Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Bashing the Browns

  In 1999, the city of Cleveland was given an expansion National Football League franchise three years after their Cleveland Browns were moved to Baltimore in 1996 by then owner Art Modell. The new Browns fit right in with the rest of Cleveland’s sports teams with losing records in 12 of their first 14 years and began this season on pace to continue their consistent losing with an unsurprising 0-2 record.

  As one would expect with a perennial loser, the Browns have gone through multiple coaches, general managers, and team presidents in their 15 years. In July 2012, the team was sold to businessman Jimmy Haslam by Randy Lerner (son of the deceased original owner Al Lerner). After witnessing last year’s 5-11 season (a one game improvement over the previous year), Haslam cleaned house by firing head coach Pat Shumer and general manager Tom Heckert. Team president and former Super Bowl winning head coach Mike Holmgren had previously had his duties stripped and was offered the chance to serve as a consultant and gracefully retire at the end of the season, but Holmgren decided to leave the organization after one of the teams infrequent victories.

  In the 2012, the Browns had the fourth pick in the draft and Holmgren traded it and the Browns 4th, 5th, and 7th round picks to the Minnesota Vikings for the third pick in the draft and selected All-American Trent Richardson from Alabama. Despite missing the preseason with arthroscopic knee surgery and playing most of the season with two broken ribs Richardson had an impressive rookie season with 1,300 rushing and receiving yards and 12 touchdowns but wasn’t close to being the transcendent running back he was projected to be before the draft.

  Holmgren knew he was running out of time to turn the Browns around and that led him to gamble half his teams draft to move up one place in the first round. Holmgren paid the steep price because he was afraid the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were going to pay the Vikings to move ahead of the Browns and select the Richardson. Ironically, the Buccaneers took running back Doug Martin with the 31st pick in the draft and Martin gained over 1800 yards last year.

  The last time a football team traded multiple draft picks for a ‘transcendent’ running back was when the New Orleans Saints traded the 12th pick in the draft along with their third through seventh round picks AND their first and third picks in the next season’s draft for the fifth pick in the draft which they used to select Heisman Trophy winning Ricky Williams. Williams was an All-Pro caliber running back who helped the Saints to the playoffs in 2000, but was traded to after the 2001 season to the Miami Dolphins for four draft picks.

  The reason so few teams pay a steep price in order to draft a running back is that productive running backs can be found much later in the draft. Of the 16 running backs that gained 1,000 yards last season, six were picked in the first round of the draft, two in the second round, four in the third round, and four were picked in the sixth round or later or were undrafted. Two of the top three and five of the top ten runners were first round picks, but it is clear that a top running back doesn’t have to have been picked in the first round of the draft.

  Even if the best running backs were exclusively first round picks, having the best running back is no guarantee of team success. There are rarely championship teams that have been built around a running back. The only exceptions I can think in the last 30 years of were the NFL’s all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith (three super bowl championships with the Dallas Cowboys in the 1990’s) and the man whose record he broke, Walter Payton (leader of the 1985 Super Bowl Bears). The Bears were built around their great defense and only won the Super Bowl when quarterback Jim McMahon had a rare healthy year, and the Cowboys had all-pros throughout their lineup. If I want to go back 50 years the great Jim Brown (who retired with every rushing record) was clearly the best player and centerpiece of the 1964 champion Browns which had only two other Hall of Famers on the roster (rookie wide receiver Paul Warfield and the aging kicker Lou ‘The Toe’ Groza).

  With an 0-2 start and the prospect of a sixth straight losing season looming larger, new Browns general manager Michael Lombardi traded Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts last week for the Colts first pick in the 2014 NFL draft. The Colts were a playoff team last year but lost their starting running back to a season-ending knee injury. The initial reaction was that Cleveland was giving up on the season after only two games and that all they had to show for last year’s fourth, fifth, seventh round draft picks AND the number four pick in the entire draft is a top 20 pick in next year’s draft. The harshest critic of the trade was none other than Holmgren, the engineer of the trade to get Richardson in the first place. Holmgren told KJR of Seattle “Philosophically, if I am the coach and someone came in anywhere and did that, I’d say, “OK, fire me, or I’m going to quit…Or we’re both going to go into the owner and talk about this and then we’ll see who’s still standing”.

