Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Who wants to be a Millionaire?

  I do. Who doesn’t? Billionaires and multi-millionaires pop into my mind and there are those who disdain money or think money is the root of all evil or have everything they need and wouldn't want a million dollars even to give away. All in all people who don’t want to be millionaires are on a short list.

Karen Weber-Mendham won $1,000,000 in May for her submission of Cheesy Garlic Bread flavored potato chips in Frito-Lay's “Do Us a Flavor” contest. For the less inventive among us, there's always the lottery...

  The promise of a big prize holds tremendous allure for younger and older chess players alike. In 2005, Grandmaster Maurice Ashley joined forces with the HB Foundation to put on the HB Global Chess Challenge in Minneapolis. The tournament was to be organized by Ashley and sponsored by the HB Foundation with a guaranteed half a million dollar prize fund. The half a million dollar prize fund was unheard of at the time and so was the $350 entry fee. I didn’t think the entry fee to be outrageous (In New Jersey in the 1980’s I paid $50 for big events) but since I had three chess players in the house and a hotel room to get and dogs to board I couldn’t see dropping two or three grand on a tournament no matter how large the prize fund. A co-worker went to the tournament and had a great time. The next year I did spend around half that when we all played in the US Open in Chicago.

  One thing I remember about the tournament was the massive amount of publicity for the tournament. Ashley was on the cover of Chess Life with an armored truck full of money along with a major article and was a regular guest on the Internet Chess Club’s ‘Chess.FM’ broadcasts pumping the tournament in the weeks and months leading up to it. I remember that the month before he was almost pleading chess players to support the tournament and saying the sponsor needed 3,000 players to commit to holding the tournament again next year.

  The tournament drew over 1,500 players (including 50 Grandmasters) and was regarded as an exceptionally well run tournament. As it turned out, the HB foundation was not merely a sponsor of the tournament – they were an investor looking to fund their foundation from the proceeds of the tournament (see Ashley’s comments on this message board) and even though the entry fees covered the prize fund the HB Foundation announced that the tournament would not be continued in 2006.

  Last week, Ashley announced a tournament called the Millionaire Chess Open’ to be held in October 2014 in Las Vegas. The tournament will have a guaranteed million dollar prize fund with a thousand dollar entry fee. When I initially saw the announcement I didn’t think it had much of a chance to be successful and was more of a Field Of Dreams idea (‘If you build it, he will come’) but the more I look at it the more I think it has a chance of succeeding where the HB Global Challenge didn’t.

  The Millionaire Chess Open is not making any pretense about being sponsored by anything other than participant entry fees. In fact, the tournament may not even be held unless there are 1,500 registered entries by March 31st. The tournament site is in Las Vegas which may repel as many chess players as it attracts but it also is a relatively low cost air fare destination with plenty of other attractions for non-chess playing traveling partners. Ashley’s partner in this venture is a businesswoman (Amy Lee) instead of a foundation. Ashley is even enlisting the MIT Media lab’s ‘technological innovativeness’ to ‘present chess in ways never seen before’ for what promises to be a stellar Internet presentation. With the credibility of having run the HB Global Chess tournament, plenty of advance notice for the tournament site and three hotels offering rooms at a discount, a transparent and upfront business plan, and nine months to generate buzz the tournament has all the appearances of a successful venture.

  The other reason I see the Millionaire Chess Open having a great chance of success is that chess has become big business. I received at least a dozen mailings from candidates for the United States Chess Federation's board elections earlier this year touting various candidacies and tickets of candidates which tells me the candidates had the financial backing to solicit votes that was lacking in past years when I merely received a copy of the Chess Life with a ballot and candidate statements. Spending that kind of money to advertise candidacies for unpaid positions on the board makes me think there must be money to be had behind the scenes. Outside of USCF Chess, Billionaire and chess patron Rex Sinquefield recently fronted $175,000 as a prize fund for a four player tournament featuring the top two players in the world (future World Champion Magnus Carlsen and Levon Aronian) and the top two American players (Hikaru Nakamura and Gata Kamsky). I know that’s just pocket change to a billionaire that recently invested 2 million dollars to get a 50% income tax cut through the Missouri State legislature but it dwarfed any previously privately sponsored chess tournament in the United States.

