Monday, June 29, 2015

Norway Chess and The Grand Chess Tour

  The Norway Chess tournament concluded last week. This was the first leg of the newly inaugurated ‘Grand Chess Tour’ which links the Norway Chess Classic, Sinquefield Cup, and London Chess Classic with 8 of the top 10 players in the world (as of January 2015), a prize fund of $300,000 per tournament, and an additional $150,000 prize fund to the top three finishers of the tour using a 10-9-8…1 point system with bonus points awarded to the first and second place finishers of each tournament.

  The first tournament of the tour highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of the concept. Having almost all the top players in the world in the same tournament led to interest and anticipation for each round's competition. Despite the misfortune of an out of sorts World Champion Magnus Carlsen losing four of his nine games, the prospect of a compelling finish was in sight. Veselin Topalov had a point and a half lead in the next to last round when he lost to Anish Giri. Former world champion Viswanathan Anand won his game to pull to within a half point of Topalov and was due to play Topalov with the Black pieces in the last round.

  This would have been compelling if it was the last round of a World Championship match or if there was a large prize on the line. As it worked out there was a difference of 3 grand tour points and $25,000 on the line. Topalov played a safe game to attempt to gain a draw to secure first place while Anand was content with to clinch second place and the result of their 'game' was an 18 move draw that barely lasted a half hour. Compare the articles before the round to the articles after the round and it seemed like the air had been let out of a balloon.

  The tour allows each tournament to select one wild card player. Norway Chess decided to have a local player selected from a qualifying tournament which was won by Grandmaster Jan Ludwig Hammer, who proceeded to finish last despite beating World Champion Carlsen in the last round. Because Norway Chess decided to have a local player as their wild card (they had a local GM in the first two editions of this tournament) and the tour restricts participation to the top ranked players in the world Sergey Karjakin (a top 15 player and winner of the first two Norway Chess Classics) was not able to defend his title.

  The Grand Chess Tour’s leading spokesperson is former world champion Garry Kasparov, who made an unsuccessful attempt to win the presidency of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) earlier this year. A big winner in the Tour is the London Chess Classic which has not been able to consistently attract more than a handful of the worlds elite players and switched in format and number of players yearly since its inception in 2009, even becoming a 16 player rapid event for 2013.

  Kasparov has repeatedly stated that the Grand Chess Tour is not meant to compete with the FIDE World Championship and Candidates tournaments. I have my doubts since Kasparov’s previous attempts at chess organization (Grandmaster Chess Association and Players Chess Association) started with the same good intentions but soon morphed into an all-out power struggle with FIDE over the control of the World Chess Championship. Perhaps being 15 years removed from being the world champion has dulled Kasparov’s ambitions but his forays into Russian politics which started with Moscow protest against president/dictator/ pick your phrase Vladimir Putin and morphed into Wall Street Journal editorials urging at the least a Cold War and at the most a third World War give me pause. As currently constituted, the Grand Chess Tour looks to be on a collision course with the FIDE world championship cycle in the near future.

  In order to participate in this year’s Grand Chess Tour a player must commit to playing in all three events. If this requirement holds true next year when there are four events I wonder how Magnus Carlsen will feel about playing in four super tournaments as well as the defense of his world title. This same issue will face his challenger who will also have to compete in the Candidates tournament. It seems likely that many of the top 10 players in the world would pass at the small chance of winning the Candidates tournament and playing a match for the world championship for the guaranteed payouts of the Grand Chess Tour.

  Ultimately it will be Carlsen that determines the short term success of the Grand Chess Tour. The tour will be successful as long as he participates but he must also be more competitive than he was at Norway Chess. After Carlsen lost three of his first four games and it became clear that he was going to be a non-factor the tournament seemed to lose a lot of its appeal. Carlsen has given a boost to chess with his youth and meteoric rise the same way that Tiger Woods brought golf to a new level almost 15 years ago. Woods is five years removed from his public embarrassments and six years removed from his last major win and golf has struggled to reclaim the excitement that has left with Woods’ success. Carlsen is the face of chess and everyone that wants to make money off the sport is trying to cash in on his popularity but if he fails to contend in these tournaments I doubt the Grand Chess Tour will retain any of its current excitement.

Friday, June 26, 2015

TV Review - The Last Ship Season 2 Premiere

One of my favorite post-apocalyptic shows is back for the summer!

  Since season 5 of ‘The Walking Dead’ finished in March I’ve had no post-apocalyptic drama until TNT unveiled the two hour season 2 premiere of ‘The Last Ship’ on Sunday night. In Season 1 the crew of the USS Nathan James traveled from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean, Guantanamo Bay, and the jungles of Central America gathering supplies to keep alive and materials to make the cure for a deadly virus that has wiped out over 80% of the world’s population. The ship makes it to Baltimore at the end of season to find a reasonable facsimile of civilization led by former Presidential Policy Board member Amy Granderson (the mother of one of the crew of the Nathan James).

  The crew dispenses the cure to Granderson and her top aides only to find out that Granderson’s civilization is powered by the bodies of the sick that are lured into a stadium where they are promised medical attention but are instead euthanized and shipped to the power plant to be burned. While the ships’ commander Captain Thomas Chandler takes a crew to retrieve his family from the stadium (finding his children and father while learning that his wife has succumbed to the virus) Granderson’s troopers have taken control of the Nathan James at gunpoint.

  I wrote last year that ‘The Last Ship’ reminds me a lot of the original ‘Star Trek’ and the season two premiere did little to change my mind. While not an alien civilization, post-apocalypse Baltimore is alien indeed. Granderson wants the cure not to dispense but to control who gets cured and cement her hold on power within the gleaming corporate headquarters of Avocet where she has set up her new society.

