Wednesday, February 29, 2012
When the 12 year old and his family were leaving the tournament (they were not playing in the afternoon session), I congratulated him on not giving up after losing the pawn and fighting for the draw and the second place tie. He was happy that I had noticed his game and said he made a bad move to lose the pawn. The way he said it made me think he was putting himself down and I didn’t want him leave on a down note after a second place finish, so I told him the first thing that popped into my head which was ‘It wasn’t a bad move, just hasty’. I went on to explain that if he had been staring at the board for 5 minutes with his opponent threatening to checkmate him and instead of stopping the checkmate moved some pawn on the other side of the board, THAT would have been a bad move, but if he was taking his time he would never have made the move that lost the pawn and almost the game.
At the time, I was pretty pleased that I had gotten this young chess player to think about something positive he could do at the next tournament (take his time before moving) instead of something negative (Don’t make a ‘bad’ move). I thought about this on my drive back and forth to work last week and I may have stumbled on a universal lesson. I’ve been doing 10 minutes of tactics puzzles every day using my iPod’s Tactics Trainer app during my lunch time at work since I bought the program last October ($2.99!), but my progress has been measured in fits and starts. I hit a new high (as measured by rating) every few weeks, followed by a precipitous drop that takes me a few weeks to come back from and get a new high rating. What causes these dips? I haven’t temporarily gone insane or lost any tactical ability I may possess. For the most part I just don’t take the time to think about what I’m doing and just make the first move that looks good without examining the consequences. 2 weeks ago, I purchased Tim Brennan’s tactics database (at www.tacticstime.com) of 10,000 tactics puzzles. I don’t find the puzzles as challenging as ‘Tactics Trainer’, but Tim’s product has a lot of advantages. The puzzles come from real games and don’t have a ‘composed’ feel. Sometimes the answer is as simple as a mate in one move or taking a free piece. I’d like to think these sort of tactics are beneath me, but I miss them (in puzzles and in games) more often than I care to admit. I’m finding these puzzles are getting me to stop and actually look at the position, instead of trying to find a complicated tactical theme each and every time. Each puzzle also includes the entire game, so I can see how a tactic developed if I so choose. Tim recommends studying tactics at least 15 minutes a day and I’m doing 10 puzzles in the morning and 10 at night. At $19.99, I think it is the puzzle database is good value since it also comes with all the puzzles in PDF format and a training guide which contains time management tips and advice on helping to keep motivated. I haven’t used it enough to say it has improved my chess, but since almost all games at my level are decided by tactics, how can it hurt?
I’ve been trying to get into a less ‘hasty’ frame of mind since on Sunday I’ll be off to Ames to play in my first tournament in over a year that has a time limit greater than game in 15 minutes. I know that if I bring the same mindset to Ames on Sunday that I bring to our weekly 10 minute tournaments I’ll make the hasty moves that are unpunished at shorter time controls but won’t work at longer time limits. I’m well past what is called the peak chess playing years, but both my quick and regular ratings are near my lifetime highs, despite being so busy with work and running chess tournaments that I have little time to study anything but tactics. I think this is because as I’ve gotten older I’m better able to get in the right frame of mind to play my best. A big part of this is being able to forget about the last game and even the last move and try to find the best move I can in the position in front of me. This is where the tactics come in. If I have a chance to knock somebody out with one punch, I’d best be able to identify it and take my shot. In ‘Rocky Balboa’, the classic movie about an overage overachiever, Rocky’s trainer Duke said it best:
“You know all there is to know about fighting, so there's no sense us going down that same old road again. To beat this guy, you need speed - you don't have it. And your knees can't take the pounding, so hard running is out. And you got arthritis in your neck, and you've got calcium deposits on most of your joints, so sparring is out…So, what we'll be calling on is good ol' fashion blunt force trauma. Horsepower. Heavy-duty, cast-iron, piledriving punches that will have to hurt so much they'll rattle his ancestors. Every time you hit him with a shot, it's gotta feel like he tried kissing the express train. Yeah! Let's start building some hurtin' bombs!”
I’ll take a pass on Rocky’s diet of HGH and steroids, but I hope to take that attitude with me into this weekend. I wish I had everyone’s favorite Italian Stallion on my mind when I was talking to the 12 year old 2 Saturdays ago because I could have wheeled out another of my favorite Rocky Balboa quotes:
“But it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!”
Here’s a pair of hasty moves from my recent on-line games.
Hopefully, I can avoid moves like these on Sunday and land some haymakers of my own. And speaking of Rocky, here’s a quick update on my punching bag progress:
Sunday, February 26, 2012
The 3 teams with the best records are the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Chicago Bulls. I’ve seen the Heat play a number of times and they look like world championship material to me. They still don’t have the top quality center most championship teams have, but with the addition of Udonis Haslem (who missed most of last season with injury) they have a rebounding machine and a tough defender that lets superstars Dwayne Wade and LeBron James try for steals and get out on the fast break instead of staying by the basket to help with the rebounding. The Bulls and Thunder are also very talented teams, but I don’t think they can match up to the Heat in a playoff series. The Heat’s one main shortcoming is the lack of a top notch center, but none of the other top contenders have a top center either.
