Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Revamp the Championship

  The World Chess Championship match was held in Moscow over the past 3 weeks. After the scheduled 12 games, the contestants, Viswanathan Anand from India and Boris Gelfand from Israel (by way of the Soviet Chess machine of the 70’s and 80s) were tied with 1 win each to go along with 10 draws and settled the championship today with 4 games at 25 minutes per player. Anand won the second game, managed to avoid defeat from a lost position in the third game, and won the championship with a draw in the fourth game. If the players were tied after the 4 games, they would have played 5 2 games matches at 5 minutes a side and if they were still tied after each of the 5 matches, the world chess championship would have been be settled in an ‘Armageddon’ game where White has 5 minutes and Black 4 minutes and if the game is drawn, the player of the Black pieces will be the world champion.

  To my mind, this World Championship match has been the dullest of any I can recall. Even the participants seem to be going through the motions of playing, with 7 of the 10 drawn games finishing before move 30. The only real drama in the match came when Gelfand won game 7 to take the lead in the match only to lose the 8th game in less than 20 moves to pull the match back into a tie. Maybe chess has evolved so much that the best players in the world have no way to play for a win after 20 moves but I think both players are so fearful of making a blunder they would rather call it a draw and try to win the next game.

  Since there’s only a World Championship chess match every 2 or 3 years, when it turns into a dramaless affair like this one, I feel like I’ve been cheated since I have to wait 3 more years for the next championship match. When the 1984 Karpov-Kasparov match had 17 straight draws (many of them under 20 moves) after Karpov won 4 of the first 9 games and 14 straight draws with Karpov holding a 5-1 advantage, at least there were the first 4 Karpov victories in the beginning of the match; the 2 Kasparov victories at the end of the match and the drama of the cancellation of the match by FIDE president Campomanes. The 14-game 2004 Kramnik-Leko had 10 draws, but Leko had a 1 game lead for the last 6 games and the struggles of Kramnik to tie the match and keep his championship supplied the necessary drama.

  FIDE, the world governing chess organization has had the opportunity to try many different formats for determining the World Championship in the period 1992 to 2006, when Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik took personal ownership of the Championship and determined their challengers until it was restored to FIDE control in 2006. The current 3 year cycle of qualifying tournaments, candidate matches, and finally the World Championship match is the traditional method of determining the title holder, but there were also knockout matches in 1999 (won by Alexander Khalifman) 2004 (won by Rustam Kasimdzhanov), and 2 World Championship tournaments in 2005 (won by Veselin Topalov) and 2007 (won by Anand).

  Just as the 24 game matches of yesteryear were deemed too slow for the modern age and were replaced by 12 and 14 game championship matches, this current 3 year cycle is far too slow in the 21st century and doesn’t capture the imagination of the chess playing public. It would help if the combatants didn’t like each other like Kramnik - Topalov, Kasparov - Karpov, or Karpov - Korchnoi but even if Anand and Gelfand were mortal enemies and played the most amazing games ever seen, we’d still have to wait 3 more years for a possible rematch.

  I’d like to see the championship have a possibility of changing hands every year, but a yearly match wouldn’t leave enough time for the contestants to play in many other events. The 64 to 128 player knockout tournaments are highly entertaining and my favorite international tournament, but are too prone to upsets to properly select a champion. A double round robin championship tournament of 8 to 12 players every year to select a champion would be a tremendous boost to chess in general and FIDE in particular.

  The 2 championship tournaments in 2005 and 2007 were both 8 player tournaments where each contestant played each other twice in a total of 14 games over 3 weeks. Both tournaments had around two thirds of the games drawn, but most rounds had at least one decisive result and with 4 games going on, the audience always had other games to watch if 2 of the players decided to make a quick 20 move draw. A yearly tournament inviting the top players would allow for the possibility of a new champion every year and likely prevent any year’s champion from claiming the championship as his or her personal property and opting out of the FIDE world championship cycle. FIDE could invite players in rating order by a specified cutoff date and tournament approaching the date would garner increased interest much as NASCAR’s Chase for the Cup where the 12 point leaders compete over the last 10 races for the championship.

  The chess purists would hate this plan since the tradition of a string of World Champions going back to the 1800’s won almost exclusively by match play would end, but I say an entirely new set of traditions would be born from the change. Instead of champions being measured by how many years they held the title, they would be measured by how many times they won the championship. In a generation’s time chess fans would be able to judge the players of today by how many times they made the championship tournament and a player winning 2 or more consecutive championships would take on historical legendary status.

  Even though the winners of the 2005 and 2007 championship tournaments were well in control from halfway through the tournament to the end, there was still plenty of fighting chess over the final rounds as the other players would try to improve their place even as the leaders ‘drew’ their way to the finish line, as opposed to this year's match, when there was nothing to watch after yet another short draw. The 2012 World Championship match was run at the same time as the US Chess Championship, which was a 12 player tournament round robin which showed how captivating a championship tournament can be. The two top seeds, American product Hikaru Nakamura and Russian √©migr√© Gata Kamsky were expected to battle for the championship and both players were battling to rack up wins against the rest of the field prior to their matchup in the next to last round. In their game, Kamsky had the White pieces and a half point, which forced Nakamura to go for a win at all costs. Nakamura won the game in fine fashion and took a half point lead in the championship which he clinched when he won his final round game. If you think a yearly tournament for the US Championship is the norm, it wasn’t always. From 1889 to 1935 the US Chess Champion was exclusively decided by match play and even into the 1940’s would occasionally be contested in a match. The championship tournaments started in the 1940s and by the 1960’s was considered the only way to determine a champion. If FIDE would crown their champion in a yearly tournament, in 10 or 20 years it also would be seen as the only way to pick a champion.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

School's Out

  Friday was the last day for the St. Francis Chess Club for this school year. There were 32 meetings and I was there for all 32. This is the second year in a row I had ‘perfect attendance’. I was very fortunate that the weather cooperated in letting me get to club throughout the winter in light of the 63 mile drive. There was only one day that I had to drive in the snow to get to class and none where ice was a factor. I’ve driven back and forth from Marshalltown to Des Moines to work for 16 of the past 18 years and when the road between the two towns was one lane in each direction, driving in the snow and ice was pretty scary, but once they made the highway 2 lanes in each direction it is a lot easier to drive because there is no oncoming traffic to worry about sliding into me (and me into them) and since there is 2 lanes I can go as slow as I feel like going because there is a passing lane for the more adventuresome drivers.