  The people of Avocet will do anything to get their hands on the cure and are looking for the key ingredient (the primordial strain) to replicate the cure so they won’t need to negotiate with chief scientist Dr. Rachel Scott. When they think Scott’s assistant Quincy Tophet knows where the vial of primordial strain is, one of Granderson’s troopers order Quincy to be shot up with adrenaline so he can be made to talk even though Quincy has suffered a near fatal gunshot wound and is in critical condition. Tophet’s wife is held at gunpoint which convinces Quincy to rip out his stiches and bleed to death because he doesn’t know where the strain was hidden. The head Avocet scientist is undeterred and when he finds out one of the ship’s crew is pregnant has her brought to the lab in order to extract the stem cells from her fetus in order to replicate the cure.

  Luckily the crew of the Nathan James find some rebel allies and with their help our heroes shut down the killing stadium, turn off the power plant, destroy Avocet, and take back their ship with the only casualties being Quincy and six other sailors who are the equivalent of the red shirted members of the USS Enterprise that typically met their demise at the beginning of Star Trek episodes. One of the high points of the premiere was Executive Officer Slattery taking control of the ship’s comm center and his glee as they eradicate the ship’s invaders. Slattery gets in some action himself as he brawls with the head of Granderson’s troopers, ending the fight when he buries an ax in his enemy’s chest. The season premiere was two hours of nearly non-stop action. The only slow spots were when Captain Chandler and crew infiltrate the power plant and Chandler’s family hides out in an abandoned house until they are forced to fight when a snitch tells some Avocet guards about them in return for some rations. Even these slow spots had a sense of anticipation of quick erupting action at any moment. The remaining 10 episodes tease battles at sea, the return of the ‘Patient Zero’ scientist that started the virus in the first place, and a group of survivors called ‘The Chosen’ that are naturally immune to the virus.

  With Captain Chandler now a widower the stage is set for the reprisal of another of the staple themes of the original Star Trek which was how nearly every alien female who appeared on the show would fall in love with Captain James T. Kirk. Season one of The Last Ship was light in the romance department with a liaison between two of the ships members the only break in the otherwise regimented lifestyle of a Navy Ship but I expect that to change in Season two.

  Despite my enthusiasm for the season premiere, the ratings were lower than any of last year’s episodes, which also aired on Sunday nights. Every episode of season one had an audience of at least 4 million viewers while the season 2 premiere had less than three million and even lost out to a show on the Discover network called 'Naked and Afraid'. Unless the show does well in the new 'Live Plus' metric of DVR/Netflix/Amazon/Hulu views this bodes poorly for the prospect of a season three. I’ll make sure to enjoy this season of ‘The Last Ship’ and my post-apocalyptic Sunday plate will be full for the foreseeable future with the last season of ‘Falling Skies’ starting next week and the premiere of ‘Fear The Walking Dead’ in August. I don’t know if ‘Fear The Walking Dead’ will be on Sundays but that night does seem to be the preferred day for post-apocalyptic TV in order to make us feel at least a little better about heading to work on Mondays in a non-apocalyptic world.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Beagle Privilege

It's time to once again check in with Daisy and Baxter - America's favorite beagle bloggers.
This week our intrepid beagles have a special guest!

Hi Everybody! It’s Daisy…  …and Baxter here with another blog! I’m sure glad basketball season is over, Daisy.  Finally! If I had to read any more about Hank’s predictions I don’t know what I’d do.  It’s not like Hank’s predictions are any good - he only gets about half of them right.  I think we could have just as many right as Hank does by guessing. 

Mr. T the turtle is living with us and thanks to Daisy I got an owie on my ear...

Anyway, I’m sure our readers have had enough of basketball talk for a few years so what should we talk about today, Daisy?  We can talk about how we got in a fight on our walk and I bit your ear.  I bled so much that Hank and Kathy had to seal my ear up with super glue – but I don’t want to talk about that.  If I was a boy dog I wouldn’t want to talk about how my sister bit my ear all bloody either.  How about if we talk about the new beagle we saw talking a walk last Sunday?  The new beagle is cute but we’re much cuter. We haven’t met yet and don’t even know its name. There's the turtle Matt and Kathy took home from the pond…  His name is Mr. T. He’s pretty small but once he gets big he’ll go back to the pond. He crawls around but he’s not especially interesting. 

It’s so difficult to come up with new things to write about, Baxter!  I guess that’s why Hank goes on and on writing about going to Okoboji or who’s going to win a basketball game. We could talk about our walks, I guess.  We just blogged about our walks two months ago. Life’s so difficult sometimes.  Life’s so difficult! Better get a raft in case I cry a flash flood.  Harry? What are you doing in our blog?  Yeah! Why don’t you look in your mirror and leave us alone. We’re trying to think of something to write for our blog.  It's hard enough without some cockatiel interrupting us! 

No matter where I turn I have to listen to these two moan... 

Why don’t you two write about how privileged you are? None of the other animals get to go out for walks and treats except you.  What does that have to do with anything?   We get to go out for walks because we’re so much fun. You would fly away if anyone tried to walk you.  Kathy used to let Sneezy the cat go in the backyard until she started running away.  Could you imagine taking Oreo the rabbit for a walk? Or putting a leash on Mr. T the turtle? Hee Hee Hee…  What are you so upset about, Harry? You get out of your cage every day for a few hours. 

I barely got out my cage one day last week. I went over by the TV to look around and Kathy said I was going to chew the wires and put me in my cage.  Well Harry, you really shouldn’t be over by the television. You have a very nice play area with perches.  Easy for you to say – you have the run of the house and you get to go outside all the time while even when I do get out of my cage for a few hours I have to hang around my play area.  If you know you’re not supposed to do something and you do it anyway then you get punished. Let’s face it Harry – you’re a delinquent.  That’s right. And delinquents deserve what they get! 

