Sunday, November 4, 2012

Shocks To The System

  In August, the family and I went on a week’s vacation at Seaside Heights, New Jersey. We had gone every other year or so, but after this week’s storm I don’t know if we’ll ever get to go there again. Super storm Sandy has obliterated the boardwalk and the amusement parks at either end of the boardwalk although it appears that like the row of stores facing the boardwalk is still intact. The boardwalk can always be rebuilt, but I can’t imagine that the amusement parks and boardwalk games business show enough profit to justify their re-creation instead of the owners taking their insurance money and selling their property.

Seaside Heights, New Jersey in August of this year.
Click Here to see what it looks like after Hurricane Sandy.

  As soon as I was old enough to drive I’ve been going to Seaside Heights and over 30 years seen the encroachment of mini gated communities in giant apartment complexes to within two blocks of the boardwalk and I’m sure that the ‘moneyed’ classes will use this opportunity to build even more valuable properties even closer to the beach. I could see Seaside Heights becoming like many of the other towns along the shore that discourage visitors by not having any food or amusements nearby and living off the property taxes from the expensive properties. To quote former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before." And for some people that will mean semi-privatizing some of the shore that has suddenly become available.

  As shocking as it was to see one of my favorite places in the world obliterated, I received another shock when I looked at a reply email to the youth chess tournament I was running and noticed that I had mentioned that the tournament was free. Yes, FREE! A few weeks before every tournament I take the previous months email, change the dates and some other information, and send it out to my mailing list. My last month’s email was for the free National Chess Day tournament and I forgot to remove the word free when I copied the email.

  In ‘The Hustler’s Handbook’, Bill Veeck says that mistakes should not only be acknowledged, they should be celebrated! As an example, he talks about the time when as the owner/GM of the Cleveland Indians in the 1940’s he tried to trade his Hall of Fame manager and shortstop Lou Boudreau for half of the St. Louis Browns baseball team. The trade fell through, but not before the papers caught wind of the trade of Cleveland’s beloved boy manager. Instead of denying he had attempted to trade Boudreau, Veeck went to every baseball dinner in and around Cleveland that year and let the fans tell him what a fool he was and tell them that they had convinced him not to trade Boudreau after all.

  I had no need to do anything as drastic as what Veeck did, but since at least some of the people were expecting a free tournament I decided to ‘celebrate’ my mistake and make it a free tournament for everyone. I didn’t announce it or make a big deal out of it – I was just going to tell people the tournament was free if they tried to pay me.

  I had about 25 players as of Friday morning, but on Friday I got another 2 dozen signups. I needed to make more participation medals, so I got all my medals, labels, and ribbons in front of the TV and got to work. I turned the TV to the USA network expecting to see some reruns of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit but there was a Hurricane Sandy relief concert on instead. I made the medals listening to Billy Joel, Sting, and Bruce Springsteen (along with some other singers that I’m too old to know) and then the idea hit me that I could ask for donations at the tournament.

Sometimes all you have to do is ask!

  I put a note on the door mentioning that the tournament was free but I would be taking donations. Hardly anyone caught my email mistake and everyone seemed to want to contribute. When someone tried to give me money, I just pointed them to the cash box and let them put in what they wanted to. I was surprised when people told me they didn’t know I was from New Jersey but I forgot to ask if they thought I was from Iowa.

  I got another half dozen entries on Saturday and, aided greatly by the end of scholastic football and soccer, the 56 players was the most I’ve had since April. The players had a great time, but the tournament one of my most inept efforts at running a tournament. I had a player who wanted to play in the morning assigned to the afternoon tournament and had to give him a bye in the first round when I had everyone but him playing. Then in the afternoon I made a mistake entering the results and had all the players who had sat down and were ready to play stop until I could correct my mistake and re-pair the round. I’ve never run a perfect tournament, but these are the kind of mistakes that disrupt the playing experience and luckily I don’t make them very often.

  This tournament had me asking myself if I could have free tournaments and break even on donations. I might be crazy but I think it could work and at the same time help me solve some of the problems I’ve seen crop up in my tournament series since I’ve moved back indoors.

  $304 was raised and I’ll get it sent to the Salvation Army office closest to Seaside Heights this week. I wanted to get the accidental nature of how I came up with the idea for the donation written down while it was still fresh in my mind. I know in a few years (or maybe next week), I’ll remember this tournament as the time I had this great idea to donate the tournament proceeds to Hurricane Sandy relief.