When I look at the league, I see only two championship quality centers, Dwight Howard of Orlando and Andrew Bynum of the Lakers. The Lakers seem to think the often injured Bynum is the cornerstone of their post-Kobe Bryant roster, but Howard is able to opt out of his contract at the end of the season and become a free agent. This gives him the leverage to force a trade to a contending team and reshape this year’s championship picture. The Nets, Mavericks, and Lakers all have permission to talk to Howard’s agent about a trade and contract extension. I can’t see Howard wanting to go to the loser Nets or be a second banana to Bryant with the Lakers. The Mavericks would give him a chance to win this year, but all they have to offer Orlando is a bunch of aging players. I think the Chicago Bulls make the most sense for Howard. They have a glaring weakness at center and a surplus of talented players and a couple of extra first round picks to give to the Magic in return. I listen to Chicago’s 670 – The Score all sports radio over the internet and their pundits seem to think that Howard wouldn’t be a good teammate, would disrupt the great chemistry of the Bulls team, and wouldn’t extend his contract with the Bulls after the season. I think that the Bulls will never beat the Heat with their current roster and if they want to win a championship, they should get Howard this year and take their chances on resigning him after the season.
The New York Knicks are also making a big push for Howard. They tried to trade for him in the off season, but after letting Shaquille O’Neal leave for the Lakers a generation ago, the Magic has been very slow to come to the conclusion that Howard doesn’t want to play for them and understandably want to keep their franchise player. Since the Patrick Ewing era ended 10 years ago, the Knicks have been searching for a marquee superstar. Their current incarnation has been their best team yet with former all-star Amare Stoudemire and current all-star Carmelo Anthony surrounded by a nice group of role players. The team got off to an awful start, but then with both their star players hurt, Jeremy Lin came out of nowhere to lead the team to 7 straight wins and attain instant superstardom. Lin had a great start, but the past weeks matchups against Deron Williams of the Nets and the Miami Heat have proven that he can’t handle pressure defense and isn’t close to an all-star talent despite the Sports Illustrated and Time Magazine cover status conferred upon him as being the novelty of a speedy Asian-American point guard. Lin is in the right system as coach Mike D’antoni’s run and gun approach caters to Lin’s strengths more than traditional half-court offenses. I think Howard would be a great fit for the Knicks even if they have to part with a superstar or two but there would be no championship this year as D’antoni’s system will struggle in the playoffs when the game slows down and physical play leads to less foul calls which will make Lin a liability rather than an asset.
With the NBA season reduced to 66 games, the great 1995-96 Chicago Bulls record of 72 wins (against 10 losses) is safe for another year, but it is noteworthy that halfway through the shortened season only 3 teams have less than the 10 losses of the record setting Bulls. The Heat and Thunder have 27-7 records and that 4-1 ratio of wins to losses is a far cry from the Bulls 7-1 ratio. I know it was only 15 years ago that the Bulls set the wins record, but I feel it is a record that will last my lifetime and I’m surprised that it isn’t mentioned yearly by the basketball writers in the same manner as the 1972 Miami Dolphins perfect season.
Along with the 15 year old Bulls mark for excellence, the other NBA mark I like to track is the 1972-1973 Philadelphia 76ers ignominious 9-73 mark for futility. This is a down year for bad NBA teams with only 3 teams having less than 10 wins at the halfway point, but the Charlotte Bobcats have a chance to set the record for the least wins in a season. They are currently sitting at 4-28, having a win against Toronto on the 17th interrupting a 14 game losing streak and nudging them ahead of the 76er’s pace. It would only take 8 wins to beat the 76ers winning percentage, but 9 or 10 wins may be out of reach of these Bobcats, who were in the playoffs just 2 years ago. I think the Bobcats will take advantage of the tendency of many NBA teams to lose to lesser teams at the end of a long season and get to 10 wins, but it would be ironic if they were to set a new record for futility since their owner is none other than the same Michael Jordan who was the driving force of the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls, the winningest team of all time.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
When Romney won the Florida primary and established that not every southern state would vote for someone named ‘Newt’ it looked as though he had won the nomination. Many of the pundits underestimated the number of Republicans that will not vote for a semi-liberal Mormon and Santorum managed to win the Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri contests on February 7th to not only become Romney’s main challenger, but the actual front-runner.
I’d first heard Santorum talk on KXNO, the Des Moines sports radio station and he made an impression on me as a regular guy who could talk about his favorite sports baseball and hockey just like a fan. Then I started looking at his record. I had known he was a social conservative but didn’t realize he was as reviled by the liberals as Bill and Hillary Clinton are by the conservatives. Santorum even had his last name redefined by gay rights activist Dan Savage after his 2003 interview with the Associated Press in which he said that mutually consenting adults do not have a constitutional right to privacy regarding sexual acts.
Romney and Santorum both seem like easy targets for potshots, but for vastly different reasons. Romney has had to change and redefine his positions on a number of issues in his progression from the Senate candidate and Governor in a liberal state to an aspiring presidential candidate of a conservative political party. While running for office in Massachusetts (before gay marriage was the firestorm issue it is today) he needed to be in favor of gay rights and seen to be against gay marriage. This led him to endorse civil unions and equal rights while saying he believed “"Marriage is an institution between a man and a woman". As governor, Romney issued at least 189 special same-sex marriage licenses, but in 2012 he claims he was hamstrung by court decisions. On taxes, Romney raised revenue as governor to balance the budget as required by state law. He claims he closed loopholes while other say he increased taxes in a backdoor way by raising license fees. While Romney panders to the right in criticizing Obama’s health care reform, his opponents point out the similarities to the health care reform instituted under Romney’s governorship. On every controversial issue, Romney’s detractors have enough quotes to put him on either side of it and Romney has enough quotes and explanations to prove he was consistently on his preferred side of any issue all along. The problem for Romney is that the time he has to spend defending himself from past positions takes away from his attempts to define himself for 2012.
