can only assume that he found someone to duplicate my program’s functionality or doesn’t need the program any more, but some explanation would have been nice (or maybe a complimentary copy of the app).

  I don't care for the the way my program and I were treated, but it's not the first time I've run into the tactic some people and businesses employ to not contact people unless you have a use for them. I should have known better since Andres had already demonstrated to me that he has a loose way with the facts. The techniques I learned from writing the program have already paid off in other projects and unwittingly Andres has helped me find a great way to improve my chess. 2 weeks ago, I saw an ad for Andres’s app on Facebook. I clicked on it out of curiosity, and saw similar applications. I took a look at one called TacticsTrainer, liked it, and decided to invest the $2.99 for it. It’s the first time I’ve ever paid for an app.

  I’ve used Ct-Art for tactic puzzles on my computer and enjoy it, but TacticsTrainer is awesome. Because it’s on the iPod, but doesn’t need to be connected to the Internet, I can use it while I’m walking to and from my car at work, during a coffee break, stuck in traffic, getting my oil changed, or any life’s many delays. While CT-Art has 1200 puzzles, Tactics Trainer has 20,000 puzzles so I’m not likely to run out or repeat them anytime soon.

  A couple of features I really like about this app might be something other players would not call ‘features’ at all. TacticsTrainer doesn’t show me how difficult the problems are or the theme of the problem. (CT-Art always shows the difficulty and shows the theme after you get to retry the puzzle). This makes the puzzles a lot more like the game situation. While playing a game, there's never a big red sign shouting. “TACTIC HERE! TACTIC HERE!”,and letting me know it’s an easy or hard puzzle and that I need to look for a pin or a knight fork is just a bit too much help. The only issues I have with TacticsTrainer are minor. I’d like to be able to review the puzzles I’ve already seen and while the rating and ranking among other players are nice, I’d be more interested in how many I got right. Time will tell if this app will help my chess, but I have to think it will be more useful than a book or software that keeps me tethered to my PC for as long as I use it.

  On his Sunday morning TV program at 7 on the Discover channel, Joel Osteen says God will take things that were meant to be done to you and turn them into things that will be done for you and sure enough, without my seemingly fruitless work with Hortillosa, I'd never have gotten my amazing iPod or this cool TacticsTrainer app and even though the next penny I see from the endeavor will be the first, I feel like I came out ahead.

  I’ve been the recipient of some other strange tactics lately that I hope will work out just as well. In early September, I was looking for a date for my November youth chess tournament at St. Francis when the IASCA pulled their tournament tentatively scheduled for Ankeny on November 5th and moved it to Cedar Rapids. The tournament hadn’t even been announced in early September despite the IASCA's own by-laws requiring the tournament announcements to be made 3 months in advance. Since November was already booked with tournaments in Des Moines for all the other weeks in November except for Thanksgiving, I arranged for my tournament to be held on the 5th. This has apparently caused some consternation in IASCA-land. The clearinghouse director wrote to say how ‘troubled’ he was by 2 scholastic tournaments on the same date and the scholastic director wrote to say he was getting inquiries as to why I was running a tournament in Des Moines the same day as one was taking place in Cedar Rapids (140 miles away). I wrote back asking that inquiries to be forwarded to me and received none. Yesterday, I got an email from the scholastic director saying there has been a ‘backlash’ towards me about my having a tournament and that he has had to tell the chess parents ‘not to worry, that I was a great guy’. Then the scholastic director wrote to all the parents to let them know about his tournament in Cedar Rapids next Saturday, but he wrote about my tournament almost as much as his. He wrote about my ‘motivations’ for holding my tournament on the same day (which were completely wrong) and made special mention that his tournament raised $250 for the IASCA to donate to the states’ scholastic champions to go to nationals last year (no mention that the organizers also pocketed $250 in profit last year from the tournament). I don't know why I'm coming in for all this special mention by name and as borderline rude and unprofessional as it is, I'm not concerned. Maybe the IASCA is setting up a tactic to create a no-lose situation. If the Cedar Rapids tournament gets an increase in attendance, they can say how they are having success despite my ‘interference’ and if they have a decrease they can blame me as the scapegoat. I’m too happy with my efforts to grow youth chess in Des Moines (an area that was abandoned by the IASCA), too confident in the correctness of how I’m going about it, and too pleased with the results so far to let all the chatter ruffle my feathers. In fact, I’m looking forward to seeing how all this will eventually work in my favor.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Let Freedom Ring

"Freedom is an individual battle,
fought on many fronts."
  Last week former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi met his end when he was flushed out of his last hiding place and killed. No one knows whether he was killed in battle or whether he was executed, but in the end it really doesn’t matter. President Obama and the NATO forces that bombed Gadhafi’s military have affected the regime change they sought and removed a long-time thorn in America’s side. It remains to be seen whether there will be freedom and democracy in Libya or whether mass graves filled with Gadhafi’s opponents will be replaced by mass graves filled with his former supporters and the Libyan version of government by Islamic law will mean the imprisonment and flogging of actresses who appear in movies without wearing traditional garb. Time will reveal all the answers and for now the world is celebrating the newfound freedom of the Libyan people.

  Luis Lebron and other welfare recipients of Florida have won freedom from taking drug tests to get their welfare payments. The ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of Lebron, a 35 year old Navy vet and college student at the University of Central Florida and the law requiring the drug test was halted by Federal Judge Mary Scriven. Another Florida Law that would have made new state employees take drug test was also suspended after the ACLU filed a different lawsuit. Lebron said he was “happy that the judge stood up for me and my rights and said the state can’t act without a reason or suspicion.” I’ve had to take drug tests in order to get a job and I didn’t feel like my rights were being violated, but I did insist on watching the keeper of the little yellow bottle put the label with my name on it so there wouldn’t be a mix up. I think drug testing for state employees should be a matter for collective bargaining, but I have no problem with minimizing the chances that people receiving public assistance won’t be selling their EBT cards for drugs or cashing their welfare check at the check cashing place closest to their preferred dealer, especially if there are children depending on the recipient to buy food for them with those funds. But the court has ruled that the recipients of entitlement programs are entitled to not have to be subjected to a drug test in order to be entitled. I wonder if President Obama’s new initiative to hire more veterans will come with a mandate that they won’t be subjected to a drug test if they are hired for a job. If not, Mr. Lebron may exercise his newfound freedom by declining all job offers and staying in school, at least until his public assistance runs out.

  Don’t get me wrong. I’m not upset by people on welfare going to court over having to take a drug test or our government borrowing billions of dollars from China in order to effect a regime change in a country half a world away. This is the system we live in and I can’t really hold it against anyone for trying to use the system in their favor. I like to think in our own small ways, we are trying to advance the cause of freedom as we see it as best we can.

