Friday, October 20, 2017

Move Review - The Foreigner

'The Foreigner' shows Jackie Chan in a more serious side...

  I went to see ‘The Foreigner’ starring Jackie Chan on Saturday afternoon with Kathy at the local Marshalltown theater where we were joined by five other patrons. I hadn’t seen any television ads for this film but there seemed to be ads for it before every YouTube video I watched over the last month. While I like watching Jackie Chan in action I’ve never cared for his movies which paint him as either the straight man in buddy movies like the ‘Rush Hour’ series or in ridiculous situations like ‘The Tuxedo’ or 'Legend of The Drunken Master’ that paint him as a martial arts idiot savant. The YouTube ads played up the notion of Jackie Chan as a man in pain out for vengeance with what looked like a lot of action without inane situations. Pierce Brosnan was shown to be the heavy of the piece as former IRA terrorist turned Irish politician Liam Hennessy that is the target of Chan’s quest to find his daughter’s murderers.

  The film doesn’t waste much of its two hours setting up the plot as it starts with Quan Ngoc Minh (Chan) picking up his daughter Fan from her London school and rushing across town to the store where all the ‘cool’ kids shop to get a dress for an upcoming dance. There is a big hurry because Fan is wired to the internet and knows that there are only two of the prized dresses left in her size. It’s a shame that Fan couldn’t have used her ‘dress app’ to reserve the dress since as soon as she enters the shop a bomb explodes, killing her along with dozens of others.

  A variant of the IRA claims credit for the bombing and there is political pressure on Brosnan to give up the bombers which he deflects by blaming a rogue element while bargaining for some IRA terrorist pardons in return for his cooperation. Quan is devastated and continually calls and visits the British agency investigating the bombing. Even though this agency has cameras everywhere and instant access to all sorts of information no one bothers to find out that Quan was a special forces operative who lost his wife and other two daughters escaping from Thailand. We don’t find this out until much later but we already knew that Quan had some training because after all this is Jackie Chan.

  Quan quickly traces down Hennessy as the man most likely to give him the names of his daughter’s killers and heads to Belfast to talk to him. Hennessy’s office also fails to check on Quan’s identity until after he plants a bomb in Hennessy’s office building even though he call has called and visited repeatedly . This leads to the meat of Chan’s action scenes. There is a battle in his rooming house that carries over to the neighboring rooftops and streets which lets Chan display some of his acrobatic moves but without the silliness of his other movies. After that Chan lays siege to Hennessy’s county house with a hunt in the woods reminiscent of the classic mountain scene in ‘First Blood’ from the Rambo series. Then there is a fight with Hennessy’s special forces nephew and the climactic battle in London with the murderers.

  There wasn’t the amount of action one would expect from an action movie but the action was intense in its bursts. Luckily the movie wasn’t just an action film but had the elements of a spy movie as Hennessy’s perfect little diplomatic life slowly unravels. He finds out that his wife is sleeping with his nephew and she betrayed his plans to trade the bombers for British pardons to the same IRA lieutenant that was working with Hennessy to plan the bombings in the first place. This lieutenant is responsible for subverting the targets from banks to civilians. And to add insult to injury the girl that Hennessy is cheating on his wife with is part of the terrorist cell that has been perpetrating the bombings.

  In addition to the action and spy movie elements ‘The Foreigner’ has some Big Brother\police drama themes as well. The London unit assigned to catch the terrorists does most of their work by cross referencing the all-encompassing camera shots with facial recognition software to come up with the name of one of the terrorists who lapses for a second and lets his face be seen by a camera when he drops his keys. The unit arrives at the terrorists flat en masse with swat teams, snipers, and a camera snaked through the air vent to see inside the apartment. At that point however, this supposedly elite unit falls on their face as Chan gains entry to the apartment as gas leak repairman without being seen visually or on camera. Then the swat team manages to arrive only after the climactic battle which allows them to torture one of the terrorists into giving up the location of a bomb that is meant to be planted on an airplane.

