Friday, December 30, 2016

Movie Review - Rogue One (A Star Wars Story)

  I went to see 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story' on the day after Christmas with my neighbor Don. Originally, the entire family was going to see the film but one by one everyone dropped out leaving Don and I to go alone. The movie has won its first two weekends and the early (12:50) show on Monday had a sizable crowd of over 40 moviegoers mostly made up of young adults.

  I’ve never been a huge fan of the Star Wars franchise. It always seemed light on action and heavy on artificially induced dramatics (replete with music). When it was on, the results could be breathtaking. The opening half hour of ‘Return of the Jedi’ is some of the best filmmaking I’ve ever seen. But for every great scene or great character like Jabba The Hut, Yoda, of my personal favorite Admiral Akbar there seemed to be hours of silliness with chattering droids, whining simians like Chewbacca and my least favorite characters the insufferable Ewoks who somehow manage to defeat an empire squadron by using giant logs they must have spent years chewing into battering rams and such. As great as the beginning of ‘Return of the Jedi’ was the Ewoks and the transformation of Luke Skywalker from a dynamic young Jedi to whining brat begging his daddy (Darth Vader) to save him made the second half of the movie unwatchable.

  Instead of continuing the Star Wars saga after the third movie, creator George Lucas decided to make his next trilogy the prequel to the first three movies so that movie #1 (Star Wars) was really movie #4, Movie #6 was really #3, and so on… If you get it good for you because it confuses me so much I can’t discuss these movies because I still think of the first movie as the first movie. After the second trilogy the Disney corporation bought the rights to the Star Wars franchise and is remaking the Star Wars universe in its own image with enough Easter eggs for the diehard fans but also bringing the story line forward with new characters and presumably enough marketing power to rival the comic book franchises of Marvel and DC for decades to come.

  ‘Rogue One’ takes place a little before the start of the original Star Wars movie which is either the first or the fourth in the series depending on your world view. In the beginning our protagonist is Mads Mikkelsen who normally plays the baddest of bad guys from the title character in the Hannibal television serues to Le Chiffre in the Casino Royale James Bond film and Kaecilius in the recent Doctor Strange movie. In this film Mads plays Galen Erso, the lead engineer of the famous planet-destroying ‘Death Star’ who has run away from the Empire. Since Erso is key to completing the project he is hunted down and forced back to the project but not before he manages to squirrel away his daughter in the care of rebel Saw Gerrera (played by Forest Whitaker in his normal contemplative to the point of somnambulant manner).

  We then flash forward to the present time of the move which is really long ago and far away when the daughter Jyn Erso is captured by the rebel alliance in the hopes of forging an alliance with Gerrara. Jyn agrees to try to set up a meeting and is escorted by a team led by Cassian Andor, a rebel captain and one of the few biped humanoids in the entire movie that doesn’t speak with an English accent with vaguely Shakespearean intonations. Along the way the pair pick up some allies on a planet hopping journey to three separate planets to meet up with Jyn’s father and the Empire’s recordkeeping planet in order to steal the plans for the Death Star to find the fatal flaw built into it by Jyn’s father.

  I liked this movie a lot more than I thought I would. There was all kinds of action on each of the planets with hand to hand combat, spaceship battles, those camel type machines, and even a guest appearance by Darth Vader himself. Vader was awesomely menacing as he cut down rebels with his light saber and keeps his allies in line by causing them to be unable to breathe with the slightest gesture and warning them not to ‘choke on their ambitions’. What I didn’t miss from the other Star Wars movies I’ve seen was inane filler masking itself as political intrigue and the idiotic droids that are meant to provide comic relief. One of the main characters is a droid (K-2SO) which had predictably idiotic dialog but at least it was a battle droid that was a fighter. There was one piece of idiocy that I really enjoyed and that was the fish headed Admiral Raddus who leads the rebel space ship fleet and just like his predecessor Admiral Ackbar has a knack for interrupting the battles with a close up of his giant fish head to state some obvious point and then it’s back to the action. The Admiral has one sterling moment when he orders his ‘Hammerhead Corvette’ around to slam two Starship Destroyers into each other in a serious breach of the laws of psychics.

  The movie is a bit darker than most of the other Star Wars movies I’ve seen. The ‘Death Star’ gets to show its stuff twice and I wouldn’t advise getting too emotionally attached to many of the characters that are featured in the movie. I wonder if someday this will become thought of as a seminal movie in the use of CGI instead of human actors. There are many characters from the 1977 ‘Star Wars’ movie that appear in this film as incredibly lifelike animated characters. I wonder how long it will take Disney to make it cost effective to have the leading roles in future films of the Star Wars franchise played by CGI characters that are indistinguishable from live actors. It seems to only be a matter of time when our future superstars stop getting replaced due to contract demands or old age because they don’t exist outside of a computer chip. I didn't think that would be possible a couple of years ago but that was before I saw how easily the local Wal-Mart replaced a dozen cashiers with eight scanners for self-checkout.

Friday, December 23, 2016

For Some it Has to be All or Nothing

  The 2016 edition of the Grand Chess Tour (GCT) finished this past week with the conclusion of the London Chess Classic. The tournament was won by Wesley So, whose three wins, zero losses, and six draws enabled him to finish a half point ahead of U.S. champion and current World #2 Fabiano Caruana. So won the top prize of the entire tour by virtue of his victory in the London Chess Classic and his victory in the tours’ other classical time control event (the Sinquefield Cup) along with second and fourth place finishes in the two rapid play legs of the tour in Paris and Belgium. This year’s tour garnered far less attention than last years’ edition for one very important reason – the absence of World Champion Magnus Carlsen.

  Carlsen was allowed a wild card entry into the GCT’s two rapid events held earlier in the year but missed the Sinquefield Cup and London Chess Classic in order to defend his title against the Russian Challenger Sergey Karjakin. The championship was played in New York and received a considerable amount of mainstream press coverage. The first seven games of the 12 game match were draws. They were exciting battles with missed opportunities and skillful defense but could not be expected to retain the attention of the mainstream media which tended to put the match on the back burner until Karjakin managed to take the lead by winning game eight. Carlsen evened the score in Game ten and after two more drawn games the championship was decided in a match of four 25 minute games which was won by Carlsen. This was the second world chess championship out of the last four that was decided in a rapid tiebreak (Anand-Gelfand 2012 was the other). In the 12th and final game of the match, Carlsen had the white pieces but settled for a short draw without taking any undue risk. After winning the tiebreak match, Carlsen was lauded for having the self-awareness to realize he was more likely to retain his title by outplaying Karjakin in the tiebreak rounds rather than risk overpressing for a Game 12 win and losing which is what happened in the one game of the match he did lose. If Karjakin had won the tiebreak match and become world champion I doubt Carlsen would have been as lauded. I don’t think too much one way or the other about Carlsen’s choice because I don’t know the backstory. It’s possible that he was prepared to take more risks if Karjakin had played a different opening but perhaps was surprised in the opening and decided to bail out. No one knows and no one is telling.