Meanwhile Santorum has been remarkably consistent in his opposition to taxes, health care reform, gay marriage, and contraception among other causes dear to conservatives. As he becomes more of a potential nominee, the mainstream media picks up on his past and present comments to poke fun at him and alert the middle of the road voters to his more controversial statements. But since Santorum rarely if ever contradicts himself, all the newfound attention portrays him as the type of champion of conservative values that Romney could never dream of being. For instance, today Yahoo is reporting on Santorum defending his 2008 comments in which he talked about how Satan would have his sights set on attacking America. And he continues to make hay with the conservatives every time his 2003 interview in which he said "If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything." is reexamined. But while Romney can be made to look foolish to Republicans by highlighting his changing stances on issues, Santorum embraces his positions and statements and while he may look foolish and bigoted to party outsiders, he shows himself as a principled conservative to the exact groups whose support he needs to win the nomination. Since Santorum is not redefining himself, defending himself against his critics allow him to define himself even more clearly for his target audience.
Romney’s main claim to the Republican conservatives is that he is the more electable candidate against President Obama and Santorum is trying to counter that argument by pointing out his blue-collar roots. In my opinion at the moment neither of these men can beat Obama in November, but since I also believe all elections are a referendum on the incumbent, any Republican candidate could win the election if the economy were to take a downturn. Obama has run into some controversy in recent weeks as his health plan’s mandate to require employers to provide free contraception came into effect and caused a firestorm of protest from Catholic and Protestant schools and hospitals, but he skillfully managed to defuse the issue until after the election. I think the only thing that could derail his election would be a Mideast crisis that would cause $5 dollar gas, but with the election only 9 months away and the economy appearing to show signs of improvement, Obama should be able to weather any crisis until past November.
Lost in all the commotion of the debate over whether religious institutions should be forced to provide contraception as part of their health care plans was the agreement between the Republican controlled House and the Democratic president and Senate to add another 90 billion dollars to the deficit by extending a 2 percent payroll tax cut on social security taxes and also extending unemployment benefits. I like a 2% cut in my taxes as much as anyone, just not at the cost of borrowing at least $1,200 for it (my family of 4’s share of the 90 billion dollars added to the deficit). It's basically a wash unless I don’t have to pay it back or I have to pay other people’s share of the 90 billion. While the Democrats gave a little by paying for a portion of the spending by making federal workers pay more for their pensions, the Republican house have seemingly given away their principles by agreeing to tax cuts, benefits, and increased deficits.
I understand the Republicans were reluctant to be blamed for allowing the payroll tax to be raised and fearful of losing their majority in the House as a result, but they were brought into their current position of power to NOT increase the deficit. It will be very hard for a Republican candidate to criticize the Democrats for the budget deficit when the Republicans have gone along with increasing it, but I’m sure that the Republicans calculated that the voter anger with losing their 2% tax break outweighed the Tea Party anger over increasing the deficit. And I’m also sure that the Republicans allowed ‘no’ votes for the members most vulnerable to ‘Tea Party’ pressure. When I see stuff like Republicans voting to increase the deficit less than 2 years after running on a fiscal responsibility platform and Democrats voting for bank bailouts in 2008 and 2009 it makes me wonder if our government is really a one-party system that just appears to offer a choice to voters.
It was a misdirection worthy of a fine magician who draws the audience’s attention away from his empty hand long enough to slip the card in to be pulled from behind an ear or a rabbit to be pulled out of a hat. Just as everyone’s attention is drawn to what some candidate said 5 or 10 years ago or who will pay for an employee’s contraception, the politician’s empty hand delivers another 90 BILLION DOLLAR IOU to our friends in China. Can any candidate or group make a difference in the face of this kind of ‘enlightened’ self-interest? If the Tea Party is to have any creditability after having the party they brought into power pull this fast one, they will have to make their own party and find their own candidates.
Sunday, February 19, 2012
Yesterday I held my latest monthly youth chess tournament at St. Francis. Last month I had a huge crowd of 52 players in the afternoon after a smallish 29 in the morning. The 81 total entries and the 69 unique players was about the same number as the free tournament I held in October for National Chess Day. Since everyone but the parents were paying last month, I was more encouraged than ever that my vision of having morning/afternoon split tournaments with a low entry fee and minimal prizes (but medals for all) was catching on.
I was hoping to build on last month’s success but there were a number of factors going against it. In 2011, my January tournament had 64 players and I only topped that with 68 for the free October tournament so there was the possibility that January is the best month to expect people to pay to play chess. Last week there was an unrated youth tournament in Des Moines and an IASCA K-6 tournament 35 miles away in Ames which may have satisfied the need for youth chess in the area for the month.
There was no question of breaking my string of monthly tournaments at 13, so I decided to ‘beat the bushes’ and sent an email to all the schools letting them know about the upcoming tournament. I got substantial responses from 2 schools. A local high school was going to send 4 players and I got 10 entries from a nearby elementary school, all for the unrated section. Since I don’t have players from the same school play against each other unless necessary, I had visions of these big high school kids pasting cowering 4th and 5th graders round after round and never seeing any of them again, but I tried to put it out of my mind and as I got more entries the entire issue became a non-factor. With a week to go, I had the feeling I was going to have one of my biggest crowds ever and I ordered another batch of 100 blank medals and printed some more inserts so I’d be sure not to run out.
I was going to take Chandler, the high schooler who plays at the Marshalltown Chess Club to the tournament to help me set up in return for free entry and a ride, but this month I arranged to take his younger brother Dalton along also. Dalton has been playing in our blitz tournaments since last summer and while he doesn’t win very often, he has behaved well enough for me to take him to a bigger tournament. After a 5am walk to the Jiffy with Kathy to get Daisy and Baxter some beef stick treats (and my morning coffee), I loaded up my car with my sets, boards, trophies, medals, and all the other items needed to have a tournament, picked Dalton and Chandler up at their house, and we arrived at St. Francis at 7:45 for the 9am tournament. Dalton and Chandler were so fast at setting up the boards that when Dan Troxell came over to help set up at 8:15, we were already done.