  Ten years ago I knew of only two people in Iowa who charged for private chess lessons, now I can rattle off half a dozen. Earlier this year Ken Fee, proprietor of the Kansas City Chess Club, brought his three children to one of my youth tournaments. We got to talking and he told me he not only gets paid for teaching chess in the schools, he helps the schools get funding to pay him, and he has employees that teach chess in the schools for him. I'm not saying it is good or bad that there is so much cash floating around at the moment – I just saying it is and that can only be a good omen for the Millionaire Chess Open.

  In my section of the Millionaire Chess Open, I could get my $1,000 entry fee back by finishing in the top 20 and recoup $600 for finishing in the top 50. If I were to finish in the top four I’d make it to my sections ‘Millionaire Monday’ where I’d play a double round robin for a chance at the $40,000 first prize. In the open section of the Millionaire Chess Open the top prize is $100,000 with the top 50 places at least recouping the $1,000 entry fee. These are incredible sums of money and I can see a lot of players wanting to take a $1,000 chance on getting hot at the right time and winning a small fortune. I can even see ‘satellite’ tournaments where the top prize would be an entry to the ‘Millionaire Chess Open’.

  There’s only one thing I see missing from the Millionaire Chess Open – a millionaire. The prize fund is a million dollars in total but as catchy as the title is unless and until there is a million dollars prize there won’t be any millionaires created at the ‘Millionaire Chess Open’. If I want to become a millionaire at the chessboard, I’ll have to keep working and waiting for a real millionaire tournament but luckily there are plenty of lottery games and I have my crack team working on the winning idea for the next potato chip flavor contest!

After numerous trials and samplings, my crack team of chefs and I will be submitting our suggestion of 'Bacon Jerky' Potato Chips in the next Frito-Lay flavor contest! Since that million is in the bag, my personal lottery consultant Dot from the Jiffy will be happy to help you on your millionaire quest...

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Day at the Mall

The Marshall Town Center Mall features two traditional jewelry stores and a bakery/snack store that serves hot dogs, chili, and homemade breads. Non-traditional jewelry is also available.

  On Saturday I had my third annual speed chess exhibition at the local mall for the Salvation Army in Marshalltown. It’s my way of paying the Salvation Army back for hosting our chess club and helping them with the incredible work they do for people who have trouble making ends meet at Christmas time and all the other times of the year. Aside from helping a great organization do great things, I get to meet up with old friends and make new ones during the exhibition.

Matt Kreigel warmed me up for the exhibition on Thursday. On the right is just some of the food the Salvation Army collected and gave out to needy families last week. There isn't a worthier organization to help!

  During the exhibition I play anyone who makes a donation to my red kettle at the time odds of one minute to ten minutes and if they beat me or run me out of time they get to pick a chess book from a remainder selection I purchased from and I gave away chess sets the past two years but I figured that anyone who wanted one already had one and anyone who could beat me probably already had a chess set. I got some practice in on Thursday at chess club when Matt Kriegel took up my challenge to play at the exhibition time odds. I generally beat Matt two out of three games at even time odds but on Thursday I beat him two out of three games while giving him ten to one time odds. That great result combined with plenty of tactics exercises and one minute chess on the internet made me feel like I was ready for the exhibition.

The new store in the Marshalltown Mall this year is Delusions, a body modification shop. I was too busy with the exhibition to wait in line to meet the Piercing Princess or partake in ear tapering, suspension on hooks, or any other body modifications...

  I got to the mall on Saturday a little before noon and there were three tables set up for me in an out of the way place to the side of the J C Penney entrance right behind the area where parents would bring their children to meet and have their picture taken with Santa. I set up my boards, laid out the books, and took a walk around the mall, which was about as half empty as it was for last year’s exhibition. Kathy’s collection of over 1,000 Christmas candles were on display in one of the empty storefronts and there was a couple of new stores: a gift shop where you could buy giant sized wall hangings of Elvis Presley or Marilyn Monroe and ‘Delusions’; a full service body modification store where you can get pierced, tattooed, corseted, ear tapered, or even suspended from hooks that are pierced through your flesh (Here is their web site). Believe it or not, this was the busiest store in the mall!! I know at work many of the 20 and 30 year olds have face piercings and large tattoos on their arms and necks and does anyone really know which of their coworkers have tattoos or piercings or underneath their business casual wear? Any weekend trip to the Wal-Mart in the summer will reveal copious amounts of 50 and 60 year old tattooed and pieced flesh so I'll assume I missed out on this particular trend.