My co-coach Chris is fantastic with kids and shares my view that chess is great for them!

  I enjoyed teaching the kids this year. They had a lot of enthusiasm for chess and were very well behaved. I only had to raise my voice twice all year and that is when somebody broke the only rule I have which is to not keep anyone else from playing chess. Most of the time I just kept everyone focused with humor. Once 8 children were playing with their Rubik’s Cubes and I just went over to them and told them it was Chess Club and not Rubik’s Cube Club and that I was sure the Rubik’s Cube Club wouldn’t like it if they started playing chess during their meetings. I got a lot of giggles and a few off looks but I also got the Cubes put away without any trouble.

  Kathy taught my sons chess and I’ve never had any formal training as a teacher so I just tried to use my experiences to guide me in teaching chess and my experience with my kids and at the Salvation Army tells me that the best thing I can do is to get young people to enjoy playing chess and not worry about winning and losing. Then the players who just want to play for fun will be able to play without being bored by openings, pawn structures, opposite colored bishops, etc… and I can show the players who have a desire to get better and play in tournaments how to improve their game without also having to keep the attention of the casual players. If I was charging the parents for their children to attend the club I may have tried to move toward more structured lessons, but since I didn’t charge I saw no reason to force the issue.

  I used the F.O. Armbruster pamphlet as a guide to quickly teach the new players and bribed the club with pins to learn how to win with a queen and king against a king, and a pawn and king against a king, but other than that I just had the kids play in a ladder tournament or casual games and let them show me if they were serious about getting better. I strongly believe the best thing a beginning player can do to get better at chess is to play one game a day at a slow time limit and replay it and find their good and bad moves. This led me to making a rule in February that the players had to write down their games. When we had 3 weeks off in March they got lazy in writing the games down and I got lazy in enforcing the rule, but some players still wrote down the games and I put all the games I had (including my own) into the Internet with my comments. What I found from reviewing the games was that most of the players like to only play with one or two pieces and that they hang pieces and don’t take pieces their opponents leave hanging. These will be 2 of the themes in the summer chess camp and I was able to touch on these points in my games with the club members to show how easy chess can be when one side is playing with 6 pieces and their opponent is only using 2.

  For our last meeting, I thought of bringing treats and juice, but a month ago we had a wellness lunch at work where a nutritionist talked about how much sugar there is in everything we eat. As an example, he showed us the food that a health conscious person would eat in a morning. There was a bowl of Cheerios, a pint of OJ, a Special K snack bar, and a bottle of Vitamin Water. The nutritionist told us how much sugar was in each of these items and as he did so, he took out a baggie full of that amount of sugar and poured in a jar. When he was done, he had a jar full of sugar. I thought I was eating healthy by drinking a big glass of cranberry juice in the morning, 2 bottles of Lipton green tea at work, and a liter of Lipton Iced Tea on the way home but the demonstration got me to look at the sugar content and I was having nearly a pound of sugar a day! I swapped out the cranberry juice for tomato juice and water with a half a lemon for the green and ice tea and I lost over 10 pounds in a month. This convinced me to not bring in treats and snacks for the last club meeting, but when my co-coach Chris came to club with his son, he brought 5 dozen Krispy Kremes and Sunny D and Lemonade!

Left and Right: "mmm Donuts" - Homer Simpson
Center: If a player pulls off a slick checkmate, I snap a picture of it and email it to them.

  Chris was a real blessing to have as my co-coach this year. He is great with kids and is very in tune to how they think since he is also active in the Cub Scouts and Little League, so if he thought it was a good idea to bring in treats for the last meeting I’d have to say he’s more right than me. I didn’t notice any of the kids bouncing around all sugared up and that proved it to me and I’ll have to think harder on how to mix in snacks next year. We had a great last day of club playing chess and everything is now all put away for this school year. I got a few letters and gift cards from the kids and their parents which I appreciated. The gift cards will come and go, but the letters from the kids telling me how much fun they had at club and how much they enjoy chess now will last me a lifetime.

  I don’t push the club members to come to my tournaments since that would go against my core goal of getting them to enjoy chess but I do let them know about the tournaments. I had about 20 of the 58 different club members try their hands at my Saturday youth tournaments. Some only played in the free National Chess Day tournament and some didn’t have the results they expected and didn’t come to another tournament and one even stopped coming to club. That was disappointing, but the top 3 players in the club all placed in the top 5 in the rated tournaments at some point and 4 of the very young players more than held their own in the unrated section. The club members really shone in the Catholic School tournaments, where they won 2 K-6 and 1 K-4 team titles. All these kids have a host of other activities in addition to chess and my goal is to get them to be able to enjoy chess and have a proper foundation of chess knowledge to build on if they decide to take the game up again later, but part of me takes a lot of satisfaction when I see them have success in tournament play.

  It wasn’t always easy dragging myself out of the house at 5:30 to get to St. Francis by 6:45 and spending an hour setting up and taking down the tables, sets, boards, etc. but it was almost always the best part of my week. I’ve already signed to lead next year’s club and I’m already looking forward to September!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

CyChess 49 - Part 3 of 3

The final round! (Picture courtesy of
Dave the barefoot Chess Player)

John Herr
  I headed into the 3rd and final round of the May 13th CyChess tournament in the unfamiliar position of being the sole leader with the only 2-0 score. There were 4 players a half point behind: Jaleb, who was taking on my second round opponent, Milind Jetty; Will Polzin and Tim Harder, who were going to play each other; and the top seed John Herr who would be my opponent this round. I played John once before in the final round of a Des Moines tournament in 2008. I had the White pieces and had a decent position with a Queen, Knight, and 6 pawns vs. John’s Queen, Bishop, and 6 pawns when I sloppily lost my knight to a queen fork. I had taken Jaleb and Aaron Anderson and Andrew Smith (2 members of Marshalltown’s 2005 co-championship High School team) to the tournament and was asked all the way home “How could you lose to HER?”. I’m not making fun of John’s name - I’m just saying what happened.