I had 5 no shows in the morning and 3 walk-ups, a father and daughter who had just moved to Indianola and decided to play chess for the morning, and Danny. Danny never emails to say he is coming; his parents just drop him off and pick him up after the tournament is over and he hangs around with me when he isn’t playing. Danny started in the unrated tournaments, got a USCF membership and has been playing in the rated tournaments, but decided to scale back to the unrated section this month and managed to win it.
The morning tournament went very smoothly. The 3 high schoolers in the unrated section were good players and one of them tied for second, but I think they were surprised by the craftiness of some of the younger players. Ben, the coach who came with the high school kids is a very strong player who won the parents and friends section, but he was also willing to show the younger players how they could avoid the stalemates that all younger players seem to create in won positions. To put everyone at ease about the age disparity, I played an old trick and had the tallest and shortest players stand up and asked the rest of the players if the taller player got to move twice or if the shorter player had to play without his queen. That got everyone giggling and hopefully it relaxed everyone. I spent most of my free time in the morning monitoring games, talking with parents, hanging out with Danny and Dalton, and going over games with Gabe, who writes his games down and wants as much advice as he can get about what he can do better.
After the morning tournaments ended, I had an apple and green tea for lunch and played Dan Troxell some 10 minute chess. During our fourth game, I looked up and there was a group of 10 people hanging around my computer. It was 12:40 and people were ready to check in for the afternoon tournament! I got everyone checked in and there were at least 7 players who hadn’t signed up. I charge $5 extra for players who don’t let me know ahead of time that they’re playing. Sometimes this gets the parents upset. It only takes me 10 seconds to check someone in when I’ve already entered them, but it takes a minute or two to put a player in the computer and make sure their name and school is spelled correctly. The problem is that minute or two comes at a time when everyone who pre-registered is trying to check in and now they have to wait and I have to make extra medals to account for the walkups. I have no penalty for players who tell me they’re coming but don’t show, so I feel justified in charging extra for not taking the time to send me an email. I’m not totally unreasonable and will make an exception for someone who plays almost every month or came to my chess camp.
Flush with his victory, Danny decided to come back and play in the afternoon unrated tournament, finishing fourth. The high schoolers played much more carefully against their younger opponents and took 2 of the top 3 spots. The youngsters didn't seem upset when they had to take on older players, but there were two parents (and their 4 kids) who seemed upset when the kids weren’t winning and one family just left without telling me.
I was super busy all afternoon. First I played 2 5 –minute games against Ben the high school coach (winning one and tying the other, thank you!), but then I was in scramble mode for the next 2 hours making the pairings, watching the games finish, keeping the 4 or 5 kids who were following me around asking questions satisfied and amused, and trying to make sure everyone had a game. Some kids had to leave for an hour to play in a basketball game, parents wanted to jump in the parents section in the middle of the tournament because they were bored (the reason for the parents section!), and some people just left. Dalton was a huge help as I kept shuffling him around between the rated and unrated sections as needed. There was one parent who had lost both his games and his 3rd round opponent just left, so as his reward I paired him with 3 time Iowa champ Tim Mc Entee, who stopped by to chat with some of the players and parents. Tim was a great sport and after beating his opponent, explained a lot of chess concepts to him and the crowd of players watching.
All told, I had 79 different players and 98 entries and by the end of the afternoon I was exhausted. As much as I enjoy playing ‘lone wolf’, I won’t be able to grow my tournament series further until I bring in some help. My most pressing need is to get someone to watch the tournament floor and handle the normal issues so I can take care of the pairings, be available to explain tournament stuff to the parents, and handle the trickier problems that arise. I'm not complaining, but I wasn’t expecting to have to deal with this kind of a problem so soon. Just 6 months ago, I had 12 people at my tournament and now I’m pushing 100. After the tournament, Tim and I were talking about this. Tim thinks that I’ll hit a huge downturn once the weather gets warm and school lets out. I agree that there will be some shrinkage, but I think as long as I keep the 3 hour tournament format and don’t cross over lunchtime (my critical mistake in my summer tournaments), I should keep a substantial number of the players. The March and April tournaments will tell a big part of the tale. March will be on one of the spring break weekends which may skew the numbers, but if the players from the two new schools show up at either of the next 2 tournaments, I’ll know that my tournament series has hit critical mass and is ready to be brought to a new level.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
The book portrays Hurley as a tough customer who constantly curses at his players and berates them for being lazy, not dedicated to basketball and school, and one step away from a life in the streets or in jail. And the team never loses a game. It also shows how former players of Hurley come back to praise his tough tactics (even though they didn’t like it at the time) and insist their kids play for him at St. Anthony. Hurley does manage to get scholarships for almost all of his players to play college basketball due to his connections and the reputation he has of churning disciplined players out of his basketball program.
I wonder if Hurley was comfortable with author Adrian Wojnarowski’s using his voluminous tirades and profanity towards his players (I have the reviewer copy so perhaps a lot of the cursing and abusive behaviour I read didn't make it to the final edition). The player that was most under Hurley’s scrutiny was his own son, Bobby Hurley, who was a 2 time national champion at Duke and was on his way to a lengthy NBA career until it was cut short by a devastating car accident. The book mentions that some of Hurley’s rival coaches don’t curse nearly as much, but left unsaid is that they don’t win nearly as much either.
Hurley’s methods seem to be an American version of the methods outlined in Amy Chua’s ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ that I wrote about last year in a post called 'High Achievement' , in which Chua describes not allowing her daughter to go to the bathroom until her piano assignment was played to perfection and passing on the tradition of calling her daughter ‘garbage’ as she was called by her own mother when achievements do not live up to her lofty expectations.