A different kind of freedom...
from Jalapeno Cheetos!
  I was a freedom fighter in my own way when in August, I vowed to boycott buying Cheetos from the vending machine at work until the vending machine powers that be stopped their predatory practice of slipping Jalapeno Cheetos into every other slot, making me either buy the Jalapeno Cheetos in order to get regular Crunchy Cheetos to the front of the machine or wait until a coworker bought the Jalapeno Cheetos, leaving the desired regular Cheese Cheetos to the next person.

  I kept to my boycott even though it looked like the machine would never change its ways. I did occasionally buy a bag of pretzels or Lay’s potato chips, but when I wanted Cheetos, I either walked to the Marketplace 6 floors down and 2 blocks away or did without. There were plenty of times it would have been easy to quit, like the entire week that a bag of Crunchy Cheetos was front and center calling to me to put my 85 cents in so we could be together, but I could see the green tint of the Jalepeno Cheetos back just waiting behind it to have the last laugh and it gave me the strength to deny myself the Crunchy Cheetos.

Freedom always has enemies!
Lurking just behind the Baked
Cheetos are Baked Doritos,
just waiting to deprive snack
lovers their right to choose!
  2 weeks ago I noticed that the Cheetos had been moved from the second row to the top row of the vending machine and that there was only plain Lays potato chips and not the sour cream Chips. Then a day or two later I saw that the plain Lays chips had been replaced by the sour cream chips and that in addition to the crunchy Cheetos, a slot on the top row has been filled by Baked Cheetos. I kept to my boycott and last week I noticed that the crunchy Cheetos slot didn’t contain Jalapeno Cheetos in any of the slots. Now I could get a bag if crunchy Cheetos whenever I wanted. Proclaiming victory, I fished a dollar out of my pocket and bought a bag of Cheetos. Sure enough, a new bag of crunchy Cheetos had made its way to the front of the line. As a bonus, I even got 20 cents in change back instead of the expected 15 cents. If I had a rifle handy, I would have fired shots through the ceiling (I work on the top floor) to note my triumph, but instead my victory celebration consisted of eating Crunchy Cheetos and victoriously washing all that orange Cheetos powder from my hands.

  I don’t know if this was some sort of marketing experiment or the vending machine company finally ran out of Jalapeno Cheetos or they were willing to make concessions to regain my business, or some unrelated reason, but I’m chalking it up as a victory for freedom for snack food choice. I’m also aware that this may be a trick from the vending machine company to lure me back into the Cheetos habit and then the Jalapeno Cheetos will make their reappearance. I know I’ll have to remain vigilant to protect my boycott’s gains. Today I found out that the vending machine will be taken out of our office for ‘refurbishing’ before we move to the new office in a couple of weeks. I also noticed that the Baked Cheetos are alternating between Baked Cheetos and Baked Doritos. It’s a grim reminder that even though I’ve won the freedom to have crunchy Cheese Cheetos on demand from the vending machine, there is still work to be done.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Sad Story

  In July of 2005, Jamie Pollard was named Athletic Director at Iowa State University. The football team had been coached by Dan McCarney for the last 10 years. McCarney’s first 5 years on the job saw his team win less than a quarter of their games with a 13 and 32 record, but in the next 5 years his Cyclones went 32-30 with 4 bowl appearances and the first 2 bowl wins in school history. The school even had a chance to win their North division of the Big 12 conference in 2004, but lost their chance by losing an overtime game to Missouri on a missed field goal and an end zone interception.

  The 2005 season saw the Cyclones go 7-5 including another chance at a Big 12 North division crown lost by a missed field goal in an overtime game. The Cyclones had a poor 4-8 record in 2006, Pollard publicly said it was impossible to sell hope to the football fans and McCarney quit before he was fired. Pollard managed to replace McCarney with the hottest name in the assistant coaching ranks, Gene Chizik (defensive coordinator from Texas). Chizik’s hiring was lauded by all, he went 5-19 in his 2 years as the head coach and left for Auburn where we won a national championship in his second year on the job.

  To replace Chizik, Pollard turned to Paul Rhoads, a native of nearby Ankeny, Iowa who was the defensive coordinator for Auburn. Pollard was also lauded for this selection since instead of hiring a hot name who only had eyes on the Iowa State job as a steppingstone, had hired a local son who would consider Iowa State his dream job. Sort of like a Dan McCarney...

  In his first year as the Iowa State football coach, Rhoads’ team went 7-6 including a bowl game win against Minnesota. The highlight of the season was a huge upset of the mighty Nebraska Cornhuskers in Lincoln where Rhoads postgame speech made every national sports show as an example of the inspiration he gives his team. In his second year the Cyclones went 5-7 and no bowl game. The apparent step backwards drew very few complaints from the Iowa media because among the 5 wins was a huge upset against the mighty Texas Longhorns.

  The state’s pundits gave the Cyclones very little chance of the 6 wins needed to get to a bowl game this year because they had one of the toughest schedules in all of college football. Their new Big 12 conference schedule requires they play each of the other 9 teams in the conference this year instead of only playing 8 of the 11 teams as in years past. The Big 12 conference has 10 teams while the Big 10 conference has 12 teams. Luckily, neither conference competes in Math.

  The predictions of a losing record for the Cyclones looked to be on the money after they needed a 4th quarter comeback to beat the minor league Northern Iowa Panthers by a single point. But after comebacks to beat the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Connecticut Huskies found ISU with an unexpected 3-0 record, talk turned to bowl game possibilities and the possibility of beating the Longhorns in a rematch. With a week off to prepare, for the nationally televised game, the Cyclones had an awful game, finding themselves behind 13-0 after the first quarter and 34-0 at the half on the way to losing 37-14 in a mistake riddled performance which featured an interception, 2 fumbles, a missed field goal (when the game was still a relatively close 13-0), and a blocked punt. When the Cyclones traveled to play the Baylor Bears the next week, the team managed to stay close in the first half, only losing 21-14, before getting trampled in the second half en route to a 49-26 defeat. Last week the Cyclones travelled to Missouri to play the Tigers and were down by 14 points 6 minutes into the game and were never close in the 52-17 beatdown.

  With the 3-0 start a distant memory, the Cyclones played the Texas A&M Aggies on homecoming weekend yesterday. I hadn’t planned on watching this game and was reading with the Law & Order: Criminal Intent marathon on the TV when my mother-in-law called to ask me if Matt was at the game (he attends Iowa State and has gone to a couple of the games) and asked me if I was watching the game. I answered no and no, she hung up, and I figured that there must be a reason she was asking. So I turned on the game and sure enough the Cyclones were winning 7 to 3 late in the first quarter. I watched the rest of the first half and slowly but surely the Cyclones gave up a field goal, a touchdown, and another touchdown without scoring any points of their own to trail 20-7 at the half. At that point, we took Daisy and Baxter for a walk. When we got back, the Cyclones were trailing 33-17 and that was how the game ended.