We don't think it's privilege to go out for walks... If I get too close to the wires it's back to the cage for me.

That’s what I mean. I didn’t chew any wires but I got treated as if I did! You two are so privileged you don’t even know it. I get locked up for just being near a wire but you two get to go out for walks and treats even though you bite each other and everyone else, scrounge for food, and bark and howl all the time.  There are some things you just don’t understand about beagles, Harry. For one thing, beagles are very smart and the most literate of dogs.  And we don’t really mean to be bad - we can’t help ourselves sometimes. We’re just very passionate, you know. I was really sad when I bit your friend Mr. Feathers.  Another thing you may not know about beagles is that most people love us and want to pet us. Think of all the people that would be sad if we didn’t get outside to be petted.  You’re just the beneficiaries of ‘beagle privilege’. The culture says that beagles get to do whatever they want with little or no consequences. Meanwhile I get treated like a criminal just because I’m hanging near the television wires. 

Harry, I don’t understand a thing you’re saying. Where do you get this stuff from?  You two aren’t the only literate ones in this household. I sit on Hank’s shoulder when he reads the news on his computer and I read the front of the newspaper when Kathy reads the inside. That’s where I learned that privileges of the majority are taken for granted because it’s ingrained in society while minorities get little or no privileges. Of course the privileged majority accepts it as the natural order.  I don’t think we’re very privileged, Harry. If I was privileged, I’d be eating beef sticks until I burst! YUM!!!  And we’d certainly have a lot more Pinot Grigio and Chianti infused Salami from Aldi in the house!  Hank hasn’t brought us any broasted chicken from Haley’s in months. That doesn’t sound like privilege to me.  Last Sunday it rained. We didn’t take a morning walk and we didn’t get any beef stick treats. I was so sad. I think a privileged beagle wouldn’t have to go on a walk in order to get a beef stick treat.  Sigh…There’s no talking to you two…. 

You know Harry if you don’t like the living conditions here why don’t you go back where you came from!  Hank told us all about how a co-worker of his gave you and Mr. Feathers away because you were too noisy.   Maybe your old owners will take you back and you’ll be happier there.  I’d like to go to my native Australia where cockatiels are prized pets. You two are the noisiest animals I’ve ever seen but I don’t see anyone giving you away.  Beagles are British but we’re happy right here with Hank and Kathy.  That’s right – we aren’t going anywhere. 

Well, if I can’t beat the system I guess I’ll join it.  What does that mean?  From now on I’m trans-species self-identifying myself as a beagle. When’s our next walk for a beef stick?  You can’t just say you’re a beagle and get to go on walks for beef sticks!  Why not? People self-identify themselves with other genders and races all the time. The government accepts self-identification on their census so I officially self-identify as a beagle! I can’t wait for my first walk!  You can’t come on a walk with us! You don’t even have a leash  . I’m a beagle trapped in a cockatiel's body. Look - I’m wagging my tail feathers. Listen to me howl. Aw-ooooooo… Aw-ooooooo… 

It's time to release my inner beagle!  I understand that Harry self identifies as a beagle but it doesn't mean we have to like it...

This is insane! What’s the world coming to?  Well Baxter – it’s really none of our business if Harry wants to be a beagle. Let’s look on the bright side.  What bright side? All the other dogs and people will laugh at us if we have to take a walk with a cockatiel.  I’m not a cockatiel! I’m a beagle. Aw-ooooooo…  SHUT UP, HARRY!  Baxter, calm down and think about this rationally. Hank won’t get beef sticks at Kum & Go and Casey’s because they raised their prices to three for two dollars but if there are three beagles in the house…  We can get Kum & Go and Casey’s beef sticks again! YUM! I love Kum & Go and Casey’s beef sticks. YUM!!  And Harry only eats bird seed, millet spray, and popcorn so we’ll each get an extra half a beef stick!  OH BOY!! I’d love more beef stick treats! YUM!! C’mon Harry, let’s get ready for our walk! You can use my old leash.  Aw-ooooooo… 

Could this be the future of our beef stick walks?  Aw-ooooooo… 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Keys to Success

80 percent of success is just showing up” ~ Woody Allen

  The NBA season finished Tuesday night with the Warriors’ 105-97 win over the undermanned Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavaliers have been installed as the favorites to win next years’ championship at 3-1 odds. I am less optimistic. As great as LeBron James was this postseason he will be a year older with more wear and tear on his body next year, there is no guarantee that Kyrie Irving will be the same player after he recovers from his knee tendonitis and fractured kneecap this summer, Kevin Love still doesn’t have a role on the team, and role players like Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova are as likely to regress as they are to find another level.

  I recovered $120 mythical dollars on the last game of the finals when the Warriors covered the 3.5 spread for $100 and James only scored 32 points which was under the 36.5 number for another $20. My last game successes trimmed my Finals losses to $90 mythical dollars and left me $60 on the plus side for the playoffs and plus $215 for the entire NBA season. The final tally is below.

Regular SeasonRecord+/-
Against spread14-15-$250
Money Line4-0+$400
Series Picks
Round 12-2-$10
Round 22-1+$100
Conference Finals
Against spread0-3-$325
Over Under5-1+$390
Total Conference Finals5-4+$65
NBA Finals
Game 1+$97.5
Game 2-$130
Game 3-$121.50
Game 4+$77
Game 5-$133
Game 6+$120
Finals Game Bets3-3-1-$30
Finals Prop Bets2-5-$60
Total NBA Finals*-$90
Total Playoffs*12-10-1+$65
Total NBA Season*30-25-1+$215
*Prop bets excluded from game totals

  I was very pleased with the traffic this blog generated from the basketball predictions. That and the relative success of my predictions convinced me to resurrect my basketball prediction program from almost three decades ago for next season. My current software project is adding the ability for players to enter my fall chess tournaments via my website. That should be done by late July which will leave August and September to set up a basketball database, data entry program, and predictive algorithms. I’m interested in seeing how much easier it will be to write the program using SQL and C# than it was to originally come up with these concepts in Dbase III which was state of the art in 1987.