  John is a doctoral student in Mathematics at Iowa State University by way of Nebraska and was easily the best dressed player in the tournament with a white dress shirt and tie, the same garb as he wore to the March CyChess. I knew one player who always dressed in a suit, tie, and wide brimmed hat for tournaments and so I asked John why he was wearing a tie. He said he was one of those ‘silly religious people who dressed up for church’. I mentioned that I had also gone to church that morning and otherwise I’d be wearing a T-shirt, but the knit shirt I was wearing was just fine at St Mary.

  My strategy going into the game was very simple. A win would be great and I wasn’t going to shy away from any tactical adventures, but a draw at any point was acceptable as long as I didn’t have a stone cold win. I had won the 33rd CyChess in May of 2008 (Kushan Tyagi and I had 3-0 scores) and to date it was the only tournament I’ve ever won in Iowa (not counting our weekly Marshalltown speed chess tournaments). I came very close to tying for first in May and December CyChess’s in 2010, but I always felt my win all those years ago was a fluke until I won a second time and I didn’t care if I shared first place with 2 or 3 other people as long as I could say I was a winner. At the same time, I also knew that any draw offer on my part would have to come from a superior position where not accepting would entail serious losing chances since John would clinch a tie for first place with a win.

pgn4web chessboard courtesy of
  When I made the aesthetically pleasing and very menacing looking Qc2 move, I offered John a draw and after a couple of minutes he accepted. Even though John was only half my age and not a fifth of my age like my round 2 opponent he’s probably still too young to have known he was heeding the advice put forth by the Carole King in her treatise on human relations ‘Smackwater Jack’ when she sang “You can’t talk to a man with a shotgun in his hand.” I think Qc2 gives the visual impression of a double barrelled shotgun aimed at h7 and c6. At the time it didn’t register to me that after Nd7 23.Qh7+ Kf8 24. Bh7 Ke7 I could win the g7 pawn with my queen or I may have not have made the offer, but I was happy to secure a tie for first place and be the leader in the clubhouse.

Waiting for the last game to finish!
  Almost as soon as my game finished, Jaleb took a draw with Milind to secure his class prize money and an undefeated day with his win and 2 draws in a near 180 degree turnaround from the March CyChess. I had planned on leaving right away after the tournament, but talked Jaleb into hanging around so I could see if I would be the sole winner or co-winner with the victor of the Will Polzin – Tim Harder matchup, which was the last game in progress. I was in the last game to finish in the second round and there is something about the last game of a round that draws the other players over like a magnet. I dislike being stared at while I’m playing and try to avoid staring at the last game of a round, but I will admit to taking a gander at this last game once or twice. I spent most of my time hanging outside talking to Jaleb and Roger and after 20 minutes Will won the game to be my CyChess co-champion. I collected my $14.50 share of the first place prize from Roger, talked to some of the other players for a few minutes and left. Roger was by his car talking to Robert and he had Cypher with him. Cypher is Roger’s Boston Terrier and an occasional visitor to the Marshalltown Chess Club. I gave Cypher a pet or 2, got on the road, dropped Jaleb off and was hanging out with my own dogs, Daisy and Baxter, by 7pm.

  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Roger’s CyChess tournaments are the perfect tournament for me. They occur on Sunday and never interfere with my youth tournaments; are done in 5 hours so I’m not involved in 10 or 12 hour marathons where my eyes start to bleed from playing morning, noon and night; and the $5 dollar entry fee ($3 for Cyclone Chess Club members) is by far the most affordable adult tournament in the state. The CyChess tournaments are a great service for the area college kids and adult players who want to play competitive chess but may not have the budget for some of the more expensive tournaments around.

  A week and a half later, I’m still feeling pretty good about my CyChess co-championship. I played really well, especially considering that less than 72 hours before I couldn't hold on to my queen. People who win tournaments all the time probably think I'm being silly, but I've been a winner so few times in anything that I'm thrilled to win and don't find it old hat at all. Was I lucky there were only 10 players there? Sure! Was I very lucky to have won my 2nd round game against Milind? Of course! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tournament where the eventual winner didn’t benefit from their opponent’s mistakes and in most of the ones I’ve run, the winner had a dead drawn or even a dead lost game at least once but wriggled off the hook to get a win. The thing I'm taking away from this tournament is that I only made one big mistake in 120 or so moves, took advantage of all my tactical shots and even though I've turned the corner on 51 and am barreling towards 52 years of age, I’m playing very close to my best chess and still have room for improvement.

Happy memories of Cychess 49: (left) Co-Champions Will Polzin & myself
(center) Collecting my prize winnings from Roger
(right) Bidding Roger and Cypher goodbye until our next meeting!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

CyChess 49 - Part 2 of 3

CyChess 49 - Round 2 (picture courtesy of Dave the Barefoot Chess Player)

  In the second round of the May 13th CyChess tournament I had the black pieces against Milind Jetty. I had received an email from his father Siva last month telling me they were moving to Iowa from Arizona and wanted information about chess tournaments in the area. I gave him the IASCA web site address and the email address of a local tournament organizer. While I was talking to Roger Gotschall before the tournament, someone said to me ‘Hank Anzis’? I turned around and was facing someone I’d never seen before. It was Siva Jetty. He recognized me from the picture that gets sent with my emails. I didn’t realize my emails sent a picture! Siva introduced me to his wife and children and we talked about chess for a bit. Siva’s 2 sons have been playing for 3 years but have only gotten serious about it in the past year. A quick look at the USCF web site shows that Milind has gained 400 rating points in the past 12 months to his current level of 1515, which will put him in the upper echelon of Iowa K-6 chess players. It made me a little homesick for the days when I’d be bringing my kids to chess tournaments and they would be the wunderkinden of Iowa Chess.

  As I mentioned last time, Milind beat Dave the Barefoot Chess Player in the first round in a 200 point upset. They were playing at the next table over and I remember Milind offering Dave a draw and Dave saying no because he thought he had winning chances. I thought Dave had won and was surprised to find out he lost in the endgame when Milind managed to queen a pawn and win.