First up - Isaac (and family) and Seth!

Mike from the paper at work.
  I sat down at the chess table a little before noon and I immediately had my first customer, Isaac. Isaac was with his two daughters hanging around the mall while his wife was shopping in J C Penney. Isaac kept on forgetting to hit his clock and I reminded him a couple of times but then his daughters reminded him so I didn’t have to. I won a piece with an opening trick but Isaac was a pretty strong player and found a king side attack and won the piece back. We got to an even endgame but I only had nine seconds left on my clock when Isaac’s cell phone rang! Isaac said it was his wife and she was ready and he said good bye and left without finishing the game. I can only assume his wife was a stickler for punctuality.

Seth gets some advice...
  As soon as Isaac left, Seth was ready to play. Seth comes to play every week at our club and beat me at last year’s exhibition. I tried to take a picture of Seth but the batteries on my camera died and I didn’t have any spares. I started swapping out the batteries from my chess clocks but none of them had enough juice to take more than one or two pictures. I got a picture of Seth and then Mike from the local paper showed up to take a picture of the exhibition. Mike’s timing was perfect since every year there are plenty of dead times when no one wants to play. I got a picture of Mike taking pictures and then Seth and I sat down to play. Mike must have been busy because he took some pictures while we were playing and then left before our game was over. I was beating Seth easily in our first game but I got down to less than ten seconds and had to salvage a draw by taking all his pieces before I ran out of time.

Andrew Smith(l) and Aaron Anderson, Marshalltown High School chess legends. I wore my cool Punisher t-shirt in hope of intimidating my opponents, but Andrew and Aaron were the ones doing the punishing...

  I beat Seth in our next game and during the game, Aaron Anderson and Andrew Smith stopped by to play. I first met Aaron when I gave a chess exhibition for the high school chess team in 2004. Out of the half dozen or so players that were there, Aaron was the one who started coming to the club at the Salvation Army and the next year Andrew came with him. They combined with Matt and Ben to share 3 High School team chess championships from 2005 to 2007 and were always great with the other kids at club and super ambassadors for chess in Marshalltown. Andrew spent a number of years as a manager at Menards (the hardware store) and is now back at college. Aaron is a music graduate from UNI who works at Menards when he isn’t performing. They are two of my favorite people in the world and I was very happy to see them come out to play some chess. Having said that, Aaron and Andrew are both almost as strong as I am and I would like nothing better than to beat them with the time handicap so I could have lifetime bragging rights!

Rico, David, and Wes tried their luck.

  I beat Seth again and then it was Aaron’s turn since Andrew headed out to the Radio Shack to get some batteries for my camera. Aaron is a solid player that doesn’t go in for a lot of tactics and I had a lot of trouble mixing it up against him. Once I got down to under 20 seconds left I went for some cheapos that Aaron rebuffed but then he fell for a back-rank mate! Seth learned from Aaron’s slow careful play and he played me to an even game where I ran out of time.

  Having won his book, Seth left but Andrew had returned with some batteries for my camera and we sat down to play some chess. Andrew has a wild attacking style that has always given me fits. He completely outplayed me in our game and checkmated me before I could even run out of time. Then he and Aaron took turns beating me for the next 45 minutes or so at the time odds. While we were playing this guy was watching so I asked him if he wanted to play using a line I learned from Law & Order: SVU, saying: “Come on and play…you know you want to…” Eventually the guy came over to play and I played him while Aaron and Andrew played each other. The guy’s name was Rico and in our first game he was intimidated by the clock and fell for a quick checkmate. Rico played a lot better in the second game and I managed to find a cheap checkmate with just a few seconds left on my clock. After I beat Rico a third time he left and I spent another half hour unsuccessfully trying to beat Aaron and Andrew at the handicap time odds (although I was beating them handily at three minutes each).

Here is my wife Kathy's Christmas candle collection. They have been on display in Main Street storefronts the past four years and this year are at the mall. Yes, these are all candles.

