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!