  Playing kids is rough for some adult chess players, but not for me since I’ve been playing my sons since they were 5. I never let them win but Ben beat me for the first time when he was 5 and Matt started beating me when he was 8 and I know that they liked nothing better than to play and win against adults and I learned to never mind beating them in a tournament or club game. I think a lot of adults don’t like to play kids because they think they‘ll hurt the child’s feelings if they win and be humiliated if they lose to a kid. When some of the other adults mention how they feel like they’re beating up on kids when they play them, I wheel out one of my favorite chess phrases: “There’s only one thing worse than beating a little kid. Losing to a little kid.” There’s no humiliation in losing to a better player of any age in my mind, but when worrying about hurting a young chess players feelings, it’s important to realize that behind that cute, innocent, cherubic face sitting across the 64 square battleground lurks the heart of an assassin! If you’re worried about hurting a child’s feelings by winning the chess game, promise yourself you’ll be extra nice after you win and get on with it.

5th grader Milind Jetty
  A few years ago I was going to write a book to help chess parents compete more effectively against children over the board. I never got around to writing the book, but I still have the outline. My main tenets for playing against children are a) Don’t let them attack because that’s likely what they’re best at, b) Use a lot of time and try to project an attitude of infinite patience because children tend to get fidgety and impatient waiting for their opponent to move, and c) An adult is more likely to outplay the child in the endgame because children tend to win their games with attacks, not endings and will not have the adult’s endgame experience. I tried to put these ideas into practice against Milind, but was a little perturbed knowing he beat Dave in the ending. Milind wasn’t fidgety at all, took more time than I did, and would look right in my eyes when it was my turn to move. This caused me to pull the lid of my baseball cap down way low so I wouldn’t see him looking at me and also to keep him from seeing what part of the board I was looking at. I noticed he would forget to write down the moves from time to time and then when he would remember would pick up right where he left off on the scoresheet without filling in the missing moves. This may have been a sign of nervousness or possibly because he had a scorebook and Roger wanted everyone to use his carbon copy scoresheets, give him a copy, and then use the original as a guide to transcribe the moves into scorebooks, large scoresheeets, etc... after the game. I would have liked to have done this at the Okoboji Open so I’d have a record of all the games, but I didn’t want get the players out of their comfort zone. It’s all a matter of taste.

pgn4web chessboard courtesy of
  This was a very lucky win. First I was lucky I didn’t get crushed after my poor 17th move Qf6 and then I was lucky that Milind misplayed the ending with the ill-advised 37. g5. I hope I remember this game the next time I lose because I fail to take my opponent’s hanging queen or hang one of my own or crash and burn in an ending, but in short time I’m sure the only thing I’ll likely remember was all my ‘brilliant psychomological preparation’ and also taking most of my remaining time to be sure of the only winning move 38…a5.

  Milind made quite a favorable impression on me. His conduct at the board was impeccable, he showed a lot of patience and maturity in his play, and while he wasn’t happy about losing he didn’t seem inordinately upset either. Since our game was the last to finish, I only had a few minutes to talk to him and his parents afterwards and forgot to ask why he rejected my draw offer. In theory, the bishop should be slightly better than the knight with pawns on both sides of the boards so perhaps he thought he could outplay me or perhaps he thought my offer meant that I believed I was losing the game, or perhaps after outplaying Dave in the ending in the first game he though us older Iowa players to be poor endgame players. Or maybe he just didn’t hear me.

  Tim Harder drew top seed John Herr in the other matchup of round 1 winners, which left me with the only 2-0 score. Tim, John, Will Polzin, and Jaleb (having won against Bill Broich) were half point behind. I would have White against Herr in the final round with the knowledge that a draw would get me at least a piece of first place.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

CyChess 49 - Part 1 of 3

CyChess 49 in Ames, Iowa
  As part of my New Year’s resolution to play in 6 chess tournaments with time controls slower than speed chess limits, I had planned for some time to play in the CyChess tournament in Ames this past Sunday. I played in the March edition and will play in the 2 that tournament organizer and Ames chess legend Roger Gotschall holds in the fall. Those 4, along with a trip to Jackson, Minnesota for Sam Smith’s Jackson Open in August and another trip to Minneapolis in July will help me meet my resolution.

  Going into the March Cychess, I felt I was playing great but had a poor result of 2 draws and a loss. I hadn’t changed any of my chess training and was still doing 20 puzzles from Tim Brennan’s Tactics Time database daily (10 in the morning and 10 at night) along with 10 minutes of work on my Tactics Trainer IPod app every lunchtime. I think I’ve been finding more tactics in my chess but my 3 and 5 minute ratings on the Internet Chess club have been limping along at their lowest levels in years. At Thursday’s club meeting, Jaleb and 2012 Iowa Class B champion Joe Meyer (aka Joe from Waterloo) took turns playing me and taking my queen when I left it hanging for free in 3 of my 6 games.

  With my confidence nearing an all-time low, I headed to St. Francis to teach chess on Friday morning. Our yearlong ladder tournament was finishing this week and ever since I told the kids that anyone who could beat me would go to the top of the ladder, they have been lining up to challenge me for the last month. My first challenger on Friday was 8 year old Will who has beaten a top high school player from Southeast Polk High School in my last 2 youth tournaments. I quickly won a rook for a knight, but then as I was happily espousing the benefits of superior development with the other players and my co-coach Chris, I managed to drop my queen for the 4th time in 12 hours!

pgn4web chessboard courtesy of
  Luckily for me Will kept playing with only his Queen instead of bringing his full army to bear, but my confidence slipped to still further depths. I played a few speed chess games on the Internet Saturday and was pretty awful but after I won 3 games in a row, I stopped playing chess until Sunday’s tournament with my only chess activity being to watch the coverage of the U.S. Chess Championships in St. Louis. Millionaire Rex Sinquefield and his Chess Club of St. Louis is hosting the tournament and along with a $160,000 prize fund is sparing no expense to put on a top-notch event. The coverage from the club is incredible (check it out here!) with running commentary, web cams showing the players live, and interviews with the combatants after the games. Just watching the excellent coverage put me in a chess playing mood!

  I got a good night’s sleep on Saturday and woke up as usual to go with Kathy on a 5am walk with Baxter and Daisy to the Jiffy for some beef stick treats. I know it was Mother’s Day, but Kathy understands my chess ‘jones’ and after all, it wasn’t like I was leaving her to play in a tournament on her birthday like I did 2 Decembers ago. After we got back at 6, I took a nap, watched Joel Osteen’s weekly show and took another nap before going to Mass with Ben. Then I took one more nap, packed a bag with some apples and oranges, picked up Jaleb at 11:40 and was in Ames around 12:30 to register for the tournament. Including this tournament, Jaleb has come with me to 6 Cychess tournaments dating back to his freshman year in 2008 and had gained at least 50 rating points in each of his first 4 until going 0-3 in March so he had redemption on his mind this day while I was hoping to maybe stop giving away my queen…maybe.