  A young kid named David and a Marine recruiter named Wes decided to try their luck in the exhibition. Like most non-tournament chess players, they were unnerved by the clock and how fast I was moving and lost quickly. When I checkmated Wes an old farmer type named Casey in an Iowa Hawkeye hat who was watching but not playing yelled “Finally found someone you can beat, HUH!!” I asked Casey if he wanted to play for $20 because I always wanted my own ATM machine but he said he was waiting for his wife and just didn’t have time to be giving me lessons. At this point it was around 3:00 and Kathy came by to check out the action and look in on her Christmas candles. I tried one last time to beat Andrew at 10-1 odds and after another failure Aaron and Andrew left.

  Once everyone was gone, I spent some time talking to Casey the farmer and went over some games from the excellent book I brought along: ‘Secret Notes’ by David Bronstein which details the travels of the 1951 World Championship challenger in Europe after being under strict supervision in under the Russian regime before the breakup of the Soviet Union in the 1990's. I chatted with some passing by shoppers that wanted to talk about chess and worked the crowd to get some people to play against me. I got some games in against Garrett and Mike, who were both inexperienced and gave away too many pieces to make my limited amount of time a factor in our games. One older lady came up to the table where I had the chess books and started asking me about them. I told her about all the books and then she picked two out and said “I’ll take these” as if I was a clerk in a jewelry store or snack bar or body modification shop. I started to explain that I wasn’t selling them but she whipped out her checkbook and said “How much?” so I gave her a number and asked her to make the check out to the Salvation Army. While she was writing the check, she told me the books were going to be a gift for her son in California. When she left, it was around 5:30 and the only customers in the mall were at Delusions picking out their next body modification. I think Santa and Mrs. Claus were getting some body jewelry and ink and I assume the elves were getting their ears tapered since they had gone missing also. With no one to play and no desire to see Santa or Mrs. Claus undergo body modification, I packed up my chess stuff and headed home for the day.

Finishing up with Garrett, Mike, and the mystery shopper.

  It was a great day of speed chess, a special bonus to hang out with Andrew and Aaron, and as always any time I spend helping the Salvation Army is time very well spent. During the exhibition, I didn’t think I had played as many people as in past years, but as I went over my other ‘speed chess exhibit’ blogs I was busier than ever. I think my perception was off because while the last two exhibitions were slow at the start and busy at the end, this year was busy at the start and slow at the end. The idea of giving away chess books was worth trying (and I even sold two of them) but next year I’ll need to have the chess sets back because even the most basic chess book was beyond the scope of the beginning players that showed up to play. If I really want to ramp up the chess-playing crowd I may just scrap the chess sets and boards and give away body modifications at Delusions.

Speaking of speed, I mailed my first $10 gas voucher last Thursday. We'll see how speedy the rebate company is in sending me my $10!!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Cheaters Never Prosper (unless they prosper)

Gas voucher or special offer... (click to enlarge)
If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying – Mark Grace
It’s not cheating if you don’t get caught – Anonymous

  I MAY owe the FiltroPur company an apology. Two weeks after writing about how the $100 gas card I was expecting to receive in return for hosting a home demonstration was really a complicated voucher system that would give me a series of gas vouchers I received an email with my first voucher that I can send back with the gas receipt and receive a $10 dollar check after 8-10 weeks. I said MAY because until I’ve yet to see any cash although I did receive an offer to trade in my rebate for ‘a 7 night stay in a beautiful resort, with 24 domestic and international destinations to choose from’ for the low price of $125 per person (double occupancy required) plus the additional resort taxes and fees. I called the voucher company today and they confirmed they would send me a voucher each month instead of waiting until I get my check. Before my phone call I was going to write a thousand or so words about what cheats the FiltroPur company are, but for now I'll settle for writing about some of the cheaters I've seen in the world of professional sports over the past few weeks.

  It’s been a rough start to the 2013-2014 NBA season for the Brooklyn Nets. Last year’s season was the Net’s first in Brooklyn’s billion dollar Barclay Center after moving from New Jersey. An 11-4 start led to Avery Johnson being named the NBA coach of the month for November but a 3-10 December led to Johnson being the first ever November coach of the month to be fired in December. The Nets proceeded to finish the season on a 35-19 run under interim coach P.J. Carlisemo (best known for being choked by Latrell Sprewell when he was coaching the Golden State Warriors in 1997), but after a disappointing seven game loss in opening round of the playoffs to a Chicago Bulls team that was decimated by injuries billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov decided to go for broke in his quest for an NBA championship.

