Thursday, October 29, 2015
The Iowa State Cyclones are in the midst of another terrible football season. After beating the subdivision Northern Iowa Panthers, the Cyclones lost 31-17 at home to the ranked Iowa Hawkeyes and suffered a close overtime loss in Ohio to the ranked Toledo Rockets. The Cyclones then opened their Big 12 (which only has 10 teams) conference schedule with a win for their first time in years by pasting the still winless Kansas Jayhawks 38-13.
Since that win over mighty Kansas, the Cyclones have lost three straight games to teams from Texas: 66-31 to 5-3 Texas Tech on the road, 45-21 to unbeaten TCU at home, and 45-27 to unbeaten Baylor at Waco, Texas. Much is being made about the Cyclones good showing against unbeaten TCU and Baylor. The Cyclones were leading TCU 21-14 after the first quarter and were the first team to keep Baylor from scoring 50 points and even prevented them from scoring in a quarter for only the third time all year. The Cyclones scored with less than 8 minutes left to make the score 35-20. Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads said (Here is the game article) “We had an opportunity to get an onside kick and pull this game within seven and put ourselves in a position to compete to win”. I understand that the head coach is required to find positives in almost every situation but after having watched the first half of the game and listened to the second half on the radio I never got the feeling that the Cyclones were close to winning, It seemed to me that the Baylor Bears fell asleep in the third quarter before waking up and putting the game away.
I’ve never been very impressed with ‘good loss’ jargon spit out by losing coaches or players. Rhoads’ quote makes it sound like if the Cyclones had only recovered the onside kick they would have been down by seven points BUT even if they had recovered the kick they would have needed to get a touchdown AND then they would have needed to get the two point conversion AND then they would have needed to get the ball back AND then they would have needed to get another touchdown AND then they would have been in a tie game and competing for a win. If they hadn’t fallen behind 35-7 at halftime maybe they wouldn’t have needed all those onside kicks, defensive stands, touchdowns, and two point conversions to be in a position to compete for a win. If my memory serves me correctly, the Cyclones were in a tie game when the game started – that may have been the time to compete for a win.
There is talk that Rhoads is on the hot seat with the prospect of a third consecutive losing season looming large over the Cyclone program. I am not so sure since Rhoads’ contract runs through 2021 and the attendance at the newly expanded Jack Trice stadium has been over 50,000 per game. In the aftermath of the Baylor game, Rhoads has parted ways with offensive coordinator Mark Mangino and named sophomore Joel Lanning the new starting quarterback based on his three touchdown performance against Baylor in relief of deposed quarterback Sam Richardson. I don’t know why Mangino was let go but the move to the new quarterback will likely stir up hope in the team and fan base that Lanning will be able to spark a turnaround of a so far lackluster season. Three years ago the 5-5 Cyclones got a boost when a sophomore quarterback took over for then starter Steele Jantz and threw for four touchdowns in a 51-23 Cyclone win against the Kansas Jayhawks. That quarterback was Sam Richardson – the same Sam Richardson that was demoted in favor of Joel Lanning this week.
With the surprisingly weak Kansas State Wildcats and West Virginia Mountaineers still on the schedule the Cyclones have a chance to get to four wins and provide hope for the future but I have no hope that the Cyclones will be anything but mediocre at best under Coach Rhoads. He had three .500 or close seasons when he had the players from the previous coaching staff but has proven that he cannot recruit or develop players that are able to compete in the Big 12 conference. As long as the stadium remains full I see no reason a coaching change will be made and the losing will continue. Rhoads is a loser but a good loser who manages to pull off an occasional stunning upset and promote young quarterbacks to provide hope in hopeless season after hopeless season.
I promise not to be a good loser in my NBA basketball predictions and hopefully I will start the season on a big winning streak so I don't have to choose what kind of loser I'm going to be. I was going to make my predictions on Fridays but tonight's games look too good to pass up. I'm banking my mythical winnings from last season and will start the 2015-2016 season with a fresh slate just like the teams I will be 'wagering' on. I will be placing my mythical bets using the Betonline.ag lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page and as usual for entertainment purposes only with no real money being wagered.
Memphis Grizzlies at Indiana Pacers
Both teams played last night. The Grizzlies were horrendous in getting blown out by the Cavaliers in their home opener while the Pacers let a close road game against the Raptor get away in the final minute. The Grizzlies superior depth and embarrassment after last night's disaster will help them spoil the Pacers home opener in this match up of two teams on the end of back to back games so I will wager $110 on the Grizzlies to win $100, and give 2.5 points to the Pacers.
Altanta Hawks at New York Knicks
The Hawks lost their home opener against the Pistons on Tuesday while the Knicks blew out the Bucks in an impressive season opener on the road last night. The Hawks frontcourt will have their way against a Knicks team playing on the second game of a back to back. I will take the Hawks and give the 4 points to the Knicks to the tune of $110 to win $100.
Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Clippers
This is another matchup of teams that playing their second game in two nights. The Mavericks had 8 players score in double figures in a road blowout against Phoenix last night while the Clippers hung on for a tough win at Sacramento. Even though the Mavericks were able to rest their aging players in yesterday's blowout I believe the Clippers will be energized for their home opener and blow the Mavs out of the building so I will give the 11 points and take the Clippers for $110 to win $100.
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
Teams on the downswing
The San Antonio Spurs ‘won’ the right to pay highly sought after free agent LaMarcus Aldridge and expect he will be the bridge between the current Tim Duncan/Tony Parker/Manu Ginobli based dynasty to form a new core with Kawhi Leonard. The pundits are mesmerized by the Spurs’ record of success and expect the move to pan out. I am not so sure. Aldridge is 30 years old and has missed time the last two seasons with wrist and back injuries. In order to free up cap space for Aldridge, the Spurs had to trade their starting center (Tiago Splitter) and lost valuable backup point guard Cory Joseph to free agency. I don’t see Aldridge as a transcendent free agent, Tim Duncan will be the starting center at the age of 39, and there isn’t much depth at point guard behind the often injured Parker. The Spurs will easily make the playoffs but I don’t see anything close to a championship run in their future this season.
