Saturday, February 4, 2012

Stuffed for Success

  The Thursday before last, I had the opportunity to eat lunch at the ‘Something Italian’ restaurant in the Des Moines Skywalk with a customer from work. On Thursdays, I get into work an hour early and only have a half hour lunch so I can leave at 3:30 to go to chess club, but a working lunch made It OK to spend an extra half hour eating on a Thursday.

Timeless decoratations in the classic 'Rocky' style.

  Like most restaurants in the Des Moines Skywalk, ‘Something Italian’ was a place I’d never been to, even though it is less than a mile away from work because my lunch is normally the apples and oranges I bring from home. And like most of the skywalk restaurants, it caters to the working class lunch crowd and is only open for weekday lunches, although they also do catering and parties. When I walked in the restaurant it looked like there was a real effort to be ‘Italian’. There were pictures of famous Italians on the walls and a few old pizza signs but what caught my eye was the assortment of Rocky ‘action figures’ on a couple of the shelves. Now, that’s Italian!

  There was a large amount of pizzas, pastas, and sandwiches available. I knew I was going to be playing chess later in the afternoon and didn’t want to get filled up, so I decided on having a ‘Sicilian’ sandwich of Ham, Coppicola, Salami, Pepperoni, and Mozzarella on a roll with some water. The customer (who runs half-marathons in his spare time) had the house special which was a turkey sandwich, also with some water.

On the left is the stomach-friendly turkey sandwich, while the gut-busting supreme 'Sicilian' is on the right.

  I figured the sandwich would be big and I wasn’t disappointed, but as I started to eat it, I was unprepared for how greasy the sandwich was. The cold cuts were heated up on a grill with peppers and were coated with grease and more of the grease ran into the crusty hoagie roll. As I was eating it, I started to feel like one of those hot dog eaters on TV when they look like they’ll vomit if they stuff one more wiener down their throat. I had to take a break from eating for a bit and eventually finished the sandwich, leaving most of the peppers and bread behind. My dining companion fared much better with his turkey sandwich, which wasn’t heated and probably wasn’t very greasy anyway. While I was waiting for my stomach to make room for more greasy cold cuts, I looked around and saw several people with napkins folded up a half-inch thick sopping up grease from their pizza and sandwiches. I’ll give this restaurant 5 stars for atmosphere, but zero stars for their food. Maybe their pasta is better, but I doubt I’ll give myself a chance to find out. It was a sluggish afternoon for me at work, and then I went home to relax for a half hour before chess club. Kathy had made me a salad, but I was too full to even think about eating any food.

  I have no idea what kind of nutrition is best for playing chess, but I’ll bet a gut busting greasy Italian style sandwich isn’t on the top of the list (Here is an article from on the subject). I’ve always preferred to have a light meal like toast and fruit juice before a tournament and yogurt, apples, trail mix, and apple juice during the tournament, but that’s because I’ve always read about apple juice being so easily digestible that there was no blood diverted to the stomach, leaving more blood for the brain to play chess and always brought apple juice for my kids. Most of the younger players seem to have no problem sucking down Mountain Dew or Red Bull during a tournament, while Dave the barefoot chess player brings his own concoction of red caffeinated soda type stuff. I find that too much caffeine gets me so wired up that I can’t play good chess over an extended period of time but a small cup of coffee or 2 is great for our Thursday night hour long tournaments. In the 1978 world championship match between Anatoly Karpov and Victor Korchnoi, challenger Korchnoi accused Karpov of receiving assistance in the form of coded yogurt during the games. Presumably, the color of the yogurt was to convey to the champ what his seconds thought of his position and how he should proceed. I think it is laughable that the champ would take or even want this sort of advice during a game from lesser players, however the match arbiter ruled that Karpov could only have blueberry yogurt unless special permission was granted.

  Our Thursday night chess club has been very poorly attended lately. Scott and Zack have been absent, Jerry has been working, and Jon had some hospital time and has been recuperating at home for the last 2 weeks. Only Joe from Waterloo has been braving the winter weather to come in from out of town (Joe is from Michigan and has been sneering at this year’s Iowa winter). Even Chandler’s brother, Dalton has been missing because he hasn’t been doing his math homework and his parents won’t let him go to club until it’s done. On this Thursday only Joe, Jaleb, Chandler, and me and my grease stuffed belly were at the club at 6pm for the start of our blitz tournament. Since I was the 3rd rated player I got to play Joe. Joe fell into an opening trap and I managed to beat him in a tournament game for the first time in our 6 contests. I was ready to take on Jaleb round 2 when Dalton showed up, having finished his homework, and I resumed my role as house player and sat out the rest of the tournament. Maybe all my thoughts about nutrition and chess have been wrong for 30 years and if I only had been shoveling down pizza, fried chicken, and double bacon cheeseburgers I’d have been a master chess player years ago. Eager to try out this theory, I took Kathy out to lunch on Saturday to Taco Johns and had a Stuffed Grilled Taco with an order of French Fries and a Dr. Pepper. When I got home I played 3 minute chess for a couple of hours and the results were encouraging. You might say I was 'oozing' with confidence. Here is a sampling of my games.

  This past Thursday, I was sorely tempted to walk over to ‘Something Italian’ for another gut-busting, grease-laden, and possibly chess improving Sicilian sandwich but I was so busy trying to get a project done I didn’t have the time. We had the same four players for Blitz and I took on Joe again. I had a good position as White using the Boris and was a pawn up in a Bishop vs. Knight ending but then my grease-deprived body let me down and with less than half a minute on my clock I lost my bishop to Joe’s knight fork, leaving me with this position, 17 seconds, and the move.   If I just play Kg6, I drive away the knight from its defense of the h pawn and with Joe’s king so far away 2 connected passed pawns and the king easily win, but without the proper lubrication, my brain seized and I could only think about trading the last pawn off to secure the draw so I played g4 and g5. I managed to beat Chandler in the next round and was ready to raid the Salvation Army pantry for something greasy to shove down my throat or mainline directly into my bloodstream for my game with Jaleb when Dalton showed up again after finishing his homework.

  It really stung to give away a half a point just because my body wasn’t properly prepared, but at least I have a great idea for a best-selling chess/nutrition book. There are chess books titled ‘Boost Your Chess’, ‘Perfect Your Chess’, ‘Reassess Your Chess’,’Sharpen Your Chess’, ‘Test Your Chess’, ‘Improve Your Chess’; but they’ll have to make way on the shelves for ‘Grease Your Chess: How to Lubricate Your Game!’