  It’s all well and good for Mike Holmgren to defend the draft pick he invested heavily in and I know that the Super Bowl winning coach Mike Holmgren would have quit if one of his favorite players were traded without his blessing but I doubt that first year coach Mike Holmgren would have quit his first head coaching job after two games because he didn’t approve of his boss trading his starting running back. If Richardson hadn’t gotten hurt last year or had been a running back worth trading half his draft for, perhaps Holmgren would still be running the Browns, but he did get hurt and wasn’t worth half the draft and the Browns continued losing 2 thirds of their games after three years of Holmgren’s tenure the same as they did before Holmgren arrived. Holmgren would be better served by talking more about three Super Bowl appearances during his coaching tenures with the Packers and Seahawks and less about his failure to improve the Browns' record during his time as President of the team.

  Perhaps Richardson will become the player many think he can be now that he is with a better team, but I like the trade for the Browns and I like it a lot. Running backs rarely can be traded for a first round pick but the injury to Bullard put the Colts in a position to overpay for Richardson and to me it wasn’t a question of what the Browns gave up for Richardson – it’s a question of what he’s worth now and what he will be worth in the future and once he established he was not the franchise running back the Browns thought he was it makes perfect sense to trade him at a premium before he gets hurt or he value is further diminished by next year’s crop of running backs.

  The other reason that the trade makes sense is that with an entirely new management team a losing year or two can be blamed on the previous regime, especially since the new management is not coming in with a track record of success. When a 'proven' winner is brought in to take over a franchise, 3 years is about the limit of fan and owner patience as Holmgren and Kansas City Chief ex-GM (and former New England Patriot wonderboy) Scott Pioli have discovered. Since virtually every good team is built through the draft, if the Browns are to become a consistent winner new GM Michael Lombardi will have to draft quickly and draft well and it makes sense for him to stockpile as many draft picks as he can because if he can’t draft the Browns will be losers for another decade and if he can they will be winners that much quicker.

  Despite the Browns 31-27 road win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday (which said more about the hapless state of the Vikings than the Browns), there is a lot of work to be done for the Browns. During the Vikings game, the Browns’ offensive line seemed so awful that Richardson’s pedestrian production last year looks much more impressive. While third string Brian Hoyer did throw three touchdown passes in his second career start, the poor offensive line play had him running for safety too often and he threw three awful looking interceptions. The Brown’s receiving corps is above average and their defense was competent but slow in a lot of spots. It’s a hit or miss proposition to draft franchise quarterbacks and running backs, but if the Browns can use the draft to assemble a strong defense and offensive line they can build a playoff team with journeymen at quarterback and running back and then start gambling on getting superstars in the draft.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Broken Phones and Broken Names

If this had happened four years ago, my blog may have been called 'Broken Phone'...

  When I travelled to Jackson, Minnesota three weeks ago to play in the Jackson Open, I lost more than a game and my chance to have my name inscribed on the Flores Cup; I also lost my cell phone. I don’t know whether I left it in the hotel room on Friday night or during one of my many naps but it didn’t turn up after the tournament organizer looked for it at the playing site or at the hotel so I needed to get a new phone.

  The only times I use my cell phone is when I’m letting Kathy know I’m running late, emergencies, and a weekly phone call to my brother in New Jersey while on the hour long drive home from work. I had a Virgin Mobile plan that cost 18 cents a minute for many years but I recently discovered a plan that allowed me 400 minutes a month for $20 and switched to it since I was spending a little more than $30 a month on the per minute plan.

  The $20 a month plan worked well but when I went to the Wal-Mart to get a new cell phone two weeks ago they didn’t have a Virgin Mobile phone for me to buy that didn’t come with a contract so I got a $15 Verizon phone. The Verizon phone had 3 different plans: $50 a month with unlimited voice and data, $35 a month with limited voice and data, and a plan that cost $2 a day BUT only on the days the phone was used.