Another team I’m expecting to see drop out of championship contention is last year’s Eastern Conference finalist Atlanta Hawks. Last year the Hawks surprised the NBA with an east best 60 wins. They struggled to beat the Nets and Wizards in the playoffs before being swept by the Cavaliers in the finals. The architect of the team was General Manager Danny Ferry who has parted ways with the team in the aftermath of his racially insensitive comments being made public. The new GM is Coach Mike Budenholzer who is an excellent coach but an unknown as a General Manager. Last year’s Hawks were a team that was greater than the sum of its parts but were exposed by injuries and the lack of a superstar in the playoffs. I think the league has caught up to the Hawks style and the Hawks will struggle to get to the 50 win mark.
Teams that will pleasantly surprise
The Orlando Magic has been a downtrodden franchise with three 50 loss seasons since losing superstar center Dwight Howard to free agency after firing Coach Stan Van Gundy in an attempt to placate Howard. During their losing seasons, the Magic have used their high draft picks to assemble a talented core of players in guards Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, forward Tobias Harris, and center Nikola Vucevic. In the offseason the Magic hired Scott Skiles to be their new coach. Skiles reminds me a lot of the great Yankee player and manager Billy Martin. Like Martin, Skiles had a long playing career despite marginal talent and has been able to improve every team he has taken over. Again like Martin, Skiles is intense leader whose acerbic style leads him to wear out his welcome sooner rather than later. I expect Skiles to get this young Magic team doing what they need to do to improve immediately and predict the Magic will make the playoffs in the still weak Eastern Conference.
The Los Angeles Lakers are the fallen royalty of the NBA, missing the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since the 1970’s. With $24 million dollars of their precious cap space tied up in the fading and often injured Kobe Bryant, the Lakers have had no choice but to rebuild through the draft and were snakebit last season when top draft pick Julius Randle broke his leg in the season opening game. Randle is back at forward along with top draft pick D’Angelo Russell at point guard and Bryant for as long as he can stay healthy. The team uncovered another promising guard last year in Jordan Clarkson and managed to obtain center Roy Hibbert from the Indiana Pacers for a second round draft pick. The Pacers had become disgruntled with Hibbert's failure to become an offensive threat and the league has mostly forgotten what a fearsome defender he was during the Pacers' three year run as championship contenders. I think Hibbert is going to be a steal for the Lakers and is just what they needed, a defensive presence that won’t need to command the ball on offense. I am not predicting the Lakers to be a playoff team yet but I predict the ship has been turned around and the team will show a 15 game improvement to get to 36 wins.
I can’t see anyone stopping the Cavaliers from getting back to the NBA finals unless the team is derailed by injuries in the playoffs. That scenario is already starting to play out with guards Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert sidelined for the first half of the season and LeBron James starting the season by getting back injections. I believe the Cavaliers are taking the necessary precautions to make sure they have a healthy roster for the playoffs even if they have to give up home court advantage in the playoffs to do so. The Oklahoma City Thunder look like a championship team and I would pick them except that they look like a championship team every year until they are derailed by injuries. The Golden State Warriors won the championship last year and I think success will go to the young team’s collective heads and they will not have the same hunger or luck in avoiding injuries they had last year. My pick to win the Western Conference and the NBA championship is the Los Angeles Clippers. The team will be driven after last year’s playoff collapse at the hands of the Houston Rockets, the team has added proven veterans Paul Pierce and Josh Smith to their bench, and still have two MVP contenders in Chris Paul and Black Griffin. Teams that suffer devastating playoff losses follow with a breakout season or a further collapse the next year and I believe the Clippers will use their embarrassing collapse as fuel to have the best record in the league and use their home court advantage to win the championship.
Friday, October 23, 2015
I’m pretty eclectic in my political preferences but to me if you are who you say you are that’s really all I can ask of anyone. When the chess parent asked me who I was going to vote for I said that I wasn’t going to vote for any of the candidates but if I could sell my vote I would. Like most people the chess parent rolled his eyes but once I explained my position he understood where I was coming from.
Now that the Iowa caucuses are just a few months away I’m started to be inundated with phone calls and television ads trying to convince me to vote for this candidate, that candidate, or the other candidate. A nice looking aristocrat named Jeb is on my television saying that he has a plan to create lots of good paying jobs, while Donald will make America great, and Bernie will look out for me and not the special interests. As I was writing this I was interrupted by a phone call asking me for my opinion on the election. Luckily I managed to dodge the phone interview by answering his first question (are you affiliated with or employed by a media, marketing, or journalistic company?) with the information that I am in fact an award winning journalist. The phone interviewer thanked me for my time without even waiting to hear about how I won chess journalism award for this blog five years ago!
Everyone wants my vote but they are paying call centers, marketing companies, websites, newspapers, magazines, and television stations to get it. If I want groceries I go to the grocery store and not a call center or a marketing company. If I want insurance I go to an insurance salesman and not a television station. But if a politician wants my vote they don’t go to me for it, instead paying media outlets to convince me to vote for them.
I’ve discussed this before and I think it’s only a matter of time before everyone is allowed to buy and sell votes just like any other valuable commodity. I noticed the controversy about the clandestine video of Planned Parenthood officers discussing harvesting and selling tissue and organs from aborted fetuses. Most people think this is the biggest scandal ever with the dividing line being whether the scandal is the selling of baby parts (like this opinion piece) or whether the scandal was the editing of otherwise innocent videos to discredit Planned Parenthood (like this opinion piece).
I don’t know all the facts (although when people proclaim their innocence by saying they have ‘done nothing illegal’ it makes me wonder) but the thing that struck me is that aborted fetal tissue is valuable in the first place. This article from the Washington Post says that 2,000 cells from a fetal liver can be had from StemExpress for between $1800 and $2000. I’m not joking – StemExpress is a real company (here is their website). I went to StemExpress.com to get a catalog but stopped short of signing up for an account even though I can get 10% off my first order of $1,000 or more. Regardless of whether you think abortion a women’s health issue or the killing of the unborn or if Planned Parenthood is a provider of valuable services or a purveyor of infanticide one fact is indisputable – organizations like StemExpress and Planned Parenthood get a lot of money for these cells while the original ‘owner’ gets nothing.