Wojnarowski’s book makes special mention of how revered Hurley is by college basketball people, but I wonder if he hasn’t also spawned a generation of wannabees just waiting for the chance to have a basketball team of their own to heap verbal abuse on in the name of ‘character building’. Greg McDermott had a successful run as the head basketball coach at the mid-major University of Northern Iowa. He bypassed bigger jobs to take the Iowa State basketball head coaching assignment because his wife had cancer and by staying in the state, she could keep the same doctors. As a coach in a BCS conference school, McDermott’s players kept transferring to other schools after a year or two, chafing under the same abrasive style that made the less talented UNI players run through walls for him. After 5 losing seasons with the Cyclones, McDermott landed on his feet by taking the head coaching job at another mid-major school, Omaha’s Creighton. He even got his son Doug (co-star of 2 Ames High School championship teams) released from his commitment to attend UNI in order to play for his father. Creighton had a good year last season, going 23-16, was ranked 12th this year and Doug McDermott became a candidate for Player of the Year. But Creighton hit a rough stretch and lost 3 straight games over the past 2 weeks, culminating in a 20 point loss to conference rival Wichita State during which McDermott had a very public meltdown with his son Doug the target of his rage. I can only imagine what happens behind closed doors at practices.
If the Creighton Blue Jays can right their ship and make it to the NCAA tournament, McDermott’s meltdowns will likely be tolerated and he may even get a contract extension. But a disappointing season to go along with being an embarrassment to his school will probably lead to his dismissal as soon as his All-American son’s eligibility runs out. ‘Bully’ coaches are generally tolerated as long as they are winning but previously ignored grounds for dismissal take on new importance when the won-loss records take a turn for the worse. Kansas football coach Mark Mangino’s pattern of abuse towards his players and staff and penchant for NCAA violations were ignored as long as the perennially loser Jayhawk program was nationally ranked and going to bowls, but when they went 5-7 in 2009, an investigation into Mangino’s boorish and abusive behavior was launched and he was forced to resign in short order. A similar investigation in 2007 found no cause for dismissal, possibly due to the Jayhawks top 10 ranking and Orange Bowl victory.
I’d like to think that a coach can succeed without launching curse laden tirades and humiliating their charges on a regular basis. Bill Walsh was a 3-time Super Bowl winning coach of the San Francisco 49ers. He was regarded as a cerebral coach, but he was an accomplished collegiate boxer and his teams were very physical despite their emphasis on the short passing game. I’ve read some of Walsh’s motivational writings and I am convinced that despite his ‘cerebral genius’ persona he was a killer in a competitive environment, yet there are few examples of Walsh belittling or abusing his players while coaching the 49ers or in his 2 stints as the head coach at Stanford University.
I have no doubt that Hurley is a positive force on his basketball players, but the book disturbed me a lot and left me more depressed than inspired despite the successes of the team and players. I’m sure that there are millions of people making similar impact on people without the histrionics, but without the championship banners, there is no one to write books about them because no one will buy the books.
I found myself waiting in line at the Subway in the Des Moines Skywalk today wondering if the workers were being yelled at and cursed at by some frustrated would-be basketball coach of a manager and if they weren't, would I get through the line quicker if they had one? I pulled out my trusty iPod and started taking video (which seemed to magically speed up the line). I knew that the manager wouldn’t be cursing and screaming at the employees in front of the customers, but since I didn’t see a manager around I asked a few of the employees. None of them admitted to it, but the lady taking my money got very defensive when she thought I was intimating she forgot to ask me if I wanted the combo meal. As soon as I turned off my iPod, I thought I heard someone screaming at me, yelling “DO YOU CALL THAT A @&^#%$ VIDEO. YOU HAD YOUR THUMB OVER THE LENS AT LEAST TWICE!!” I walked away as fast as I could and didn’t look back.
I'm sure glad no one's shooting video of me when I'm working!
Sunday, February 12, 2012
In most adult chess tournaments it is required to write down the moves of the games. Having the games written down helps the tournament director resolve any disputes that arise from a misplaced piece or an illegal move. When one player has less than 5 minutes left, neither player has to write down the moves. A sure sign that I’m starting to get tired at a chess tournament is when I miss writing down a move (making the moves for white in the column for the black moves and vice versa) or start writing down the wrong squares. When this starts happening, I try to get up and get a walk and drink of water.
I’ve never insisted that players at my youth tournaments write down the moves. I do encourage it and have scoresheets available, but at the end of the day I’d rather the players concentrate on making good moves than writing down bad ones. At our chess camp last summer, I taught the players how to write down the moves and had them play a few games writing the moves down, but few of them have ever written their moves down at subsequent tournaments.
Most chess teachers teach their students to write down chess moves exactly as they appear in books. Every square on the chessboard has a name based on a coordinate system. The vertical plane is 1 to 8 and the horizontal plane a to h, giving a range of 64 squares from a1 to h8. Every piece (except the pawn) has a letter (B=Bishop, Q=Queen, R=Rook, K=King, and N=Knight). So when the player moves a Rook to e4, they write down Re4. If that was all there was, it would be simple for kids to pick up. BUT there are a lot of buts. If 2 rooks can go to e4 the player needs to say which rook goes to e4 (R1e4 or Rge4, depending on which plane the rooks are lined up on). When castling, the player has to write down 0-0 or 0-0-0, depending on which side of the board they are castling. When a piece is capturing, an ‘x’ needs to be placed between the pieces and the square (Rxe4), only when a pawn captures there is no piece designation so the letter of the vertical plane it is on is used instead (dxe4). AND when a pawn gets to the other end of the board the piece it turns into is noted at the end of the move (dxe8=Q) Got all that? Great! Now try teaching that to a child in 45 minutes.
