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.