  Unlike March when I was ranked 9th out of 16 players and had to play the top seed with black, this time I was ranked 3rd out of 10 players and got the White pieces. Strict adherence to the pairing order would have had me playing 8th seed Jaleb but Roger did us a solid and juggled the pairings so we wouldn't have to play in the first round, hopefully saving our matchup for the final round with money on the line like the December 2010 CyChess.

Robert Vance - 2012 Iowa Class D Champion!
  My first round opponent was Robert Vance. Robert is a truck driver and a Des Moines chess teacher and volunteer who I first met when he was directing some of Matt and Ben’s scholastic tournaments in 2002 and I wrote about meeting up with him at Zanzibar’s last year. I played Robert to a draw as Black in 2005 in the Iowa Class C Championships and beat him in a game/15 matchup in Pioneer Park last summer with White. Robert is a very aggressive player who loves to attack and was likely to be in top form after winning the Iowa Class D Championship 2 weeks ago in a 4-0 sweep so I knew I’d be in for a tough struggle even though I outrate Robert by 200 points. Garry Kasparov once said that when he wasn’t feeling confident he just made the moves he would make if he was confident and I tried to take that attitude with me.

pgn4web chessboard courtesy of
  I’m very pleased looking back at this game a few days later. I didn’t hang my queen, made no obvious blunders, and was able to simplify after Robert gave me the exchange to start his attack. I’m sure stronger players would have seen there was no danger in placing my queen away from my king’s defense in order to snatch a pawn or 2, but I felt then and I feel now that after getting the rook for a knight and pawn ahead the only way I was going to lose the game was a) to give Robert a position where he was attacking and b) make a mistake to let him take the victory. It made sense to me to try to stop his attack before it got started and since I had a small material advantage I didn’t need more earthly riches but rather to trade queens and get better spots for my rooks so I could win more material later on. If Robert had a passed pawn or some other endgame trump, I may have needed to try to grab the pawns to get a passed pawn for myself, but I had everything pretty much under control.

  Robert was the 4th 2012 Iowa Champion I played chess against this month. On the 3rd I played Class C champion Matt Kriegel in our weekly Marshalltown Blitz tournament, I played bughouse with 2012 Iowa chess champion Jose Gatica on the 5th, matched wits in some offhand games with Class B champion Joe Meyer in Marshalltown on the 10th, and now Class D champion Vance on the 13th. Talk about a murderer’s row! In the other CyChess games, top seed John Herr won his game, but second seed Dave the Barefoot Chess Player was upset by a 5th grader who was playing in his first Iowa tournament since moving here with his family from Arizona last month. Jaleb drew Will Polzin (the 4th seed) and 5th seed Tim Harder won so after the first round there were 4 players at 1-0 and we would play each other in round 2.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Movie Review - The Avengers

  The Avengers is the latest Marvel Super Hero movie and mixes the wildly popular Iron Man character with heroes from the less than stellar box office movies Thor, The Hulk and Captain America. The heroes are brought together along with SHIELD agents Black Widow and Hawkeye by Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD to fight the threat of the Thor’s evil half-brother Loki who has stolen the all-powerful Cosmic Cube (called the Tesseract in the movie) and is planning to give it to the alien Chitauri race in return for their help in conquering the Earth for Loki to rule.

  I went to see the movie last Friday night with Ben and the show we went to was in 3-D. I’ve never seen a 3-D movie before. I liked the way everything stood out and the uncomfortableness of the glasses faded away after a short time, but I didn’t consider it a must have experience worth the extra $4 dollars. The theatre was about half full, which I found surprising given the box-office numbers the film has racked up.

  Since all the super-heroes except Hawkeye had been in other Marvel movies before, the obligatory origin story was dispensed with and the movie starts with a grand display of the scientific capabilities of SHIELD, Loki activating the Cosmic Cube to teleport himself from Asgard to Earth, controlling the minds of Hawkeye and Thor scientist Erik Selvig, and the movie is off to the races.

  All the main characters from the other movies were available except Edward Norton, who was an excellent Bruce Banner in the last Hulk movie. Banner was portrayed in this movie by Mark Ruffalo, who played Banner in an edgy, cynical, almost psychotic vein who almost welcomes becoming the Hulk and wreaking the havoc and mayhem that only the Hulk can. Thor and Captain America are the same emotionless stiffs they were in last year’s movies, leaving Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow to carry most of the dialog.

  The star of the move is Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. In the comic’s Loki’s nickname is ‘The Deceiver’ and Hiddleston plays the deceitful Loki to the hilt. Loki is always smiling, even when he is captured by Iron Man and Captain America and deposited in a Hulk-proofed cage aboard the incredible SHEILD heli-carrier. Of course, Loki has planned it out in advance to use his asgardian scepter to signal his minions to the location of the invisible and untraceable helicarrier and get the superheroes arguing amongst themselves. His minions sabotage the heli-carrier and cause it to plummet to the earth, which causes Banner to change to the Hulk and further damage the heli-carrier while Loki tricks Thor to changing places with him in the Hulk-proof cage and ejects the hulk-proof cage and Thor to the earth.

  The superheroes joke with each other, fight with each other, and ultimately come to respect each other as they battle among themselves and the incredible New York invasion of the Chitauri. The special effects and action scenes in the Avengers are several cuts above all the other Marvel movies. The dozens of flying space ‘sea creatures’ flying into, though, and around New York City while hundreds of Chitauri warriors on their sky cycles sailing through the Cosmic Cube powered inter-dimensional portal was a great half hour of non-stop action.

  The Avengers movie was a lot like the comic book. Since almost all of the heroes have their own comic books (and movies), there can’t be a lot of character development except for the minor characters like the Black Widow and Hawkeye and Nick Fury that frankly not enough people care that much about anyway or else they would have their own movies or comics. This leaves the main characters to either fight among each other or make cute wisecracks. The audience at the movie loved the super hero jokes, but I found them kind of stupid. I enjoyed watching Thor and Iron Man and the Hulk fighting each other and the scene at the end where the Hulk gives Loki a beatdown was very cool. The Hulk seemed miscast fighting for a superhero team. Since he is such a mindless brute how does he really know who the bad guys are? There was one gratuitous scene where the Hulk and Thor are teaming up to fight a mob of Chitauri warriors, but then after their foes are vanquished, the Hulk smacks Thor into next week and I’m not sure why he wouldn’t be doing that during the battle.