  On Sunday the Tennessee Titans were trailing the Kansas City Chiefs 17-10 with 3 minutes left when they scored a touchdown to pull within one point. Instead of kicking the extra point, Titan coach Mike Mularkey decided to try to get the lead by going for a 2 point conversion instead of trying to tie the game on an extra point by kicker Ryan Succop who had made 33 of 35 extra points this season. In the first game of the season Raider’s head coach Jack Del Rio had a similar choice when his team scored a touchdown with 47 seconds left to pull within one point of the New Orleans Saints. Del Rio went for the conversion which was successful, and the Raiders won the game 35-34. The headline on this story was “Gutsy call lifts Raiders past Saints”. The call (and successful result) is seen as a masterstroke that propelled the Raiders to a 10-2 start and their best season in 15 years.

  On Sunday, Mularkey’s call didn’t look so good when the Titans failed to convert the 2 point conversion, leaving the Titans trailing by a point. The Chiefs were a first down away from running out the clock and winning the game but the Titans forced a three and out series, getting the ball back with a minute left which was just enough time to move the ball into field goal range for Succop to attempt a 53 yard field goal. The same Ryan Succop that wasn’t trusted to kick an extra point to tie the game. I think not trying to tie the game via the extra point was idiocy on Mularkey’s part. Even if the Titans had taken the lead via the two-point conversion, the Chiefs would still have gotten the ball with three minutes left which was more than enough time to attempt to retake the lead. If you tell me that Mularkey trusted his defense to stop the Chiefs and get the ball back in case the two-point conversion didn’t work I would ask if he didn’t trust his defense enough to give them a tie game to work with.

  I do have to acknowledge that Mularkey may have been on to something in not trusting his kicker. Succop missed the 53 yard field goal attempt BUT Chiefs coach Andy Reid played the ‘ice the kicker’ card and called a time out a fraction of a second before the snap. On the second attempt Succop made the field goal and Mularkey is being hailed as a genius (at least in this article).

  It is common practice for coaches and players to be judged by their results rather than the decisions leading to said results. In Game 7 of the World Series Cubs Manager Joe Maddon made several questionable decisions. He pulled his starting pitcher and catcher in the 5th inning with a three run lead and watched the replacements promptly give up two runs. Then after bringing in his closer in the 8th inning and watching him allow a game tying homer, Maddon sent him out for the 9th inning when another homer would lose the game and series. Luckily for Maddon the closer gave up no more runs, the replacement catcher hit a home run, the Cubs won the World Series for the first time since 1908 and Maddon’s account of the season is selling for $20 at the Hy-Vee drug store in Marshalltown.

  I didn’t think much of Maddon’s managing and Mularkey’s coaching but there was one recent risk it all decision I did agree with. The 5-8 Philadelphia Eagles were trailing the Baltimore Ravens 27-20 when they scored a touchdown with 4 seconds left in the game. Rather than kick an extra point, Eagles Coach Doug Pederson decided to go for a two-point conversion, saying after the game “I wanted to win the football game.” The two-point conversion failed and the Eagles lost the game. I don’t know if any reporter followed up with Pederson to find out if he knew that his team wouldn’t have disqualified themselves from winning by kicking the extra point but I do agree with his decision. Unlike the Titans (who are battling for a division title), the Eagles are a nothing team having a nothing year that followed up a 3-0 start by losing 8 of their next 10 games. They are going nowhere and there is no reason to not end the game as soon as possible. I tend to see Carlsen’s short draw in the final long game of the chess championship as an indication of his belief in himself while Mularkey and Pederson’s decisions to try to not get the score tied as indication of a panic move spurred by not believing their teams could outplay their opponents. The difference was Mularkey got bailed out and Pederson did not.

Friday, December 16, 2016

TV Review - The Walking Dead Season 7 Part 1


  The Walking Dead concluded the first half of its seventh season this week with our group of intrepid zombie apocalypse survivors still under the cruel thumb of super bad guy Negan and his band of Saviors but finally having found the resolve to fight back after a half-season of appeasement. The prospect seem bright for a more action-oriented second half of the season with Rick Grimes’ group of Alexandria survivors fighting a guerrilla war against the Saviors with the possibility of help from the Hilltop and Kingdom colonies.

Season 7 of The Walking Dead was almost all talk...

  Of the eight episodes in the half-season, at least half were so-called ‘bottle episodes’, named as such because they had little relation to the other episodes and could be placed almost anywhere in the season with little loss in continuity. Episodes 2 and 3 were the introduction to the Kingdom and a study in contrast between Daryl (prisoner in a cell) and Dwight (prisoner of being Negan’s right hand man) while Episode 5 showed Maggie and Sasha slowly taking over the Hilltop Colony and Episode 6 detailed Tara’s adventure in the Oceanside camp populated of all the women in a town where the men were killed by the Saviors. All four of these bottle episodes were slow moving with minimal action that could have fit in a single episode instead of 4 plus hours. The best of the breed was the Hilltop episode with the great Steven Ogg’s portrayal of Negan’s right hand man Simon displaying the mix of menace and humor that could have been a model for Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan character.

After Carl kills two of Negan's men, Negan punishes him by --- talking to him...

  Negan is the star of this half season. He gets the season started off with a bang by clubbing Abraham and Glen to death and brags about how tight he and his henchman Dwight got after Dwight took his punishment (an iron melting half his face) and gave his wife to Negan for a past transgression in episode 3. In Episode 4 Negan lords his power over Rick and the Alexandrians by rolling into the town, taking whatever he wants and making Rick thank him for not killing anyone. Episode 7 and 8 are almost all Negan. After surviving an assassination attempt by Rick’s son Carl, Negan takes Carl under his wing, showing him the benefits of his power (everyone kneels to him, he has multiple wives, he ‘irons’ another henchman’s face, etc…) and seemingly tries to strike up a friendship with the youth that just tried to kill him. Instead of killing Carl, Negan takes him to Alexandria and sets up shop in Rick’s house, even playing with Carl’s infant sister Judith. Episode 7 was 90 minutes long with most of devoted to Negan trying to show Carl how ‘cool’ it is to be Negan.

Even one of Negan's best scenes is more talk than action.

More talk surrounding some incredible action...