  Since I’m only sure of using the phone once a week when I talk to my brother, I opted for the plan that costs me $2 a day when I use the phone. I’m sure Verizon Wireless is thinking that I’ll be one of those people that THINK they’re going to save a bundle but end up using their phone $40 to $50 dollars’ worth every month but in my case they’re wrong. I had the phone for two weeks and only used it to call my brother twice. I received a few calls on my phone but there was no one I considered it worth $2 to talk to so I just let the phone ring and returned the calls when I got home. This plan worked great until I dropped the phone and cracked the cheap plastic cover on the cheap plasma display on the outside of my cheap $15 Verizon phone.

  With the cracked display I had to open the phone when it rang in order to see what number was calling. The Friday night before last the phone rang and when I opened the phone to see who was calling it picked up and there was $2 down the drain. I found myself talking to a chess acquaintance that wanted me to head to Des Moines the next day to help him with a chess tournament he had put together. Since I had inadvertently spent two dollars by answering the phone and had already arranged to spend the Saturday helping Lee Gordon Seebach set up his new blog (you can read it here!) I spent a lot of time on the phone going over the ins and outs of running a tournament. Once I finished the phone call, I figured out how to get my cell phone’s voice mail from another phone and now when my phone rings I just leave it alone and check my voicemail afterwards.

  I was initially upset at cracking the cover of my phone after only two weeks, but now I see it as a blessing in disguise. Before I broke the phone, I had to make a decision on every phone call to decide if the person was worth the $2 to talk to. Now that decision is out of my hands since I’m not going to answer any calls. I’ll keep more of my friends also since as word of my new phone plan got out they were bound to find out that I didn’t consider them worth $2 to talk to (Don’t take it personal – I wouldn’t pay $2 to talk to me either). My new cell phone number is 641-481-1189 in case you want to call. If I don’t pick up please don’t get insulted – I can’t even tell who’s calling without spending $2 and if I do pick up don’t get too flattered – I may have already used the phone on someone who was worth $2 to talk to that day.

  I almost spent $2 to use my phone to call the suicide prevention hotline when I saw this story about Janice Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele (her last name came from her husband and that was his only name). Her 36 character last name wouldn’t fit on her Hawaiian identification card or driver’s license. The Hawaiian cards only allow 34 characters for a name and her cards had no first name and the first 35 characters of her last name. When she was pulled over by a policeman and had to explain why her name wasn’t on her identification, she was told that she maybe she could have her maiden name (Worth) placed on her driver’s license. She became incensed and took her complaint about not having her full name in her identification to the local TV station. The TV station publicized the situation and the Hawaiian Department of Transportation has caved in to the public pressure and decided to change the design of the driver’s license so that by the end of the year the new character limits will be 40 characters for the first and last name and 35 characters for the middle name.

  Janice K (I will use the ‘Jay Z’ form of her name) said "I love the Polynesian culture I married into, I love my Hawaiian name. It is an honor and has been quite a journey to carry the names I carry”. As someone whose last name was cut off from its full Russian name at the “s” when the clerk at Ellis Island got tired of writing my grandfather’s last name down, I can sympathize with Janice’s (using the ‘LeBron’ form of her name) plight and I have no problem with her lobbying to have her full name on her identification cards. A lot of the comments on the articles about JK’s (the ‘JFK’ form of her name) were hammering her with questions about how she signed her name on checks and credit card receipts, but my issue is with the Hawaiian authorities spending the money to change their driver’s license just to accommodate her long name and only leaving 40 characters for it. Since all licenses have numbers to identify themselves and most are bar coded, it would have been far easier to place a ‘Name Too Long’ indicator on the license and let the officer scan it or call it in to get the full name. The way the Hawaiian government has chosen to solve their problem leaves open the possibility of Janice K remarrying Greek soccer player Sokratis Papastathopoulos and then deciding to hyphenate her name to be Janice Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele-Papastathopoulos! What will the Hawaiian authorities do then!? I know what they will do – they will pray that their marriage lasts till the end of her life and that she doesn’t get divorced and marry the Polish soccer player Jakub Blaszczykowski and then need a license to that reads Janice Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele-Papastathopoulos-Blaszczykowski!