   A key to picking basketball games successfully is to understand that if you lose 40% of the time you are awesome. It was hard to keep making predictions early on in the regular season when I was over $500 in the red. I knew that the sample size was small so I was able to keep my head and not make too many risky catch-up bets. I finally found the idea of picking playoff teams at home against non-playoff teams and picking against teams on the road for the second game of back to back games and close the season on a winning tear.

  The playoffs were a different matter. I was able to skate by picking the series winners in the first two rounds. When my posts started getting picked up by search engines I felt the need to pick each game of the conference finals and finals. Picking each game is quite difficult since not only did I have to come up with a reasoned prediction I also had to write a few hundred words on a pretty tight deadline. I would have liked to stay away from the early games in each series in order to see how they were shaking out before making informed choices but didn’t feel I had that luxury. I managed to come close to breaking even in all my playoff bets except in the Finals where the key to my failure was making silly prop bets that were little more than guesswork.

  Since the company I work for has moved another 10 miles further than the 50+ miles I used to drive I’ve been lucky enough to be able to work from home a few days a week. On Wednesday I drove in to work for a morning meeting. I parked in the company parking lot and took my computer out of my car. Normally I’d also bring in my bag with my fruit and extra stuff like spare headphones and chargers but since I had to drive to the meeting in a couple of hours I grabbed my bag of fruit out of my work bag and was at my cubicle at 8am sharp.

  I worked and munched on an apple and some raspberries until 10:30. My meeting was at 11 and it only took between 10 and 15 minutes to get to the customers’ office but I wanted to show up early for the meeting. I packed up my computer and reached into my pocket for my car keys and my car keys weren’t there. So I looked in all my pockets and my car keys weren’t there either. So I searched all over my cubicle and my keys weren’t there either!

  I asked at the front desk but no one had turned in a set of keys. I checked the men’s room and break room and there were no keys there either. I thought that maybe I locked my keys into my car so I went to my car. My keys weren’t in the ignition but I had left a door unlocked so I opened the door and took a look around.

  My Chevy Spark is pretty tiny despite its four door sedan status and I was able to search it in a few seconds but there were no keys. It was getting very close to the meeting time so I went back in the office and got a co-worker to give me a ride. On the ride I called Kathy to warn her that she may have to bring me my spare set of keys. The meeting went smoothly but I was pretty distracted trying to think of where my car keys were and I wish I had a dime for every time I checked my pockets hoping to find my keys.

  Once the meeting was over a customer drove me back to the office and I spent another 15 minutes checking my car, the bathroom, the breakroom, the front desk, and my cubicle, my computer bag, and bag of fruit and still had no keys. It was 1pm and I tried to put the keys (or lack thereof) out of my mind and went back to work.

  I was going to call Kathy at 2 to let her know if I needed her to bring me the spare set of car keys so at 1:40 I checked my pockets and bag one more time and looked one more time in my cubicle. My cubicle is 4 by 8 feet and everything is rooted to the floor except this vertical file cabinet that is no more than a half inch off the ground. I had given the tiny space under the cabinet a look or two already but this time I laid down on the floor and looked all the way under this file cabinet. I could see the light from the next cubicle except for this one spot. I couldn’t tell what was hiding the light and couldn’t reach it so I got a ruler from my desk and was barely able to reel the object in and what do you know? The object was my keys!

  I can only assume my keys fell out of my pocket and I kicked them under the file cabinet without realizing it. I was kicking myself a little for not checking way under the cabinet earlier but that feeling soon gave way to the joy I felt at having my keys back and not having to ask Kathy to drive 2 and a half hours to bring me a spare key. I was able to drive home and realized that a key to success is having your keys in the first place.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

NBA Finals Predictions - Game 6

  I was so close to going at least 2-1 on Sunday’s picks for Game 5 of the NBA Finals. I had Cavaliers getting 8 points ($115-100), the under of 195 points ($115-100) and Stephen Curry to get less than 28 points ($23-20). With less than eight minutes left the Cavaliers had an 80-79 lead and I was looking to get the cover and the under with the only dark cloud being Curry’s 25 points. Curry hit a three pointer just a few seconds later, the Cavaliers fell apart down the stretch (outscored 25-11), and my Finals losses ballooned from $76 to $199 with the over under push of 195 points leaving me with two losses and a tie. Even though these bets are for entertainment purposes only I have to admit it stings a little to watch even mythical cash flow through my fingers in four short minutes.

  The Cavaliers abandoned their big lineup in Game 5 and were surprisingly competitive playing the Warriors at their own game before spitting the bit late in the fourth quarter. Logic says that with only two days rest the shorthanded Cavaliers will be too exhausted to keep up with the Warriors but the Warriors are also playing a short rotation (regular center Andrew Bogut has played only three minutes the last two games) and may be equally exhausted.

  The Warriors are 3.5 point favorites and the over/under has nudged down a point to 194 according to The Warriors may have finally found the key to getting Curry loose against The Cavaliers defense and when Curry starts scoring the rest of the team follows. Is there anything that can stop the Warriors? One thing is the NBA and their corporate sponsors desire to have a 7th game which will likely be the most watched basketball game of all time. Another thing is LeBron James, although his heroics only helped keep the game close for 44 minutes on Sunday.