  Like most of the comic book super hero movies, the Avengers is great to see if you like the comic books and if you don’t it’s a great action and science fiction film that can be rented in a couple of months. Judging from the end of the movie, the Avengers sequel will feature Thanos the Destroyer, one of the all-time great marvel villains. I’m hoping that Thanos’s appearance will mean the debut on the big screen of his long time nemesis and one of my favorite Marvel characters, Adam Warlock.

  In addition to the movie, I got to see previes for the summers other 2 big comic book movies, 'The Amazing Spider Man' and 'The Dark Knight Rises' featuring Batman. I couldn’t tell from the Batman preview what exactly is going on except for bridges and football fields collapsing. I’m sure the Catwoman will be as iconic as always and Bane is a welcome choice for the villain instead of oddities like the Penguin and the Riddler. This is the last of the ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy by Christopher Nolan and he did a great job of capturing the dark side of Gotham City and the Batman. It looks like the new SpiderMan is going to retell the origin in a new way, focusing in Peter Parker’s parents as scientists (or spies). The Lizard looks fantastic and I like the idea of bringing in Gwen Stacy and her police captain father into the mix as Parkers girlfriend. The relationship between Peter Parker, Spiderman, Capt. Stacy, and Gwen Stacy was the focal point of the late 60’s/early 70’s Spiderman comics and was left out of the Toby Maguire Spiderman movies to focus on Mary Jane Watson. I hope there isn’t too much time spent on the origin, but the darker Spiderman along with the very dark Dark Knight Batman looks to make for a great movie summer.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Going to the Dogs

Dear Gov. Romney, please note that the proper place for a dog is inside the car.
Yours Truly,
Baxter (Beagle) Anzis

  I knew that Mitt Romney was going to be the Republican nominee some time ago but it became official last week when right in the middle of my viewing an episode of Law & Order that I’d only seen a few dozen times (the one where Detective Lenny Briscoe makes a lot of wisecracks – maybe you saw it?), I saw an advertisement telling me about all the jobs President Obama had created with his Energy program and all the jobs that Mitt Romney had exported overseas.

  I haven’t seen any Romney commercials attacking President Obama yet, but the multi-millionaire has already spent a lot of money getting the nomination and needs to recharge his checkbook before he gets after Obama in earnest. He is playing out his attack themes in his stump speeches and fundraising dinners to see which ones resonate before committing to running specific ads.

  I still find it hard to believe that the semi-liberal Mormon Romney has been chosen by the party of conservatism, but it really doesn’t matter because the only candidate that can beat Obama this year is the President himself. If the economy doesn’t go in the dumpster, he wins and if gas goes to $4 or $5 (I don’t know the exact number, but I know there is a price point on voter unrest) a gallon, he loses. Unless Ron Paul is running as an independent, I’ll probably vote for my friend Lee Gordon Seebach for President, not only to keep my string of never having voted for a major party candidate for president intact, but because Lee would make a great president. Every 4 years, people tell me I’m wasting my vote when I vote for someone who probably won’t win, but I could make the case that voting for the lesser of two evils or voting for 1 of 2 Harvard-bred millionaires and thinking there is a real choice involved is the wasted vote.

  The big winner in any election year is of course the people who own the means of advertising: TV and radio stations, newspapers, Google and other internet advertisers. Since we the people are not allowed to sell our votes directly to the candidates as one would expect in a capitalist society, the candidates, political parties, and super Political Action Committees have to spend billions of dollars in the media to try to influence our vote instead of just paying for them directly.

  I thought that with a shaky economy, an ongoing war in Afghanistan and 50,000 troops still in Iraq, and ongoing debates over health care reform, gay marriage, and abortion ‘rights’ the candidates and their spokespeople would be engaging in substantive debate. Piqued by the Obama ad I saw on Law & Order, I checked the news on the internet to see what other areas of public policy would be hotly debated, but instead I saw the main topic of contention was a Romney family vacation almost 30 years ago.

  In 1983, the Romney’s drove to Canada and took their Irish Setter with them. Nothing unusual there, but instead of having the dog in a crate in the car or just in the back seat looking out the window, the Romney’s dog (Seamus) was in a crate strapped to the top of the roof of the car. The dog had diarrhea halfway into the trip and the Romney’s had to interrupt their drive for a clean-up. These facts aren’t in dispute. The main point of contention is whether the Romney’s had mistreated their dog and whether the diarrhea was an act of a terrified animal (as Romney’s detractors claim) or whether Seamus enjoyed riding in his rooftop carrier and his gastric indiscretion was caused by eating some turkey off the kitchen counter as Ann Romney has stated in her family’s defense. This story has been floating around for years but has gained new life in the past month by being singled out for some humor by President Obama 2 weeks ago at the White House Correspondents Dinner. It seems to me that a dog belongs in the car and not on top of it, but since the dog carrier had a windshield, maybe it’s common practice to put your dog on the roof, just like there are plenty of dogs riding around in the back of pickup trucks. I think had the Romney’s known they would have been running for President 30 years in the future, they would have just brought the dog along in a limo.

Dear President Obama, In case you didn't know take it from me:
beef is much better tasting than dog (especially beagles). I've tasted both.
Good luck in the election,
Daisy (Beagle) Anzis

  Stung by their candidate being painted as cruel to animals, the Romney campaign and conservatives everywhere have tried to refocus the issue at the President by quoting his book “Dreams From My Father” in which the President talks about how he ate dog meat as a youngster. There are plenty of jokes going around about this topic but I think Blogger Jim Treacher had the best line "Say what you want about Romney, but at least he only put a dog on the roof of his car, not the roof of his mouth". It needs to be noted Obama sampled dog meat as a child in Indonesia and it does not seem to have been a family staple growing up. I do wonder if the dog meat came from a can or ‘off the bone’. I never really gave much thought to the little kid at the end of the movie Hannibal who got to sample some of Ray Liotta’s grey matter before, but for some reason that thought suddenly popped into my head.

