Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My Week as a Zombie

  As I wrote last week, I didn’t get much sleep after the government agency whose interface I’m responsible with went haywire after a firewall upgrade last Saturday and started giving out more misinformation than the Obama and Romney campaigns combined (Did you know that both men have not only raised or are going to raise taxes on the middle class by thousands of dollars but that both candidates are going to cut taxes on the middle class by thousands of dollars?). The government agency hasn’t solved all their problems but after another mini-meltdown on Thursday morning, they have at least stopped losing transmissions and my program has returned to a semblance of normalcy.

  I can’t remember the last time I had to work this hard on so little sleep. My mind was racing so fast trying to keep track of all the snafus I couldn’t sleep and as soon as I got into work I had to talk to one customer and give them a status a report and plan our next steps and as soon as I got off the phone I’d have a similar conversation with another customer and on and on and on… It was a hellacious week that I’m not eager to repeat but it wasn’t a problem of my making and I suppose if you don’t have those kinds of experiences at work every so often you either aren’t doing work of much import or you are very lucky or you are very competent.

  I was so tired I even resorted to taking a bottle of 5 Hour Energy to stay awake during chess club last Thursday. I’m still not sure how well it worked but I wasn’t too amped up and while I made at least one sloppy move I played well enough the rest of the time to gain a tie for first with Dave the Barefoot Chess Player in the weekly blitz tournament. After leaving the club, I monitored the government interface for a bit and crawled into bed, knowing I’d be out the door at 5:30 the next morning for chess club at St. Francis.

  It was our second club meeting of the year and I knew I was off my game when I couldn’t remember the names of all the kids I met for the first time the week before (normally I am super great at that). I was working with the new players who barely knew how the pieces moved while my co-coach Chris and 3 time Iowa champ Tim Mc Entee kept an eye on the experienced players. I was happily surprised that Tim wanted to help with the kids at St. Francis this year. He is a great asset to the kids, likes their enthusiasm, and gets that the kids are at club because they want to play and aren’t especially interested in being taught chess. This doesn’t mean that we don’t teach, just that we have to pick our spots. There are around 35 chess players so far this year which is down a few from last year. I lost some of the seventh graders to an early morning advanced math class and also heard from some of the parents that their children are still sleeping in on Fridays or have some other Friday morning activities. I have hopes that once the kids ease into the school year they’ll start to head back to chess club but a more likely scenario is that having a chess club with no fees was a novelty last year that attracted a lot of kids that wouldn’t normally have even tried chess and they just didn’t enjoy it very much.

  As usual, I got more out of helping with the chess club than the kids do and was fully energized for another day of work on Friday. It was the most human I’d felt in a week. With no new crises erupting, I was able to focus on cleaning up some of the problems that the meltdown had caused and was almost all caught up by the afternoon. After my first decent night’s rest in almost a week I was still pretty tired when I got up the next morning to take Daisy and Baxter for a walk to the Jiffy for their beef stick treats. It would have been nice to have been able to hop into bed for an early nap, but I had to leave the house at 6:30 to drive back to Des Moines for my first indoor youth chess tournament in 5 months at St. Francis.

  You never know how big or small of a crowd you are ever going to have for a chess tournament. I thought this was going to be a small crowd and it seemed to me that it was, but the numbers say I had 43 different players as opposed to 44 last September. There were 10 less players attending both sessions than last year which means that I had less players staying all day than last year. That made sense since last September was my first tournament split into morning and afternoon session and now that everyone is used to the new format I have less people staying for an entire day or chess.

  I picked up Marshalltown club players Chandler and Dalton (who set up the tournament hall in return for free entry) and got a rude awakening 60 miles later when I found the outside entrance to the cafeteria was locked. The church’s event scheduler should have had the doors opened automatically, but luckily the next entrance was open for football practice. Once into the building, I got another rude surprise when I found out the cafeteria doors were also locked! But once again the gym next door was unlocked and I was able to slip through the portable partition that separates the 2 rooms and get into the cafeteria from the inside. We got inside and set up the hall and then I got a good surprise when I found that the school now has a guest internet network. This allowed me to check my emails, enter memberships, and even correct a name for a player who bought a membership from another tournament organizer who misspelled it.

  The tournament itself went smoothly enough, although it all went by in a blur for me and I noticed I was a lot more edgy about little things than I normally was. There were 2 beginning players who barely knew how the pieces moved and they needed a lot of attention during their games. In one game, 2 players who went to my summer chess camp squared off and one of the campers pulled off a 4 move checkmate! I had given both these kids a lesson on how to avoid the 4 move checkmate at the camp (apparently not very successfully) and while I was keeping the 2 beginning players in my sights, I pulled the 2 campers aside and reprised the lesson for them.

  I was happy to see the return of a few past tournament winners who didn’t play in the summer outdoor tournaments and even got to see my son Matt for the first time in a month. Matt came down with one of his students and decided to play in the afternoon session (Matt is still 19 until December so he was eligible). All the kids were cowering and whimpering at the thought of playing the college expert. I tried to encourage them by saying that if they didn’t make any mistakes there was no reason they should lose to anyone. This is easy to say but hard to do. In 4 years of our Thursday Night blitz tournaments in Marshalltown, Matt has a record of 68 wins, 1 loss, and 2 draws. I drew him last year when he blundered a piece in the opening. I took the piece and offered him a draw which he accepted. We then played out the game and he crushed me while a piece behind. Very humbling, indeed. At Saturday’s tournament, Matt wanted to make a checkmate with 4 knights. In the first game, he was winning handily, had promoted 2 of his pawns to knights, but accidentally stalemated his opponent and gave up a draw to a player rated 1400 points below him! He did manage to checkmate a player with 5 knights in the next game so the day wasn’t a total loss for him and since he had a good humor about his draw, the more observant players learned a valuable lesson in handling setbacks and everyone learned that anything can happen over the chessboard.

  Once the tournament ended, I drove home, got all the post tournament stuff done by 9 (posting the pictures and tournament article, updating standings and ratings, etc…) and collapsed into bed. On Sunday I was hoping to be able to sleep late, get some rest, and head to the 50th CyChess tournament in Ames by 1 pm. Daisy and Baxter did not realize that I wanted to sleep late and at 4:30 in the morning they were up and wanting to be walked so Kathy and I took them to the Jiffy for a beef stick treat. After a mile and a half walk, I wasn’t feeling too sleepy so I hung out with the beagles and relaxed by watching Law & Order and Joel Osteen. I nodded off a bit but then it was 9am and I still wasn’t very tired so Kathy and I took Daisy and Baxter for another long walk for beef stick treats. I piddled around until 11 and then I finally crashed and was dead to the world until 1. At that point there was no chance of getting to the chess tournament but I was still beat and was all woozy until around 3. I even crashed again from 7 to 9 in the evening and still slept all night.

  I’m bummed out at missing the 50th CyChess tournament but hopefully there’ll be a #51 that won’t get interrupted by work or sleep deprivation. I’ve played on little or no sleep when I was in my twenties. The results were awful then and I wouldn’t expect them to better 30 years later. I would have liked to fit in everything I wanted to do this weekend, but as the classic song by Ella Fitzgerald goes “You can bet as sure as you live. Something's gotta give, something's gotta give, Something's gotta give.