  With 53 million of the 58 million dollar salary cap committed to the Nets ‘Big 3’ of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez the Nets traded their 2016 and 2018 first round (along with the option to trade picks in the 2017 draft) draft picks for All-Stars Kevin Garnett and Pierce and 2009 Sixth Man of the year Jason Terry, This move added another 33 million dollars to the Nets' salary and caused the team to pay over 80 million dollars in salary cap penalties (Here is the Nets' payroll). The hope is the 36 year old Pierce and Terry and 37 year old Garnett would lend their championship experience and toughness to the Nets. Salary cap penalties don't mean much to billionaire Prokhorov, but the lack of draft picks have condemned the Nets to a decade of overpaying for whatever free agent players they can attract to Brooklyn since that is the only way they will be able to replace their players as they age.

  Hopes were high when the Nets defeated the two time defending champs Miami Heat in the second game of the season but the end of November found the Nets with one of the worst records in the league at 5-12. December started on an even worse note with blowout losses at home to the Denver Nuggets and a nationally televised game against their crosstown rivals New York Knicks. On the night before Thanksgiving, the Nets were losing by a point to the Lakers with just a few seconds left. Nets rookie coach Jason Kidd wanted to call a time out to set up an play. It was a good stratagem except that the Nets had no time outs left. So Kidd improvised and told one of his players, Tyshawn Taylor, to ‘hit him’. Taylor bumped into Kidd, who spilled his soda on the court. While the soda was being cleaned up, Kidd used the de-facto time out to set up the inbounds play which worked about as well as the rest of the Nets' season as the Lakers won 99-94.

This time-out brought to you by Dr. Pepper?

  The NBA wasn’t amused by Kidd’s trick and slapped him with a $50,000 fine for delaying the game. The basketball press treated the matter either as a desperate move by a coach hopelessly over his head or a savvy veteran move. I think if Kidd was really savvy he would have just dropped the soda instead of asking a player to hit him so I go along with the idea of the overmatched rookie coach who mismanaged his time outs and tried to cheat his way into one. I wonder what the fine would have been if the Nets had managed to win the game with the aid of the bogus time out. The Nets have had a lot of injuries which is not surprising for such an old team but if they can get their players healthy in April there is no reason they can’t catch lightning in a bottle for the playoffs although that isn’t where I’d place my bet.

  As odd as a coach throwing a soda on a basketball court in order to get a time out on Thanksgiving Eve, it was nothing compared to the stunt Pittsburgh Steeler Coach Mike Tomlin pulled the very next night. The Steelers had battled back from a 0-4 start to win 5 of their next seven games and were a Thanksgiving night win against the Baltimore Ravens away from controlling their playoff destiny. The Ravens led at halftime 10-0 and got a field goal to open the second half. Pittsburgh scored their first points of the game with a third quarter touchdown to close to 13-7 but the Ravens Jacoby Jones broke free on the ensuing kickoff and was poised to score a touchdown when he had to break stride and avoid Coach Tomlin who had drifted onto the field. Jones was caught from behind, the Ravens were held to a field goal and the Steelers came within a 2 point conversion in the final minute from sending the game into overtime.

Coach Mike Tomlin was the best kickoff defender on the Steelers.

  Tomlin’s excuse for being on the field was that he was watching the Jumbotron screen in the end zone and got disoriented. I would be tempted to believe him except for the sly grin he shoots out at the 30 second mark of the YouTube video. That grin is the look of a man that knows he got away with something – something like saving his team a touchdown.

  Tomlin said all the right things in his post-game press conferences and talked about how his actions were ‘embarrassing, inexcusable, and illegal’. The NFL fined Tomlin $100,000 and will likely dock the Steelers a draft pick after the season. I don’t think Tomlin’s actions were premeditated but he is likely under a lot of stress. After one NFL championship, two Super Bowl appearances, and four playoff appearances in his first five years the Steelers are likely going to miss the playoffs two years in a row for the first time since 2000 and are one loss away from their first losing record in over ten years.

  Whether Tomlin and Kidd were showing their competitive zeal or their will to win or how much they hate to lose, I think they were just cheating and got caught. Cheating in sports is a very tricky subject. While the steroid users are universally reviled in baseball, Gaylord Perry was regarded as a raconteur during his long spitball throwing pitching career and even was voted into the Hall of Fame while making a good living on the speaking circuit bragging about how he used to cheat and get away with it.