  By the way, JK’s friends call her ‘Loke’!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Say It Like You Mean It

  "And I'm the one who will not raise taxes. My opponent now says he'll raise them as a last resort, or a third resort. But when a politician talks like that, you know that's one resort he'll be checking into. My opponent won't rule out raising taxes. But I will. And the Congress will push me to raise taxes and I'll say no. And they'll push, and I'll say no, and they'll push again, and I'll say, to them, ‘Read my lips: no new taxes.’” Vice-President George H.W. Bush 1988

  The phrase ‘read my lips’ has since come to mean a lie is going to be the next thing coming out of the mouth of the speaker but at the time this little phrase resonated with the American middle class in general and Ronald Reagan followers in particular because it summed up in 6 words what these two groups wanted to hear from then candidate Bush. Up to that point George Herbert Walker Bush was thought of as a fairly ineffectual go-along get-along politician who accused Reagan of practicing voodoo economics mere months before becoming a Reaganomics disciple once asked to run for Vice-President on his ticket. After that utterance Bush’s image became one of a tough-talking man’s man who by God in heaven wasn’t going to take money out of hard-working American’s to fund a bunch of liberal causes. If you told me that the line was written by the same guy who wrote Ronald Reagan’s famous ‘Make my day’ speech, I wouldn’t doubt you for a second. Maybe Bush’s tough talk on taxes wouldn’t have been needed if it had been known 25 years ago that he would have been the last President to father a male child up to the present time.

  When then President Bush struck a bargain with Democrats to raise taxes in 1991 in the aftermath of the successful prosecution of the Gulf War and the owner of a 90% approval rating, he and his phrase became laughingstocks to much of the American public. It wasn’t so much that he lied (politicians do that all the time); it was that the original phrase was too well written and resonated too well when he first said it and everyone remembered it. ‘Read my lips’ probably cost Bush his job in the 1992 election because even though he apologized for the comment and swore he wouldn’t raise taxes (unlike his opponent Bill Clinton who pledged to raise taxes on high earners) no one believed him. Whether he would have been elected in the first place without saying ‘Read my lips’ is another debate.

  "We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people…We have been very clear to the Assad regime -- but also to other players on the ground -- that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.” President Barack Obama 2012

  President Obama made these comments last year about the civil war in Syria during an unscheduled appearance at a White House press briefing. He had previously and since made other comments noting that there would be ‘consequences’ if chemical weapons were used and the users of chemical weapons would be ‘held accountable’ for their actions but the ‘red line’ comment sounded tough and was widely reported on and remembered.

  The United States has been in the middle of a number of ‘regime changes’ in the Middle East over the past few years starting with the invasion of Iraq under the pretense that they were harboring weapons of mass destruction. American cruise missiles (as part of a ‘NATO’ operation) prevented Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi from using his air force to prevent a civil uprising in 2011 and we stood aside and watched as Egyptian President (or dictator – choose your word) Hosni Mubarak was forced out of office by protests to allow the military to set up an elected government. When the Egyptian people elected the Muslim Brotherhood party (who then tried to claim much of the same powers that Mubarak had) and more protests ensued, the Egyptian military forcibly removed the elected government, suspended the country’s constitution, and installed an interim government. Most anyone would call this a military coup d'├ętat but the United States government won’t declare it as such since that would mean a halt to the U.S. 1.23 BILLION DOLLARS in military aid to Egypt and by some twisted government economic logic not giving away the 1 BILLION DOLLARS would cost the government 2 to 3 BILLION DOLLARS because then the Egyptian military wouldn’t be able to complete their weapons contracts with our military (if you don’t believe me, click here).

  In the last month the U.S. has accused the Syrian government of using chemical weapons and claimed iron clad proof. Much of the world expected the President to have sent some drones or cruise missiles Syria’s way once the ‘red line’ had been breached. Instead the President has asked Congress for their approval and tried to enlist international support to punish Syria.