I had the television on as I was looking at the products offered by StemExpress.com. I was looking at their offerings in Bone Marrow and Maternal Blood when a commercial came on encouraging me to be an organ donor. I’ve never filled out an organ donor card although if I ever find myself in need of an organ I hope someone else has filled one out.
Since I just discovered that fetal liver cells goes for around a dollar per cell my mind was wondering what a liver transplant would cost so I went looking on the internet. I found a site called www.transplantliving.org with a 2011 transplant price sheet and found that the estimated cost of a liver transplant in 2011 was $577,100. I found it interesting that while a heart transplant cost $997,700 and a lung transplant cost $561,200, a heart-lung transplant cost $1,148,400 which is a savings of $410,500 over having the procedures done separately. Other interesting tidbits were an intestine transplant cost more than a heart-lung transplant ($1,206,800) and at $262,900 the kidney transplant was the most economical transplant by $26,500 over the pancreas transplant.
I knew that while it is perfectly legal to donate organs it is illegal to sell your organs for transplantation. What I didn’t realize was that this was only in place since 1984’s National Organ Transplant Act. The Act makes any organ transfer that affects interstate commerce punishable by a fine of up to $50,000 or up to years in prison or both.
I think it would be OK for people to sell their organs except I don't want to have to pay for welfare and healthcare for one-kidney Karla or one-lung Larry while they spend their organ money on liquor, cigarettes, and Little Debbie's. But when an organ donor dies and their organs are procured for transplant why does every one from the company that procures the organ to the hospital to the physician to the drug companies make money on these organ transfers while the donor’s family gets nothing. The cost sheet shows that it costs $60,000 and up to procure the organ, $90,000 to $750,000 for the hospital stay during the transplant $17,000 and up for the physician, and $20,000+ for immune-suppressant drugs. If the organ can be donated why aren’t these services also donated and if these services aren’t donated shouldn’t the families of the organ donors be compensated also? I'm not saying hospitals, drug companies, doctors, and procurement specialists shouldn't make money but without the organ (donated or not) they have nothing to offer in the way of transplants yet the organ supplier's family is shut out of the money.
Votes, stem cells, and vital organs - three commodities where everyone makes a profit except for the owners of the commodities themselves. I don’t know why I get so worked up about stuff like this but I do. Maybe it’s because so few people see the infringement not being able to sell what everyone else is making money off of. It looks like the only way I’ll be able to cash in will be to write the 21st century ‘1984’ with the organ donor, stem cell, and voting police instead of Big Brother.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
America's favorite group of zombie apocalypse survivors returns for a new season Sundays at 9 on AMC!
The backdrop of Season 6 is the arrival of Rick Grimes' crew into the heretofore peaceful hamlet of Alexandria...
The premier episode of Season six is a flashback of scenes in black and white and flash-present scenes in color of Rick’s group discovering thousands of zombies trapped in a quarry sealed off by tractor trailers that are in danger of giving way under the sheer weight of the zombies pressing against them. Rick concots an A-Teamish plan of letting the zombies out of the quarry in order to lead them away from Alexandria. The flashbacks show Rick convincing the rest of the townspeople to let him carry out the plan and Rick and Deanna’s decision not to bury Pete with inside the town because ‘We don’t bury killers here’. The problem is that Pete’s children are still in town and the oldest son Ron is showing a lot of bitterness towards Rick and it’s certainly not going to help Rick’s budding romance with the widow Jessie. Hopefully Jessie knows that getting romantically involved with a tragic character like Rick is akin to signing your death sentence as soon as the show writers feel Rick needs some stressors but I’m more concerned that Ron may betray the town to the Wolves in the future.
The main resistance to Rick’s plan comes from Carter, a regular townsperson who Rick needs for his knowledge of how to construct the walls his plan requires to herd the zombies away form the town at a few strategic points. Carter tries to rally the townspeople to assassinate Rick but he is found out. In a great piece of drama Rick holds a gun to the whimpering Carter’s head saying ‘Do you think you’re going to take this town from US? From ME?’ This explains Rick’s world view towards Alexandria – it is now his group’s town and he will be making the decisions. Rick spares Carter’s life but tells his newly arrived ‘consiglieri’ Morgan that he didn’t need to kill Carter because it’s only a matter of time before Carter gets himself killed with his stupidity.
As Rick takes his team on a dress rehearsal for the ‘zombie’ herding, one of the retaining tractor trailers gets tipped over by the zombies and the team has to put the plan in action immediately. Rick proves psychic when Carter runs into a zombie, panics, and gets himself bitten. Rick gets some satisfaction when he gets to put a knife in Carter’s head to keep his screams from distracting the herd.
When you are bit by a zombie, silence is golden!
In a suprising turn of events there was no zombie herd in episode two, Instead it was completely set in Alexandria. We start by seeing the backstory of Enid, a girl we thought was native to the Alexandria community but was shown seeing her family eaten by zombies, wandering through the zombie apocalypse landscape by herself, catching a turtle and eating it raw, and drawing the letters JSS (Just Survive Somehow) wherever she goes before finally ending up in Alexandria. Meanwhile Carol (zombie killer extraordinaire who pretends she is just a den mother/helpless female to the Grimes crew) is discussing recipes using cream of celery soup with the Alexandrian housewives as she tries to fit in. She puts a casserole in the over, sets the time to two hours, and sees one of the Wolves flash across her window and slash one of her housewife friends to bits.