  Borislav Ivanov is a Bulgarian master chess player that had a string of tremendous results in the past year and has been widely accused of cheating but despite body searches and pat downs no one was able to figure out how he was cheating. FIDE Master Valeri Lilov made a number of accusatory videos on Chessbase claiming that Ivanov was making moves selected by a computer program more than 90% of the time (here is one of his ‘exposes’). I didn’t find his arguments especially convincing as Lilov would just shrug off the times that Ivanov did not make ‘computer’ moves with little or no explanation, but so many GM’s were convinced that they boycotted any tournament Ivanov entered. Ivanov was finally outed by GM Max Dlugy in the Blagoevgrad Open when he noticed Ivanov’s unusual style of walking and habitual pushing his feet into the floor during his games. Before he was scheduled to play Ivanov, Dlugy insisted that Ivanov take off his shoes as part of the body search. Ivanov refused and announced his ‘retirement’ from chess in October. The logical conclusion was that Ivanov has an iPod or other computing device in his shoe and is manipulating it with his toes and receiving feedback via vibration. Last week Ivanov made his ‘comeback’ and competed in a tournament in Spain. He was again beating Grandmasters until his sixth round opponent demanded to have his shoes inspected. Ivanov again refused and was disqualified from the tournament. With the incredible advances in computer technology and voice, gesture, and eye movement interfaces I’m sure it is only a matter of time before a player finds a way to implant a chess playing computer chip and interface with it via electrical impulses. Dlugy noted that what gave Ivanov away more than anything else was that he would never pause over a particularly difficult position and spend the same amount of time over every move. Dlugy noted that a Grandmaster equipped with such a device would never be found out because they would know when to spend an hour on a move that the computer spit out after a few seconds.

  I didn’t feel too left out by not being included in the cheating craze but I found a way to join the crowd when I accidentally discovered a bug in the Tactics Trainer app after using it for 2 years on my amazing iPod. When I run across an interesting puzzle I take a screen capture of it to show to the chess class I teach at St. Francis on Friday mornings. Two weeks ago I solved a puzzle, rewound the puzzle to the beginning and took a screen capture. I wanted to get a picture of the solution so I made the move on the chessboard again to take another screen capture. To my surprise, I received the same credit for correctly solving the puzzle a second time! Further investigation shows anyone could gain as many points as they wanted on the Tactics Trainer app as long as they could manage to solve just one puzzle. I wrote to the company who thanked me and told me a fix was in the works. I'm currently ranked in the top 100 of all-time Tactics Trainer solvers but it may not be too long before I'm in the top 10 unless the other users are reading this post!

  Some puzzles are easier to solve than others. In the puzzle on the left, White is ahead a piece so probably just needs to survive against the threat of Qe3+. This quickly leads to the idea of Re7 and if Black plays Rff2 to threaten a perpetual check Qf8 forces massive trades or a checkmate on g7.
  In the puzzle in the center, the Black side is a piece ahead. White has the dire threat of Rxf6 and Qxh7#. The only move that holds the extra piece is Ne4 which blocks the checkmate and attacks the queen.
  Notice anything about the puzzle on the right? It's the same as the puzzle on the left except that it has been 'solved' for the second time and I have 4.3 more tactics points than before!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Marathon at Zanzibar's

Zanzibar's Coffee Adventure was packed for the big shopping weekend.
Luckily there was enough room for a chessboard....

  Last week I used three days of vacation in combination with last week’s Thanksgiving holiday to have an entire week away from work. Except for an hour or so hosting a FiltroPur demonstration in a futile attempt to get a $100 gas card I had a relaxing time hanging out with family (Matt and Ben were both home from college), working on the software project I started in August, taking plenty of beef stick walks with Daisy and Baxter, and playing lots of one minute chess.

  Two weeks ago I ran into my friend Mike Jeter on the Des Moines Skywalk and arranged to head over to Zanzibar’s Coffee Adventure for some coffeehouse chess with Mike and Dan Troxell on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The timing was extra perfect because when Ben needed to get to the airport in Des Moines on Saturday at 5am for his flight back to school I readily volunteered to get up at 2:30 to take him there because I would be in town to play chess anyway.