  What changed? Russia changed. While Libya and Egypt had no great importance to Russia, Syria is host to their only naval base in the Mediterranean and buys arms from Russia (I don’t know if they pay for their arms with Russian aid in the same way Egypt uses American aid to buy American weapons). While Russia turned a blind eye to regime change in the rest of the Arab world, they have done some saber-rattling of their own by sending three warships to the Mediterranean ostensibly to evacuate Russian citizens.

  With the potential of counter strikes and a full-blown proxy war with Russia brewing, it's no wonder that President Obama wants to make sure that the Congress and/or other nations have his back. Part of the reason Obama became president was the public’s dissatisfaction with how the invasion of Iraq spun out of control and he doesn’t want to have a tidal wave of public dissatisfaction cripple his party for years to come.

  If President Obama had never made his ‘red line’ comment he could have just condemned the chemical weapons strike and left things alone. But having made such a memorable comment makes him (and the country by extension) look weak and impotent unless action is now taken. The President unsuccessfully tried to claim that the ‘red line’ was an international ‘red line’ and a congressional ‘red line’ in a recent speech but none of the treaties against chemical weapons gave a mandate for military action or mentioned a red line.

  I’m not sure why the deaths by chemical weapons in Syria is more abhorrent than the 500+ Egyptian protesters who were killed in the last two weeks or the two million people plus killed in the genocide in Sudan over the past 20 years except that in the world of international politics it's more a matter of who your friend is than what is being done. Dead is dead is dead whether by gas or bullet or machete. In any event I’m happy to see the U.S. staying out of the Syrian mess for now. In a speech made on Saturday Secretary of State John Kerry said “This is our chance to join together and pursue accountability over appeasement. We in the United States know and our French partners know that this is not the time to be silent spectators to slaughter”. Kerry is certainly not being silent but while the US tut-tuts the brutal putdowns of some civil uprisings and flexes its military muscle against others I don’t see how not sending cruise missiles or drone planes to make a point against the use of chemical weapons is the equivalent of silence or some sort of tacit approval. I would define tacit approval sending the Syrian government 1.23 BILLION DOLLARS to buy the chemical weapons from our chemical weapon manufacturers. If the government is so upset about chemical weapons, why haven't they invaded Syria to get rid of them a long time ago? Did they think these weapons would just sit in a warehouse and never be used? Not exactly the same line of thought being taken in the quest to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

  As it has become apparent that the country doesn’t have much of an appetite for a unilateral strike into Syria and while some nations are more than willing to have the US make a stand against chemical weapons none except France are willing to commit anything more than well wishes, the government has aggressively courted congressional votes and downplayed the scope of the planned punishment. A presidential speech to the American people is scheduled for Tuesday. Monday Secretary Kerry said the strike would be an “unbelievably small, limited kind of effort” while on the Sunday news shows White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said that the president will tell the country “what this is not. This is not Iraq. This is not Afghanistan. This is not an extended air campaign like in Libya.” This intense effort to gain support doesn’t pass the smell test. Bombing Libya was a unilateral decision, so why is public support needed for this ‘unbelievably small, limited kind of effort’? There is something going on that isn’t being said. If the President wants to strike out at the Syrians, I wouldn't be any more harsh on him than I was about the Libya strikes two years ago (click here to see), but if he's asking for my permission he doesn't have it.

  I'm sorry that the President is feeling like he and the country are looking soft because he uttered his ‘red line’ comment last year but he said it and not anyone else and I see no reason to the rest of the country has to back up the offhand comment. I think if there is one thing Americans have realized since the post 9-11 American adventures in the Middle East is that we have no friends in that part of the world and the only allies we have there are the ones that have been bought and that any new regime brought into power by America is at least as likely to become our worst enemy than our paid ally. If the President wants to claim that a military strike in Syria is needed because it helps American interests to get the current rulers out of power that is a debate the country should have, but just because some sarin gas was used to kill hundreds of people instead of instead of tanks or bullets or human bombs is no reason for our country to enter yet another military adventure in a region of the world where burning the American flag is the regional pastime.