This is a harbinger of a full scale onslaught by the Wolves on the community of Alexandria. The town is almost defenseless with most of Rick’s crew on the zombie herding mission. Carol has to kill her housewife friend the same way Rick killed Carter in order to keep her screams from drawing the Wolves but then goes into action. She kills one of the wolves, puts on his clothes and draws a ‘W’ on her head in blood to disguise herself as a Wolves member, and kills every Wolf she can. She is joined by Morgan, who Rick sent to warn the town about the zombie herd changing course and the two end up clearing the town of Wolves with very little help from the rest of the town.
Aside from the Wolves brutality, the main theme of the episode was the juxtaposition of Carol’s shooting any of the Wolves she encounters with Morgan using his skills with his staff to defend himself and telling any of the Wolves he meets ‘Leave. Please’, even going so far as almost begging one pack of four wolves to save themselves because his group has guns and will shoot them if they don’t leave (all while pummeling the axe and machete wielding Wolves with his staff). In the end Carol's philosophy wins when Morgan kills the same member of the Wolves whose life he spared at the end of Season 5.
The Alexandrians are pretty useless through the attack. The new town doctor gets a panic attack when a hacked up Alexandrian is brought to her to be sewn together and the rest of the townspeople's contribution to the fight is to either scream or beg for their lives before being hacked to bits or hide in their closets. It is worth noting that Jessie does kill an invading Wolf with a pair of scissors in her kitchen in order to keep her children safe so maybe she will be compatible with Rick in an eHarmony sort of way.
Jessie gets the message about what is needed to survive in the world of Rick Grimes!
Friday, October 16, 2015
Dirty play or a hard slide...You make the call...
Chase Utley was on first and should have been easily out as Met’s second basemen Daniel Murphy fielded the ball and threw it to shortstop Ruben Tejada for the force at second. Tejada was a couple of feet wide away from second base but never got a chance to throw to first base to try to complete the double play because Utley barreled into Tejada, breaking Tejada’s leg in addition to preventing him from attempting to throw to first. Because there was no double play, the runner scored from third to tie the game and the Dodgers scored three more times in the inning to win 5-2 and keep their championship hopes alive.
Utley was clearly out of the baseline when he began his slide and it is against the rules to slide out of the baseline. There is even a specific rule against leaving the baseline to break up a double play. The umpires could have ruled the slide illegal and enforced a double play. Instead they opted to do nothing and even declared Utley safe at second because Tejada never touched second base even though Utley also never touched second and even walked towards the dugout after the play.
After the game MLB’s chief baseball officer Joe Torre (the former Yankee manager who led the Yankees to four World Series victories last century and also presided over the 2004 collapse to the Red Sox) suspended Utley for two games, declaring the slide was illegal while also declaring that he did not believe Utley deliberately intended to injure Tejada.
I’d be tempted to say that Utley was ‘old school’ and playing hard just like Pete Rose did in the good old days except that these aren’t the good old days where a pitcher would throw at a batter's head or a runner would launch himself into a catcher or second baseman. There’s too much money and too much litigation and too much scrutiny on violence in professional sports to allow indiscriminate injuries.
Utley is known for his hard slides into bases – he even nailed Tejada in 2010. I couldn’t find out if Utley had ever been suspended for a hard slide before. If he had I’m sure it would have been in the news stories detailing this recent incident. The rule Utley broke is one has been very rarely enforced but once Tejada’s leg was broken MLB no doubt felt they had to do something to show they were concerned about player safety. I wonder if the rule about sliding out of the baseline will be enforced from now on or will MLB wait until the next crisis for it to be enforced.
Another rarely used rule was put to the test in last weekends Millionaire Chess Open in Las Vegas. In order to promote fighting chess the tournament rules prohibited draws being agreed to before 30 moves had been played. There were plenty of exceptions built in to the rule to allow for draws but the no early draw rule was promoted as part of the event.
This rule was put to the test when top seed Hikaru Nakamura and GM Luke McShane squared off Sunday in the final round of the preliminary tournament to determine which four players would play for the top prize of $100,000. Both players needed a win to guarantee themselves no worse than a playoff to make the Millionaire Monday finals while a loss would leave them out of the running and a draw would leave open the possibility of being shut out of the finals depending on how the other boards played out. After five moves a well-known position in the Sicilian Defense had been reached. McShane played his dark square bishop out to e3 and Nakamura immediately attacked it with his knight. McShane retreated the bishop to its original square and Nakamura likewise retreated his knight. McShane then brought his bishop back out to the same e3 square, Nakamura attacked it again with his knight, McShane retreated it once more to its original square, Nakamura again retreated his knight, and McShane brought his bishop to e3 and claimed a draw by repetition of position.
While the game seemed to make a mockery of the early draw rule, it was a logical enough game with Nakamura unwilling to allow an unopposed bishop on e3 and McShane being unwilling to play without the bishop on any other square. After a 90 minute delay, the final result of a draw was allowed to stand with no penalty assessed. The possible penalties were listed in the rules as forfeiture of the game for the players, ineligibility for prizes, and the players not being invited to future events.
Hikaru Nakamura, Luke McShane, and Maurice Ashley discuss the nine move draw in the seventh round of the Millionaire Chess Open
While baseball's baseline rule problem was caused because the rule has been rarely enforced, Millionaire Chess’s short draw rule problem is that the rule is unenforceable. There were a handful of other draws in the open section that were less than 30 moves but because they were in earlier rounds there was no controversy. I don’t know how intent can ever be proved and don’t see how any two players can be prevented from repeating the moves of the McShane-Nakamura game and be penalized for a short draw.
Ashley is one of the most innovative organizers around and I expect there will be a new rule to discourage short draws at next year’s Millionaire Chess Open. Many chess tournaments allow for ‘Armageddon’ games to resolve ties with the white side having more time but the black side being declared the winner in case of a draw. I could see short draws being resolved by an ‘Armageddon’ game. A problem with this is it could see some players being incentivized to make short draws so they could get to the Armageddon game and have a morning or afternoon off. But like I said, Ashley is innovative and will come up with a new rule or series of rules that will work better to eliminate short draws.
One of the most famous altercations in NBA history and the last time an entire team came off the bench during a fight.
