Wednesday, July 25, 2012


  ‘The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.
– Groucho Marx

  I believe in divine providence. I also believe in coincidence, but not as much as divine providence. I’ve seen many more coincidences than acts of divine providence, but most of the coincidences I’ve seen are man-made. In 2008, I got my oil changed at the Jiffy Lube in Marshalltown and the manager told me my fan belt was worn and I needed a new one. I asked him to order it for me and he said it would take a week to get and he would call me when it came in (I didn’t have to pay for it until installation). I waited 2 months and then called the Jiffy Lube and got the manager on the phone. I asked him if my fan belt had arrived and he told me that it ‘actually’ arrived just an hour ago. What a coincidence! I told him I’d be right over to get it replaced. I haven’t been to the Jiffy Lube since, but if the manager ever calls me about the belt, I’ll tell him ‘What a coincidence! I was just going to call you to see if you still had it.’ That Jiffy Lube is still in business and I consider that to be an act of divine providence.

  In January of 2010, I was leaving my contracting job to take a more ‘permanent’ position and at 6:30 in the morning I sent an email to my handler at the contracting company letting him know I was leaving when my contract finished later that month. I got a call later that morning from my handler letting me know he had been working for months on my new contract, was just finishing it up, and it contained a ‘substantial’ raise. What a coincidence! He had been planning on calling me that afternoon to give me the details but offered to discuss it at that moment. This was quite a shock to me since I hadn’t heard from him in 6 months (when we all were forced to take pay cuts and he told me he was going to be sure to ‘over communicate’ with me about my contract renewal). I suppressed the fleeting thought that I had the worst timing ever and told him that I had to honor my commitment to my new employer and wasn’t interested in the details, but I was sorry that he had worked so hard on my behalf. I still shake my head at the thought of my handler slavishly working on my raise only to have me give my notice moments before my new deal was complete.

  2 Sundays ago, I wrote about my disappointment at the 2012 Chess Journalists of America (CJA) awards committee not having posted posting the list of entrants a month after the submission deadline. Early Wednesday morning, I received a comment on my blog saying I seemed ‘rude’ and that ‘complaining’ was ‘not at all in my best interests’ to make such comments about an organization I hoped to win an award from. The anonymous commenter further suggested that perhaps I should take on the ‘onerous, time consuming, thankless and unpaid responsibility’ of being on the committee. I don’t know whether the comment came from a member of the CJA awards committee, but the idea of refraining from touching on certain topics to further my ‘best interests’ is unthinkable for a curmudgeon/gadfly wannabe like me. The desire to win the award last year gave me no pause to pull my punches or pander to anyone (I was quite critical of a few aspects of the process last year) and the reason I’ve entered the competition the past 3 years is to write about the process, not to win an award. When I see kids enter my youth chess tournaments with the sole expectation of winning a prize instead of playing for the fun of it, I know I won’t see them very long. Winning is a bonus and hopefully the side effect of a little luck and the effort invested. One of the benefits of volunteering is having a feeling of ownership and it would be reasonable to expect that Broken Pawn be judged extra harshly for pointing out what some would rather be left untouched and that’s all well and fine with me. There are so many people I’ve ticked off over the years that I’d advise anyone who wants to get in that line to pack a lunch and possibly dinner as well.

  I enjoyed my anonymous commenter characterizing my observations about the month long delay in listing the award entries as ‘complaining’ and in the next paragraph describing the awards committee’s work as ‘onerous’ and ‘thankless’. I could have used this line of thinking when I forgot what time my June youth chess tournament was scheduled to start and showed up only 15 minutes before Round 1. In my naiveté, I owned up to my screw up, apologized, and ran the best tournament I could. But now that I've been enlightened to this new way of thinking, I could have pointed out that I wasn’t being thanked enough for putting on the tournament in the first place and possibly thrown in a comment or two about how putting on tournaments are so ‘onerous’.

  I did reply to my anonymous commenter and after thanking him or her for the comment, I pointed out that the job alluded to as ‘thankless’ cannot be completely thankless because I thanked the awards committee chairman the past 2 years whether I won an award or got the lowest ever score for an entry (and I have done both). I did not thank the awards committee in 2006 when I asked the judge in person what he thought about my submission only to find out he had never heard of it. It’s like my flat tire incident last week: I thanked Freedom Tire for staying late for replacing my donut with a new tire, but there’ll be no thanks for AAA not sending someone to change my tire for me when I lost my tire iron and had no way to take the donut off my car. I paid Freedom Tire for the new tire the same as I paid for an AAA membership the same as I paid for my CJA entries. If the awards committee had said they weren’t making the entries public this year that would be one matter, but they said the listing of entries were to be proof of receipt. I’m not sure how pointing out when people don’t do the things they say they will is ‘complaining’, but it’s not my world – I’m just living in it.

  In any event, it was a welcome comment and I hope to see more comments from Mr. or Ms. Anonymous. It’s been quite a while since I got this fired up to write a post AND coincidentally, the list of award entries were posted 2 days later at the CJA website (with a short note mentioning how challenging the committees work is) AND even more coincidentally was dated June 20th, right around when they could have been expected to be posted in the first place. This was noticed by Mark Weeks in his Chess for All Ages Blog AND coincidentally less than 24 hours after Mark’s mention, the post date was changed to July 20th. I’m sure it was just a coincidence and the entries were going to be posted this past week whether I had written about it or not and the date was going to be changed whether Mark had written about it or not, but all the same I’m happy to get a peek at the other entries for the best chess blog.

  Broken Pawn’s competition is much stiffer than last year. There are 2 other entries and both are top-notch. Tim Brennan’s blog is one that I read on a regular basis and enjoy very much. I bought Tim’s Tactics Time database and use the puzzles as part of my daily chess exercises. Tim’s content is 100% chess-related (little or no mention of beagles, Cheetos, Yankees, politics, or movies). It is excellently written and slickly produced, even containing audio podcasts in addition to the inspirational articles aimed at chess improvement through tactical acumen. The other entry is, written by none other than former Women’s world chess champion, former CJA President, and 2009 Chess Journalist of the Year Alexandra Kosteniuk. The Chess Queen Blog is another 100% chess blog and contains lots of chess tidbits from all over the globe. I couldn’t be upset about not winning a competition with these 2 blogging heavyweights but I also think my blog is a worthy contender in its own right. As I’ve written before, I am happy to have won the award last year in what I can only call a stroke of divine providence.

It’s just a coincidence that the house next to the Liquor Depot in beautiful Marshalltown, Iowa
has an outdoor garbage collection that would make most city dumps jealous, isn't it?