  Despite the ‘red line’ gaffe, I can’t imagine any foreign country really thinking the President is soft or unreliable. After all, he ordered the Navy strike on the Somali pirates and Osama Bin Laden’s execution and didn't ask for permission either time. I have no doubt that if he felt it vital to our country's interests to punish Syria for the chemical weapons strike it would have been done weeks ago. But perhaps the President is just laying a subtle trap for the Syrian leaders and their Russian overlords in the manner of this great American strategist from the 1950’s:

This military strategy was only recently unclassified under the Freedom of Information Act. Even the Sun Tzu classic 'The Art of War' did not include this particular strategy. I suspect he was saving it for his comeback...

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

2013 Jackson Open - Part 2

  I found it difficult to get a good night’s sleep in the Jackson, Minnesota Super 8 motel following my Friday Night draw against Steve Heinisch. I got a 2AM call from Kathy to let me know she was back safely form Idaho and that Daisy and Baxter had made it through 14 hours in the kitchen by themselves without getting into trouble and after that I was able to sleep until 6:30 which was the latest I’ve woken up in over a year. I washed up, took my bag to the car, checked out, and went to the breakfast room to have the free breakfast that comes with the room.

The Super 8's complimentary breakfast
I never thought of hard boiled eggs as a 'Regional' breakfast item, but I've not been to many regions.

  When I got to the Super 8, I thought it looked different from last year and when I asked the clerk about it he told me they were indeed undergoing extensive renovations. It was only when I started writing this post that I realized that the hotel looked different because it WAS different since I stayed in the Econo Lodge last year. The Super 8 motel had a very nice and quiet room, but except for some old looking apples the breakfast bar was entirely prepackaged with even the toast and waffles wrapped in cellophane. I unwrapped two slices of toast and was toasting them while I ate an Activia yogurt (Sorry Jamie Lee, it was the only choice available). While my toast was cooking, I saw a sign proclaiming a ‘Regional Breakfast Item’. Since I was in Minnesota (land of 10,000 lakes) my mouth was watering at the thought of some smoked Walleye or perhaps some Lutefisk or at the very least Swedish meatballs. I looked all over for some Minnesotan ‘regional breakfast items’ when I finally realized that the ‘regional breakfast item’ the Super 8 was proclaiming was the tray of hard-boiled eggs that was sitting on top of the microwave.

  I didn’t realize that hard-boiled eggs were a ‘regional breakfast item’ but having been educated as such by the Jackson, Minnesota Super 8 Motel, I felt extremely lucky that I was able to sample such a regional delicacy in my youth in New Jersey (since they must have been imported from Minnesota). I had not one but TWO of the regional treats with some coffee and apple juice and made my way down the street to the Jackson Public Library for the final three rounds of the tournament.

  Since John and Jodene took half point byes instead of playing Friday night and there were no other players at a half point except me and Steve, I knew I’d be playing Jodene if no other players arrived. I got to the library and chatted with the other players and when no one else showed up to play I was paired with the Black pieces against Jodene.

Jodene Kruse
  Jodene Kruse is one of the most inspirational people I know. She plays tournament chess and organizes the Okoboji Open every year despite having cerebral palsy. And I don’t mean she does them poorly but because she has this affliction it only matters that she tries – I mean she excels. Jodene does all the organization of the Open from setting the dates and prize funds to getting sponsorships to welcoming the participants to making sure all the players get an extended checkout time on Sunday. As a player, she had a big year in 2012 with cash prizes for her class at the National Open in Last Vegas and the Catfish Days tournament in Minnesota. After hanging around with Jodene and John and Sam, it makes it kind of hard to feel bad because my job isn’t going as well as I’d like or some construction made me wait a few extra minutes in traffic or that I only got a draw with Steve Heinisch the night before. But having said all that, I’ve also seen Jodene have some poor results at chess tournaments. Whether it happens because she gets tired due to her affliction or some flaw in her game that gets exploited I couldn’t say.