None of these penalties did much to dissuade players making hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars from leaving the bench during a fight. In the 1994 playoffs between the Knicks and Bulls a fight between the two teams turned into a free for all directly in front of then commissioner David Stern. That offseason the penalty for leaving the bench was increased to a $20,000 fine and a one-game suspension (which entailed the loss of one game’s pay). Players leaving the bench during fights were reduced dramatically and almost eliminated entirely after a fight in the famous playoff game between the Heat and the Knicks where almost the entire Knick team left the bench.
Five Knick players were suspended over the next two playoff games in shifts so the Knicks would have the minimum number of players required to suit up and they lost the last two games of the series to the Heat. The entire league was stunned that the penalty was not only enforced in the middle of a playoff series but also that Knicks superstar Patrick Ewing was one of those suspended. Starting the next season each NBA team had a coach assigned to keep players on the bench in case of a fight and players leaving the bench during a fight are few and far between which is the result of a rule with harsh but understood penalties that is understood to always be enforced.
Monday, October 12, 2015
My formulas that were so successful for the 2014 season were worse than awful for the 2013 season and scored 40% for both seasons. This unwelcome turn of events leaves me searching for a formula that will work for both seasons. If I can’t find one I’ll have to research what made the two seasons different and as the 2015 season takes shape decide on a formula to use. I could add more seasons of scores and betting lines to my database to determine if the 2013 season is an outlier but that wouldn’t protect me from the possibility of this upcoming season being an outlier also.
As I test various formulas the NBA season is less than three weeks away. I’ve loaded the 2015-2016 schedule into my database and will have to update the point spreads daily as the season goes along. I thought I might have been busy this week watching the Yankees in the baseball playoffs but there was only one game to watch since the Houston Astros of all teams came into Yankee Stadium without a playoff win in a decade and came out with a 3-0 win and moved on to play the Kansas City Royals in the divisional series. It was another lost season for the Yankees. I had some high hopes in late July when the Yankees had a seven game lead in their division with a 57-42 record. My concerns about the age of the starting lineup proved justified as the team went into a collective hitting slump in September. On September 7th the Yankees were 18 games over .500 at 77-59 an only a half game behind the resurgent Blue Jays and their trading deadline acquisitions Troy Tutowitzki and David Price only to collapse with a 10-16 record down the stretch and limp into the playoffs with a mediocre 87-75 record.
This is the third year in a row the Yankees have failed to win their division which is the longest streak in 20 years and this is the 6th year in a row without a World Series appearance which is the third longest streak since 1923. Despite this record of mediocrity manager Joe Girardi’s job is safe. General Manager Brian Cashman said last week about Girardi (here is the story) "He is signed for two more years and managed the team to the playoffs. It’s not his fault we didn’t hit. He managed a perfect playoff game."
I suppose Cashman is right. After all the Yankees were shut out by 20 game winner Dallas Keuchel and when you go up against 20 game winners these things can happen. My question is if Girardi managed a ‘perfect playoff game’ and is such a great manager doesn’t that mean there is something wrong with the talent on the Yankees? Where are the Yankees' 20 game winners? They haven’t had one since C.C. Sabathia (who got so drunk two weekends ago that he had to remove himself from the Yankees’ postseason roster in order to check into rehab) in 2010. Keuchel is 27 years old and was drafted by the Astros in the 7th round of the 2009 draft. It is not like he was a top draft pick yet the Astros were able to develop him into a 20 game winner. I don’t see the Yankees farm system developing 20 game winners and there doesn’t seem to be any superstar every day players either. Under Cashman the Yankees occasionally have developed a relief pitcher but except for Robinson Cano there haven’t been any perennial all-star starting pitchers or everyday players coming from the farm system which leaves the team overspending on mediocre veterans that wear out at the end of the season. I cannot understand how the Yankee ownership can tolerate the poor return on the investment of a huge payroll when low-budget teams like the Royals, Rangers, and crosstown Mets are winning their divisions and still in the playoffs.
One NBA team that is refusing to settle for mediocrity is the Oklahoma City Thunder. Under the leadership of coach Scott Brooks and superstar players Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden the Thunder went to the NBA Finals in 2012 which they lost to the Miami Heat in five games. The team decided they would not go over the salary cap to keep James Harden and traded him to the Houston Rockets for some role players that never made an impact on the team. In the 2012-13 season, Westbrook was hurt in the playoffs the Thunder fell to the Grizzlies in the second round. In 2013-2014 the team fell to the eventual champion Spurs in the Western Conference finals. Last season saw Durant miss most of the season with a foot injury and the team missed the playoffs for the first time in six seasons despite a 45-37 record.
While the Yankees can make the playoffs for one game in three seasons and management gets contract extensions the Thunder decided to make a coaching change and Brooks found himself out of a job. A large part of the reason for the coaching change was the Thunder are in a ‘win now’ mode that is bordering on desperation. Durant is a free agent after this season with Westbrook following next year and there is no guarantee that these two superstars won’t leave the Thunder to play in larger markets to boost their profile and chase the championship they haven’t been able to obtain in Oklahoma City.
I would have expected the Thunder to get a coach with a proven professional track record or a hot assistant coach but they instead lured longtime Florida Gators coach Billy Donovan from the college ranks to take his first professional coaching position. Donovan won two national championships with the Gators but very few college coaches find success in the professional ranks. Former Butler coach Brad Stevens has gotten favorable reviews for leading the moribund Boston Celtics to the playoffs in his second season but top college coaches Rick Pitino and John Calipari were busts that left the Celtics and Nets (respectively) in shambles after taking over their operations.
I think Donovan will not follow his mentor Pitino and fellow Pitino disciple Calipari into bust status and expect him to be highly successful as a pro coach. While Pitino and Calipari leveraged their college success into complete control of their teams, Donovan is the coach and only the coach so he can concentrate on coaching. When college coaches transition to the pros they tend to have trouble with the lack absolute authority they had over their college players. Donovan may have this problem but since he did have some pro experience in the 1980s as a very marginal player he should know that he can't treat pro athletes the same as his college players.