  Everything I hear and read concerning Paul Rhoads says what a great coach he is and how inspirational he is to his team, but all I see is a team that is getting worse each year and is not competitive. I get all the talk about having a tough schedule, but when you’re the worst team around, that means the other teams are better than you, you are the only team that doesn't get to play you, and of course the schedule will be tough. I have no idea if Rhoads is a good coach or not, but I'm suspicious when a new coach wins a lot of games his first year and then goes downhill. It makes me think the old coach left a lot of players who needed to hear a different voice, but the voice is slowly getting tuned out. If Iowa State doesn’t win 5 games this year, I wonder if Pollard will ditch this football coach the same way he did McCarney or will he think he can still sell hope and give Rhoads more time.

  I think Pollard hasn’t found the right football coach for Iowa State yet. In 1989, the Kansas State Wildcats were an awful football team that hadn’t won a game in 2 seasons when they hired an assistant coach from Iowa named Bill Snyder. In 3 years, Snyder’s team had a winning record and was a perennial winner and sometimes national championship contender. After 2 straight losing seasons, Snyder retired in 2005, but was rehired in 2009 after a 2 more losing seasons. In his third season after being rehired, the Kansas state Wildcats are 7-0. The right coach is out there if Pollard will keep looking.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Why can't we NOT be friends?

  Hank Williams Jr. lost his place as the intro singer to ESPN Monday Night Football 2 weeks ago when in an interview with Fox News, he compared President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner playing golf last week to “Hitler playing golf with (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu." When pressed, Williams said Obama was 'the enemy', making it clear that he was not comparing Boehner to Hitler in his comparison.

  I didn’t think there was a terrible outcry to remove Williams from Monday Night Football. ESPN probably decided to jettison the singer before there was one. The song had run its course, having followed Monday Night Football from its descent as one of the highest rated and longest running prime time shows on network television to featuring Dennis Miller, offloaded to cable television featuring Tony Kornheiser and now its current incarnation as a straight football show with no pretensions of trying to have any other audience beyond beer-drinking football fans and gamblers trying to break even for the weekend. The show didn’t need a 60+ year old country singer ‘rocking’ how his rowdy friends were getting ready for Monday Night and adding new lyrics each week with whatever can rhyme with ‘Night’.

  Lost in all the hype over Williams Jr. losing his night job is that he asks a good question. Why were Obama and Boehner playing golf together during the heat of a budget crisis or any other time? Obama has recently accused the Republican Congress of wanting to have‘dirtier air, dirtier water’ and called on his supporters to 'punish our enemies' during the last congressional election (he later backed off that comment) . Boehner wasn’t giving Obama a mulligan over the ‘enemies’ comment and in July compared working with the White House to ‘dealing with Jell-O’. And now they’re playing golf? I don’t mind Obama and Boehner insulting each other or golfing together, but I wish they’d either be friends or enemies so I’d know where they stand.

  Baseball’s not as popular as it used to be, but one thing I hardly ever see on a baseball field is the players from opposite teams hugging and congratulating each other after a game. The winners congratulate each other on the field and the losers head to their clubhouse. I don’t like watching 3 hours of a violent football game and seeing all the players shaking hands and patting each other’s rear ends afterwards. It was big news this Sunday when the coaches of the Lions and 49ers got in a big argument during their post game handshake, with both being accused of poor sportsmanship. If my team just got beat in the last minute like the Lions did on Sunday, I don’t want the coach of my team congratulating his conqueror.

  I wouldn’t want the star of the team I rooted for having a pre-game kiss with the star of the other team like Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas did in the 1988 NBA finals. At least they were proved to be phony about their kisses after they got in a scrum over a loose ball and almost came to blows in Game 4 of the series. After that, the kissing stopped, at least in public. The hockey players have a tradition of shaking hands after the end of a playoff series. It seems stupid to do in the only sport where a fistfight comes at the price of a 5 minute penalty to both sides, but the players have to go through with it under the threat of a hefty fine. After a particularly violent series between the Detroit Red Wings and the Colorado Avalanche in 1996 where Claude Lemiuex’s dirty hit on Red Wing forward Kris Draper broke his jaw, nose, and cheekbone, Detroit forward Dino Ciccarelli said of Lemiuex "I can't believe I shook this guy's friggin' hand after the game. That pisses me right off".

  I always see golfers and tennis players shaking hands with each other after the matches and the tennis players even shake the umpire’s hand. I can give these sports a pass since there the golfers are both competing against the course and the tennis players don’t come in physical contact with each other, but I have to admit I enjoy watching the veneer occasionally peel off, like when Serena Williams got so upset at the umpire at the US Open over a call she disagreed with she wouldn’t shake the umpire’s hand. Race car drivers not only don’t shake each other’s hands after the races, sometimes they try to crash into each other before the race is over or have a fist fight after the race.

  When I play chess, I almost always shake my opponents hand before and after the game and I think that’s OK. Unlike professional sports, we are paying for the opportunity to play chess and the handshake is not only a sign of respect, it is a way to thank the opponent for giving me someone to play. And unlike politics, we aren’t calling each other unpatriotic or bowls of Jello (most of the time). That’s not to say that players always shake hands. When the Russian defector Victor Kortchnoi challenged Russian hero Anatoly Karpov for the world chess championship in 1978 and 1981, there were no handshakes. In a 2006 championship match, Vladimir Kramnik was accused by Veselin Topalov’s team of sneaking into the bathroom for computer assistance and found himself locked out of his bathroom before a crucial game. Topalov even threatened to not shake Kramnik’s hand the rest of the match. Kramnik forfeited the game but won the match and there are a number of examples of the two not shaking hands in subsequent matches. I haven’t had to play anyone I disliked in a long time. If I did, I’d probably be like Dino Cicarelli and shake the other players ‘friggin hand’ and be mad at myself about it later.

  25 years ago in the golden age of professional wrestling one of the most popular fueds featured the so-called Iron Sheik (from Iran), who would disparage the USA at every opportunity and ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan would wave the American flag around the ring, get the crowd cheering USA-USA-USA, and then knock the Iron Sheik upside the head with his handy 2x4 at some point during the match to the delight of the sold-out crowds. We all knew wrestling was fake but when Duggan was arrested on the New Jersey Turnpike for drunk driving and the Iron Sheik was in the car with him, professional wrestling lost a lot of fans who weren’t willing to put up with the two actors being traveling companions even though no one ever questioned how the Iron Sheik could be whacked on the head with a 2x4 repeatedly night after night.

  Sportsmanship is all well and good, but when I see politicians insult each other repeatedly or sports figures trying to physically conquer each other, it makes me suspicious when they buddy up right afterwards. I hope Obama and Boehner are careful if they decide to take a drive on the New Jersey Turnpike, but if they were discussing how to amend the health care plan to help this guy (Warning - not for the squeamish) during their golf outing, then there are at least 2 Hanks that owe them an apology.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Back to Zanzibar's

  Early in the week, I arranged to meet my friend Dan Troxell and the gang at Zanzibar’s Coffee Adventure on Saturday morning to hang out and play some chess. I hadn’t been there since June and have been meaning to head over for quite some time, but as the prophet Willie Nelson said ‘Ain’t it funny how time slips away’.