  Episode 8 finally brings the action that had been missing since the first episode. There is a great zombie scene as Rick and Aaron make their way to scavenge supplies from a houseboat in the middle of a zombie-infested lake. Negan finally shows some actual villainy when he guts Spencer, a member of Alexandria that suggests Negan kill Rick and put him in charge. When yet another assassination attempt goes awry, Negan interrogates the town to find out who made the handmade bullet and orders his henchmen to kill a member of the community. He gets his answer after one kill (bye bye Olivia the supply counter). This turn of events makes Rick realize that there is no appeasing Negan and he rounds up his group to get ready to fight for their freedom, hopefully in the second half of the season.

  The Walking Dead is based on the comic book of the same name. This is a great strength in that the plots are battle tested and much of the audience is already familiar with the characters. It is also a great weakness when the television show tries to follow the comics too closely. In many ways, Negan is the centerpiece of the comics, arriving in issue 100 and still a main character 60 issues later. His popularity in the comics has led the showrunners to have the television show follow the comics in an almost slavish fashion to the detriment of the show as a whole. While Negan’s wisecracks and oscillations between being a joker and a menacing figure work in the pages of the comics I don’t see any depth to the character given the extended time I had to watch him in four of the 8 episodes he was featured in. I didn’t see any method to his madness of trying to convince Daryl to be one of his soldiers and especially trying to befriend Carl after having some of his crew assassinated by him. I wonder how this went over with the savior crew to see people who murdered some of their number being recruited by the top man. The only two moments where I saw Negan as truly evil was when he suddenly killed Glenn in the season opener and when he told his henchmen to ‘kill somebody’ when none of the Alexandrians would admit to making the bullet Rosita used to try to kill him. Other than that I saw Negan as a cross between the Fonzie and Ralph Kramden of the zombie apocalypse – a cartoonish buffoon. I don’t think Negan is transferring well to television and not having the main characters in over half the episodes is no doubt the cause for the ratings falling to the lowest in four years.

If only this was the Negan we saw all season!

  What appeals to 160,000 comic book buyers may not be the ticket to keep 15 million pairs of eyeballs glued to the television set every week. I hope the showrunners will pick up on that in future episodes and show less of Negan and more of Rick Grimes and company. There is already enough comic relief on the show. The slow moving hissing and growling zombies that seem to show up out of nowhere and surprise our survivors at every turn always gets a chuckle out of me. If that wasn't enough slow moving Tara outran the gunfire of at least a dozen warriors from the Oceanside community trained on her while Carl stows away on a truck specifically to kill Negan, guns down two of the Saviors with a stolen machine gun, and with his sights trained on the big bad himself doesn’t pull the trigger. In episode 8 Daryl escapes his prison cell and is seen by Fat Joey (a Negan henchmen). Even though the two are 20 yards away from each other and Joey has a gun and Daryl a crowbar, Joey starts pleading for his life while Daryl runs up to him and beats him to death with the crowbar! There is enough comic book stuff to laugh at without having the villain of the piece spouting more one-liners than Rodney Dangerfield.

  There was just enough action and pacing in the last two episodes of the half season to keep me coming back for more Waling Dead in February but my patience is being sorely tested with the way the show has taken to focus entire episodes on minor characters while leaving the main characters unheard from for weeks at a time. It is possible that the seasons are being written not to be seen every Sunday but to be binge watched like a Netflix series. The problem is that I am watching it every week and so were seven million people less from the start to the end of the half season.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

More One Minute Madness

  After obtaining my all-time Internet Chess Club peak rating of 1620 in one-minute chess on my 56th birthday in October I turned my chess-related pursuits to earning the right to pay 30 Euros (or $33.73 USD) for my FIDE Arena International Master title which I did in November on my aborted vacation. With that accomplished in the first week in November I switched my attentions to the relatively peaceful realm of three minute chess where each side gets to think three times as long for the tradeoff of possibly being able to get only one game played in a 10 minute span instead of the possibility of playing 5 games of one minute chess. I primarily played on the FIDE website until the around 7 in the evening of Monday November 14th when I decided to play a game of three minute chess on the Internet Chess Club.

  I find three minute chess to be vastly different than the one minute variety with the biggest difference that is the games are decided mostly by the position on the board as opposed to the clock situation. Generally the more time each side has for a chess game the less mistakes are made – this means that each mistake has more influence on the final result when the mistake’s beneficiary has more time to consider their moves and keep from reciprocating. My first ICC three minute game in more than a year was going quite well. I took my time and played three minute chess instead of one minute chess until I got panicky in my opponents time trouble and choked the game away!

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of

  As you might imagine I was pretty ticked off at myself for throwing away an easily won game by reverting to a one minute chess mindset. I wanted to remove the stench of the defeat as soon as possible so I clicked the little ‘3’ button to start a new three minute game but when my game against ‘RX-MEN’ started I saw I only had one minute and I had hit the little ‘1’ button for a one minute game instead of the ‘3’ for the three minute game I wanted to play:

  And there went my one minute all time high rating on ICC without even a whimper. Whenever this happened to me in the past I would keep playing and lose so many games that my rating would fall so far that I couldn’t possibly make it up in one session and I would finally give up and wait months (or years) to reach a new all-time rating. So what did I do this time? I kept on playing but every time I lost a couple of games I’d win a game or two to prevent the downward spiral. At around 9:15 I got my rating back up to 1620 right where it was before I ever heard of ‘RX-MEN’. I could have stopped but like any addict I decided this time would be different and kept playing.

  Unfortunately, I hit a losing streak and resumed bouncing around tantalizingly close to either giving up or steadfastly believing I was moments away from a huge turnaround. Eventually I found myself playing Almirante with my tating at 1567 or 53 points below my high of 1620:

  Hall of Fame baseball owner Bill Veeck wrote in ‘The Hustler’s Handbook’ that in his experience hitting slumps start by some hard hit balls turning into outs when they were hit directly at a fielder and end when a dribbling ground ball or lame pop fly finds a way to avoid fielder’s gloves for an undeserved hit. This game was my dribbling ground ball and I was overjoyed to find myself matched up against Almirante again when I pressed the ‘1’ button:

  A decent enough game that I spoiled but ultimately was another weak ground ball that found its way past the infield for a base hit. It was getting around 9:30 and I was starting to feel a bit tired and then I got matched up with brandtje who is a real International Master and probably didn’t have to pay the World Chess Federation for his title:

  Another game where I outplayed my opponent, spit the bit, and recovered to win in a time scramble. It wasn’t the way I’d choose to win but in the end I would choose to win. Of course I'd have little to no chance of beating an International Master in three, five, of ninety five minute chess games but the quicker the time limit the more random the results. Look at the recent World Chess Championship between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin where there were two wins and 10 draws in the 12 games where the players started out with 2 hours each and two wins and two draws in the tiebreak games where the players got 25 minutes apiece. Anyway after almost two hours of playing my rating was back at 1612 within one game of my all-time high. I was pretty sleepy but hit the little button with a ‘1’ on it and once more tilted at my own personal windmill. Standing between me and my all-time high was ivanzug:

  This win pushed my rating past 1620 to 1624 which is a new personal best and will remain so until I once again click the little button with a ‘1’ on it. I was overjoyed at only having to spend only a few hours instead of a month or a year to get a new high rating and happily clambered off to bed. The last game I played was the best of the bunch but still not very good even for a one-minute game. Luckily I didn’t have to be a world beater – I just had to be a little better than my opponents.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Book Review - MindGames (Phil Jackson's Long Strange Journey)

  I had Thanksgiving week off from work for the most part in that I worked from home a few hours each day and had the rest of the week for myself. I spent some time refining my basketball prediction program to account for some early season biases favoring teams with heavy home schedules. While I wasn’t pondering the imponderables of predicting basketball games I read MindGames, the 2001 biography of Phil Jackson by Roland Lazenby. The book brushes on Jackson’s youth as the athletic son of evangelical ministers, basketball career with the New York Knicks, coaching stints in the minor league CBA and as an assistant with the Bulls. The crux of the book is Jackson’s leading the Bulls to 6 championships in 8 seasons and how he manages and molds the diverse personalities on the team into those championship squads using philosophies he gleaned from his close proximity to Native American reservations in his youth and his experiences using psychedelic drugs in the 70’s.

  The mainstays of the 90’s Bulls were Michael Jordan (arguably the greatest player of all time) and superstar Scottie Pippen. They were the only players on all six championship teams. Jackson comes in for his share of the credit for guiding Jordan to trust his lesser talented teammates and installing a passing offense (the triple post or triangle offense) that gave defined roles and opportunities for the rest of the roster to contribute. Jordan and Pippen won three straight championships form 1991 to 1993 with the supporting cast of Horace Grant, Bill Cartwright, John Paxson, BJ Armstrong, etc... Then Jordan retired from basketball after his father was murdered and his personal gambling habits came under intense media scrutiny. After a failed attempt at becoming a baseball player, Jordan returned to basketball in 1995 but seemed old and slow in leading the Bulls to a second round playoff loss to the younger, athletic Orlando Magic of Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal.

  The playoff loss drove Jordan to get in the best shape of his life and rebuild his game to accommodate his aging body and in 1996 Jordan and Pippen led an entirely new supporting cast to the all-time best record of 72-10 (surpassed by the Warriors last season) and a championship (not matched by the Warriors last season) that was followed by two more. In the book, Jackson’s role is portrayed as a bridge between Jordan and his new cast of teammates (including Hall of Fame player/nut case Dennis Rodman) as well as trying to keep the front office led by Jerry Krause from dismantling the aging team with a cheaper group of players and coaches.

  The book ends up with the Bulls finally broken up and Jackson takes a year off before taking over as the coach of the supremely talented but perpetually under-achieving Shaquille O’Neal/Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers team. Jackson wins the first of three more championships with the Lakers, providing a measure of validation that his methods are championship worthy even without Michael Jordan.

  This book does a great job of delving behind the scenes to show how Phil Jackson’s unique background and experiences formed his basketball philosophy. It is more than unabashed tribute to Jackson – there are plenty of examples of petty and self-serving actions. Whether discussing the good or bad there are plenty of quotes and explanations from Jackson for many of his unconventional actions from splicing scenes from movies into game film to picking out books for his players to read on road trips and even why he beats tom toms before home games. Throughout the book one has the sense that Jackson’s oddity’s are carefully measured to elicit responses from his teams and reduce the tedium of a six month season that is merely a prelude to yet another championship run.

  My only problem with the book is it needs an update to cover the 15 years since Jackson’s first Laker championship (there was an additional chapter added in the 2007 paperback reprint), where Jackson won 2 more Laker championships, left the team, started dating owner Jerry Buss’s daughter, came back to win 2 more championships, left the team again, and took over the basketball operations of the New York Knicks. The Knicks are in the third year of Jackson’s rebuilding project and the results are not encouraging. Jackson has drafted one all-star caliber player in Kristaps Porzingis but his first head coach (Derek Fisher) failed to make it through two full seasons. This year Jackson resorted to obtaining past but not present All-Stars Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah which shows me that Jackson has given up on building the team from within for now in favor of the quick fix. So far his team management skills have suffered in comparison with his 90’s coaching rival Pat Riley, who has built and rebuilt the Miami Heat into playoff teams three times since taking over the basketball operations in the mid 90’s.

  Phil Jackson was a great coach even if he has not proven to a great team builder with the Knicks. His detractors say he only won his record 11 championships because he had superstars like Jordan, Pippen, Bryant, and O’Neal on his team. I can’t think of very many coaches who have won championships without superstar talent but I was always struck how Jackson could get contributions from the lesser players on his teams and bring along young players and acclimate veterans from other teams into his system. There are lots of coaches that have great player and don’t win championships. Jackson has won championships and deserves the credit that brings.

  When I was looking at the Hall of Fame players Jackson coached I noticed that the Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf was inducted into the Hall this year, joining Jackson, Jordan, Pippen, and Dennis Rodman as the Hall of Famers from that Bulls run of 6 championships in 8 years. Left on the outside looking in was Jerry Krause the General Manager who was a finalist for the Hall but didn’t make the cut. The book protrays Krause as half buffoon and half as a gross overweight pig with food hanging on his face who habitually upsets the players by fouling the locker room bathroom just before game time. In every accounting of the Bulls championship run Krause gets some credit for hiring head coaches Doug Collins and Jackson. Jackson was brought in as an assistant after years of not being able to get an NBA job due to the self-inflicted damage to his reputation by his 1970’s autobiography ‘Maverick’ where he was very open about his recreational drug use. The digs on Krause center around the fact that Jordan was the one player he did not acquire and his boorish manner with the players and press. When Jordan retired from the Bulls, Krause drafted many future all-stars with his top of the lottery picks (Tyson Chandler, Elton Brand, Ron Artest) but was never able to even get to the playoffs and was let go after he gutted his roster to draft Eddie Curry and Chandler straight out of high school with the first two picks in the draft and failed to make the playoffs with his young inexperienced team. I don’t know if Krause is a deserving member of the basketball hall of fame but if the owner of the team that hired him was selected largely for the 6 championships that Krause oversaw as the general manager I’m not sure why he wouldn’t have been inducted at the same time.