Donovan is thought of as an offensive genius and the early quotes from Durant and Westbrook seem to be enthusiastic concerning the new offensive system. As much as I think Donovan will be successful if Durant and Westbrook are injured as much as they have been the past few years, the Thunder could miss the playoffs yet again and have a worse record than last year. But until then I’ll be keeping a special eye out for the Thunder this season.
Friday, October 9, 2015
I turned 55 yesterday which was inconceivable when I was 5 or 25 and far away when I was 35 or 45. Luckily it turned out to be inevitable since turning 55 beats the alternative when you are 54 years old. Being 55 qualifies me to participate in all the activities at the nearby Marshalltown Senior Citizens Center like playing pool, using the computers, or participating in the weekly card games. The Marshalltown Senior Citizens Center also offers a daily meal which I had a lot more interest in than playing pool or cards since I noted over a decade ago that people aged 55 or over were not charged for the meals. I had been planning on celebrating my 55th birthday by getting a free meal at the Marshalltown Senior Citizens Center and writing about it but last month I received the unwelcome news that being 55 only qualifies me to pay the full price of $6 for the meal and when I turn 60 I can get a meal at the Marshalltown Senior Citizens Center for a free will (or in my case FREE WON’T) donation.
The Senior Citizens Center used to give out free lunches to people 55 years old and stopped a few years ago. I was disappointed at not getting a free meal but not too disappointed. I don’t care much for Jell-O and I prefer whole kernel corn to creamed corn anyway. I’m going to chalk the entire incident up to my misfortune at being at the end of the ‘baby boom’ generation which saw the bulk of the benefits pass to people five and ten years older than me and now are slowly taken away as the voting numbers of older people diminish.
I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel at the age of 55 so I don’t know if I feel younger or older than my age. I expect I feel younger than my age despite not running marathons, sprints, or even up a flight of stairs. Part of what keeps me feeling young is my daily walks with Daisy and Baxter. Excepting the occasional work or chess trip I’ve walked these two at least once a day for the last four and a half years. I remember how miserable I was when my great dogs Queenie and Tuffy passed away in 2010. I still miss Queenie and Tuffy but Daisy and Baxter remind me every day that life is above all a joyous occasion. I am constantly infected by their joy at going for a walk, getting a beef stick treat at the corner of the convenience store, checking out a squirrel, barking at a stranger, and even their zeal when I make my bologna sandwich in the morning to take to work in their expectation of a scrap or two or twenty.
I’ve met plenty of people that seem and act way older than they are and they almost always have one thing in common – an unhappy home life. I’ve been supremely lucky in that regard since I’ll be married 25 years this December to Kathy. We don’t agree on everything but we haven’t had more than a handful of arguments in 25 years and none that lasted more than a day. I read an article recently where the writer admonished young men to not marry women who dye their hair blonde or wear bathing suits (unless they are ‘fat and ugly’) but I’d encourage young men to marry someone they are going to get along with since most of the men I see that have an unhappy home life aren’t happy anywhere else either.
I’m not saying everything is always perfect – I’ve had plenty of disagreements with my kids over the years and I don’t find the joy my beagles take in eating cat poop or vomit very infectious but these things only upset me as much as I want to be upset at the time and I work pretty hard on not getting upset. I’ve learned from some of the best over the years to try not to let things upset me and a big part of not getting upset is to not deal with people that upset me. When I was young I would go toe to toe with anyone that wanted to cause me trouble but over the years I’ve learned that when there’s someone who wants to stir me up I don’t just get away – I run away and I stay away. I’ve quit jobs and severed friendships and associations that lasted years when I’m shown I’m being disrespected or not worth telling the truth to or having lies told about me. I’ve never missed any of these so-called friendships and associations because I got to keep my peace of mind which is worth quite a bit to me. I feel any time spent with or thinking about these types is time wasted and I think I’m wasting time even writing about them.
I’ve been lucky enough to hang out and learn from some great people that were well over 55 years old and the thing that impressed me the most about them is that they all found something to enjoy and look forward to every day. My grandfather Matthew lived to 95 or 96 depending on which birth certificate you used. When he was in his 80’s he would take a bus to Atlantic City a few times a week. He wouldn’t gamble but the casinos would give him 15 dollars to take the bus. Matthew would hang out at the beach and tell me “Where can a guy my age make 15 dollars a day?” When the casinos wised up, my grandfather would drive every day to Tony’s deli in Passaic New Jersey for lunch. I went with him a couple of times and it was a high adventure since he could barely see or hear and instead of looking at the road would look at my Aunt Elaine’s hand signals from the passenger seat to determine when to brake, turn, and accelerate. He knew he shouldn’t have been driving but it was one of the things he loved to do and he looked forward to it every day.
At my first programming job in New Jersey in the late 1980’s one of the computer operators was Max. Max was in his late 70’s and every day took a train and a bus to get from his apartment in Queens, New York to Secaucus, New Jersey and a bus and train every day to get back home. Max would get in an hour before everyone else to print shipping labels and invoices and I would get to work an hour early because I liked to program so much. We were the only two people in the office for that hour every day and got to have quite a few talks. Max would smoke these huge cigars and tell me tales how he bribed his way out of Nazi controlled Austria in the 1930’s and owned a coffee factory in South America but lost his factory to a military coup and ended up working as a computer operator in Secaucus New Jersey. Max puffed on these huge cigars while he was working and had a bottle of whiskey in his desk for special occasions. When the military government was overturned Max got paid for his factory but he kept on taking the bus every day to get to Secaucus, New Jersey because he just loved to work and didn’t care what he did as long as he felt he was performing a useful function and had a place to smoke his cigars.
