Sunday, December 18, 2011

With a little luck and a lot of help

Left: I'm never too tired to pose for a picture with my fellow St. Francis chess coach Chris Hermes. Up front are Chris' nephew Ryan(l) and son Matt(r). Right: Many of professional chess teacher Jose Gatica's students were playing in the tournament, but he was willing to go over the games with anyone.

  The company I work for has a critical interface with a government agency’s computer system. This agency was going to update their systems in December and change the way we interact with them. I knew about this for a couple of months and had been making preparations. 2 weeks ago, the government agency set the changeover date this past Thursday night. I wrote to President Obama letting him know I had chess club that night, was teaching chess class the next morning at St. Francis, had a chess tournament to run on Saturday and could he please impose on the agency to postpone the changeover? I didn’t receive a reply. I would have written to Ron Paul, but he may have tried to abolish the agency and render my job moot. What people don’t realize about burdensome government regulations is that they employ a lot of people like me that help other companies navigate them. It’s the Democratic version of trickle-down economics.

  After stressing over the changeover all week Thursday finally came. I shut down our systems and went home where I would implement our changes when and if I got the signal from the government. The restart was scheduled to take place at 6am Friday and I was hoping it would be late so I could implement our changes after I got back from chess class. I went to chess club where there were an odd number of players for the tournament so I sat out and played 2 games against Joe Meyer after the tournament. I was sloppy and lost 2 games to Joe. Thinking about the changeover would be a convenient excuse, but facts are facts and the fact is Joe is better than me at the moment.

  I got home from the club, got the tournament rated, and saw that the government had finished their changeover in record time so I could get started. I put in my changes, testing each component. It was 12:30 by the time everything was done and I crawled into bed at 1, only to wake up at 4:30 and start all over again. I logged into my work computer, saw I had one process that was crashing, fixed it, walked Daisy and Baxter, and was on the road at 5:45 to teach chess at St. Francis 60 miles away. I haven’t missed a club meeting in the year and a half I’ve been teaching there, but I would have begged off this week except that my co-coach Chris had an appointment and couldn’t make it.

  Getting 3 hours sleep was no problem when I was 20 or 30, and not such a big deal when I was 40, but at 51 it is hard not to get sloppy and irritable on such little sleep. I got my exercise setting up the 30 boards and the crowd of 50 kids talking and playing chess kept me wide awake for the 45 minute club meeting, matching kids for games and teaching the younger kids how to win simple endings. After class, Kurt the maintenance guy helped me put away all the boards and tables and I got to work at 9. There were a couple of problems caused by the government not implementing a process correctly, but they had already fixed it by the time I alerted them. Everything went so well that I went home at 12 to get some sleep before a long tournament day on Saturday. I got home at 1 as planned but nothing else went the way I wanted. Every time I started to nod off, I got a phone call. There were 4 from work, 1 from St. Francis letting me know my next 2 tournament dates, and even a friend of Kathy’s calling to tell me to go outside. I was already awake so I went outside and her friend told me he could see me. He was flying a plane overhead! Pretty cool, but not what I was thinking at the moment. I finally gave up on getting a nap and went to sleep at the normal time.

  I got a reasonable night’s sleep and after a walk with Kathy, Daisy, and Baxter for some beef stick treats, was off to West Des Moines at 6:45 for this month's youth chess tournament with Matt and Chandler the high school kid who helps me set up in return for free entry and a ride. Matt had decided to head down to watch the tournament and meet with Tim McEntee (life master) , Jose Gatica (the candidate master we did the chess camp with last year), and many of the kids who attended the chess camp in July. This month’s tournament was held in a large meeting room instead of the cafeteria so we had to move all the round tables in the room to one side and drag out the long square tables and chairs before we could even get the boards set up. We were running a little behind when Dan Troxell stopped by. Dan had a student playing and was going to play in the parents and friends section. With Dan’s help, we got all caught up and had everything in place when the tournament players started arriving.

  The morning tournament went very smoothly with a nice crowd of 43 players. A lot of players arrived late because they went to the cafeteria on the other side of the facility. Everyone thought the Santa trophies and medals were very cool, if a little odd. I had a lot of time to talk to the players and parents. This is the 3rd month I’ve had the morning-afternoon tournament concept and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. There must have been something special about this tournament because I had a large number of players stick around for the afternoon session after they had only committed to the morning tournament.

  I had another 37 players for the afternoon session, but then things started to go a little squirrelly. During the lunch break a parent who runs a school chess club told me he had big plans for a week-long summer chess camp and a big tournament in March and wanted me to tell ‘my people’. He wasn’t real happy when I told him that I don’t have any ‘people’ and I wasn’t going to be promoting any other tournaments but the ones I was personally involved with. Then when the afternoon tournament started I had the following 4 incidents happen within 5 minutes: 1) One player made a mistake to lose the game and started crying and SLAPPED HIS FACE!! HARD!! 2) Another player made a mistake to lose his queen and shouted ‘D**N’ very loudly…100 feet from a church 3) A player resigned and fired his pen 20 feet into a wall 4) A player got a nosebleed after horsing around. It looked like a disastrous afternoon, but we got the nosebleed stopped, I got the upset players to calm down, and the tournament returned to a fun time for the kids. I think that the Santa trophies were SO cool, the kids went mental when they lost their first game (making it all but impossible to finish in the top 5 and get the trophy).

  The tournament finished without incident. While Matt was going over games with the players, Tim and Jose were giving impromptu chess lessons to the parents, and I was keeping an eye on the games and answering questions the parents had about tie-breaks, pairings, and a host of other questions about organizing and running tournaments.

  Once the tournament was over, it was time to put away the sets and boards, 8 tables, and 64 chairs and then rearrange the round tables the way they were in the beginning. It would have taken forever, but with Matt, Tim, Jose, and Michael (the parent of one of Matt’s students) helping, everything was put away in 15 minutes and we were done by 4.

  I’d need some time to think about it, but it seemed like one of the most successful tournaments I’d ever held. Except for the bout of 'afternoon madness', everyone had a great time and I even made enough money on this tournament ($82) that I’ll be able to offer trophies to the unrated players for next month’s tournament. Jose had to go, but Tim, Matt, Chandler, and I went to the Perkins for a celebratory dinner. I tried to order the ‘Perkins Famous Chicken Noodle Soup’ but they didn’t have any so I had to settle for a grilled cheese sandwich and ‘Tomato Vegetable Soup’. I couldn’t find any vegetables and while the bowl was very wide, it turned out to only be a spoon full deep. I’m not complaining though. I hadn’t gotten to hang out with Tim in a long time and I was the ONLY person in our group to have any silverware.

  I started getting tired on the drive home, but I was smart enough to get a coffee for the trip. By the time I got home, I’d caught my second wind and had the tournament rated, pictures posted, my report written, and my website updated all by midnight, even though there was one last mini crisis with the government changeover that I had to deal with.

  I did last month’s tournament all by myself and had 63 players between the 2 sections (80 this month), but I had so many balls in the air this time I was happy for all the help I could get. I was lucky to have made it through the changeover at work unscathed but I only call that a little lucky because I was as prepared for it as I possibly could be. But to have had as much help setting up and tearing down the playing site was incredible. It's nice to think you can do everything by yourself, but only a fool wouldn't be grateful for all the help I got yesterday.