  I see the Warriors keeping to their small ball lineup and the Cavaliers mixing things up with their big front line combining with their own version of small ball in an attempt to keep their players more rested. After considering all the variables I have to think the Warriors have regained their rhythm and will win the championship and cover the 3.5 points. I’m still slightly ahead for the entire NBA season so I’ll pass on doubling my wager to catch up for the finals and make the straight bet of $110 to win $100 on the Warriors cover and for my prop bet I’ll bet $22 to win $20 that LeBron James will try to save his energy for the fourth quarter and score less than the line of 36.5 points. As usual, these picks are for entertainment purposes only with no actual money being wagered.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

NBA Finals Predictions - Game 5

  Despite missing my game two and game three predictions in the NBA Finals this Broken Pawn blog has made an appearance on the front page of Google for the search term ‘NBA Finals Predictions’ in what is a long, long way from winning the 2011 self-nominated Chess Journalists of America Best Chess Blog Award. This tells me that there is a niche market for reasoned NBA betting predictions and brings the possibility of my spending my free time this summer resurrecting my 25+ year old basketball prediction program more into the realm of reality. In Game 4, the Warriors took the early lead , weathered the Cavaliers third quarter comeback, and stretched the lead out in the fourth quarter for a comfortable 21 point win. Since I had the Warriors giving the 2.5 points I was a winner and evened my Finals predictions at 2-2. Klay Thompson only scored 9 points which was well below the 22 I was counting which made my record in prop bets a dismal 1-4 and reduced my mythical winnings for Game 4 to $77 but did trim my Finals ledger to a manageable $77 on the minus side.

   The series is tied at two games apiece with two of the remaining games at Oracle Arena in San Francisco where the Warriors have lost four games all season and the Cavaliers won game two of the series. The Warriors have outscored the Cavaliers by 21 points in the four games yet the series is a best two out of three. This eerily reminds me of the 1960 World Series where the Yankees outscored the Pirates 55-27 yet lost the Series in seven games as the Pirates scored only three runs in their three losses (10-0, 12-0, 16-3) while winning their four games by 1,1,2, and 3 runs. Everything I read and hear say the Cavaliers are exhausted and the Warriors have finally figured out how to attack the Cavaliers big front line with their ‘small ball’ lineup. I think two days off will allow the Cavaliers to shake off the effects of their shorthanded rotation and having to play three games in five days. has the Warriors as an 8 point favorite with an over-under of 195. The Cavaliers don’t seem capable of stepping up the pace and only the first game has gone over 195. With only two or three games left in the NBA season I’m going to double my action and bet $110 on the under of 195 and bet $110 on the Cavaliers taking the 8 points. My thinking is that the Cavaliers have had two days to rest and two days to figure out how to take advantage of the wrinkles the Warriors came up with in Games 3 and 4 of stating Andre Iguodala and playing David Lee. I’m looking for another close low scoring game. For my proposition bet, the over-under on Stephen Curry is 28 points even though the league MVP has not scored 28 points yet in this series. I’ll make a $23 bet to win $20 that Curry remains under 28 points in Game 5. And as usual, please keep in mind that these predictions are for entertainment purposes only with no real money being wagered.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

NBA Finals Predictions - Game 4

  I couldn’t have been more wrong about Game 3 of the NBA Finals. Not only did the Cavaliers easily win (yes I know the Warriors mounted a furious comeback but they were double digits behind most of the second half) , but Stephen Curry shied away from contact all game long and did not attempt a single free throw. This was a far cry from the 5 I picked him to make and dropped my NBA Finals losses to $154 thankfully mythical dollars heading into Game 4 of the Finals.

  The series has been a contrast in styles and the Cavaliers’ bulk and size have won out so far over the Warriors speed and interchangeability. When I’m watching these games I keep thinking the Warriors will get on a hot streak and grab a big lead with a flurry of three point shots but except for the beginning of Game 2 the only flurries the Warriors have had is when they are way behind. I have seen many instances of the best team vs. the best player and I’ve never seen the best player win but LeBron James has taken over all three games not only with his scoring but by running the shot clock down on almost every possession and singlehandedly keeping the Warriors from establishing a fast paced game.

  Despite being behind in the series 2 games to one, despite the game being in Cleveland, and despite being physically manhandled in the first three games the Warriors are a 2.5 point favorite. How can this be? The first thought that comes to my mind is that there is a lot of money on the Warriors and the second thought that comes to my mind is that the series is getting record ratings and the NBA and ABC and their corporate sponsors would like to see a longer series.

  I don’t know if I really think this is the case but I don’t discount the NBA being willing to assign referees that call more fouls against the home team. I just can’t believe the Warriors will keep missing the wide open shots they have been to this point in time so I will give the 2,5 points for $110 mythical dollars and hope to win $100. For my prop bet the over\under on points by LeBron James is a staggering 36.5 points. That seems about right for me so I will go in a different direction and bet $23 on Klay Thompson getting more than 21.5 points to pocket $20 if he has a big game. As customary for the NBA Finals, I’m using the odds from and my predictions are for entertainment purposes only with no real money being bet (even though being down $154 stings, mythical or not!).

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

NBA Finals Predictions - Game 3

  I spent the weekend beagle sitting while Kathy went with Ben to Baton Rouge to get him settled in for his summer job at LSU and I spent my Sunday night watching my NBA Finals Game 2 predictions crash and burn as the two teams combined for 188 points despite going to overtime which was well under the over under line of 201. To make matters worse J.R. Smith only took five 3-point shots and the two he made was half of the 4 I needed him to make to win my prop bet. I think this may have been some instant karma coming my way for not paying homage to Mayor of Ames Fred Hoiberg on his new job as the head coach of the Chicago Bulls. The double loss doubly hurt since my predictions finally made the front page of the Google search engine under NBA Finals Predictions. Karma or not, the $130 loss drops my finals predictions from $97.50 in the black to $32.50 in the red as the Series heads to Cleveland for Game 3.