Once I moved to Iowa I had the good fortune to meet Dale Steiger. Dale was in his 80’s and owned a magazine subscription company. He called my office one day and said he had a data file of all the barbershops in America and wanted me to pull all the barbershops south of the Mason-Dixon Line into a new file so he could have his agents try to sell them magazines geared to the south. I don’t know why he called me since I wasn’t doing part-time work and I don’t know why I said yes but there was something about Dale that made me want to help him. That one job turned into another and another and eventually I had lunch with Dale at his company every other week and got to know him pretty well. Dale was a big shot advertising executive in New York in the 1960s and moved to Iowa to start his subscription company. I’ve never met a guy as nice as Dale. He called our meeting serendipity and I couldn’t agree more.
I've talked to Bill from down the block occasionally over the past 20 years when we would meet while walking our dogs. I’ve seen Bill go from walking slowly to using a cane to a walker and now at the age of 93 he barely walks at all. Time has taken his ability to drive and almost the ability to walk. His hips have no cartilage and hurts whenever he moves. When Kathy and I take Daisy and Baxter on our evening walks we’ll see Bill and his wife Marilyn sitting on their porch when the weather is nice and we’ll join them. Even into their nineties Bill and Marilyn get into their daughter’s car for a trip to their favorite diner for lunch almost every day. When it’s football season Bill likes to talk about the Iowa Hawkeyes and he knows as much about the team as anyone I know. And I don’t mean the teams from the good old days – I mean this year’s team and he knows quite a bit about the Big 10 and the Cyclones as well. I freely admit to understanding nothing about college sports and why people in Iowa take such pride in these football and basketball teams that supposedly represent the state but don’t even have half of their players from the state but if it gives Bill a reason to look forward to Saturdays and the next season in the fall I’m all for it. So in 55 years I’ve learned from Daisy and Baxter to live each day with joy, and my grandpa Matt, Dale, Max, and Bill taught and are still teaching me the value of having something to look forward to each day. I’d talk more on the subject but I have a basketball prediction program to finish, a chess club at St. Francis to prepare for, a youth tournament to put on in two weeks, and I have to go to work today!
Monday, October 5, 2015
I liked the Sleep Inn in Sioux Falls, South Dakota Sleep Inn a lot. The room was comfortable and quiet and the breakfast bar was above average. The only problem I had was the awful internet. Despite having four separate wireless networks I couldn’t watch YouTube Videos and pictures wouldn’t come up on web pages. It took around a half hour to upload my weekly Facebook photo album of Daisy and Baxter because the internet feed continually cut out or choked while uploading a picture. I was able to get my email and check in on work so I would have to say the internet was functional and while not up to the standards of the EconoLodge I stayed in last month paying $90 for the room instead of $131 gave me 41 reasons to put up with awful internet.
One thing I can say about the Sleep Inn is that they take security seriously. After we checked in on Friday night Sam used the phone in the room to recharge his cell phone by punching in the numbers on one of those recharge cards. Once he was done I noticed the phone blinking so I started pushing buttons to see if I had a message. I couldn’t find out if I had a message but a few minutes later there was a knock at the door. It was the clerk at the hotel wanting to know if we were alright because someone in the room had dialed 911. I said we were OK and it must have been an accident and the clerk left. A few minutes after that there was another knock on the door and this time it was a Sioux Falls police officer wanting to know if we were alright because someone called 911. We talked to the officer for a few minutes and he must have been satisfied that we were OK tourists because he left. Sam blamed the extra scrutiny on me for having a ‘Z’ in my name but I blame it on Sam because if I was some planning some caper from the Sioux Falls, South Dakota Sleep Inn I would certainly use an alias like ‘Sam Smith’ so I wouldn’t attract attention.
As Sam and I checked out of the Sleep Inn I stopped next door at the convenience store for some cold pills. Playing chess with a cold isn’t much fun and I was sorely tempted to withdraw from the tournament but I would still have hung around while Sam finished his games. If there were some recliners available at the Great Plains Zoo like there were at the Jackson Open I probably would have withdrew and slept on a recliner all day but without a recliner I decided to play in round four and see what happened.
My opponent in the fourth round was Joe Schultz, a young graphic artist from Sioux Falls. Joe had split his first two games on Saturday with his win coming against the same Mark Hansen who I played in the first game of the Jackson Open. Joe took a half point bye for the Saturday night game and looked to be a lot better rested than me. The round started at 9pm promptly and Joe and I started our game.
While not at the level of a Mount Rushmore game it was certainly a smooth effort on my part. Joe spent 40 minutes for his moves while I took around 50. I was especially pleased that I took my time to try to figure out the best way to take advantage of the free check Joe gave me with his f4 pawn move with my only disappointment that I didn’t realize I could have taken his knight on e5 before checking with the queen. It didn’t hurt me in this game but if it was the only path to a big advantage I would have played a safer move and had a longer game.
Joe and I went over the game in the skittles room afterwards and I showed him how h3 is either a very soft move if played by itself or a very aggressive move if followed with g4. Then Mark Hansen came into the room and since we had all played against each other we talked about our games like the acquaintances we now were. Mark was pretty happy since he had won his first game after playing stronger players in all four rounds. Joe left to get some lunch and since it was barely 11 o’clock and I was in the Great Plains Zoo I told Mark I wanted to see the turtles and asked if he wanted to go with me. Mark said yes and off we went.
On the left are the Galapagos tortoises of Great Plains Zoo. Mr. T. the turtle from Marshalltown Iowa is on the right. Turtles live in the water and have webbed feet for swimming while tortioses live on land and have curved feet for digging.
I went with Mark back to the skittles room and by then Sam’s game was finished so we took another walk in the zoo, this time to the snack bar in the middle of the zoo. We grabbed a quick lunch and headed back to the tournament for the final round. Despite my morning win I was still feeling crummy and if I had lost in the morning definitely would have begged out of the last round but with the win I had a chance for some cash if I could find another win. When I saw the pairings the first thing I saw was that I had black for the second time this day and the third time over all. The second thing I saw was that my opponent was Ivan Wijetunge, who won two out of three games after taking a half point bye in the first round, only losing to the same Jerome Mitchell that defeated me in the third round.