Friday, November 25, 2016

21st Century NBA Basketball Prediction Program - Bovada Blues

  The NBA season is underway and so is my basketball prediction program. I made good on last summer’s promise to put my money where my mouth (or predictions) is and use real money to track my progress this year. After some research I settled on as my online bookie of choice based on favorable reviews and the lack of laws in Iowa prohibiting online gambling.

  I signed up for my Bovada account and deposited $500 into my account using paypal. I was not pleased to find that the charge for depositing the $500 was $39.35. I expected some charge but 8% seemed a little excessive. My chagrin was lessened when I received a $250 welcome bonus which was half of my deposit. I scanned over the conditions covering accepting the bonus. I noticed the funds wouldn’t be available for withdrawal until I had made an undiosclosed number of bets. This seemed reasonable to me and I accepted the bonus and was on my way.

  I fed the game statistics into the prediction program and on November 8th the program spit out its first prediction, the Denver Nuggets getting 4 points at Memphis. I went to Bovada to place the bet. I clicked on the game, selected the amount I wanted to wager ($11), confirmed the bet and I was in. Why wager $11? Sports betting with the point spread normally charges a 10% penalty for losing bets. This is called ‘the vigorish’ and allows the gambling house to make money when an equal number of bets are made on both sides. It also means that the gambler must win 11 out of every 21 bets or 52.4% to break even. The notation on the betting sheet is -110 meaning 110 is bet to win 100. In the case of the Nuggets game the notation said -105 which meant that I only had to bet $10.50 to win $10. Some of the games are listed as -115 meaning $11.50 needs to be wagered to bet $10.

  This changing of the odds adds an unwanted level of complexity. I just want to bet $11 to win $10. I would prefer that Bovada change the point spread instead of jacking with the odds to balance the betting. After some thought I decided I would just bet $11 per game and collect more or less than $10 depending on the betting odds. In the case of the Nuggets game my $11 wager would bring me $10.48 for a victory instead of $10. In the succeeding two weeks I’ve seem games listed as high as -120 which is tantamount to keeping an entire dollar on each winning bet.

  I won my Nuggets wager and was $10.48 richer. The next day my prediction program said the Los Angeles Clippers was an easy cover giving 10.5 points at home to the Portland Trailblazers. I went to Bovada, placed the $11 bet, the Clippers easily covered, and I was now $20.48 ahead of the game.

  My program didn’t give a prediction the next day but I noticed my account had been credited an extra.$1.47 which was listed as a ‘rollover’. This has continued for the past 2 weeks – every other day I get credited between $1.30 and $1.50 as a ‘rollover’. I found this confusing so I wrote to the Bovada customer support who replied within 24 hours to tell me the rollover was part of my $250 welcome bonus that I receive after passing ‘milestones’ which are still undefined as far as I’m concerned. I’m not going to complain about getting an extra dollar or two credited to my account so I stopped asking.

  The next day I went to enter the point spreads into my computer at 6 am and there was only 1 game of the 8 on the schedule with a listed point spread. I entered in the point spreads from and ran my prediction program which gave me a possible wager which I couldn’t place until after work when Bovada finally published the point spreads and opened the betting on NBA games. I wrote to Bovada customer support again and again they wrote back within 24 hours to let me know that ‘Lines are put up and taken down at our Book Managers discretion.’ It seems that the basketball lines are normally published in the afternoon with only a few games available in the morning. Since I’m at work when the lines are available this means I have to wait until I get home to run my prediction program and place my wagers. The problem with this is if I have a delay or internet problem I’ll be out of luck to make a pick in the short window of time I have to get a wager in for most games.

  I won my first 5 wagers and 9 of my first 12 but hit a cold streak after that and my record stands at 11-9 as I write this on Sunday night. I have to admit all the little things that bothered me about Bovada bother me a lot more when I’m on a losing streak but ultimately it was winning wager that convinced me to question my commitment to the online gaming idea. Today my prediction program spit out two picks. I ran my program in the morning and made a bet on the 9-3 Hawks giving two points against the 5-7 Knicks in New York. That pick went down in flames when the Knicks not only covered but won by 10. The line on the Bulls-Lakers wasn’t published until the afternoon after the Hawks-Knicks game was over. I reran my prediction program and the computer picked the Bulls to win and they were getting points, I went to the site to make my pick which is as easy as clicking a button and entering the wager amount (in my case $11). I noticed two odd things about the line. The Bulls were getting a half point which is useless since there are no ties in the NBA and the odds were -120 so my $11 wager would only bring in $9.17 if I won. I made the bet and checked the score before I went to bed. The game was at halftime but Bovada had me already winning my bet! Why? Because when I clicked on the button to place the wager the line was only available for the first quarter which ended with a 30-30 score meaning I won by the half point the Bulls were getting!

  This Sunday afternoon misadventure showed me that online gambling requires more of an attention span than I can spare right now. Having to check to see when the lines are up, adjust my thinking for the changing money payouts, and then having to make sure the line is for the entire game instead of the first quarter of first half is way more work than I bargained for. Having too many things to keep track of is sure to cost me money in the long run when I fail to notice an odds change, miss bets, or bet on the first quarter. I’ll finish this season until I either lose my $500 stake or the season ends but next season I’ll be back to making mythical bets only.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

TV Review - The Walking Dead Season 7 Episodes 1-4


The promos and premiere for season 7 of The Walking Dead held the promise of unprecedented action...

  The Walking Dead kicked off its much anticipated seventh season last month. The reason for the anticipation was the arrival of the comic book’s signature villain Negan to the television show along with Lucille, his barbed wire covered baseball bat. Negan made his debut in the comic’s 100th issue by beating Glenn to death with Lucille. Season six of the television show ended with our intrepid band of zombie apocalypse survivors trapped in the woods on their knees surrounded by Negan’s army while Negan pondered whose head he was going to bash in with Lucille. The decision to leave the actual death as a six month cliffhanger leading to season seven was very controversial but paid off with 17 million viewers for the debut which was the second most viewed episode in the history of the series.

  The initial episode was done in a flash forward/flash back vein, beginning after the clubbing with Negan trying to convince Rick (the main character and leader of our survivors) that he and his crew’s only choices in the new world order was to either work for Negan by giving him half of everything they own, make, or scavenge or be clubbed to death by Lucille. Eventually we discover that Negan’s victim was ex-soldier Abraham whose last line in the show was to tell Negan to ‘suck his nuts’ while getting his head bashed to a pulp. It looked like Glenn had once again escaped the baseball bat fate that had been hinted at in previous episodes. Unfortunately, after one of Rick’s crew (Daryl) takes a swing at Negan, the punishment for this transgression became clear when Negan spun around and suddenly bashed Glenn to a pulp as well.

