Monday, May 4, 2015

Pairings in Black and White

Well worth your time and money!
  After the hectic finish to Saturday night’s games I was one of a group of 20 or so that headed to the El Parian Mexican Restaurant for our annual Saturday night dinner. I sat by Mark Capron, Tim McEntee, Tom Gaul, Sam Smith, Ken Fee, and Frank Whitsell at one end of a long row of tables. I had a great time talking and joking about all things chess and non-chess while chowing down on a giant plate of Pollo Chorizo (chicken, chorizo sausage, and rice). Ken bought my dinner and the staff must have gotten an extra bonus because Eric Bell told me he also paid for my dinner. If I had only known I would have ordered a double portion.

  The guest of honor at the dinner besides our unofficial host Riaz Khan was Grandmaster Mauricio Flores. Aside from being a chess grandmaster, Mauricio is a graduate student in Math at the University of Minnesota and the author of the chess book “Chess Structures – A Grandmaster Guide”. Mauricio brought a few copies of his book to the tournament and they were quickly snapped up and autographed before I even found out they were available. I did get to look at Tom Gaul’s copy and I was quite impressed. The book is less than $25 and over 450 pages explaining in detail many of the common pawn structures in commonsense language that I could understand easily. Mauricio even has a blog where he continues adding to the topics he covers in the book. While the table was talking about chess he mentioned that in his opinion, the Albin Counter Gambit was a great opening choice for below GM players since it is hard for White to keep Black from getting the pawns in the center this opening aims for.

  Mauricio is very quiet but very cool. I took advantage of his mathematics graduate student expertise to ask about my son’s upcoming semester of study in Hungary and winning the Rockefeller award. He knew all about these types of activities and explained these are the type of academic things students need to do in order to get into better graduate schools. We asked Mauricio if he was going to write another book and he said he would like to but he needed a subject. I suggested that he write about what to do when one side has pawns on a7 and b7 vs. pawns on b2 and b3 because whenever I get into one of these positions I always get the worst of it no matter which side I have. Mauricio just laughed and said that could be a page or two in a book but asked how would he fill the rest of it? It was great hanging out with him and other masters like Tim, Dane Mattson, and Okey Iwu along with all the rest of the Okoboji crowd for the night. We closed El Parian down and were back in the Arrowwood Resort by 11 for one more day of chess.

Dinner time at El Parian in Okoboji, Iowa!

  Without any beagles to walk I again woke up as late as I have all year which was a quarter after six. I felt fat and happy after my great evening eating Pollo Chorizo as I headed to the Arrowwood lobby for a free breakfast of coffee, toast, and danish before heading to the tournament room.

  I printed the pairings the night before and as I inspected them in the light of the morning some of them weren't what I would have expected form the computer. I've had this same feeling in years past and even changed some of the final round pairings. I dislike changing the computer pairings because it creates the possibility that I'll miss something and have the same players facing each other twice or having the same colors three times in a row or any other number of organizational no-nos. I’ll be the first to admit I like the comfort of answering any questions with a shrug and pointing a finger at the unfeeling silicon beast. I'll also be the first to admit I want to know what I’m doing and if I’m using the computer I want to know why the computer is doing what it is doing.

  The fourth round was underway on Sunday morning when Mark Capron told me that the pairings in the reserve section seemed off. It was the same thing I noticed in the morning and I said so. Mark is one of the most experienced tournament directors in the state. We both use the Win TD pairing software and when I mentioned I noticed the same anomaly Mark said that I must have the software set to give a high preference to alternating colors. Alternating colors is the practice of giving players the White pieces after a game with the Black pieces and vice versa.

  The morning round of the tournament continued with no problems and very little drama. GM Flores and Jon Reigenborn had already clichéd at least a tie in the open and reserve sections. As I was making the pairings for the last round the only question was which of their pursuers would get the chance to catch up by beating the leader. I paired the reserve section and everything looked as I would have expected with Sam Smith getting a crack at Jon since he was the highest rated player in the group trailing the leader by a point.

  In the open section there were five players a point behind GM Flores : Dane Mattson, Tim McEntee, Bob Keating, Andrew Titus, and James Neal. I would have expected Dane to be paired against the GM since he was the highest rated player of the five (Neal had already played Flores and wouldn't play him again). But the computer spit out Tim as the opponent because that pairing would give the top six players alternating colors. I changed the setting that Mark had told me about and redid the pairings and sure enough it had Dane getting two whites in a row playing Flores. Dane, Bob, and Tim were in the room waiting for the pairings so I decided to ask if they thought I should change the pairings. None of these champion players cared who they were playing or with what color but the consensus was that I should pair the final round the way I paired the previous four so that’s what I did. I have participated and directed other tournaments where players go bonkers over the final round pairings and even seen players withdraw from the tournament if they don’t get their way but Okoboji isn't like that – I'm fond of telling people that this tournament has a shortage of jerks. This shortage is a big part of what makes it a privilege for me to help by directing. I wouldn't be much help if there were a bunch of jerks because while I am many things, one thing I am not is the ‘jerk whisperer’.