When a young player starts to write down the moves, their results may suffer in the short term, but they'll benefit in the long run by being able to have areas of improvement quickly identified at club or by a teacher.
At St. Francis where I teach chess on Fridays, our 50 to 60 players a week have dwindled down to a consistent 40 to 45 players. I still have the 8 to 10 kids that hang out at the round tables on one end of the room, socializing, trying to stack chess pieces as high as they can, and occasionally playing a game of chess. I have taken to calling them the ‘stackers’ because they are getting pretty good at finding new ways to stack the odd shaped chess pieces. They are happy to be at the chess club and I’m happy to have them since they don’t disrupt the more serious players.
I also have 30+ players at the other end of the room playing in the ladder tournament on the square tables as far away from the ‘stackers’ as I possibly can get them. After only 5 months some of the younger kids in their first year of chess club are really getting it and can compete on equal or better terms with players 3 or 4 grades above them. This makes me feel great because not only are the younger kids learning they don’t have to take a backseat to older kids on the chessboard, the older kids are learning they have to bring their ‘A’ game against everyone and not judge a book by its cover. Many of the players are coming to my weekend tournaments and I have a core group of 8 to 10 that have gotten USCF memberships and are playing rated chess. At last month’s tournament, the St. Francis players had excellent results, but I was so busy running the tournament I had no time to see what was going on with their games AND they weren’t writing the moves down so I can’t see what they need to correct to improve their games.
I don’t have time during club to monitor the games, so 3 weeks ago I told the ladder players that they would have to start writing down their moves in 2 weeks. I gave them the USCF handout which is the ‘teacher-approved’ way to record games, but I taught anyone who wanted to learn my method. I got a lot of takers once I told them my method only took 2 minutes.
I practice what I preach and write down the moves, but when I have 5 minutes left, I've learned to turn over my sheet so I'm not tempted to waste valuable time recording my moves for posterity!
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
I was the one-eyed man in the field of Electronic Data interchange (EDI) because 20 years ago I set up an EDI program so the coat manufacturing company I worked for could exchange purchase orders and invoices with their big customers like Sears, JC Penney, and Wal-Mart. EDI was one of the early attempts to standardize data exchange between companies. It was a set of vague standards that each company implemented differently. My company kept on hiring ‘experts’ who were really just one-eyed men who had managed pre-written EDI packages for small companies but floundered when trying to adapt their knowledge to a quarter billion dollar companies’ needs. I had left the company in 1990 but was hired back in 1993 to set up their program after 3 failed attempts by one-eyed men. Even though I knew nothing about EDI when I started, I knew all about the company’s other systems and was able to put together the entire program in a year. When I started writing retail software in Iowa, we were approached by Nike and New Balance to set up EDI programs between them and our customers. It was a task that a lot of bigger retail software vendors either couldn’t do or couldn’t do right or could do but had to charge a lot of money for, but I was able to set up a system where small mom and pop stores could send and receive orders and invoices with big companies easily. I wasn’t an EDI expert but since the other companies knew even less about it than I did, our company got lots of new customers because we were the only ones who could deliver a low-cost service. Thanks to the internet and E-Commerce, EDI has since gone the way of the dinosaurs, but I still get the occasional inquiry into my availability to apply for a job working on insurance or health-care companies’ legacy EDI systems thanks to being the one-eyed man.
2 months ago, I received the latest copy of ‘The Chess Journalist’; the quarterly magazine of the Chess Journalists of America, which awarded this Broken Pawn their 2011 Best Chess Blog Award over the other self-nominated entry, making me a one-eyed man in the world of chess blogging. This issue had the CJA award winners listed, so I took a look inside to see if my blog and name was there. Not only was it listed among all the other award winners, there was even a picture of the broken pawn you see at the top of my blog. Having had my thirst for fame satisfied, I read the rest of the magazine and the first thing I noticed was an appeal from the editor Mark Taylor for contributors to the magazine.
I’m more comfortable waiting for everyone else to refuse to help before I volunteer, but there was something about this appeal that spoke to me. I flashed back to when I had similar problems getting contributions for the church newsletter I put together for 8 years. I also thought that it would be fun to see some of my better posts in print, without resorting to publishing my own ‘Best Of’ book. The Chess Journalist goes out to the hundred or so members of the CJA, who would be a captive audience for my blog posts and since I have plenty of posts just sitting in the archives here at the Broken Pawn I picked out 2 of my favorites (On Any Given Thursday and A Winning Weekend), and sent an email to Mr. Taylor offering to polish them up for print so he could use them in the magazine.
I received an email from Mark the next day thanking me for my offer but mentioning that while my posts were well written, they were likely too local for a national publication. Then Taylor asked me if I would be interested in writing a column in the magazine about chess blogging. I had to stop and think about that one. I enjoy writing about chess and other things but was I ready to be writing about writing? For writers? I’d be more like the blind leading the blind instead of the one-eyed man in the land of the blind. I don’t even have any philosophical musings about blogging to share since I just write what I feel like writing about.
Despite all my misgivings and the nagging vision in my head of being ‘Dorf on Blogging’, I decided to take Mark up on his offer and write the CJA column. If I fall on my face it wouldn’t be the first time but some of the best things I’ve ever done were the result of doing things I felt unqualified for at the time but later grew into. I wrote my first column as an introductory piece trying to point out how easy blogging is, that the subject of the blog isn’t as important as the passion brought to the subject, and my own particular hang up of sticking to a consistent schedule. I gave Mark a choice of 2 titles ‘Your Inner Blogger’ and ‘The Blogger Within’ and he chose the latter. I got the magazine last week and there was my column on page 11 in a national publication. I thought it read well and Mark put a killer masthead on top of the column that is one of the cooler pictures of me I’ve ever seen.
