Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Best of the ... best?

  I had intended to defend the Broken Pawn’s 2011 Best Chess Blog award from the Chess Journalists of America (CJA) and was waiting for the announcement of the 2012 awards competition but in April I received the decidedly unwelcome news that the Chairman of the Awards (Ramon Hernandez) had resigned his post after 2 years of service. I only talked to Ramon through my participation in last year’s awards, but his work was stellar. He provided clear written instructions for what should be included in an entry submission, acknowledged my entries were received, and provided a transparent overview of the selection process, including a written chairman’s report that listed the results of the votes.

  Ramon wrote a letter to the CJA membership and I inferred from his letter that his resignation was prompted by the insistence by the CJA leadership that he add a Best Book category to the awards or else he would be removed from his post in favor of someone who would add this category. Even though I was on a jury last week I don’t know the principal actors well enough to judge, but I do know that Ramon brought an level of integrity and openness to the awards process that I hadn’t seen in the previous 5 years of following the CJA awards and his will be a hard act to follow.

  I checked the CJA web site twice a week waiting for the new awards announcements but my first glimpse of the 2012 awards came from my Chess Life magazine. The announcement gave a link to check for further details, but when I checked it, I was redirected back to the main CJA page. A week later, the CJA website was updated with the awards announcement from the new committee chairman, Joshua Anderson of Pennsylvania. There wasn’t an address listed where to send the submission on the awards announcement, so I wrote to ask where to send it and received a reply within the hour which I found very encouraging.

The Okoboji Open
My favorite blogging subject!
  There were no submission instructions as there were the past 2 years, so I went by last year’s guidelines and went about picking 3 blog posts to be judged as representative of my blog. My first choice was easy. The Okoboji Open is one of my favorite topics to write about with the drama of a top level tournament, the camaraderie of old friends and the greatest people anyone could ever get to meet. This year’s tournament was no exception and that made ‘A Chess Community’ the first of my three choices.

  My second choice was one of my few posts about the Marshalltown Chess Club, which I’ve been running at the Salvation Army for over 10 years now. Last August, the club received a visit from California’s world class chess traveler Ted Belanoff to play in our Thursday Night Blitz tournament while he was en route to Indiana for the Indianapolis Open. That inspired me to write about some of the many people who have stopped by Marshalltown for a quick hour of chess in a post titled ‘On Any Given Thursday’ and it became the second of my 3 blog submissions. I looked up Ted Belanoff’s playing record since his visit to Marshalltown and he has played in Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Michigan, Florida, New York, South Dakota, Idaho, Delaware, Arkansas, Nebraska, California, Utah, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, New Hampshire, Oregon, Nevada, Rhode, Island, Maine, Massachusetts, Illinois, New Mexico, Montana, Arizona, Colorado, North Dakota, Hawaii, New Jersey, Wisconsin, West Virginia, North Carolina, Virginia, and Indiana. Ted even returned to Iowa last December to play in Roger Gotschall’s CyChess tournament, which he won to join the list of CyChess winners that include me and my son Matt (the only father and son combination on the list of CyChess winners!).

It was a stellar year of chess blogging for the Broken Pawn! Picking the best blogs from my posts about visitors to Marshalltown for Thursday Night Blitz, editorials on chess nutrition, my youth tournament series (and finding unique prizes), teaching chess at St. Francis, and my chess playing experiences at the Iowa State Fair, Big Money Blitz, and Cychess proved to be a difficult task.

  I had a lot of options for my third and final submission. I thought my post about the Iowa State Fair was well written and had a lot of neat characters. The first round of the CyChess tournament in March when I missed 2 chances at miracle wins due to my opponents time trouble errors got a lot of comments from chess parents and some lower rated chess players telling me how they could relate to my pain, but I didn’t think an ‘agony of defeat’ column was going to leave the judges with a good feeling about my blog. I had 2 youth tournament posts I was especially proud of: ‘Give the Kid a Prize’ in which I my outlined my evolution in thought on tournament prizes from chess buttons to chess medals to Santa trophies and ‘Spread the Word’ where I discuss how a young chess player came to my tournament in a ‘6 degrees of Kevin Bacon’ sort of way. I eventually decided on ‘Spread the Word’ because it has a feel good message that would be helpful for judges to read.

  As long as I was making an entry for the best blog, I decided to submit ‘A Chess Community’ for the Best Feature award even though I have no chance against all the entries the USCF will send for that category and I also decided to submit an entry for the ‘Best Humorous Contribution’ which was ‘Stuffed For Success’; my post on the effects a greasy Italian sandwich had on my chess results.

  I wrote a check for $31 with my submissions and mailed it off to the Awards chairman and also sent an email asking to be informed if there was anything else I needed for my entry. I waited 2 weeks with no response. Last Saturday I saw a post on the CJA website noting the approach of the submission deadline (including the address to send the submissions to) and pointing to the 2010 awards guidelines as a source of general information. I decided to write to the Awards chairman asking if he had gotten my entry. I received a reply within 12 hours saying he had and that this year only one blog post would be reviewed by the judges and which post would I like to have the judges consider?

  I was happy with the quick response and chose ‘A Chess Community’ as my post to be considered. It would have been nice to have known in advance that I only needed to supply one post and it would have been extra nice to have been told that between the time I sent in my entry and when I asked if it had been received. This year’s awards process has been conducted in a confused and haphazard manner so far. I hope it is only growing pains due to a turnover in the awards committee and not a permanent step backwards to the time where I asked the judge for my category what he thought of my entry only to be told he never heard of it. I understand that everyone in the process is a volunteer and being the defending champion may help me repeat in the way that the same baseball players get picked for the Gold Glove awards because of the tendency of the voters to not pay very much attention to a player’s defense and vote for last year’s winner, but all the same this year’s awards experience is making me glad I managed to win the award last year.