...but a promising start led to plenty of talk and inaction.

  Rick held out on being part of Negan’s operation until the end of the episode until he was forced by Negan to either cut his son Carl’s arm off with his ax or watch every survivor be shot to death. When Rick is swinging his ax to cut off the arm, Negan is convinced that Rick understands his new role and spares the arm, leaving the survivors in the woods with a truck and the knowledge that Negan and crew will be by their Alexandria compound in a week to collect their tribute with Darryl being held hostage in case of any second thoughts.

Episode 2 brought a lot of talk and little action...

  The episode was riveting with deaths to main characters, plenty of zombie action, and loads of suspense. There was a lot of promise for the season ahead. Then episodes two and three threw all the momentum into reverse with a pair of the slowest moving episodes of the series. Episode two showed us Morgan and Carol in the realm of the Kingdom, King Ezekiel, and his tiger Siva. It took an entire hour for us to learn that the Kingdom is also paying tribute to Negan.

  Ezekiel is a former zookeeper whose relationship with Siva has led to his adoption as the leader which he encourages with his Shakespearean intonations learned from his community theatre experience. He and Carol are attracted to each other enough that Carol has agreed to live near the kingdom if not in the ‘kingdom limits’. There was a minimal amount of zombie kills and one fistfight and that was it for the action.

Another episode with all talk and no action but we get to learn all about Dwight...

  While I was disappointed to have an entire episode devoted to character development, it was nothing compared to episode 3 which took place in Negan’s compound and focused on Dwight (one of Negan’s lieutenants) and zombie apocalypse survivor Daryl who is confined to a locked dark room and fed a daily dog food sandwich. We first met Dwight in season six when he was on the run from Negan’s crew and repaid Daryl’s help by stealing his motorcycle and crossbow. After that Dwight has proven to be a major bad actor as one of Negan’s minions. He put a crossbow arrow through Doctor Denise’s eye and shot Daryl at the end of season six.

  In this episode we learn that Dwight can make a mean egg sandwich and returned to Negan with his wife after stealing Daryl’s motorcycle and crossbow. Dwight’s life was spared in return for his wife leaving him and becoming Negan’s wife although Dwight did have his face scarred with a hot iron to show everyone who was in charge. Other than that, the entire episode was about Negan’s attempts to cajole or scare Daryl into joining his crew. Daryl refuses even though all he has to do is say ‘I’m Negan’ when asked who he is. This was another episode with minimal zombie action (Dwight is attacked by some wayward zombies while chasing down an escapee from Negan’s compound) and totally devoted to character development.

  Character development is all well and good but having two straight hour long episodes primarily devoted to it makes for some dull television watching. When I saw the teasers for Sunday’s fourth episode of the season I had hopes for the plot moving forward in an action-oriented sense – the episode was 90 minutes long and featured Negan and his gang (also known as the Saviors) heading to Rick’s Alexandria community to take half their stuff. I thought at the least there would be some random violence on behalf of Negan against the Alexandrians (most of whom are as disposable as red shirts on Star Trek) and at most a gun battle between the Saviors and the Alexandrians.

This was about all the action in episode 4...

  My hopes for an action oriented episode were dashed yet again when nearly the entire 90 minutes featured the complete capitulation of Rick and the Alexandrians. The only action came when Negan clubbed a pair of zombies and Rosita fought off a pack of zombies in order to get a handgun (Negan had taken all the guns in Alexandria). In the end the Saviors drive away with most of the stuff in Alexandria and Rick and his crew are left in despair with a small consolation of Rick confessing that the baby Judith he has been calling his daughter for the past four seasons is the product of his late wife’s affair with his late best friend Shane.

  Instead of action, the showrunners of The Walking Dead seem to be angling for character development and tension. Every episode since the season premiere has been heavy with the threat of violence on the part of the Saviors or Negan which is defused when the parties being threatened give in. Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan is more cartoonish than threatening with his constant jokes and veiled threats making his extreme violence in the season premiere seem more an outlier than his standard method of operation. Negan and the Saviors are thoroughly unlikeable and it will be a pleasure to watch them get there comeuppance which needs to happen sooner than later. I get it. They are sadistic thugs. OK. Can we stop showing me how sadistic they are and get on with the action? Please? This lack of action seems more appropriate to some British drama that should be on Public Television instead of the zombie apocalypse. Seeing the sagging ratings (Episodes 3 and 4 were the first episodes in three years to have under 12 million viewers) makes me feel I’m not alone in being pretty bored with what should have been a great seventh season. I’m not ready to give up on the show yet but with the fall segment of the season over time is quickly running out to rekindle my enthusiasm before the show take a two month break.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Beagle Birthday Pontifications

It's time once again for America's most prolific beagle bloggers - Daisy and Baxter to take over the Broken Pawn. Our normally optimistic beagles glee at celebrating their birthday has been shadowed by a recent run of depressing news.

Hi Everyone! Baxter here… …and Daisy with another blog for our readers. What should we talk about for this blog, Baxter? Our birthday of course! We turned 6 years old on Tuesday! Happy Birthday Daisy! Happy Birthday, Baxter. It’s a shame the coverage of our birthday was overshadowed by the silly election. I know. It's too bad Hillary Clinton didn't get elected. When she was the first lady she had a Labrador Retriever called Buddy. And a cat called Socks. She would have been a good president for beagles because of the letter she sent us. Yes! She wrote to tell us how she saves every scrap of meat and sliver of cheese from her plate! If she was President she could have fed all those scraps and slivers to beagles like us! YUM!! I love scraps of meat and slivers of cheese! YUM!!

How exciting to get a letter from an almost President!

I love scraps of meat and slivers of cheese too Baxter, but I love our birthday presents even more. We got rib eye steaks from the Dollar Tree for our birthday… YUM!! I love rib eye steaks from the Dollar Tree even more than scraps of meat! But not as much as a whole plate of meat! YUM!! I love plates of meat! YUM!! I wish we could get plates of meat for our birthday! And we got premium dog food out of a can! I love premium dog food out of a can so much more than the dry dog food we get the rest of the year. YUM!! I love premium dog food out of a can! YUM!! And Kathy got us a giant bag of premium beef stick treats! YUM!! It was wonderful to get so much food for our birthday, Baxter. I like the new coat I got for my birthday but it’s from the Wal-Mart. Kathy and Hank had a trip planned to Chicago last week to get me the latest beagle outerwear fashions…

Here I am in my new Amazon camo coat! I'm not thrilled with my Wal-Mart coat but I loved getting Ribeye Steak from the Dollar Tree for my birthday!