  When Zanzibar regular Dan Troxell (of the Innocent Bystander blog) came down to my outdoor chess tournament in July, I had introduced him to Robert Vance. Robert is a longtime volunteer Des Moines chess teacher and since that introduction has started giving lessons at Zanzibar’s. Dan's been over to Marshalltown to play blitz 4 times since then. In August and early September, he won 1 out of 6 games, but in 2 tournaments over the last 4 weeks he reversed that score, winning 5 out of 6 including a 3-0 mark this past Thursday to join the list of Marshalltown Thursday Night blitz Champions.

On the left is Robert Vance conducting a lesson in tactics. On the right is a $2.25 coffee, Mike's $3 orange juice (freshly squeezed), and a $2.60 bagel with cream cheese.

  I was looking forward to meeting up with the Zanzibar gang again, seeing how their chess was getting along, and I also wanted to gauge how my chess was doing. I’ve been playing very poorly lately, barely even looking to see what my opponents were planning and not bothering to check my calculations to see if there were holes in my logic. As a result, I’ve been getting a lot of lost games and even though I’ve managed to win most of these games by swindling my opponents, I’m planning on playing in a big tournament at the end of the month and need to correct my problems before then.

  Like I do every day, I woke up at 4:30 and since it was a weekend, Kathy and I walked the beagles to the Jiffy for a beef stick treat. When I got my coffee, the clerk told me the price had gone up to $1.29 for a 20 oz coffee. It was only $.99 for me since I had been bringing my refill cup since the last time Jiffy had raised the prices, but I was pretty annoyed at this sudden 25% increase in the price of my coffee. I’m sick of all these rich convenience store owners and coffee growers gouging me. I looked on the side of a soda cooler where everyone puts up their used car and used trailer park space ads to see if there was an ‘Occupy Jiffy’ protest going on that morning. Since there wasn’t, I was able to carry out my plan to head to Zanzibar's.

  I left the house at 7:30 and 55 miles later pulled up to Zanzibar’s at 8:30. Robert was there giving a lesson in endgames to Mike and Dan. I went to the counter to get a coffee and a bagel. They were out of everything bagels so I got a sesame seed bagel with cream cheese to go along with the coffee of the day, Peru Java. $4.75 later I was back working on the puzzles with Dan, Mike, and Robert. We talked about baseball , politics, and the high price of coffee (not to mention Mike’s $3 shot glass sized freshly squeezed orange juice) while we were solving puzzles and before I knew it, it was 10:00. I had told Kathy I’d be back by 12:30, so I suggested we play a game before I left. Robert squared off with Mike and I got another Peruvian coffee ($1.10 refill) and bagel with cream cheese before starting a game with the reigning Marshalltown Thursday Night Blitz champion, Dan Troxell.

  It sure looks like Dan has gotten a lot better since we last played at Zanzibar's. I played good, still it was a long hard struggle even with the extra piece and I think it got me in a good groove of trying to anticipate my opponents plans and replies. Robert had beaten Mike a couple of times while Dan and I were playing and I suggested he try to play Mike without his queen since our game was going to be awhile. Normally this is not something I’d suggest in a friendly setting like Zanzibar’s but since Robert was in an instructive capacity, it seemed reasonable and they tried it. Mike lost the first game, but got to a pawn up ending in the second match and managed to win (I did offer some advice at one point about keeping all his pieces involved which I probably shouldn’t have done). I’d love to run an odds tournament in Des Moines someday. I doubt the players would go for it, but I know I’d enjoy trying to take on the top players in the state with an extra piece or pawn in my pocket and try to comeback from a piece or a pawn down against a lower rated player.

  It was around 11:15 when we were finished. Dan and I were going over our game and then Paul walked in and started a game with Dan. We talked a little more and then it was time to go at a little before 12. I had another great time at Zanzibar’s and I’m looking forward to my next visit.

I left Zanzibar's just as I found it, with people playing chess and drinking fine coffee.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

15 Minutes of Fame

  I didn’t know what to expect after the Broken Pawn won the 2011 Best Chess Blog Award from the Chess Journalists of America. I didn’t think I was going to get a swelled head about it and so far I don’t think I have. I am really happy to have won the award and I enjoyed writing about the nearly 3 month long process from my self-nomination on May 25th to the actual winning of the award over the only other self-nominated entry on August 14th. I told some people I knew about the award and they thought it was pretty cool unless I mentioned that you had to nominate yourself and there were only 2 nominations, in which case I got a few eye-rolls. But I regard it as a singularly rare honor and I will always consider myself an award winner. I am going to break my promise that the Chess Journalists of America have seen their last penny from me, since as the current winner (*sniff*), I’ll be submitting my blog for the award next year for sure.

  Once I got the news, I scanned the United States Chess Federation website daily for their announcement of the award winners. And when I got home from work on the Friday after the CJA announcement, I saw it: ‘Annual Chess Journalists of America Awards, Winners are in’. I knew my category was the last one so I scrolled down the article and there it was:

CJA Best Chess Blog Award
Broken Pawn
By Robert Keating

  Robert Keating…Robert Keating? ROBERT KEATING?? Robert Keating, 2011 Iowa Chess Champion who lost to my son Matt in the championship tournament, but had a better score against the rest of the field to take the title? Robert Keating, the CJA winner of the 2011 Best Analysis Award? Robert Keating, a Cedar Rapids surgeon who is not a Marshalltown programmer named Hank Anzis? Yes, that Robert Keating. Bob Keating is a great guy who I've always enjoyed talking to but c’mon……that's MY 15 minutes of fame we're talking about here! I posted a comment noting that I had written the award winning blog and sent a note to the webmaster too. I received an incredibly gracious email from CJA chief judge Ramon Hernandez noting the error, alerting me to a message he placed in the USCF forums that day to let the readers know about the mistake, and also paying my blog some compliments. The error was corrected on the web site in 24 hours and all was well. I even got a congratulatory email from Jennifer Shahade, editor of the USCF web-site. 2 weeks ago I got my monthly Chess Life magazine from the USCF and all the CJA award winners were on page 52. I skipped the first 51 pages, scanned to the bottom of page 52, and there it was – ‘Broken Pawn by…Hank Anzis’ . As my brother Ed would say, ‘YAY’. I’ve never had my name in Chess Life and I think that is very cool.