Ivan is a long time Iowa chess player who has lived in Texas, Wisconsin, and now Minnesota. He won a huge class prize at the HB Global Chess Challenge in 2005 which gave him a rating floor of 1800 whereupon he started a popular blog called ‘Getting to 2000’ about his attempts to get to the Expert rating of 2000. I played Ivan in the 2006 US Game 30 championships in Joliet Illinois. In that game Ivan met my Dutch Defense with an early Bg5 and defeated me fairly easily. From reading Ivan’s blog I knew that he can have great games and poor games and I know which one I was hoping for as I went into this this game.
This was my longest game of the tournament. Ivan used 83 minutes and I used 80. For all that time I spent it was an awful game that was indicative of my chess play in South Dakota. When I should have been defending I threw my queen as far away from my king as possible and then retreated it to the wrong square. Ivan could have put me away a lot earlier but after 15 moves he had a winning game, played it cool and careful, and I can’t say I ever had a chance although I did my best to pull off a cheapo and get another undeserved result.
Sam’s game was the next to last to finish. He had an advantage against a player around Ivan’s level but let it slip in the ending and eventually lost. He has the same score as I did and his 2.5 points out of 5 was good enough to share second place cash for his class. Jodene shared second place in the reserve section and took home $75 for her weekend. At around 4:30 Sam drove us back to Jackson and at 6pm I was on the road home to Marshalltown Iowa, driving through the ‘Blood Moon/Lunar Eclipse’ that happens once every 30 or so years.
I had a great time playing chess at the zoo. The tournament was excellently run and organizer De Knudson did a great job making me feel welcomed and comfortable. I didn’t play very well at the zoo and that’s on me. I was fine against the pair of lower rated players I faced because they didn’t put any pressure on me. The three higher rated players put pressure on me from the start of each game and not only did I put up very little resistance I cracked in the face of their pressure all three times. I came to Sioux Falls to see if my fine play at the Jackson Open was a new level or a good weekend and the answer for now is it was a good weekend. I met my goals of playing all five rounds and taking my time and failed in my goal of being aggressive against the stronger players. I’ve been working on being able to calculate better and am seeing more at the board than ever but I wasn’t able to get deep enough into the positions I encountered to make the most aggressive moves and settled for second or third best moves far too often. One bright spot I took from the Sioux Falls Open is that even though I played poorly I managed to make an even score which gives me hope that even though I’m not at the new level I hoped I might be at my best chess is still ahead of me and in the words of the prophet John Rambo:
Friday, October 2, 2015
Once the last game of the first round finished I went to the now empty tournament room and took a half hour nap. When I woke up I found I was playing black against Lyle Hanson. Lyle looked a lot like me except he had more hair, more gray hair, and an NRA t-shirt while I was wearing my Waffle House t-shirt (I did wear a Yankees shirt on Sunday in case any of my fashion minded readers were curious). The round was delayed for a few minutes because two of the players who traveled together a few hours to the tournament were paired against each other. They asked if Alex Yemolinsky (the tournament director and grandmaster) could change the pairings. Alex is an excellent tournament director. He is tough about keeping the room quiet and starting the rounds on time but fair when it comes to traveling companions playing against each other and changed the pairings. Lyle arrived a few seconds after Alex instructed us to start our clocks so we shook hands and sat down to play without any of the occasional chit-chat that you get before tournament games.
Yes, that’s how the game went. I got crushed from the sixth move on, Lyle hung a rook, I took it and offered a draw even though I had a fairly straightforward win. Why? I defended enough that getting a win wouldn’t have been undeserved and if a guy loses a rook he likely deserves to lose. I’ve never met Lyle, didn’t know about his South Dakota urban legend status as a two time (and current) South Dakota state chess champion, and his draw in round four against the super tough Josiah Jorenby despite being two exchanges down hadn't happened yet. So to repeat myself, why offer the draw?
To be clear, I didn’t offer the draw out of some sense of sportsmanship or honor. I offered the draw because I played this game so poorly I was disgusted with myself. Now that my opponent was sinking to my level I just wanted to forget about it and get on to the next game. If Lyle had given me a rook early in the game or was outplaying me in a well-played game and then hung a rook that would be a different story. I wonder if I would have done the same if Lyle had an 1100 rating like my first round opponent and I really doubt it.
Lyle and I went over the ‘game’ and once the last game of the round finished (an epic draw between Sam and Charles Dibley) I took another nap in the tournament room before the 5pm third round. My opponent in round three was expert player Jerome Mitchell who was the third seed in the tournament behind Women Grandmaster Camilla Baginskaite (Alex Yermolinsky’s wife) and multiple time South Dakota champion chess master Nels Truelson. I sat down at the board and Jerome wasn’t at the table. Alex instructed us to start our clocks so I made my first move and started my clock. A few of the players arrived late and I noticed that two of the players started a game on the next row. They played a few moves and then one of the players got up, looked at the pairing sheet, went back to his board shaking his head, gathered his belongings, and sat down across from me! Jerome had started playing on board 13 instead of board 3. Jerome made his first move and our game began.
Jerome was very nice after the game and said I played well up to 27.Nxd4 and he had just been maneuvering to try to get me to make a mistake and if I had played 27.Nc1 he couldn’t find a breakthrough and probably would have offered a draw. I thought at the time Jerome would have kept me cramped for another hour (we each used an hour for this game and each had a half hour left) or so to squeeze the win out but now I’m not so sure. Jerome is not a tournament regular. The Sioux Falls Open was his first tournament since the 2006 World Open in Philadelphia. Jerome ended up finishing second in the tournament. I ran into him after his last round game which was a draw against WGM Baginskaite. He was almost floating and told me “I drew the GM”. I told him that he could tie for first if Truelson failed to win his game but Jerome couldn’t have cared less about winning the tournament – he was thrilled to have played a really good game.
While gasoline may be more expensive in Iowa than Minnesota and South Dakota at least there are some bargains to be had in the land of corn. This 16 ounce 'frosty cool' Coke is 10% more expensive at this Sioux Falls, South Dakota BP station than the same can at the Casey's in Marshalltown Iowa...