  The dog invectives has been a lot of fun to read and you can get a good feel for how someone leans politically by which story disgusts them or which one they retweet or repost. Just like the Democrats saying in 2012 that the President has little effect on the price of gasoline when in 2008 they were saying President Bush needed to get the price of gasoline lower and the Republicans saying in 2012 that President Obama needs to get the price of gasoline lower when in 2008 they were saying the President has little effect on the price of gasoline, facts have a way of molding themselves to the opinions of the ones using them. If news were to leak of Romney eating a bowl of dog meat on a mission trip and Bo the Presidential Dog taking a ride on the top of the Presidential Limo, the same Republicans who are disgusted by a dog meat meal would praise Romney for ‘making do’ or ‘assimilating the local culture’, while the Democrats who think having a dog on top of a car is animal cruelty would have their own epiphany and realize that it’s OK for the dog to have ‘a view from the top’.

  Aside from giving me something to write about, I was happy to see the ‘dog wars’ break out in the media the past 2 weeks. When the biggest debate going for the President of the United States is whether it is more inhumane to eat some dog meat or have a dog riding in a carrier on top of a car for a vacation trip, I can only conclude that everything else in the country is 100% A-OK and that the economy is restored, jobs are plentiful, we all have top-notch healthcare, and world peace has been achieved. What a country!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

In a Heartbeat

  On Thursday afternoon, Yankee closer and all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera was shagging fly balls in the outfield with the rest of the pitchers as he’s done for the last 15 years and he ran towards the warning track to run down a fly ball. In the time it took Rivera to land after taking his first step on the warning track, his foot got caught between where the outfield grass met the warning track dirt and his season was over with ligament and cartilage damage in his now shredded right knee. In the spring, Rivera had hinted that this was going to be his last season, but now he has publicly declared that he will be back with the Yankees in 2013.

  The Yankees have an all-star to put in the closer spot in David Robertson but the ripple effect of replacing set up man Robertson with 7th inning man Soriano and having to replace the 7th inning man, etc.. may be the final blow for what is looking to be an injury plagued year for the pitching staff. After missing half of 2011 with injuries, Phil Hughes is pitching even worse this year. He claimed to have had his ‘best stuff’ of the season in a 7-1 loss to Baltimore where he couldn’t even get out of the 6th inning after giving up 4 run in 5+ innings of work. The big trade acquisition from Seattle, Michael Pineda is already gone for the year with a torn shoulder muscle, free agent Kuroda has pitched just well enough to lose, and Freddie Garcia has already been banished to the bullpen. Help is on the way in the return of Andy Pettite from retirement, but at the age of 39 and after a year off he probably won’t be able to offer much except as a mentor to the younger pitchers. This edition of the Yankees looks a lot like last years: enough offense to get to the playoffs and not enough pitching to win them.

  Last Saturday in the opening game of the NBA playoffs, Chicago Bulls superstar Derrick Rose was close to a triple-double while leading his team to a double digit win over the Philadelphia 76ers when he drove the lane with less than 2 minutes left in the game, passed to a teammate, and crumpled to the ground with a torn ligament in his knee. Rose had missed over a third of the 66 game schedule with toe, groin, and back ailments and the Bulls responded by going 18-9 (including wins over playoff teams like the Heat and Celtics) when playing without the league’s reigning MVP to gain the league’s best record and home court advantage throughout the playoffs.

  Even though the Bulls had proven during the season that they can win without their leader, they’ve lost the last 2 games to the 76ers to fall into a 2-1 hole. I think the Bulls were playing well without Rose because they knew he would be back for the playoffs and wanted to get the best playoff seeding possible, but now that he is gone for the season the team does not believe they can win the championship and so cannot summon the same effort as before.

  Rivera and Rose’s (and their teams) fortunes took a sudden turn in less than a heartbeat. Because of the inordinate attention given to sports, my attention is drawn to these sudden changes but they happen in the real world all the time with huge consequences. One New Year’s Eve, a very close friend was driving home from work when a drunk driver made a sudden left hand turn on a 5 lane stretch of I-80 in New Jersey and crashed into the divider and with no time to react, my friend broadsided him a second later. The drunk driver walked away unscathed, but while the seat belt held my friends body in place, his arm exploded out of his shoulder socket and he never regained full use of his arm. He went through months of rehab, was let go from his job and had to start large parts of his life all over. His life changed the moment that drunk swerved into the divider in front of him.

  The most meaningful heartbeat moment I’ve ever had came in early 1999. I was under unbelievable pressure at work over a project that the company I was working for had staked its future on but was having one show stopping problem in a number of test sites. I went 2 months not being able to sleep more than 2 hours at a time. I was a smoker back then and when I’d wake up, I’d take my dogs Queenie and Tuffy out to the backyard and have a smoke. This one day in February, when I went to light up, I felt the hand of Jesus on my shoulder telling me I didn’t need that cigarette and everything was going to work out OK. I wasn’t praying for an answer to my problems or anything; I was just getting a smoke. But that’s the day I stopped smoking and I can’t say I’ve looked at anything the same way since. I’m not saying I’m a better person now because I’m still the same mess I’ve always been and I’m still a work in progress as are we all. All I’m saying is in that moment my life turned in a new direction and I’ve had a new way of looking at life. I’ve heard similar stories from a lot of other people and I know I’m not the only one who’s undergone this particular experience and while I used to be skeptical of these stories, now when I hear them, I just nod my head because I get it.

Matt Kriegel (left)
2012 Iowa Class C Champion!
  I did have another heartbeat moment last Thursday Night at our blitz tournament. I had previously written how after having 11 wins and 1 draw in my first 12 encounters with Matt Kriegel from Tama, I had struggled to a draw and a loss in our 2 encounters in April. Matt had also beaten Jaleb (who is at least equal to me in chess strength) in their only April match. Last Saturday, Matt won the Iowa Class C Championship with 3 wins and one draw in 4 games, beating Bethany Carson in the first round (Click here to read Bethany's account of the tournament on her excellent blog.). In honor of Matt taking over the Marshalltown chess club in April, I’ve taken to referring him as ‘The Krieginator’ since he has been as unstoppable as Arnold was in the ‘Terminator’ movies. Matt came by again last Thursday and showed us his championship trophy and games from the Class Championships. His game against Bethany was pretty impressive, winning a piece with a nice tactic and smoothly grinding out the win from there with some cool tactics enabling him to trade pieces whenever it looked as if Bethany was going to get back into the game. His second and third round games were equally impressive and he will return this week to show us his final round game.