  The Cavaliers have been successful in slowing the game down by using the shot clock, getting offensive rebounds, and taking advantage of the Warriors’ uncharacteristically poor three point shooting. The over under for Game 3 is 194.5 at There was only 174 points scored in regulation of game two. If the offensive output were to increase by 10% that would mean 191 points which would still be under 194.5. I feel like my luck has run out of the over/under and will switch to the point spread. The Warriors are a one point favorite so I’ll give the point for $110 to get $100. As good as the Cavalier defense has been and as good as LeBron James has been I believe the Warriors’ speed will come into play in the next two games which will be the first two in the series with only one day of rest.

  I noticed in Sunday's game that Warriors guard and NBA MVP Stephen Curry was looking to draw contact and get to the free throw line to make up for his poor shooting night. All the great players have learned that getting to the foul line is how championship basketball is played deep into the playoffs. I expect the Curry to continue to push the action so as my prop bet for the game I’ll bet $11.50 to win $10 that Curry will make more than the over under line of 4.5 free throws. As usual, my predictions and bets are for entertainment purposes only and real money is not being used.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

NBA Finals Predictions - Game 2 (and coaching thoughts)

  Yankee Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Gomez said “I’d rather be lucky than good.” I’ll echo that sentiment as far as my NBA Finals Game 1 predictions. I made three bets -110 on the over of 203, -12.5 on LeBron James making more than seven free throws, and -11 on James scoring more than 29.5 points. The game was at 196 points at the end of the fourth quarter but in a stroke of luck the points were arranged just so at 98 apiece which led to an overtime where 12 points were scored and make me $100 on the over. James scored 44 points on 38 shots which boosted my profit to $110 but only made 6 of 10 free throws to drop my Game 1 final winnings to a mythical $97.50. Needless to say, if the King has made one more free throw I wouldn’t have lost $12.50 but the Cavaliers’ might have won the game in regulation and made my over 203 points prediction a loser so I’ll take my stroke of luck and my mythical winnings.

  I thought the Warriors shot very poorly and were lucky to get the game to overtime much less win it. James was as unstoppable as I predicted and Cavaliers’ point guard Kyrie Irving was the X-factor I thought he would be but Irving fractured his kneecap in the overtime and will miss the rest of the Finals. I don’t think the Cavaliers can win the series without Irving but I’m not predicting a Warriors sweep either. The Cavaliers beat the Bulls and Hawks without Irving and have practice in playing without him. I expect the Cavaliers to attempt to out-muscle the Warriors because their only advantage other than having the unstoppable James is their big man duo of Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson. has the Cavaliers as an eight point underdog in Game 2 with an over/under of 201. I expect the game to be close but will ride my streak with the over/under and go with the over for a $110 bet to win $100. I expect the Warriors to execute their offense more efficiently and score more points now that the players have dealt with the nerves of their initial NBA Finals appearance. The Cavaliers will miss Irving but I expect more scoring from the bench than the nine points the group scored in Game 1. Those nine points all came from J.R. Smith’s 3-13 performance from the three point line and I expect more production from Smith and the rest of the bench. Since I'm predicting a better performance from Smith I'll make him the subject of my Game 2 proposition bet and bet $20 to win $10 that Smith will make more than 3.5 three pointers in the game (-200).

  The Warriors took a huge gamble in the off-season by firing successful coach Mark Jackson and replacing him with Steve Kerr. Kerr was the General Manager of the Phoenix Suns for three years last decade but had no head coaching experience. The gamble paid off as the Warriors took a huge leap forward. They won a franchise record 67 games in the regular season and are now three games away from the franchise’s first championship in 40 years. The success of the Warriors’ bold move has led to some copycat coaching changes this off season. The Oklahoma City Thunder fired longtime coach Scott Brooks with one year left on his contract after the Thunder had their worst season in six years (45-37 and missing the playoffs). To take Brooks’ place, the Thunder hired Billy Donovan the two time championship winning college coach from the University of Florida.

  The Thunder’s 'poor' season was one many other teams would be thrilled with and can be traced to season ending injuries to superstars Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka while all-star guard Russell Westbrook also missed a number of games to injury. Brooks lost his job in part because he failed to win the championship during his tenure despite championship level talent and in part because the Warriors bold move paid off so handsomely. If the Warriors had regressed or had the same season as the last two years (50 wins and a playoff series or two before exiting) I can’t imagine Thunder GM Sam Presti making such this move. Even though Donovan has had great success at the college level he has never coached a game in the NBA and there is no way to know if he will be able to adapt to the professional game.

  Another successful coach who was fired was Tom Thibodeau of the Chicago Bulls. Thibodeau has had disagreements with the front office for some time over how many minutes he was playing the Bulls’ best players and how the team seemed to underperform in the playoffs after overachieving in the regular season. Thibodeau coached for the Bulls for five years. His team won the division and made the conference finals his first year, won the division but lost in the first round after reigning MVP Derrick Rose had a serious knee injury, finished second in the division the next three years with Rose either not playing or barely playing while he suffered more knee injuries. The Bulls were expected to be a championship contender this year but Rose was once again hurt, all-star Jimmy Butler also lost time with an elbow injury, and all-star Joakim Noah was hobbled by plantar fasciitis. Despite the injuries, the team had their entire roster available for the playoffs but squandered a 2-1 series lead against a Cavalier team that was missing two of their top three players.