  During the week after the announcement, I noticed a large number of hits on my blog from Belgium and lots of referrals from a website called Chess For All Ages. I went to that site and saw the post “The Last Shall Be Least” in which the blog author Mark Weeks opines about the vacant Chess Journalist of the Year award, compares the Best Chess Art Award winner to “art for your living room available ‘Buy It Now’ on eBay”, and then it was my turn:

  "As for the '2011 Best Chess Blog Award', what can I say? Listed last, in the 'New Media' categories after both 'Best [USCF] State Chapter Website Award' and 'Best General Chess Website Award', the best blog award went to Broken Pawn. Runner-up was, the only other entry in the blog category. This was one of five categories with only two entries, but even these fared better than the '2011 CJA Best Regular Newspaper Local Interest Chess Column Award', with a single entry.

In the months leading up to the award announcement, Broken Pawn posted a series on the whole CJA submission process: ‘
Higher Education’,’ A second second chance’,’ Fool me once..’.,’ Second best’, and ‘Birthday wishes for a lazy day’. The first post I've listed includes the following gem:-
‘Maybe I’ll get some publicity for my blog, but I’m thinking I’ve shortchanged the colleges, Who’s Who book publishers, and Chamber of Commerce dinner organizers. These are people who know there’s a lot of 'stupid' money out there and they are just trying to get in ahead of the Chess Journalists of America!’

... Whatever the reason, congratulations to all of the winners!"

  ‘the following gem’..’Whatever the reason’... Not a mention of any of my stories about chess in the heartland of America, my sage analogies comparing chess to other aspects of life, or even a nod to my chronicles of my efforts to start a scholastic chess program in Des Moines. In a fit of artistic rage, I exchanged some missives with Mr. Weeks, who seemed to me to only want to use quotes from my blog to insult the CJA. We came to an understanding and I apologized for my sarcastic comments. I even submitted a post to the Chess Carnival of Blogs he hosted on October 4th, which got a warm introduction as being by the 2011 CJA Best Chess Blog award winner (*sniff*). Weeks is a prolific chess blogger with at least 3 active blogs, who might have won the award if he had chosen to submit any of them.

  I also noticed this post on (the other self-nominated entry) The blog author Anton Taylor called my blog ‘very good’, but then expressed his disappointment that I blogged about how his blog had only 13 posts in 2011 and just 3 posts since May and how most of those posts were links to other posts. Anton mentioned that he wished that my criticism was constructive and then noting “I have a personal issue with those who do write verbosely, “A fool is known in multitude of words” (sounds familiar). I thought I was offering observations rather than criticism, but I wanted to express my regrets for his disappointment and to show there were no hard feelings. I tried for a week to put a comment on his blog, but neither Ben nor I could figure out how to get the blog to accept the drawn out letters that it wanted us to type in as a quasi-password. I ended up sending my comment as an open letter, was slapped around by a couple of people who did manage to get their comments in and had 3 posts in the month of September and one this month.

  The only other mention of my CJA award was in the chess blog BaconLog, noting the USCF article showing Robert Keating as the author of my blog along with my comment. BaconLog promised to read my blog, and complained about having to nominate himself to be considered. And that was it – 4 website mentions, 2 congratulatory emails, and my name in Chess Life to go along with the very much appreciated congratulations from the people that count most, the people who read my blog. Don’t think I’m unhappy with the 7 mentions, I got fewer birthday cards than that.

  I did get a lot more visits to the blog once the article hit the USCF web site but that has dissipated. I didn’t get much extra ad revenue from the publicity and to boot, Google has determined that there has been suspicious click activity on my blog and stopped advertising on it. I’ll get a certificate from the CJA over the next month or 2 and when I do, I'll write a press release to send to the area newspapers and see if I can parlay my award into some other opportunities. I could do it without the certificate, but I think having the physical award will help my credibility. After all, the diploma did wonders for the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, didn’t it? Other bloggers get TV talk shows and wider exposure and while I don’t see myself scaling those heights, perhaps I could get some speaking invitations at some Wine and Cheetos tastings. Who knows, maybe I’ll get the certificate before 60 Minutes comes up with a replacement for Andy Rooney.

  I haven’t submitted any of my postings for a wider distribution (except for the chess carnival), but did get some national publicity from Saturday’s National Chess Day tournament. I submitted an article to the USCF web site just like last year and it got published on-line (You can see it here) along with other chess events from around the country. There were 3 tournaments in Iowa on Saturday, but mine was the only one to get on the USCF web site. I’m not sure if the other organizers submitted an article, but since they haven’t mentioned the tournament on the state website or even put a link to the crosstable online, I doubt it.

  I was going to put a mention of the award on the Iowa State Chess Association web site, but I wanted to see if it got a mention in the quarterly IASCA chess magazine without any self-promotion on my part. I got the magazine in the mail on October 1st and it did receive a mention in the editor’s introduction right under the mention of the Ron Dieke’s 2nd place finish in Best Review and the award for Best Analysis by Robert Keating. Yes, that Robert Keating.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

How I Spent My Birthday

  My birthday was yesterday, but it really started on Thursday when I got home from work and was greeted by birthday cards from both sets of my parents-in-law. I went to chess club as usual and lost to Dave the barefoot chess player in a uniquely pathetic performance, but I did get a present in the return to the club of Scott after 6 months spent watching his son’s Thursday cross country meets and starting his own business. Scott is a mental health counselor and his business is called ‘In Perspective’ and it was great to see him back playing chess. I played him in the third round of the tournament and while I did beat him, I can tell he’s been studying and has made a lot of improvement.

  I went home after club, ate dinner, took care of a batch of emails, and checked on a project at work remotely all the while keeping an eye on the 5th and final game of the Yankees-Tigers series. Young gun Ivan Nova gave up 2 home runs in the first inning and that kept the Detroit pitcher Fister from feeling too much pressure and he cruised along till the 4th inning when the Yanks loaded the bases with one out. Fister proceeded to get Martin out on a popup and struck out Gardner to keep the 2-0 lead. Girardi kept switching pitchers like a drunken sailor, but except for CC Sabathia giving up a 5th inning run, the relievers kept the Tigers from scoring any more runs. Cano hit a homer to get the score to 3-1 and then the Yankees loaded the bases in the 7th inning with one out and big hitters Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira up. Rodriguez struck out, but Teixeira got a walk to force in a run, but Swisher struck out and the Yankees were still losing 3-2. They never mounted another challenge after that and lost the game 3 runs to 2 and the series 3 games to 2.

  There is a tendency to blame Rodriguez for striking out 3 times in such a big game, but there’s enough blame to go around. The Yankees outscored the Tigers 28 to 17 in the series, but the Tigers played better in the clutch and won all 3 games in the series that were close. I’m not saying the Yankees choked, but Soriano giving up the game winning home run in Game 3 and the bad at-bats with the bases loaded in Game 5 give that impression. Without his steroids, A-Rod is breaking down and better hitting replacements for Swisher and Martin are needed. Another top-line starting pitcher would be nice. The Yankees did accomplish some good things this year. Granderson has attained near-superstar status, Robertson has shown he may be able to replace the great Rivera, and if Nova doesn’t get hurt he will be a mainstay in the rotation for years to come. BUT, with the Yankees any year without a championship is a year wasted and a 200 million dollar payroll down the drain. As for the Tiger facing last year’s Yankee conquering Texas Rangers, I’ll be positive and say how glad I am that at least one of those teams will lose their next series.