  When it got to be 6, we started the tournament. Since there were 7 players, I’d normally have not played but Jaleb decided to take the week off and allow me the chance to play. I beat Scott in the first game and got an undeserved win against my fellow Marshalltown coach Jon McCord when he hung a piece in a position where he was a pawn up and had completely outplayed me. Meanwhile Matt had given up an unexpected draw to Chandler, the high school student who helps me with my youth tournaments and beat Seth, the new 9 year old player at the club. I was leading Matt and Chandler by half a point heading to the final round and had the Black pieces against Matt.

pgn4web chessboard courtesy of
  It was a fun and topsy-turvy game with each of us having our chances, but after 26.Re1 it was over in a heartbeat.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Low Budget

  My philosophy when it comes to money is that either you have enough or you don’t and if you don’t have enough you have a problem and if you have enough, don't complain. I’ve always been pretty lucky with money. I haven’t been unemployed except for 6 weeks in 1994 when I moved to Iowa and while I haven’t been able to provide everything my family has ever wanted, I’ve been fortunate enough to provide everything they’ve needed. But just because I have enough doesn’t mean I don’t want more and if I can get a bargain I take it. I think that other people feel the same way and that philosophy permeates the way I try to run my chess tournaments.

  I’ve never tried to make money at chess tournaments but I don’t want to lose any either. I used to run youth tournaments where the entry fee was $10 and 21 players got $10 trophies except for the top 5 whose trophies cost an extra 30 dollars. I always referred to these tournaments in my notes as ‘+3’ tournaments since I needed 3 more players than trophies in order to get break even. They were fun tournaments but if I only had 22 or 25 players they didn’t work so well since I had just a few players out of the whole crowd that didn’t get a trophy and the odds were good I’d never see them again.

  I ran these types of tournaments from 2006 to May of 2011 and generally broke even overall. When I moved outdoors last summer and switched to medal only prizes, I got stuck with a lot of money tied up in medals that are still sitting in my basement. That led me to the idea of printing my own medal inserts and ordering the medals in bulk. When I went back indoors, I set up my morning and afternoon tournament to only have 5 trophies each, a $5 entry fee, and a break even mark of 40 players. My tournaments are divided into 2 sections; a rated section for USCF members who have their games nationally rated and an unrated section that is meant for beginners but also affords a rated player who is in a slump to step back the level of competition or people who simply can’t afford the $14 to $30 a USCF membership costs the chance to play some chess in a tournament setting.

  I was only giving trophies to the rated players but I have been getting more and more unrated players and it didn’t seem right to me that their entry fees were subsidizing the rated players’ trophies. I had a choice: lower the unrated entry fee or give them trophies. I really liked the purity of the unrated section playing for no extra prizes and just the enjoyment of the game, but in the end decided to offer them the same 5 trophies as the rated players and raise my break even number to 60. The only downside to this decision is that it doesn't encourage the top unrated players to move on to the rated section in order to get a shot at a trophy, but most of the successful unrated players have wanted to test themselves so there is no real downside after all. I get at least one player a month that wants to move to the rated section but doesn’t have the money and if I have an odd number of rated players, I get them a USCF membership and they round out my field and I can honestly tell them they aren't getting charity - they are helping me out by moving up.

  I take a lot of pride in thinking that my tournaments are the best bargains in the state. Last Saturday, players got 4 or 5 games in for their $5 entry fee for a morning or afternoon of chess and if they decided to stay all day they got 8 or 9 games in for $8. Now throw in a medal, a chance at a trophy, and some chess (and a medal) for a parent, uncle, big brother, or coach in a free Parents and Friends tournament and you have a product even Ron Popeil would be proud to sell. Now that I’m moving my monthly tournament back outdoors for the summer, I’ve done away with the trophies but the entry fee is lowered to $3 for the morning or afternoon and $5 for a day of chess. I hope to be able to get in contact with more casual players who haven’t been able to get to West Des Moines or haven’t been able to afford my tournaments. I believe that there are more people like that than I can imagine, but I haven't been able to reach them. If you run a $20 dollar tournament you will rarely see the person who can barely afford a $10 dollar tournament and if you run a $10 dollar tournament you will rarely see the person who can barely afford a $5 dollar tournament and if you run a $5 tournament you will see everyone except those who can barely afford a $3 tournament, but who might you see if you run a $3 tournament?

  I charged even less than that for a tournament on Monday. St. Francis has a budget for the chess club, but since I get ‘paid’ by being able to run monthly youth tournaments, I’ve only needed to dip my fingers into the till one time this year to pay for prizes to reward club members who demonstrate a checkmate with a Queen or successfully queen a pawn in an ending against me or my co-coach Chris. With the coffers flush with cash, I got permission to have a free club only tournament where everyone got a trophy. I felt I needed 3 hours to have the tournament so I arranged to use the meeting room we have our Friday morning club for the Monday afternoon tournament. I was a little disappointed to have only 23 players show up, but many of these kids have baseball, piano, and a whole host of other activities. Most of the best players in the club showed up and I divided them up into 3 grade groups (K-2, K-4,K-8) and let them go at it. The top 3 players in each group got a trophy that was one inch taller than the rest, had a white marble base instead of a black one, and said first, second, or third place on the label. Given those small differences, the players were highy motivated to grab some bragging rights and get in the top 3.

  It was a fun afternoon and well worth the 3 hours I spent running it. Some of the parents asked me if I had laid out the money for trophies out of my pocket. I was happy to tell them no and they were happy to hear it. Everyone has been really supportive of my efforts this year and they see the value of having monthly youth tournaments open to all and especially like that I don't pressure their kids to play in these tournaments.

  On Thursday, I’ll have another free tournament in Marshalltown like I've had nearly every Thursday for the past 3 years. I have to pay for the rating fees (around $3 a week), but at that price it’s a bargain for me to have the club members play rated games and once in a while get some out of town players to show up to test ourselves against. Some players throw me a couple of dollars which I occasionally keep, but most of the time I pass along the donations to our hosts at the Salvation Army to help with their great work.

  I’d like to make my tournaments even cheaper, but that’d mean I have to pay people to show up for some of them and then they’d have to pay taxes!