This past Sunday the NCAA announced the 68 teams that would compete in their Men’s basketball tournament. The tournament is called March Madness for good reason. It’s a magnet for gambling dollars with an estimated 7 BILLION dollars wagered in office pools, not counting the legal and illegal dollars bet in sport books. With so many people with a financial stake in the outcome in addition to the fans of the 68 participating teams, it’s no wonder that last year the NCAA has inked a 11 BILLION dollar 14 year TV deal with CBS and TNT to broadcast the games.
I’ve never won a penny filling out the NCAA brackets, but that didn’t stop me from going temporarily mad and putting down my 10 dollars at the pool where I work. I picked mostly favorites and Missouri to win it all. My reasoning is that since I know next to nothing about college basketball, the only way I can win a pool is to pick a team to win it all that the more knowledgeable contestants wouldn’t and hope to get lucky. The sports radio shows were saying Missouri was too short to play against the taller teams they would see in the tournament but I saw them beat a tall Baylor team to win the Big 12 tournament. The first part of the plan worked since very few other people picked Missouri and that meant I’d have a great chance of cashing if Missouri could win the 6 games required to take the tournament, but Missouri became the first #2 seed to lose in the first round in 10 years on Friday when they got upset by a tall team from Norfolk St. I’m a little embarrassed at being out of the running so quickly, but the ten dollars isn’t an issue since I just got emails notifying me that TWO different rich terminally ill people in foreign countries have chosen me as the beneficiary of their estates and as soon as I send them my bank account information they’ll transfer my millions of dollars to my account.
I had my monthly chess tournament yesterday and since I couldn’t find any trophy tops with a St. Patrick’s Day theme like a hat or a cloverleaf or a leprechaun I had to settle for a themed medal and plain old trophies with kings on them. If I had only thought of it a month ago, I could have had a ‘March Madness’ tournament and given out basketball trophies. I liked the idea of having the tournament on St. Patrick’s Day but not having the tournament at the start of spring break in the Des Moines school district. The date was my own fault since I could have had the 31st, but I agreed to be the Boy Scouts Chess Merit Badge Counselor and that is the day the scouts are supposed to demonstrate their knowledge of chess. I spent a lot of time doing the scouts youth protection training and assembling materials, but I haven’t heard from anyone about it for a month. I suspect that none of the scouts have decided to try for the chess merit badge but no one has bothered to tell me. There's no point in worrying about since it will all be revealed in 2 weeks.
Given the start of spring break and the Des Moines St. Patrick’s Day parade, I wasn’t expecting a great crowd and was pleasantly surprised by 49 kids (13 staying all day) and 13 parents and friends for a total of 62 participants. This is only a small number if I compare it to the last 2 months, but it's right in line with my December and November tournaments. About half of the players from the schools I made contact with last month returned this month, which I found extremely encouraging. Ron Nurmi stopped by to talk chess to some of the parents. Ron is a retired salesman, a civil war buff, and a long time chess player who specializes in correspondence games where the players get 2 or 3 days to decide on their moves. Correspondence chess used to be played via post cards, but now it is mostly done on dedicated chess servers that keep track of the moves and eliminate players with losing positions pretending they never received their move in the mail, hoping their opponent will have a heart attack or die of old age. Ron is part of a group that meets at the West Des Moines Barnes & Noble on Tuesday mornings to play and provide chess instruction to young players. Before the tournament, Ron played a game and gave some pointers to Dalton, who came with Chandler to help me set up in return for a ride to the tournament and free entry. Last month Dalton played in his first tournament with a time limit greater than 10 minutes and got 1 draw in 7 games, but after a half hour with Ron, he won a game and got 2 draws out of 7 games and could have won a couple of more games with a little luck.
The morning tournament started 10 minutes late because many of the parents arrived at the last minute (most blaming heavy traffic), but proceeded fairly uneventfully after that. The afternoon was another story. A parent whose son was playing in the tournament bought a membership for her daughter so she could play in the rated section also. After we took care of that, the mom told me that the daughter was slightly autistic and wanted me to keep an eye on her because she may lose her focus on the game. I told her I would as soon as I got the late arriving players taken care of. The hardest part of the tournaments I run is trying to make sure I have an even number of players in all 3 sections. In the morning, I had the brother of a player at the ready to fill in and used him to even out the unrated section. I had more work to do in the afternoon since I had an odd number of players in all 3 sections but I got around it by getting one of the stronger unrated players a USCF membership and moving him to the rated tournament (evening out the rated and unrated sections) and recruiting a parent to fill out that section. Everyone had just started playing when there was a commotion over by the rated players. I went over to see what was going on and Chandler had fallen for a 4-move checkmate at the hands of a 6 year old and everyone was crowding around to see what happened. Chandler was pretty embarrassed by the whole thing but it was just a case of making opening moves without thinking about them. Once that was over, I was called over to the board where the girl who had autism was playing.
She was picking up her pieces without moving them and then not wanting to move them and her opponent was telling her she had to move the piece as soon as she touched it which was getting her rattled. I’ve had autistic players at tournaments before, but never a player at their first tournament. I hung around the table and pointed out to the girl that if she touched a piece she had to move it, but I also pointed out to her opponent that is she did touch a piece, he shouldn’t tell her she had to move it unless she tried to move another piece. Both players were great sports and the game finished with a handshake. The girl needed less and less attention as the tournament went on and won her third round game (many players at my tournaments that start in the rated sections don't win any games). Chandler took a lot of ribbing from some of the other kids for falling victim to a 4 move checkmate and was getting pretty upset, but after talking to the other parents about it he realized that it happens to everyone and he’ll be a lot more careful in the future.
The tournament finished as normally as any other and I was happy to have avoided a number of messy situations in the afternoon that could have created my own brand of March Madness. With Easter and the Okoboji Open coming up my next youth tournament is 6 weeks away. This will give me some time to figure out the format for my summer tournaments and to finish my web site, which will be complete when I can show my pictures and display games.