  What I can say is that I was determined to do my best to win this game and I wasn’t above some gamesmanship. The player of the Black pieces gets to decide which side of the board the chess clock is placed. Normally the player chooses to have it on their right hand side, but when I’m Black I like to put it on my left hand side. There’s no deep reason for this but the way it works out is that no matter what color I have the clock is almost always on my left hand side and I’m pretty comfortable having it there. Jodene asked me to put the clock on my right hand side and I respectfully declined (although I did remind her to press her clock when she forgot once).

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of
  Jodene was not at her best in this game which only took around an hour and a half, leaving 2 and a half hours till the next round. I took a nap in my car for an hour and since it was another spectacular day I spent the next hour in the courtyard outside the library hanging out with John and Sam and the other players on the tables and chairs Sam provided waiting for the top boards to finish their games. When the dust settled there were three players with 2 wins: defending champ Eric Bell, Minnesota super tournament director Dan Voje, and Dane Zagar. Steve Heinisch and I were tied for fourth with 1.5 points. This meant that I would be playing the lowest rated undefeated player who was Dane Zager.

  Dane is a graduate math student at the University of Wisconsin who has also organized the Twin Ports Open chess tournament in his hometown of Duluth the past two years. Dane was the Minnesota Amateur champion last year. I knew it would be a tall order to beat him but I did have the White pieces so after a light lunch with John Flores at the Pizza Ranch, Dane and I shook hands and started our game.

Dane Zager
  When this game finished I was exhausted and pretty discouraged. I can’t imagine playing any better than I did and it just wasn’t good enough. Almost three hours of intense chess without making any obvious mistakes and I didn’t even know where I went wrong. Dane and I talked about the game afterwards and he thought the game was over once he got the pawn to g3. I’ve looked at the game with the computer and it didn’t look like I missed anything obvious. After looking over the game a couple of times since I think it showed the differences between a player like Dane Zagar and a player like me in a very harsh light. When I doubled Dane’s pawns he pushed them to make weaknesses in my end of the board instead of defending them as weaknesses. Dane used every second of his time in order to get a winning position while I left my time on the clock that could have been used to consider when the a-file became less important than the c-file. And when Dane had the advantage he went straight for the kill which made my dithering around in my game against Jodene (trying to trade queens instead of searching for a sure checkmate) look almost silly in comparison.

  I was so beat after this game that when one of the players decided to take the last round off I put the field back to an even number by taking the last round off myself since I was locked out of any prize money. I hung out in the skittles room at the Senior Center that was next door to the library, found a comfortable chair to sit in and chatted with Sam’s sister Leila for a bit. I fell asleep and when I woke up it was a couple of hours later and half the players were in the senior center going over their completed games. Dane and Eric were going over their final round draw that let them share the championship and John was looking over his upset win against Destiny Jorenby’s brother Josiah. I played a few games of blitz with Shaun (an active player in the 1980's who was only playing in his second tournament this century), the final few games finished, Sam and John gave out the prizes, we said our good byes, and it was time to leave Jackson for another year.

Here's to Sam Smith (center) for another great Jackson Open and the 2013 co-champions : Dane Zagar (l) and Eric Bell (r).

  It was nice to spend a mini vacation playing chess and hanging out with my friends John, Jodene, Sam, and Riaz. Looking back on my Jackson Open from a chess perspective I think I played quite well with my only mistakes being sins of omission, but unlike many other tournaments I’ve played in where I was able to escape punishment for my errors I paid for all my Jackson mistakes with points off the scoreboard. My chess errors were in judging middlegame positions and not tactical which was very encouraging because this tournament notwithstanding most of my tournament games are decided by either tactical or endgame mistakes. But my biggest problem was a lack of stamina. I slept as late as I have in years and took a mid-day nap but I was still exhausted after 4 hours of chess. If I'm ever get to my name on the Flores Cup, I’ll have to train for longer games and be in much better physical condition. Hours and hours of blitz was good preparation for last week’s speed chess tournaments and great fun as well but it did nothing to prepare me for the rigors of a full weekend of chess. This is a conclusion I probably wouldn’t have reached if I had managed to skate by with my mistakes against Steve and Dane, but it's up to me to make this a case of ‘it’s not how hard you hit, but how hard you can get hit…’