But you got sick and they couldn’t go. I didn’t mind because instead of staying at the kennel we stayed home with Hank and Kathy. And I got a new camo coat from Amazon for my birthday. Apparently the Wal-Mart didn’t have a coat masculine enough for a manly beagle like me. I think Wal-Mart didn’t have a coat that was large enough to get around your stomach. My new coat is fine but it’s so Wal-Mart. I hope no one thinks Hank lost his job or anything when they see me wearing it. They’ll know things are just fine when they see me in my new coat from Amazon!

It was a rough year. Bill and Marilyn passed away, Daisy got sick last week, and I hurt my back...

I love our birthday but it’s so depressing getting old, Baxter. I had an assortment of ailments just before Hank and Kathy were supposed to go to Chicago last week. I had a yeast infection in my ear and an eye infection and sinus congestion all at once. I’m getting older and I’m pretty depressed about it too. I hurt my back in the summer and had to ride around in a wagon instead of walking. I liked riding around in the wagon but I like walking too. Bill and Marilyn down the block got too old and they both died this year. It was so sad. I loved visiting with them on their porch when the weather was nice. I feel bad for Abby the Cairn Terrier that lived with Bill and Marilyn. She must be so lonely. Don’t worry Baxter. Bill and Marilyn’s daughter Becky moved into their house and stays with Abby all the time now. I miss Bill rubbing my big head and saying “Hi Baxter old boy”. I hate people getting old. I miss them too but Hank says we’ll see them again someday so I try not to think about it too much. So if you don’t think about things like death what do you think about Daisy? Right now I’m thinking about how to accessorize my new coat from Wal-Mart so it doesn’t look so Wal-Mart. Maybe I can repurpose some of my old outerwear and say it’s a retro classic look. What do you think about instead of getting old Baxter? I think about food! YUM!! What else is there to think about? Yesterday I was thinking about how nice it was last week when Hank went to the KFC and brought home a famous bowl AND a chicken pot pie! YUM!!

YUM!! Look at the feast Hank brought from KFC to share with us! CHICKEN!! YUM!!

The famous bowl was quite tasty. There was mashed potatoes, corn, cheese, and CHICKEN!! LOTS OF BITE SIZE CRISPY CHICKEN CHUNKS!! YUM!! I LOVE BITE SIZE CRISPY CHICKEN CHUNKS!! Yes. Baxter. The famous bowl was the perfect meal for us. Hank could eat the mashed potatoes and corn and cheese and share the chicken with us. I thought the chicken was very tasty. Very tasty! YUM!! The chicken pot pie wasn’t nearly as good though. Too much savory sauce, peas, and carrots and not nearly enough chicken for Hank to share. The chicken was all shredded and mixed up in the pie. It’s better for us when there are solid chunks of chicken so Hank can just give them to us.

We love going to the duck pond. Kathy feeds the ducks and geese while Daisy and I enjoy the smells! Sometimes we get to see the blue heron!

Another thing I think about is our trips to the duck pond. Every Sunday Hank and Kathy take us for a walk to the duck pond by the cemetery. Hank take pictures of the ducks, geese, and swans and Kathy feeds them bread. She give us some bread too! When bread is all there is to eat it’s my favorite food! YUM!!! But when we’re done taking pictures we each go to the corner and get beef stick treats! YUM!! I love beef stick treats! I like going to the duck pond too, Baxter. It’s so much fun! Not only do we get to see the other animals and eat bread and beef stick treats, there are all kinds of other dogs that walk there to howl at or sniff where they were. I don’t like to see other dogs too much but I do like to sniff around, especially in the fall. The leaves are full of squirrel and dog smells!

Even though Megan's more of a cat person, we got along famously!

Katie pets me and gives us beef stick treats! YUM!!

When I was depressed about my ailments last week I made myself happy by thinking about when Kathy’s sister Megan came to visit. She was very nice and gave me extra special attention even though she seems to be more of a cat person. I liked Megan too but I’m not very good with strangers. I kept my distance except when she had some beef stick treats. Do you know why, Daisy? Let me guess. Because you love beef stick treats? Because I LOVE BEEF STICK TREATS!! Yum? YUM!! I LOVE BEEF STICK TREATS!! YUM!! It was nice having her over and Kathy was thrilled she came to visit. Do you know what thrills me, Daisy? Let me guess, Baxter. Hmmm… Beef stick treats? Sure. But besides that I’m thrilled when our friends Monica and Katie come to visit. And why is that, Baxter? Because Katie is really nice when she pets me… and… and Katie gives us beef stick treats! YUM!! I LOVE BEEF STICK TREATS!! For once I agree with you Baxter. Katie and Monica are super nice to us and Katie always gives us beef stick treats. And not the tiny beef stick treats we get from Hank and Kathy. Katie brings us top quality large beef sticks like the Jack Links Matador brand. YUM!! I love top quality large beef sticks! YUM!! They are so much bigger, better, and tastier than the SIMMS brand Hank and Kathy get from the Aldi. I hope Hank and Kathy read this. HELLO!!!

I don’t like getting older when it means hurting my back or you getting sick, Daisy. I don’t like that part but we’ve had six great years to spend with Hank and Kathy, Baxter. And six years of walks and beef stick treats, too! YUM!! Don’t forget that since we walk at least 3 miles a day we’re in top physical condition. That’s right! We should have lots more years of walking… …and visits from our friends… …and trips to the duck pond… …and beef stick treats… OH BOY!! BEEF STICK TREATS!!! YUM!!!

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Vacation That Wasn't

  I had it all planned out. I normally use up my vacation time at the end of the year but at my new assignment a person I am backing up is taking the month of December off which left me taking the first week in November off along with Thanksgiving week and a couple of days the following week in order to use up my vacation time. Matt and Ben are coming home from school for Thanksgiving week but Kathy and I planned to take a short trip to Chicago this week. We were going to visit the famous Shedd Aquarium, take a boat ride on Lake Michigan, and visit my friend Wilson. I even found a Tuesday night chess speed chess tournament to play in 5 miles away from the Holiday Inn in Skokie we were going to stay in.

   We had arranged for Daisy and Baxter to stay in the Happy Tails facility in Marshalltown. Happy Tails allows all the dogs to hang out in a large common area and in order to stay there, Daisy and Baxter had to pass a ‘sociability’ test. Kathy and I thought Daisy and Baxter would be rejected since they are always so yappy around other dogs but they passed with flying colors which both surprised and delighted us. One of our friends was going to watch Harry and the rest of the pets and we were on our way or so we thought.

