Friday, January 22, 2016

Sprint Chess?

  I’ve been on a new programming assignment for the last two months in nearby Ames, Iowa. Ames isn’t exactly nearby Marshalltown, Iowa. In fact it is 38 miles away. That is much less than the 62 mile one way commute I had been making two days a week to the west of West Des Moines. Unfortunately I don’t get to work from home three days a week like I was so while 38 miles is much shorter than 62 miles it is much farther than the 15 feet I traveled from my living room to the dining room on many occasions.

  The new assignment uses something called the ‘agile’ methodology of programming which attempts to break up work into manageable segments that can be produced in short bursts of a week or two called 'sprints'. In my opinion, the ‘agile’ methodology puts a premium of saying a project is done with no regard as to whether it is done poorly or half done and places needless pressure on all concerned to rush to complete their sprint but that is only my opinion. Fortunately for this company there are so many exceptional programmers that great software will be the result no matter what methodology is used. I imagine agile methodology would be perfect for lazy programmers to keep them accountable and I have been in a few places where it could have been used effectively.

  After setting my all-time Internet Chess Club one minute chess rating of 1619 last March I started playing one minute chess tournaments on The tournaments are 25 minutes long and give one point for a draw and two points for a win with a few unique features. One feature is the ‘doubling streak’. After a player wins two games in a row they receive four points for a win until they draw or lose a game. Another feature is ‘berserk mode’. Before the game either or both players can cut their time in half and get an extra point for a win or draw. That means a 'berserk' player on a doubling streak can get 5 points for each win. I’ve had a lot of high rated players in the tournaments go ‘berserk’ on me and give me their rating points when I managed to win the game (mostly on time) at the odds of 30 seconds to one minute. I’ve also had a number of higher rated players give me the odds of 30 seconds to one minute and trash me. Overall I’d say berserking works in my favor as far as rating points go and it my opponents that are doing the 'berserking'.

  I got my rating over 1900 on lichess and in November decided to resume playing 1 minute chess on ICC. On my first hour back I lost 17 of 21 games to drop my rating from its lofty 1619 (so lofty it was in the 51st percentile of ICC players) down to the low 1300s (around the 25th percentile). In the ensuing 2 and a half months I have not gotten close to 1600 although I have crossed 1500 on two occasions. As I struggled to get back to my peak rating I thought I noticed that if I lost a few games in a row I would continue to play until I won a game or two. This struck me as quite self-destructive towards my goal of getting a new high in 1 minute chess. A losing binge is indicative of some combination of poor play (tiredness, lack of focus, etc..), poor internet service, or lag in the Internet Chess Club servers (which do not seem to be up to the quality of years past). Looking at it with a beginner’s mind I’d be more likely to accomplish my goal by playing less when I’m playing poorly or have a bad internet connection and playing more when I am playing better.

  In an effort to get to my goal of reaching a new height I decided to take a page from the ‘Agile’ book and only play ‘sprints’ of three one minute chess games at a time and if I felt I was playing fairly mistake free and had a good internet connection and the ICC was running good I would play some more but if those three factors weren’t in play then I would stop playing. Here is an example of a morning when I was unstoppable:

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of

  The early results have been less than encouraging. I have no problem stopping after winning three in a row or two out of three but I cannot seem to stop when I lose two or three out of three games I go into addict mode and play for another half hour, losing game after game until I come to my senses and stop. When I do I manage to stop and resume an hour or so later my results are almost always better. I would have expected the exact opposite with my being able to quit when things aren't going so well and thirst for ever more victories when I'm on a hot streak. For now I'll chalk it up to a natural desire to feel like a 'winner' and see what the results are if I ever manage to modify my behavior to play in sprints all the time.

  My predictions on the second week of the NFL playoffs went much better than the first week and it was a shame I had to stop and wait for the conference championship games. I hit on my double bet when the Patriots covered, lost a push on the Cardinals game thanks to the Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary, won the Panthers cover, and got a push in the Broncos-Steelers game. My net profit of $190 for the weekend beings my playoff losses to a manageable $40 dollars with three games left in the season.

  The Broncos game underscore the difference between a seven point spread and anywhere from a five to nine point spread. The Broncos were losing 13-12 when they got a late touchdown to go ahead 18-13. The spread was seven points and because the extra point would still allow the Steelers to take the lead with a touchdown the Broncos went for a 2 point conversion which they made to go ahead by seven and at least gain a push. Then the Broncos tacked on a field goal with a minute left to get a 10 point lead and cover the spread. The Steelers were driving down the field with less than a minute left. I was worried the Broncos would allow a touchdown as long as there would be no time left. Instead with 30 seconds left, the Steelers decided to kick a field goal and take their chances on an on-side kick with two or three chances to hit a ‘Hail Mary’ pass. The field goal was good, the Broncos recovered the onside kick, and the game ended with a 7 point Bronco win which was good enough for a push since the line was 7 points. When the line is 7 or 3 points a close football game will revolve around the point spread because the teams will take extra risks to expand a lead to 3 or 7 points or to cut the lead to the point where a single play can tie the game. This makes me think more that taking the favorite is the play when the line is 5 or 6 points and the underdog on games with a spread of 8 or 9.

  Pontificating aside, my goal for this week is to win two bets to give me a cushion for the Super Bowl and failing that to at least stay close enough for a catchup bet on Super Sunday. I cannot remember a less impressive group of conference finalists as all four home teams won but either staggered to the finish line like the Cardinals, Patriots, and Panthers or sleptwalked through the first three quarters like the Broncos. I have studied these games carefully and as usual will take the betting lines from the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page for entertainment purposes only with no real money being wagered.

Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers
The Panthers were outscored 24-0 in the second half of last week's game against the Seahawks, Luckily they were ahead 31-0 at halftime. The Cardinals were explosive at times and pedestrian at others. I feel the key to this game will be can the Panthers ground the Cardinals high powered passing game with their pass rush. Cardinal quarterback Carson Palmer will be much more of a stationary target than the Seahawks Russell Wilson and after last week's second half letdown I expect the Panthers to not let up if they get the advantage. Mark me down for the Panthers giving the three points.

New England Patriots at Denver Broncos
The Patriots were in control of the Chiefs throughout last weekend but that was at home and they will be in Denver this weekend where they haven't had much success winning only two of their nine games in Denver this century. If there was ever a time to break the streak this would be the game. The Broncos looked horrible for the first three quarters against an injury-decimated Steelers team, only winning the game with the help of a timely fumble and poor game management on the part of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. The Patriots were able to survive the Chiefs without any injuries to their receivers. I feel this will be the key to the game and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will be able to pick the Broncos defense apart and score touchdowns while the Broncos will settle for field goals like they had to against the Steelers. The road Patriots are favored and I will take them to get to the Super Bowl for the second year in a row and will lay the 3.5 points. My main concern is that the NFL may decide to rig the officiating to allow a 'feel-good' Peyton Manning' year but I'm not concerned enough to bet on the Broncos.

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