Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Mount Rushmore and Soft Serve

  I listen to a lot of podcasts. One of my favorites is Grantland.com’s Jaleb and Jacoby show. Former NBA player Jalen Rose and Grantland.com producer David Jacoby discuss current events in the NBA along with a host of other topics. I find Rose an astute basketball analyst and fun to listen to. A few months ago they were discussing Jalen’s NBA Mount Rushmore. I’d never heard of an NBA Mount Rushmore and assumed it was going to be his four best players but Rose’s NBA Mount Rushmore was Red Auerbach, Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, and Gregg Popovich.

  In the role of coach or General Manager those four account for 39 of the 65 championships in the history of the NBA. Rose believes that players win championships but they have a much better chance of doing so on a team run by a member of his NBA Mount Rushmore. Despite Rose’s unique take on the subject my NBA Mount Rushmore would be all players that I’ve seen play: Julius Erving, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are no brainers and my fourth is LeBron James (who only recently made it to my top four). I don’t know if it’s the best four ever but I’ll take my chances.

  I find it odd that Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson are joined by Teddy Roosevelt on the actual Mount Rushmore. Roosevelt doesn’t seem to fit. One hundred years after his presidency he is rarely if ever talked about and isn’t on any paper currency like his three fellow Rushmorians or Andrew Jackson or U.S. Grant. Even William McKinley and Grover Cleveland were briefly on $500 and $1000 bills (click here if you don't believe me). T.R. being on Mount Rushmore tells me that he was highly regarded when the monument was being designed in the 1920’s (only ten years after Roosevelt’s death and twenty after the end of his presidency). Who would be on a 20th century Mount Rushmore? I think it would be a real fight but the winners would be Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan. If it came to a public vote I think Bill Clinton would get the nod over Eisenhower but the current political divide would not allow anything other than a split ticket on ‘Rushmore II’. Since Teddy Roosevelt was a Republican he may be a better choice than Eisenhower. When it comes to Republican Presidents of the 20th century there are some pretty slim pickings – I haven’t noticed any groundswell to make monuments honoring Richard Nixon, Herbert Hoover, Calvin Coolidge, or Warren Harding, have you?

  The idea of picking the Mount Rushmore (top four) of anything is pretty challenging. Four is a good number to choose a best of list. There's no room for slackers and some top shelf material is going to be off the list. In my NBA Mount Rushmore I could rattle off players (Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Tim Duncan, and Wilt Chamberlain for example) that would be on the top four of many other lists. I could probably do it two or three more times before I got to names that clearly shouldn’t make the top four.

  I’ve donated some chess lessons to the Des Moines Animal Rescue League the past two years. The lessons have been auctioned off with a ‘cats and dogs’ chess set. Last year the parents of a promising scholastic player won the auction. There was a lot I could show him and I thought the lessons were successful. In any event, since this player was the state grade champion the year before the lessons and was the state grade champion the year after the lessons it can be safely said that I didn’t screw him up.

  This year's auction was won by an older player who's about as good as I am. He had some specific ideas what he wanted to accomplish from the lessons and I asked him to send me his chess Mount Rushmore - his four best games. I did this so I could find out how he sees himself, what kind of style he plays when he is at his best, and to create a web page of his best games to review when he is in a slump to remind himself of the great games he has played. And since my student is around my age, I asked him to watch the movie ‘Rocky Balboa’ not only because it is the anthem for overage overachievers – it gives me a chance to quote Rocky and say stuff like ‘Nothing will hit harder than life! It will beat you to your knees and keep you there if you let it!’ and who could resist getting a chance to say stuff like that when given the chance!

   I received four games. One game was a well played 500 point upset but the rest were not exactly what I expected – a loss, a draw, and a game where my student lost his queen early but came back to win. All the opponent’s names were ‘redacted’. My student was clearly too humble for his own good – when I need a pick me up, the last thing I need to see is a loss or a game where I lost my queen! From the games we concluded that my student liked to attack and was pretty good at it so we spent the lessons devising some more aggressive opening play and did some play testing of critical positions in the middle games that he frequently encountered. The lessons were productive and while I don’t believe they were worth the auction price my student seemed satisfied and that’s good enough for me.

  I wasn’t just practicing what I preach – I made a site with my own Mount Rushmore games to show my student (and to have a ready example for future students) and it was a good thing I did after this train wreck of a game I played Saturday against Christine Denison at my monthly youth tournament.

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of pgn4web.casaschi.net
  A pathetic effort and the worst part is there was no reason to resign. I could have played Qc3 attacking the knight on e5. I would have lost a pawn but instead I lost my head. That was the second game I lost to Christine Saturday. I won a piece in our first game but instead of giving up like I did, Christine started attacking with the pieces she had left and I lost on time defending. I give the players at club a hard time when they give up too early and here I am doing the same thing and I won't be quoting Rocky any time soon. The clinical term I use for such behavior is ‘soft-serve’ as in the soft serve ice cream that pours out of a spout and quickly turns into a puddle of goo in all but the coldest weather as opposed to ‘hard’ ice cream that has to be wrenched from its container with a scoop and melts reluctantly so it can be enjoyed for a long time even on the hottest days. If I ever make a Mount Rushmore of ‘soft-serve’ this game will have a prominent spot!