  Clearly the Bulls underachieved this postseason and Thibodeau was shown the door despite having two more years left on his coaching contract. I think Thibodeau's dismissal is fully justified but don’t think it would have been made if not for the success of the Warriors coaching change. Like the Thunder the Bulls hired a coach from the college ranks in 9 year NBA veteran Fred Hoiberg. Hoiberg coached at Iowa State University for the past five years and has close ties to Bulls General Manager Gar Forman. Unlike Billy Donovan, Hoiberg hasn’t won two national championships. ISU did win two Big Twelve postseason tournaments and Hoiberg has won four NCAA tournament games in five years, making the Sweet Sixteen in 2014 as a three seed. In March the ISU Cyclones were a chic pick to make the Final Four as a three seed but lost in the first round to UAB in a big upset. Time will tell but I think the Bulls have gotten a college coach whose teams underachieved in the postseason to replace their current coach whose teams underachieved in the postseason.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

NBA Finals Predictions - Game 1

  The NBA Conference Finals ended so quickly there was a week off between their end and the start of the NBA Finals tonight. For me it was a welcome week off from my NBA predictions and a good chance to reflect on my NBA predictions so far this season:

Regular SeasonRecord+/-
Against spread14-15-$250
Money Line4-0+$400
Series Picks
Round 12-2-$10
Round 22-1+$100
Conference Finals
Against spread0-3-$325
Over Under5-1+$390
Total Conference Finals5-4+$65
Total Playoffs9-7+$155
Total NBA Season27-22+$305

  A 55% winning percentage is well above the 52.4% required to break even and not too shabby if not the stuff 1-900 tout businesses are made of. I'll admit to being pretty impressed with both the good fortune on my picks and my adaptive ability when I was willing to switch from picking the spreads to the over/under midway through the conference finals.

  My past predictive ‘glories’ mean nothing in the NBA Finals and I’m approaching this as if I’m starting from scratch. The Cavaliers and Warriors split the season series with both teams winning at home. LeBron James missed the Warriors' 112-94 win on January 9th and scored 42 points in the Cavaliers' 110-99 win on February 26th in Cleveland.

  The Cavaliers’ Kevin Love is out with his separated shoulder which has made no difference to the Cavaliers who have won 8 of 10 since the injury. Even Kyrie Irving’s injured knee has failed to slow the Cavaliers down. I can’t see the Warriors being able to slow LeBron James while I believe Cavaliers’ guards Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith will have some success in taking league MVP Stephen Curry out of his comfort zone. The schedule is working heavily in the Cavs' favor. The Cavaliers’ season turned around after James took two weeks off in January. James came back re-energized and now he has had another week off and there will be an additional two days off between games 1 and 2. I think James will be transcendent but I also believe this is the series where he will need Irving’s help and I’m not sure that Irving is going to be able to play at full speed. I want to pick the Cavaliers in 6 for +185 but without knowing the health of Irving I’m going to refrain from making a series pick.

  My preferred line provider has the Cavaliers getting 5.5 points in game 1. Besides being mediocre to awful picking against the spread, I want to see the health of Irving and Warriors’ concussed guard Klay Thompson before picking games against the money line or point spread.

  I’m going to go with what I know and pick the over/under line. If you noticed the Cavaliers-Warrior scores two paragraphs above this one the total points were 206 and 209. The over/under for game one is 203. Despite the prowess of both teams defenses I see lots of three pointers being taken and made and don’t see the game staying in the 90’s so I’m wagering $110 of my mythical winnings to win $100 for my main bet.

  Since this is the NBA Finals and I've seen these teams play for six weeks I’m going to make some extra proposition bets for very small stakes. The over/under of LeBron James made free throws is 7. I can see the King taking it to the rim a lot in this game to get Warriors’ big man Andrew Bogut in foul trouble and will bet $12.50 on the over to win $10. And as long as I am operating on the premise that James will be unstoppable I'll wager $11 on 'King James' scoring over 29.5 points to make an additional $10.

  I picked up a lot of blog traffic when my round 2 predictions made the front page of the bing search engine a month ago. I want to let my newfound readers to know that while I’m very serious about my predictions I’m even more serious about my predictions being for entertainment purposes only and I am NOT betting real money on these games. If you are looking for a sure thing I suggest you reply to one of those emails from one of those relatives of one of those deceased Nigerian oil ministers who managed to abscond with XXX MILLION UNITED STATES DOLLARS and is looking for someone to provide a bank account to store it in return for 10% of XXX MILLION UNITED STATES DOLLARS.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Dollars at Zanzibar's

Zanzibar's Coffee Adventures in Des Moines, IA - Home of fine coffees including Saturday's special New Guinean blend!

  Instead of having youth chess tournaments this summer I offered private chess lessons and have four students I’ll be working with. Last Saturday I had lessons scheduled in the Des Moines suburbs in the afternoon so I took advantage of the fact that I had the morning free to head to my favorite coffeehouse chess site, Zanzibar’s Coffee Adventure in Des Moines.

  I hadn't been to Zanzibar’s since last December and was looking forward to meeting up with my friends Mike Jeter and Dan Troxell. I arrived at 9:30 and Mike and Dan were in the middle of a heated game. I knew it was a serious game because they were using a clock. Dan had an extra piece but Mike dragged the game out to the bitter end as if there was money on the line.

While Dan and Mike finished their game, I had some New Guinea coffee and an everything bagel.

  Zanzibar’s was pretty empty and if there were any celebrities getting their morning cup of coffee I didn't recognize them. I went up to the counter and ordered a big mug of New Guinea coffee to go along with an everything bagel and cream cheese. A few minutes and $5.25 later I was back at the chess table watching Dan finally beat Mike. When the game ended I noticed that both players had a dollar bill tucked under the corner of their side of the board. Dan took his dollar and put it back in his pocket and then took Mike’s dollar also! I asked what the dollar was all about. Dan and Mike told me they were playing for a dollar a game.