  I thought that at next year’s tournament I would change the pairing software to give less preference to alternating colors but after helping at Bethany Carson’s Wellsburg Open tournament this past weekend I’m not so sure. Bethany’s SwissSys pairing software didn't worry about alternating the colors and in the last round there was a weird situation where the top ranked player got three out of four games with the white pieces because the software had given the his last round opponent two games with the white pieces in a row previously (giving a player three games in a row with the same color is very taboo). Clearly this topic is less black and white than the colors of the pieces and I need to spend some time pondering all its arcane aspects before I make a final decision.

  I posted the final round pairings and one player from the open section asked me why he had to play the two lowest rated players in the open section in the final two rounds (he had played the lowest rated player in the next to last round and was scheduled to play the next to last rated player). I looked at the pairings and saw that he had a point – all things being equal he should have been playing a player near his level. I was going to make a new pairing manually when Tim McEntee came walking by so I asked him what he thought. In seconds he saw that the computer made the pairings the way they did because otherwise two players would have had to play each other for a second time (another pairing taboo). This explanation was not acceptable to the player who told me he first had to play two very high rated players and now had to play two very low rated players and couldn't I do anything about this. I said changing the pairings would be too disruptive and I was going to leave them alone. Then this player told me that this was a “deal breaker” and he wouldn't be coming back to this tournament unless maybe he got a refund.

  How about that? A shakedown at a chess tournament! The people in California are probably reading this and hoping their water shortage can be solved as easily as Okoboji's jerk shortage. I've played in a lot of chess tournaments. I've played the best and the worst and I've been the best and the worst. I might not go back to a tournament because it’s noisy or costly or the tournament site is in a sketchy neighborhood or the tournament organizer is a jerk but never because of who I played because who I play is in large part up to me. I would have loved to have played Mauricio Flores or Bob Keating at the Friday Night blitz. I didn't get to because I didn't play well enough to play the top players. Unless I get lucky in my first round pairing I have to earn my way to play the top players or even players at my level and if I don't that’s on me and not on the people running the tournament (which in this case was me sort of but you get my drift). I really didn't know what to make of this guy that wanted a refund because he didn't get to play who he wanted to play. I should have just pawned him off to Jodene but I didn't see her around. I didn't want this guy to go away angry but I did want him to go away so I gave him $30 and told him I respected the fact that he was unhappy and I hoped he respected the fact that there wasn't anything I was going to do about it. 30 dollars is a fairly nice incentive to agree to disagree so we left it at that and I was going to invite him to my next personnel review at work but it was time for the round to start.

  There wasn’t very much drama in the final round. Mauricio beat Tim fairly easily to take first place in the open and Jon got a death grip position against Sam and offered a draw to clinch first place in the reserve. One highlight of the tournament for me was seeing long time Okoboji player Josiah Jorenby have a great tournament. I wrote about Josiah’s sister Destiny last year when she had an excellent Okoboji tournament. Destiny was ill and missed Okoboji this year but Josiah certainly did the Jorenby name proud. He beat a master in the first round, drew another master in the third round, got another draw and a win against players rated over 80 points higher than him and only lost to an expert. I've chatted with Josiah and he seems like a great kid and his family supports Sam and Jodene's tournaments. It was nice to see him perform so well and a pleasure to watch Jodene give him his cash prize. Because he played so well he never had to play any of the lower rated players and never complained about who he had to play either.

  Speaking of complaining, the player who complained about having to play the second lowest rated player in the tournament in the last round won his game and also won a $30 class prize. When Jodene gave him his prize I expected him to give me back the money I had refunded him but he just stuck the cash in his pocket, shook my hand, and walked on by. I think that if I ever see this guy again not only will I invite him to my next performance review at work I'll see if I can't bring him along the next time I have to buy a car.

  I submitted the tournament to get rated by the national office and hung around with Jodene, Dane, and Okey until around nine when I headed for home 60 hours after I left West Des Moines for Okoboji with a cup of Burger King coffee with grounds. I passed by Cylinder around ten and there wasn't a light on in the town. The weather was great and I got home a little after one in the morning. By 4:30 I was walking Daisy and Baxter and resuming my normal day to day routine. It was another tremendous Okoboji weekend for me. I got to meet up with old friends, make new ones, hang out with some incredible people, watch great chess, have the best meal in town (two times!), and I left with a bunch of great stories to tell. I don't mind paying $30 for one of my stories because when I write the book about my travels to Okoboji and Cylinder it will figure prominently in a chapter called “The Okoboji Shakedown” or “Walk On By”.

On the way home from Okoboji, I turned on my amazing iPod's Rhapsody music app.
The first song it played was anthem of Okoboji Shakedown artists everywhere...


Bethany Carson said...

Ouch...sorry to hear someone attempted to resolve Okoboji's jerk shortage. It sounds like it was a very fun tournament nevertheless, and I've enjoyed your write-up on it! One of these years I want to make it up there!

Hank Anzis said...

He didn't just attempt to resolve the shortage Bethany - he succeeded with flying colors!! Thanks for leaving a comment!