Busy day at the
St. Francis Chess Club!              
  On Friday, I went to St. Francis in West Des Moines for my 5th chess class of the year. We have over 50 kids signed up and a high of 58 attending last week. The beginners are starting to play more or less complete games and 25 players are competing in a ladder tournament each week. I’ve got a couple of great parent helpers which allows me to go to each group and answer questions and give some quick instruction. I’ve had a few dropouts but many of the parents have written to me to tell me how their kids look forward to chess club on Fridays. This makes me feel great because my main goal is to instill a love of the game and show the kids how to have fun whether they win or lose.

Mmm..almond bars!
  After the club was over I hustled across town to work, where there was an email saying it was my birthday tomorrow and Sarah had baked some almond bars for everyone to eat. It is a tradition at this job to have someone bring in treats to celebrate every birthday. The almond bars were great and a lot of people offered their condolences about the Yankees, although there seem to be a lot Cub fans who didn’t seem very sincere. I understand that since you would have to be 103 years old to say you were alive when the Cubs were world champions. I worked, went home, walked the dogs with Kathy, ate some of the special corned beef she cooked for me for my birthday, took care of another batch of emails, watched a little TV, and got a good night sleep to get ready for a busy birthday day.

  Yesterday morning at 6:30, I headed to West Des Moines for my monthly youth chess tournament after walking Daisy and Baxter to the Jiffy for a beef stick treat with Kathy. Normally, I wouldn’t have had a tournament on my birthday, but October 8th had been designated as National Chess Day. Last year at this time, I held a free IASCA qualifying tournament in Marshalltown and got some nice publicity on the USCF website when I submitted my story about the tournament. I inquired with the IASCA clearinghouse about having the same tournament again this year without competition. One of the board members said he had already scheduled an event in Cedar Rapids on that weekend. Tournaments in Marshalltown don’t work very well against competing tournaments, so I stopped planning the Marshalltown tournament and instead scheduled my monthly tournament at St. Francis for National Chess Day.

  I got the tournament date secured and then my friend David Coppedge from Marietta, GA had me do some computer work for him and paid me enough to allow me to offer a free tournament again like last year. I kept the same format I had last month; morning and afternoon tournaments for USCF members and non USCF members, very few trophies but medals for everyone. I started advertising a month ago, sent my emails out 2 weeks ago and was looking at 15 entries last Sunday. I was not too concerned since this happens every month. Most tournaments make the parents commit at least a few days in advance to receive a pre-registration discount, but I say anyone who sends me an email at least the day before is pre-registered. Making it so easy on the parents to sign up can make it hard on me if I choose to worry about how many players I have, but I’ve learned to stop worrying about how many people will come to my tournaments as long as I’ve done everything I can do to. As the week went on, I got a lot of signups from the tournament regulars, kids from the schools where Jose Gatica teaches, some of the Ames chess clubs, and some players from Lee Cole’s club. Add in 20 or so of the kids I’m working with at St. Francis and by Friday night I had over 70 signups.

  I had some no shows, but there were 67 players at the chess board at some point during the day. I brought high school student Chandler from Marshalltown to help set up and one of the players from Stillwell Junior High came an hour early to help so we had 40 boards up and ready by 9. It was a good thing I had extra help, because I had made a mess of the trophies. I ordered them months ago and looked at them, but as I put them out today I saw that the labels all said WDM National Chess Day – October 8th, 1960. What a maroon! I entered my birthday instead of the actual date when I ordered the trophies. I 'Sharpied' out the 1960, printed 2011 on some clear labels, and found I had no scissors and my knife wasn’t sharp enough to cut the labels. Bondurant chess coach Craig Kinrade went out and got me a pair of scissors and a Mountain Dew and even put the new year on the trophies for me. The trophy winners got a big kick out of the stupid date on the trophies once they heard the story, so it wasn’t as big a deal as I originally thought.

  The tournament was great. I was determined to have a good time and nothing was going to stop me from having one. A lot of kids were beginners playing in their first tournament. They needed a lot of help going over the rules, but there weren’t a lot of arguments either. I had at least 20 parents tell me that they were happy the tournament was only in the morning because the kids had another activity in the afternoon that would have prevented them from coming to an all day event. I got to spend some time with the parents but pretty much had to keep an eye on the beginner’s games.

I can't remember seeing
a happier face than Will's
after pulling off this
cool-looking checkmate.
  There were a lot more issues in the afternoon session. One player in particular kept accusing his opponent of cheating by moving the pieces around. Luckily, that player that had been accused was writing the moves down and I could use that to verify the position on the board was accurate. I talked to the upset player and the mother and suggested it would be a good idea if he wrote his moves down also to be able to prove any accusations. He won his last 2 games, but to my surprise did write down the moves, which is more than I was able to get the kids who had come to the summer chess camp to do during the tournament. My other big problem was with the medals. Having the inserts printed for me is very expensive and I have to order a minimum of 100 at a time, so to keep costs down I’ve been buying blank medals in bulk and printing and applying the insert label stickers myself. A couple of the kids discovered that they could just scrape the ink off the label and started destroying their medals and then some other started scratching their medals just to see if they could, stopping when they had put an ugly scrape through their medal. Kids! By the end of the afternoon tournament, a lot of the kids wanted new medals. I traded out the ones I could and put new inserts in some others, but I need to come up with a way to scratch proof the inserts.

  I hope I’ll see a lot of the new players continue tournament chess, but a lot of them expected to win all their games because they can beat their parents or uncle. These players had a good time and hopefully made some new friends, but now that they saw that there are plenty of other kids who are their equal or better at chess many of them will stay away from tournaments. I can’t control that, but I’m very happy that I was able to put on a free tournament and provide a few hours of chess for anyone who cared to play. The tournament wasn’t perfect (they rarely are), but it was a great tournament that got a lot of kids exposed to chess.

  After the tournament was over, my friend from work Shashi came to the site with a friend of his and his friend’s 2 daughters. Shashi’s birthday was also yesterday and he was spending it with his friends’ family since he has no family in the area. We spent an hour or so playing chess with the girls (they knew most of the rules) and a couple of the players from Ames who wandered back in after playing in the nearby playground. I left a little before 5, was walking the beagles by 6:15, and had the tournament rated, pictures uploaded, and all my articles written by 9pm. I got to unwrap my presents, but never found the time to eat my birthday cake.

The birthday haul: Cards, a Batman T-shirt, the new Joel Osteen book, the coveted Pen-Cam for better blogging, and a sampler of the BEST candy ever, ZOTZ!