The heading for my column in the Chess Journalist magazine. Others may find it pretentious, but I think it's pretty cool. I especially like the fact that unlike my book 'The Adventures of Bulldog Beagle' or the 'Best Chess Blog' award, I didn't have to pay for it.
Saturday, February 4, 2012
Like most restaurants in the Des Moines Skywalk, ‘Something Italian’ was a place I’d never been to, even though it is less than a mile away from work because my lunch is normally the apples and oranges I bring from home. And like most of the skywalk restaurants, it caters to the working class lunch crowd and is only open for weekday lunches, although they also do catering and parties. When I walked in the restaurant it looked like there was a real effort to be ‘Italian’. There were pictures of famous Italians on the walls and a few old pizza signs but what caught my eye was the assortment of Rocky ‘action figures’ on a couple of the shelves. Now, that’s Italian!
There was a large amount of pizzas, pastas, and sandwiches available. I knew I was going to be playing chess later in the afternoon and didn’t want to get filled up, so I decided on having a ‘Sicilian’ sandwich of Ham, Coppicola, Salami, Pepperoni, and Mozzarella on a roll with some water. The customer (who runs half-marathons in his spare time) had the house special which was a turkey sandwich, also with some water.
On the left is the stomach-friendly turkey sandwich, while the gut-busting supreme 'Sicilian' is on the right.
I have no idea what kind of nutrition is best for playing chess, but I’ll bet a gut busting greasy Italian style sandwich isn’t on the top of the list (Here is an article from ChessBase.com on the subject). I’ve always preferred to have a light meal like toast and fruit juice before a tournament and yogurt, apples, trail mix, and apple juice during the tournament, but that’s because I’ve always read about apple juice being so easily digestible that there was no blood diverted to the stomach, leaving more blood for the brain to play chess and always brought apple juice for my kids. Most of the younger players seem to have no problem sucking down Mountain Dew or Red Bull during a tournament, while Dave the barefoot chess player brings his own concoction of red caffeinated soda type stuff. I find that too much caffeine gets me so wired up that I can’t play good chess over an extended period of time but a small cup of coffee or 2 is great for our Thursday night hour long tournaments. In the 1978 world championship match between Anatoly Karpov and Victor Korchnoi, challenger Korchnoi accused Karpov of receiving assistance in the form of coded yogurt during the games. Presumably, the color of the yogurt was to convey to the champ what his seconds thought of his position and how he should proceed. I think it is laughable that the champ would take or even want this sort of advice during a game from lesser players, however the match arbiter ruled that Karpov could only have blueberry yogurt unless special permission was granted.
Our Thursday night chess club has been very poorly attended lately. Scott and Zack have been absent, Jerry has been working, and Jon had some hospital time and has been recuperating at home for the last 2 weeks. Only Joe from Waterloo has been braving the winter weather to come in from out of town (Joe is from Michigan and has been sneering at this year’s Iowa winter). Even Chandler’s brother, Dalton has been missing because he hasn’t been doing his math homework and his parents won’t let him go to club until it’s done. On this Thursday only Joe, Jaleb, Chandler, and me and my grease stuffed belly were at the club at 6pm for the start of our blitz tournament. Since I was the 3rd rated player I got to play Joe. Joe fell into an opening trap and I managed to beat him in a tournament game for the first time in our 6 contests. I was ready to take on Jaleb round 2 when Dalton showed up, having finished his homework, and I resumed my role as house player and sat out the rest of the tournament. Maybe all my thoughts about nutrition and chess have been wrong for 30 years and if I only had been shoveling down pizza, fried chicken, and double bacon cheeseburgers I’d have been a master chess player years ago. Eager to try out this theory, I took Kathy out to lunch on Saturday to Taco Johns and had a Stuffed Grilled Taco with an order of French Fries and a Dr. Pepper. When I got home I played 3 minute chess for a couple of hours and the results were encouraging. You might say I was 'oozing' with confidence. Here is a sampling of my games.
This past Thursday, I was sorely tempted to walk over to ‘Something Italian’ for another gut-busting, grease-laden, and possibly chess improving Sicilian sandwich but I was so busy trying to get a project done I didn’t have the time. We had the same four players for Blitz and I took on Joe again. I had a good position as White using the Boris and was a pawn up in a Bishop vs. Knight ending but then my grease-deprived body let me down and with less than half a minute on my clock I lost my bishop to Joe’s knight fork, leaving me with this position, 17 seconds, and the move. If I just play Kg6, I drive away the knight from its defense of the h pawn and with Joe’s king so far away 2 connected passed pawns and the king easily win, but without the proper lubrication, my brain seized and I could only think about trading the last pawn off to secure the draw so I played g4 and g5. I managed to beat Chandler in the next round and was ready to raid the Salvation Army pantry for something greasy to shove down my throat or mainline directly into my bloodstream for my game with Jaleb when Dalton showed up again after finishing his homework.
It really stung to give away a half a point just because my body wasn’t properly prepared, but at least I have a great idea for a best-selling chess/nutrition book. There are chess books titled ‘Boost Your Chess’, ‘Perfect Your Chess’, ‘Reassess Your Chess’,’Sharpen Your Chess’, ‘Test Your Chess’, ‘Improve Your Chess’; but they’ll have to make way on the shelves for ‘Grease Your Chess: How to Lubricate Your Game!’