  After a loss like that I could use a boost of confidence so it’s as good a time as any to show off my Mount Rushmore of chess games. Game #4 on the mount was a game I played in 2003 in Cedar Rapids in the Rockwell-Collins cafeteria against Shawn Pavlik. Shawn used to live in nearby Green Mountain and would come to our Marshalltown Chess Club along with some of his students (Shawn is a math teacher). Shawn also played with Matt, Ben, and myself in couple of Iowa team tournaments. When we chatted before the game, Shawn told me went to the newly started Friday club at the Marshalltown Wal-Mart (run by a paid Wal-Mart employee with the store's blessing) and told me how bad the players were and that maybe one knew the name of a chess opening. My sons and I used to play with the guys at the Wal-Mart. I liked them and thought they were a competitive bunch of farmer types who gave my kids very challenging games and beat me more than once. When Shawn and I sat down to play in the third round we had each won and lost one game and I not only wanted to win the game for its own sake – I wanted to win one for the Wal-Mart chess players.

  Not only was that a satisfying game – I think I played really well. I could have played better with my dark squared bishop but I was in control from start to finish and upheld the honor of the late lamented Marshalltown Wal-Mart Friday chess club which closed shortly after this game was played when the employee that ran it was transferred to another store.

  The #3 game on my chess Mount Rushmore was also played in Cedar Rapids in the Rockwell-Collins cafeteria, this time in 2006. I left the kids home with Kathy to play Little League baseball and went to the Cedar Rapids Open which in 2006 was a six round unrated tournament with a time control of 30 minutes a side. In the first round I lost to a player rated a thousand points below me in a game that made my effort against Christine on Saturday look like one of these Mount Rushmore games. I managed to win the next three games and found myself paired in the next to last round against Bob Keating. At this point Bob was a 2 time national correspondence champion who had been playing over the board for just two years and was an expert chess player. He is an orthopedic surgeon who has since gotten his master certificate and was the Iowa chess champion in 2011. He is also a chess writer who won a Chess Journalists of America award in 2011 for game analysis. In other words, I was going up against a chess superman! The only things I had going for me were the White pieces, Bob had rarely played in tournaments with this quick of a time limit, and since we weren't playing by 'loser gets dipped in a pit of molten lava' rules I had nothing to lose.

  What a game! Compare this game to my effort against Christine on Saturday - no ‘soft-serve’ here! A draw may seem out of place on the Rushmore list but I think this was one of the best games I ever played. I got outpointed by a better player and spent a lot of time on the ropes but I stayed on my feet, avoided getting knocked out, landed a few punches myself, and was saved by the bell at the end. Rocky woulda been proud!

  Game #2 on my Rushmore list was played in the third and final round of a CyChess in Ames in 2008. I hadn’t played in a tournament in a year but I won my first two games and found myself on board 1 against Gerald Hawkins with a chance to win a tournament in Iowa for the first time ever.

  This game is one of my favorites because I felt like I knew what I wanted to do the entire game and even looking at it today it has a logical flow to it that very few of my games ever have. It was hardly a perfect game. I mistimed the Nxd5 shot and dithered with my knight in the middle but I felt I kept a hold on the position from start to finish and was smooth and consistent. I can’t be 100% sure that I could have won the game had Gerald not lost his queen at the end but since I owned the c file and had an extra pawn I like my chances.

  The #1 game on my Mount Rushmore list isn’t a big upset or a win to settle a score or a tournament winning game. It was a game I played in the third round of a tournament in Mount Vernon, Iowa in 2005 against a lower rated player who didn’t play very well at all and yet it is my all time favorite game. The USCF magazine runs a monthly guest column in which the writer goes over the game in which they played their best move and my 14th move would my ‘best move’.

  I haven’t gotten high in over half a lifetime but I had a high after this game and if I want to get a buzz all I have to do is replay it. The Qh5 move is not normally a move I would think of much less make when I have a safe no-risk alternative and 10 years later it's quite a move. I'm normally a counter puncher over the chessboard and being able to go into 'Beast' mode and dish out a pounding was pretty satisfying.

  So that’s my Mount Rushmore of chess. If you want to send me your Mount Rushmore games I’ll make a post of them as long as you include a paragraph about each game for entertainment purposes. The newest of my Rushmore games is over six years old. I’ve had more recent games (and games from the 1980’s) that could have been included but for one reason or another didn’t make the list. As I said at the top of the post, that's the beauty of the Mount Rushmore concept – picking four and only four will leave some great stuff on the cutting room floor but there will be 100% cream at the top. Hopefully I'll have another Mount Rushmore game soon but until then I’ll settle for these.