  After dropping Ben off at the airport it was still hours before Zanzibar’s even opened so I headed to my office in downtown Des Moines for a couple of hours and headed to Zanzibar’s at 7:30. No one was going to get there until 8:30 so I bought a giant mug of Ethiopian Coffee, an everything bagel with cream cheese, the Des Moines Register and $5.25 later was sitting at a table reading the paper, drinking my coffee, and eating my bagel. I brought along my camera to take some pictures for my blog. I was also hopeful of catching some of the many famous people that tend to stop in Zanzibar's for the fine coffee. In the past, I've captured pictures of Richard Gere, James Brolin, and Robin Williams (you can see them here). No one ever believes that these celebrities are actually who I say they are, but I maintain that they are experts at slightly disguising their looks and avoiding direct frontal photographs to keep the paparazzi at bay.

On the left is my friend Dan Troxell : poet, beer maker, comic collector and chess player. On the right is one of the many celebrities who happen into Zanzibar's Coffee Adventure. I believe that is World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen getting a cup of Ethiopian Coffee just like me. You can compare this pic with other images of the champ (at better angles of course) by clicking here.

  Around 8:30, Dan showed up. Dan is a renaissance man who moves from hobby to hobby. He was a mainstay at my monthly Parents and Friends tournaments until April of this year and placed well in my Time Odds Blitz tournaments over the summer but has devoted most of his attention lately to the art of making beer (You can follow his progress at his Beerhenge page on Facebook). We made a little small talk and then got down to playing.

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of

  Dan and I just started another game when Mike came in. He sat at the counter eating breakfast while Dan and I contested another 10 minute game.

After a healthy breakfast and some strong coffee, Mike was ready to play some chess!

  Dan wasn’t in top form and I was feeling pretty good about my play when Mike and I sat down to play our game. I topped off my cup of Ethiopian Coffee before sitting down to make the most mistakes I've made in some time and also one of the longest games I've ever played (so long that I had to break up the game into two parts!)

  What a struggle. The game took almost two hours and while we were playing Steve and Zack came in to watch and play. Steve is a beginning player who played in one of my Time Odds Blitz tournaments this summer and Zack is a former tournament player who meets up with Tim McEntee and Jose Gatica at Smokey Row on Friday nights. Zack was showing Mike and I where we had gone wrong in our game and had a lot of better ideas than we came up with but things look a lot different when you are playing as opposed to when you are watching. When I play in a chess tournament every move is super important because I'm normally investing time, effort, and money and want to have good results but at Zanzibar's I just want to sit down, drink some coffee, hang out with my friends, have a good time with my friends, and let winning and losing take a back seat. I enjoyed this game against Mike as much as any I've played in awhile even though I was thoroughly outplayed for the first 80 or so moves. I liked my dogged defense even if I wasn't so pleased with the passive opening and loss of the queen that made me have to defend.

Steve is on the left, Zack is in the center, and on the right is someone who looked suspiciously like former world chess champion Viswanathan Anand. You can click here to compare this picture with other images of the ex-champ (who may have been looking for some pointers).

  After playing for three hours straight, I was ready to take a nap but because I was the 'guest' player Steve and Dan both wanted to play me. So I loaded up with another giant cup of Ethiopian coffee and went back at it against Steve.

  By this point I was feeling a little punch drunk, but Dan wanted to play another game before he left:

  We all spent some time going over the titanic game with Mike before Dan and Zack left. It was about one in the afternoon and I played one more game against Steve before leaving.

As I was leaving, I managed to get these pics of actor Billy Bob Thorton. I would have gotten closer or asked for an autograph but having seen the movie 'Sling Blade' thought the better of it.

  I left Zanzibar’s at around 1:30 and as usual I had an awesome time. I expected to play a game or two and hang out with the gang all morning but instead played almost 5 straight hours of chess while drinking cup after cup of Ethiopian coffee. Even though I had gotten up at 2:30 in the morning, the Ethiopian coffee kept me going for hours and hours and I even got to see the amazing finish of the Alabama-Auburn game late on Saturday before finally taking a well-deserved nap. I appreciate the great hospitality the Zanzibar's crowd once again showed me and my celebrity snapshots will look great in the album with my other Zanzibar celebrities.