  I got up this morning at 4:30, Kathy and I walked the dogs to the Jiffy for a beef stick treat at 5, and we finally ate some of my birthday cake at 8 this morning. My Sister-in-law Megan made me a facebook pictorial of her visit to the Waffle House in honor of my birthday and I had a great time looking at that and remembering the taste of scattered smothered and covered Waffle House hash browns.

  Except for our traditional celebratory meal where I get to pick where we go to, my 51st birthday is over. The first 51 years have been OK and I had a great start on the next 51 with my most attended tournament since I started my Des Moines metro scholastic program and a great birthday to boot. I’ve got a bagful of new ideas I’m itching to try out and if the coveted pocket pen camera I got for my birthday is half as good as it’s cracked up to be, I’ll have the potential for great blog material whenever I step outside.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Slapped Around (and Battles with Kushan Part 3)

  Before you start reading this, look into my eyes……I'm feeling something…wait…wait…I’m sensing you are having a conflict with a friend or …possibly a relative. I was right, wasn’t I? I think I may have been born with psychic powers.

  I’m not looking very psychic this week about the Yankees. Rafael Soriano, the former Tampa Bay reliever I had been lusting over since last fall as a possible replacement for the great Rivera, gave up the losing home run in Monday’s game to put the Yankees down 2 games to 1 to the Tigers, just one game from elimination. Taking the hill for the Yankees last night was A.J. Burnett, who I pleaded with Yankee manager Joe Girardi to leave on the bench in my last post. Last night Burnett survived 3 walks in the first inning and held the Tigers off until the Yankees got the bats going to even the series at 2 games apiece and set the stage for tomorrow’s decisive game 5. I super happy the Yankees have lived to fight another day and I hope Nova can continue where he left off in game one of the series. Some person left a comment on my blog calling me ‘a idiot’ (sic). It’s hard to argue that point at the moment. Soriano doesn’t seem to have the right stuff for New York, then Burnett comes up huge in a big spot. I don’t like getting slapped around on my own blog, but it’s not the first slap I’ve taken lately.

  After having my offer of having a chess club at the Salvation Army in downtown Des Moines accepted, I was ready to get started 2 weeks ago. On the day of the first meeting, I emailed my contact to make sure of the time. A reply came back telling me that the Salvation Army didn’t think there was going to be much interest in a chess club, so thanks but no thanks, they were not going to have a club, and they were sorry they didn’t tell me sooner. I resisted the urge to ask when they had planned on telling me, instead saying maybe we could revisit it in a few months. This was a setback of my own making. I should have put up some flyers around the area to see if I could have sparked some interest, which at the least may have committed the Salvation Army to have had the club for a couple of months. When I first started up in Marshalltown, my kids and I spent more than a few evenings staring at each other, but eventually the club caught on. I hope I’ll get another chance at a Salvation Army club in Des Moines, but my experience in these matters is that saying no gets easier the more you do it.

  I had another self-inflicted setback last month. On June 29th, I wrote how I’ve been buying $2,000 of Intel stock when it went down a dollar and then would sell when I could get my money back while keeping 5 shares for myself. In the 3 months since that post, I executed 5 buys and 4 sells and even though the stock was 21.39 on June 29th and was 21.22 at the close yesterday, I’ve accumulated 18 shares of Intel with 2 buys on the table as opposed to 1 buy on the table on June 29th. If I keep 5 shares for each sell and made 4 sells why do I only have 18 shares instead of 20, you may ask? On August 9th, Intel hit 20 so my program buy executed and I added a sell of 21.24 but then Intel went up to 21 2 days later and I put in another program buy for 20. On the 18th the stock hit 20 again, so I now had 2 buys at 20. The sell point went from 21.24 to 21.15 because I would only pay 1 commission on the 2 sells and Intel spent the next month flirting with 19 a share. I had visions of the stock bouncing like a bungee jumper from 21 to 20, triggering more and more buys. I decided to stop the possibility of this vicious cycle by changing the sell point to 20.93, which left me 8 shares instead of 10. On September 14th, Intel hit 20.93, I sold, and Intel spent all day at 20.7. I felt very smart indeed but in the last hour when Intel shot up to 21.40, I felt a lot less smart since I cost myself 2 shares by not following my own system. Yes, small potatoes and it probably means I’ll be eating cat food a week earlier than planned in my old age, but I feel bad that I left something for free on the table.

  2 weeks ago, when I performed my daily task of checking my blogs hits and ad revenue, I received the unwelcome news that Google was not going to advertise on my site anymore because of ‘suspicious click activity’. No other details. I appealed and my appeal was denied. I know that asking my Facebook friends to click on my ads is ‘verbotten’ so I’m not doing that any more, but I’ve written about which ads were the best paying on my blog for quite some time (political and dental) so I don’t know why my number came up 2 weeks ago. For all I know, the increased hits from winning the best blog award triggered the siren alarm. I’ll appeal every month or so the same way Tim Robbins in ‘Shawshank Redemption’ kept asking libraries for donations to the prison, but in the meantime I’ll be auditioning advertisers.

  And I don’t even want to get into how I received a bill last Tuesday for an extra hundred dollars for the room I rented for my chess camp 2 months ago or how I forgot to log out of my computer and thanks to a co-worker came in the next morning to my find my second monitor not working and no icons on my screen and all my shortcuts gone and....wait – I did say I didn’t want to get into it.

  On the chess front, as long as I’m at it, I thought I’d share the worst beatdown I’ve received in a long time. In late July, I was playing chess on the Internet Chess Club and Kushan Tyagi challenged me to a game. Kushan is a chess expert from Ames and currently the 25th ranked 14 year old in the United States. He finished 3rd in this year’s Iowa Chess Championship. I’ve played Kushan 4 times on at the pace of a move every 3 days and won 2 and drew 2 because I was only playing one game while he was playing dozens and got a draw against him in an offhand game at the West Des Moines Chessathon 2 years ago which to my mind was a bigger accomplishment. I had just hit my all time high rating in one-minute chess and Kushan and I stated with a 3 minute game.

  Pretty ugly, but I was happy to get the draw. Little did I know that would be the highlight of this day’s battles with Kushan.

  After those 2 wonderful efforts, we switched to 1 minute chess but it was more of the same:

  I wish I could say it was just a bad day, but since I won 4 of the 5 other games I played on the Internet directly before and after my battles with Kushan, I have to admit I was just outclassed. I had meant to publish these games earlier, but got busy with other topics and since they fit in with my other recent events, I hope Kushan doesn't mind that I was much slower to print my losses than my wins.