  On Tuesday I was petting Daisy before going to work and I noticed that she had some dark goo in her ears. It looked like when Tuffy had ear mites a long time ago. Kathy took Daisy to the vet, who said that it was just an ear infection and would clear up in a few days with the right medicine. The trip was still on and we were scheduled to leave on Saturday but on Friday morning Daisy had some yellow goo in her eye and was back at the vet. This time the vet said that Daisy had an eye infection and sinus congestion and shouldn’t be boarded because she was contagious. And that was the end of our trip to Chicago.

  I still had the week off and suddenly I had a lot of free time on my hands. I planned to write a couple of blogs, eat at some local places I don’t normally get to, take Kathy to see the Jack Reacher movie 'Never Go Back' (an OK action flick better left for Redbox), and play plenty of 1 minute chess. When I set my personal best on the one-minute chess pool on the Internet Chess Club on October 8th, I switched my attention to the FIDE Online Arena chess site. Why the FIDE chess site instead of,, and the many other chess sites that are available? Since FIDE is the official world chess federation the ratings in the FIDE Online Arena are official and so are the titles they give out for online chess achievements. The titles are called ‘The Lower Rating Band’ which means they are meant for lower rated players like me. I liked the idea of getting an official FIDE title and thought it would be a fitting meager accomplishment to my many other meager chess accomplishments so last month I headed to the FIDE website and downloaded the FIDE Online arena software.

  The Arena software is written in Java by a company called Premium Chess. The software is functional enough even though it doesn’t offer features like chess variants and inspecting other players’ games that seem to be standard on most websites. One inane feature it does have is prerecorded applause that plays at a super loud level after you win a game. I signed up for the free membership and played a few sample games. There are only a few hundred players online at a time as opposed to the thousands on other websites so it is slightly harder to get a game. While playing I noticed I couldn’t premove (make a move in advance to save time). I went to the preferences page to allow premoves and found out saving preferences was restricted to paid members. This is quite a disadvantage since premoving and automatically promoting a pawn to a queen (instead of picking the queen from a menu) saves important seconds on the clock in a one minute game. After a few days of playing with this disadvantage I paid for an Online Arena membership on October 12th and had access to the full features of the Online Arena. Once I was able to auto-promote pawns to queens and make premoves my Online Arena results improved noticeably and with my new membership I was able to play official FIDE games and go after one of the lower rated titles. My rating in the unofficial (or training) games was around 1850 which told me that the level of competition in the Online Arena was a cut below that of the Internet Chess Club where my all time high rating is 1620 and a cut below where my one minute rating is nearly 2000.

  I had a bit of trouble figuring out how to get rated challenges and how tournaments worked as far as ratings and when I had a question I would send an email to the Premium Chess company and would receive a detailed response the next day. I quickly found out that the players in the FIDE rated pool are stronger than the training section I was restricted to before I paid for the membership as my 1850 training rating translated to around 1600 in the ‘bullet’ section for games with less than 3 minutes per side.

  The guidelines for getting a FIDE online title are very clear. You need to maintain a rating in Bullet Chess (under 3 minutes), Blitz Chess (3 to 10 minutes), or Rapid Chess (10 minutes or more) for a consecutive number of games. The titles (and ratings) are Arena Grandmaster (2000), Arena International Master (1700), and Arena Master (1400) and the number of games are 50 for Rapid, 100 for Blitz, and 150 for Bullet. It seemed I would easily be able to maintain the level of 1400, need serious improvement to get to much less maintain a rating of 2000, but the 1700 level would be something I could attain. I managed to nudge my rating over 1700 on October 15th and the counter started on my title chase. It looked to be smooth sailing as my rating climbed to 1779 after 27 games. I wasn’t playing especially well but no matter how inept I played my opponent’s surpassed my ineptitude. These two games are a prime example.

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of
  One attractive feature the FIDE platform has that the other platforms don’t is the ability to request a match instead of a single game. I found that issuing an open challenge for a 2 game match brought a greater response than a request for a single game, probably due to the inherent fairness of playing both White and Black against the same opponent. I had a couple of instances where lower rated players would win the first game and then cancel out of the match. I just put those players on my ‘ignore’ list and moved on. An added bonus was that a tied match was broken by an Armageddon game where White had 1 minute and 5 seconds while Black had 1 minute but would win the match in case of a draw. The cool thing was while the Armageddon game didn’t count for rating it did count towards the 150 games needed for the title. I was holding my own and staying well above the 1700 mark until I hit a slump thanks to my opponents failing to match my ineptitude like these two games that pushed my rating down to 1731 with 61 games still to go.

  On Saturday morning my rating was at 1734 with 36 games left and with no trip to Chicago on the schedule I started playing more one minute chess. I played a few games in the morning and after lunch got into a bad groove that dropped me to 1706 with 12 games needed for the title. I started a match against Leonardo Datola from Italy who was rated 60 points less than me. I won the first game of the match but lost the second game and after winning the tiebreak game I had lost 2 points to leave me at 1704 with 9 games left. Leonardo wanted to play another match and I agreed. I again won the first game but lost the second game. I lost the tiebreak game and was now down to 1702 with 6 games left. Leonardo wanted another match and I went for it. With no margin for error I managed to win both games on time and got my rating up to 1710 with 4 games left. Leonardo wanted another match and since I was now on a winning streak I agreed knowing a sweep would clinch the title for me.

  Two sloppy games but two wins nonetheless. Leonardo wanted yet another match. I needed 2 more games for my title so I agreed and played my two 'best' games of the day and won both to get my Arena International Master title with 26 points to spare!

  Well, almost get my title. While the lower band titles are ostensibly meant for lower rated players to ‘provide motivation to local chess communities with important activity’ (as stated on the FIDE web site) I suspect it is primarily a money-making idea for FIDE since the price for my ‘title’ was 30 Euros (or $33.73 in US dollars - the price list is here) and there was a convenient link right in my profile to click on. I clicked on the link and 30 Euros (or $33.73 in US dollars) later I was officially a FIDE Arena International Master with an entire week of vacation left.

  I don’t feel very much different with my new FIDE Arena International Master title except for feeling 30 Euros (or $33.73 in US dollars) lighter in my wallet. I don’t consider it a waste of time or money either since by the end of the 150 games I had to stare down the prospect of failure which is always a fun thing to look back on as long as one is successful in the staring down and at least I can say I did something on my vacation. The FIDE title is one of those things like the Broken Pawn’s Chess Journalist of America award that sounds really good in casual conversation with non-chess players as long as I don’t provide too many of the details (like the self-nominated aspect of the CJA award with only 2 nominees). Similarly if the topic of being a FIDE Arena International Master comes up I doubt I’ll be showing off too many of the games I played in the three week journey to the title.