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
When I was writing shoe store software for a small company, I got a lot of offers in the mail for free computer magazines and I’d put down ‘MIS Director’ as my title on the forms. This led to me getting a lot of calls for free subscriptions to other computer magazines. I’d patiently answer all the questions from the telemarketers and then right at the end of the call when all I needed to do to confirm my subscription was say YES, I’d ask for the braille version of the magazine. I could hear the jaw drop on the other end of the phone and then I’d casually mention that I was blind and needed the braille version of the magazine in order to be able to read it. When I was told that there was no braille version, I’d try my best to sound crestfallen and say I was sorry, but there was no way I could subscribe to the magazine. It probably wasn’t very nice, but it sure felt good at the time.
I learned a long time ago that telemarketers and customer service reps of big companies are rarely allowed to hang up the phone unless the customer hangs up first. Once I took Matt (who was all of 2 or 3 at the time) to the supermarket and he wanted some Kraft Macaroni and Cheese where the macaroni was shaped like the characters from the X-Men cartoon show. When Kathy cooked it for us, there was barely any Macaroni and Cheese for us to eat. I looked at the box a lot closer than I did at the store and it was only 5.5 ounces (printed in hard to see white against the yellow mac & cheese on the box), while the same sized box of the regular Kraft variety was 7.5 ounces (printed in black in the same position on the box).
Luckily for me, also on the box was a ‘Satisfaction Guaranteed or your money back’ pledge and a phone number to call. I called the number at work during my lunchtime one day and was greeted by a customer service rep who said he would be happy to help me. I explained my dissatisfaction with my 5.5 ounces of Mac & Cheese in a 7.5 ounce box and said I wanted my dollar back (I bought 2 boxes for 50 cents each) like the box guaranteed. The rep told me that he couldn’t give me my money back just because I was unhappy with the portion in the box. I read him the pledge on the box and noted that it did not say ‘Satisfaction Guaranteed unless you were dissatisfied with the small portion in the half-empty box’. This went on for a few minutes and the customer service rep finally told me there was nothing he could do for me and if there was nothing else he could help me with, I could hang up. That’s when I realized he couldn’t hang up on me! I said “I would like my dollar back, please.” and that’s all I said for the next 15 minutes of repeated attempts to get me to hang up and awkward silences until I was transferred to a lady who took my name and address and told me I would get my dollar in a few weeks. Luckily, I had a speaker phone! A few weeks later I received a check for a dollar in addition to a packet of coupons for fine Kraft products.
I’ve used this technique of repeating a simple request over and over whenever I have a customer service complaint and I don’t think the rep is allowed to hang up on me. One time the GM card people deactivated my card when I tried to buy my two boys a membership to the Internet Chess Club. I didn’t know 2 online transactions for the same amount was such a red flag and didn’t pay much attention when I had to use a different card for the second membership. I didn’t find out about the deactivation until 2 weeks later when I tried to use my GM card in a GM dealership to pay for an oil change for my GM car. My GM card was rejected, the clerks treated me like a loser, and I had to use another card while the clerk called it in to make sure I wasn’t using a stolen card. When I got back to work, my wife called to tell me that the GM card people had just called to say they had put a hold on my card 2 weeks prior. I called the GM card company and read them the riot act for making me look like a GM deadbeat at a GM dealership. No one could give me a reasonable explanation as to why I wasn’t told my card had been put on hold and as soon as I realized the rep I was talking to didn’t have any answers, I’d say the magic words, “I’d like to speak to your supervisor, please.” The fourth supervisor put me on hold for 20 minutes, and then told me it was just a mistake and they were very sorry and then asked if there was anything else he could do for me. I told him “Yes, I’d like $50 for my trouble”. He told me over and over that they couldn’t give me $50, but at this point I knew he couldn’t hang up so I kept repeating myself. After 20 more minutes I got a $25 credit to my account because I was such a loyal customer (and I asked to be connected to the division where I could cancel my card). Of course, this was before GM went broke and couldn’t afford $25.
My favorite telemarketing call came when my sister-in-law and her daughter were visiting from Missouri to see Matt graduate high school last May. The phone rang and I saw on the Caller Id that it was the National Rifle Association calling. I put the phone on speaker and when the telemarketer introduced himself and told me he was calling for the NRA, I said in my best ‘Borat’ voice “YES, I would like 2 rifles very much, thank you!!” The telemarketer told me he didn’t sell rifles and I asked him “And you are call for who?”, whereupon he said he was calling on behalf of the National Rifle Association and I would try to order the rifles again. This went on for about 5 minutes with me mixing in the occasional question about how many people I could shoot and how far away I had to be with NRA rifles until our guests started laughing too loudly and the telemarketer realized he was being pranked on and starting laughing along with us.
A couple of weeks ago I got a call from Wells Fargo. It wasn’t really from Wells Fargo, just from a company they sold my number to. The representative was trying to sell me Accidental Death and Dismemberment insurance. I asked if I could get a special rate on the Dismemberment Insurance since both my legs had been amputated. The rep didn’t even have to think about it, but instead told me that the insurance was still a great deal and after all, I still had my arms, fingers, and toes that were eligible. I reminded her that my legs were amputated and that I had no toes, but there was still no discount. By this time, Kathy was giving me the evil eye and it was getting time to walk Daisy and Baxter so I played my final gambit to get a dismemberment discount from the rep. I told her I was scheduled to have surgery to have one of my arms removed and what kind of discount could I get then? There was still no discount so I sadly hung up and went for a walk with Kathy and the beagles.
Someday the telemarketers will have their own ‘Do Not Call’ list and I’m sure I’ll be on it. I’ll probably never notice all the missed calls, but I’m sure I’ll miss the fun of getting even with the telemarketers and customer service reps of the world.