  Last Wednesday I came to work all worried about my hundred dollar charge for the chess camp and as I walked from my car to my workplace via the Skywalk, this lady stopped me and asked if I had a spare dollar I could give her. It was the first time I’d been stopped for money in 17 years in Iowa. I reached in my wallet and had no singles. She looked old, scared, homeless, and hungry so I just gave her a five. Maybe she just got a six-pack instead of a 20 ounce Bud or maybe she bought some food. It was none of my business. Once I gave her the money, it wasn't my money anymore and what she did with it was none of my concern. For all I know, I was put into all these difficult situations just to be be in the right mood on this day to give that lady a five-dollar bill. I couldn’t say that was why for sure, but no one else can say that wasn’t why for sure, either. I do know that as soon as I got to the elevator, an email popped up on my amazing iPod (RIP, Steve Jobs) telling me the hundred dollar charge for the chess camp was an error.

  I’ll get more chances to start chess clubs in Des Moines, find advertisers for my blog, profit from Intel stock ups and downs, and if I keep making baseball predictions I’m sure to look like a real psychic one of these years. And as for Kushan, I’ll just wait till HE turns 50 and then sic a grandkid on him!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Say Goodbye

  Terry Francona was dismissed as the manager of the Boston Red Sox this week. Francona is the only Red Sox manager in the last 90 years to have won a World Series and he won two of them, but when the Red Sox collapsed and not only lost the division to the Yankees but failed to get into the playoffs for the second year in a row, the world championships didn’t matter anymore and the Red Sox didn’t pick up Francona’s option and will look for another manager.

  I don’t know how the manager change will work out, but I think the Red Sox have made the right choice in letting their manager go. At the end of August, the Red Sox had a 1 game lead on the Yankees for the Eastern Division lead, but went 7-20 the rest of the way and finished 7 games behind the Yankees and a game behind the Rays for the playoff spot reserved for the ‘best loser’ that doesn’t win their division.

  The media is generally down on the Red Sox for making the move, but I think it should have been done even if the Red Sox had made the playoffs unless they managed to get to the World Series. This is a team that hasn’t won it’s division in 4 years or a playoff series in 3 and despite their home grown talent of Ellsbury, Predroria, Buchholtz and Papelbon, the Red Sox had a payroll this year of 161 MILLION DOLLARS, third in the majors behind the Phillies(172 Million) and you guessed it, the Yankees (202 Million). For that kind of money, the people running the Red Sox have a right to expect more than they have been getting. I thought the Yankees should have gotten rid of Torre after the 2004 collapse against the Red Sox instead of wasting 3 years hoping that Torre could recapture his old magic.

  Francona should have his pick of jobs and if nothing suits him, he can be a talking head on TV until a job opens up that he likes. In Boston, all eyes are now on boy wonder GM Theo Epstein. This year, Epstein won the right to pay top free agent Adrian Gonzalez and he had a very good if not great year, but his other big pick up (outfielder Carl Crawford was awful), there is no catcher, and the starting pitchers all were hurt at some point during the season except for last year’s free agent pickup John Lackey, who was so bad that the Sox fans were hoping he’d get hurt. If Epstein whiffs on his next managerial hire and batch of free agents, he could be the next to go.

  I wasn’t sad to see the Yankees game against the Tigers get rained out Friday since it meant saying good bye to facing Tiger stud pitcher Justin Verlander and his 100 mile and hour fastball and no-hitter potential twice in this series and if it does goes to 5 games the Yankees will only have to contend twice with 6’8” Doug Fister. Fister was very effective after being picked up from Seattle earlier this year, but he is no Justin Verlander and the Yankees finally got to him in the 6th inning of yesterday's game to take a 1-0 lead in the series behind the stellar pitching of young gun Ivan Nova, who is turning out to be the pitcher that Phil Hughes should have been. All in all, the rainout was a good deal for the Yanks, with the only downside that instead of Sabathia pitching twice, we may have to see A.J. Burnett pitching in the playoff series. I hope Yankee manager Girardi comes to his senses and leaves Burnett on the bench.

  Also saying goodbye is 92 year old Andy Rooney, who will be making his last regular appearance on 60 Minutes this weekend. I don’t watch 60 minutes very much, but I’ve caught Rooney’s 2 or 3 minute show-closing monologues on Yahoo or YouTube in bursts of 10 or 20 for years . Rooney has come in for a lot of ridicule and caricature for the style of his monologues, but I’ve always found them thought provoking and enjoyable. I’ve read most of his books of collected articles, and also enjoy reading his column in the Marshalltown Sunday paper. I like that he says what’s on his mind without a lot of fluff and by the end of his TV bit or article, I know exactly what he thinks and where he stands.

  I’m not an aspiring writer, but I write as a hobby and Rooney has been a big influence on whatever style I may possess. One thing I noticed is that Rooney very rarely uses adjectives or adverbs. (see for yourself). He makes the story so that he doesn’t have to waste words describing the words he does use. After I’m done writing my post, I read it over once again and end up stripping out almost all the adjectives and adverbs and I think I have better posts for it. I’ll miss Rooney and I hope he’s not retiring because he’s sick or dying. It’s pretty cool when a guy who is 92 can still make a living and I hope I’m still writing at that age. Here is another of Andy Rooney’s nutty monologues.

  Christopher Meloni said goodbye to his Elliot Stabler character in Law & Order :Special Victims Unit over the summer after 12 years. Based on a lot of the comments I read on the SVU facebook page, many viewers are going to give up on the show because they won’t get to see Stabler beat some suspect up and call him an a**-wipe. I’m also going to miss those scenes but I’m not going to give up on the show either. I like the show to see the detective work and the crackpot villains, not to see Detective Olivia Benson’s having an alcoholic mother, a rapist father, and no children with a biological clock stuck at 11:59 pm. And I’m pretty bored with Stabler’s problems with his kids and his marriage too. I get it. They have issues. OK? Enough already. Can we catch some rapists and predators, please?

  I’ve seen the first two post-Stabler episodes of SVU and I think the show still has a future. Danny Pino’s Detective Amaro and Kelli Giddish’s Detective Rollins roles are still undefined, but they seemed to fit right in with the rest of the team. The season debut was a knock-off of the IMF chief that got accused of rape in New York a couple of months ago and this week’s episode had the comeuppance of the dad from the Wonder Years after years of abusing young basketball players. Both episodes were long on Olivia’s emotional distress at losing her partner and having to get used to new ones and short on the evil predators and the dark side of the New York streets. Not a single gunshot was fired in the last 2 weeks and I only remember one scene shot at night. I hope NBC will take the money they are saving by not paying Meloni and put it towards some top quality scripts with memorable psychopathic predators and cast them with the best guest stars money can buy. It’s OK to spend a couple of minutes on the angst of the main characters, but the show has listed heavily in that direction over the last few years and I’d rather see the the cat and mouse war between the SVU detectives and the New York predators. When I think back of the great SVU episodes, I’m always drawn to ones like the RDK killer and the Robin Williams and Carol Burnett guest starring roles as opposed to the times where Stabler’s daughter got mad at him or Olivia found out something about her alcoholic mother and rapist father. Interesting cases are what make the Law & Order series and the quicker they get back to that formula and away from soap opera storylines, the better the show will be.