  I can always use a dollar so I asked if I could play for a dollar too. Dan and Mike changed the subject by asking me about my speed chess exhibition at the mall last December. On my last visit to Zanzibar’s I tried to get them to head to Marshalltown for the exhibition and played four games with Mike at ten minute to one minute time odds (we each won two games). We talked about playing at time odds and Mike said he'd play me for a dollar at that same handicap.

  35 years ago I used to play speed chess for money in New York City’s Washington Square Park on a regular basis and I have some of my best chess memories from those days. It's not so much winning the money I find so appealing - it's taking money from someone that wants to take mine. I readily agreed to play with the handicap even though almost any tournament player can beat me at 10-1 odds if they just take their time. We drew for colors and I had black. Mike arranged his knight and queen to checkmate my king but I had a knight guarding against his checkmate threat so I organized a counter attack. Things were heating up when I decided I needed to bring my knight into the attack and moved it to the center. BUT I FORGOT ABOUT THE CHECKMATE THREAT!!! Mike didn’t forget and checkmated me and what was MY dollar became MIKE’S dollar!

Mike was too busy showing off what used to be MY dollar to give me a rematch so I played Steve instead.

  Mike’s gotten better but I felt like I lost because I made a mistake and I wanted to get what was now HIS dollar back in MY pocket so I offered a rematch but Dan wanted to play me first. As we set up the pieces Dan said he didn't want to play a clock game so we played a longer game without clocks and not for a dollar either.

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of

  While Dan and I were playing Mike told me how I was never going to get what used to be MY dollar back and that he was going to frame HIS dollar and put it up on his wall. I returned the banter but Dan said he was getting distracted by all the chatter and that’s why he lost. At this point Steve showed up. Steve said he only had 20 minutes before he had to go and didn't have time for a game so we talked Steve into playing a 10-1 game against me and the game would only take 11 minutes. Steve didn't want to play for a dollar but we played anyway. Steve played good for about 25 moves but then he hung his queen and I crashed through to his king and won with about 15 seconds left on my clock.

Mr. Buffett, I presume?
  During my game with Steve I noticed a well-dressed older gentleman walking through Zanzibar’s. He went into the office a couple of times, sat at a counter for a bit, and wandered back to where the workers make the coffee and food. He looked pretty familiar and I assumed he was someone I've seen at Zanzibar’s until I realized it was Warren Buffett! I went over to Warren to see if he had perhaps read my blog post on options trading from earlier this month and wanted me to expound further on the topic. Warren pretended that I had mistaken him for someone else. It dawned on me that perhaps Warren Buffett was going to buy Zanzibar’s and add it to his portfolio of companies and that was why he was looking over the operation. Armed with this piece of insider information, I made a mental note to buy Zanzibar stock if they ever went public and went back to the chess table.

  Steve’s good showing convinced Dan to try his luck for a dollar so we went at it. Dan played white and pushed his pawn to e5 against my Center Counter defense which made the game one of siege warfare instead of a lightning attack. I tried every trick in the book except one to get Dan to give me a bishop fork that would win his queen but Dan kept on parrying my threats with his only issue being that he was spending minutes while I was spending seconds so I played my last trick which was to finally get ahead on the clock and win when Dan ran out of time and what was HIS dollar was now MY dollar. Dan wanted a rematch and I wanted another dollar so we went at it with me having the white pieces.

Dan showing off HIS dollar!
  I won a pawn quickly and then fell into an old bugaboo of mine and tried to grind out the win with the extra pawn. When you only have a minute this is not optimal strategy. Dan took less time than he did in the previous game and we went into a knight and queen ending with me having seven pawns to his six. I got down to 20 seconds and tried to make an attack out of nowhere but Dan saw my crude attempt and completely outplayed me. I ran out of time in a losing position. Dan had two minutes left but more importantly had reclaimed HIS dollar.

  I think Mike thought I might be a little tired and wanted to try to get another one of MY dollars. I had the white pieces and got a nice center against Mike’s defense. I broke open the center with 45 seconds left and then Mike hung his queen and I won the game and got MY dollar back with more than 30 seconds left.

  Dan had to go and wanted to try me one more time. He had the whites and I thought he would push his pawn like the last game. Instead he opened the game up quickly and started an attack. He sacrificed a piece but I was able to defend accurately and the game was soon over and I had HIS dollar back in MY pocket!

  Dan had to go and I had a half hour before I needed to head off to start giving lessons so Mike and I played two more games. Mike battled me to a drawn endgame in the first one but he ran out of time before I did. In the second game I had a great attack going when I fell asleep at the switch and used fifteen seconds on one move. I woke up in time and checkmated Mike with 1 second left on my clock. That gave me two dollars from Mike and one dollar from Dan for two and a half hours of chess which paid for a little more than half of my New Guinea coffee and everything bagel with cream cheese.

While the most interesting man in the world was holding court,
Jonny Lee Miller from 'Elementary' fame waited patiently in line for some coffee.

  I had a great time playing speed chess for dollars but it was time to get on with my lessons. It was a shame because Zanzibar’s had just started filling up with the a-list celebrities I'm used to seeing. In addition to Buffett (who made it a point to ignore me the rest of the morning), the most interesting man in the world from the Dos Equis commercials was holding court at a nearby table and I also spotted Jonny Lee Miller who plays Sherlock Holmes in the television show ‘Elementary’ waiting in line for his coffee. There were plenty of other celebrities but I didn't have time to take pictures of them all. Hopefully they'll be at Zanzibar’s the next time I visit.

This is a great song to get in a proper frame of mind to play chess for a dollar!