  Aside from the police turning from elite unit to keystone cops to elite unit as needed, ‘The Foreigner’ was a tight and entertaining film. Switching from action movie to spy movie to police work is hard to pull off but the film managed to seamlessly integrate all three genres. Chan gave a great performance as the tortured Quan. Chan could show pain at losing his family without descending into pointless angst but was also able to be an action star without turning into a joker or mindless killing machine. Brosnan was workmanlike as the part terrorist part con-man Hennessy. Brosnan was most effective showing the ruthless aspects of the character and seemed to struggle showing the inherent weakness of the character as he spirals downward. The best of the supporting characters was Hennessy’s wife Mary (Orla Brady) and right hand man McGrath (Dermot Crowley) who are the major actors in plotting his demise.

  This was a fine movie and gave me a whole new slant on Jackie Chan as a serious actor. The film was also a financial success despite only 7 people attending the Saturday matinee in Marshalltown with $12 million in the opening US weekend and over $100 million overall for a $35 million budget. Hopefully Chan will spend his twilight years with this sort of film instead of Rush Hour sequels.

Friday, October 13, 2017

TV Review - The Last Ship Season 4 (Second Half)


  When I wrote my last review of TNT’s Sunday night post-apocalyptic drama ‘The Last Ship’ I expressed my disappointment at the transformation of an action-oriented show to a melodrama centered on the angst of the main characters. The show had deteriorated so much that I had been opting to spend my Sunday night post-apocalyptic television viewing time watching AMC’s ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ and catching up with ‘The Last Ship’ from the TNT website Monday nights. The fifth episode of the ten episode season was a low point in the series with the primary plot point Captain Tom Chandler’s angst over retaking his oath to join the Navy and take command of his ship and the rest of the crew’s angst over his upcoming decision.

  I had high hopes for the second half of the season with the promise of a confrontation between the USS Nathan James and the Greek warships commanded by mad scientist Dr. Vellek in a massive Mediterranean storm and I was not disappointed. Starting with this episode the show did an about-face and gone from the most disappointing show of the year to the most compelling.

  Having Capt. Chandler resume his command allowed the writers to put away the angst plotlines and put the show back on an action-oriented pace. ‘Tempest’ featured the chase through a massive storm with the Nathan James breaking through a blockade by the warships by heading past them directly into the storm knowing that the enemy would not engage in battle because the Nathan James was in possession of the seeds from the only plant that is naturally resistant to the ‘Red Rust’ plague wiping out all the food on the planet. The way the ship eludes their enemies was reminiscent of the Millennium Falcon heading into the asteroid shower to escape a horde of tie-fighters in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’. The seafaring action was accompanied by the side plot of the British spy planted in a group of refugees that were rescued in a prior episode stealing the seeds that have been the focus of the season and passing them to Fletcher (the British liaison to the Nathan James). Fletcher has been instructed to betray the alliance and bring the seeds to Dr. Vellek in return for the assurance that Britain will receive the rust resistant crops that Vellek will be creating with the seeds.

The second half of 'The Last Ship' season four displayed excellent writing like this bit of naval trickery...

  Episodes seven and eight are focused on away missions to determine Vellek’s location. ‘Feast’ brings Chandler and company to Vellek’s island that was used as a fighting arena where they hope to get their hands on Vellek’s communication equipment. When they arrive they see Vellek’s older son Giorgio throwing a party so they change their plan and kidnap Giorgio while they transmit the information to the ship. The plan changes yet again when a group of Middle Eastern terrorists that were betrayed by Giorgio earlier in the season invade the island. A firefight ensues with Giorgio escaping in the confusion, heading back to Vellek’s base which we later find out is one of the Greek warships. The crew of the Nathan James finds out that Vellek is experimenting with drugs to prevent aggression. Meanwhile we find from Fletcher and Vellek that the good doctor is adding his docility drug to the ‘Red Rust’ resistant crops he is creating. We see the experiment come to fruition on the former Greek Admiral who is drugged and is only able to meekly obey Vellek’s orders to take off his medals, eat more of his drugged food, and go to his room.

  Another away team mission is on the docket in episode 8’s ‘Lazaretto’ as the team sneaks onto another island in order to bug a satellite and obtain Vellek’s real time location and communications. The fly in this ointment is that the island is the prison home to Vellek’s mind-controlled fighters who for some reason are guarded by a large number of heavily armed thugs even though the prisoners are drugged and completely docile, unable to summon the will to fight or their captors or even disobey their orders. Our crew sneaks in and pretend to be mind–controlled as well until the mission is completed. This was pretty much a repeat of the previous episode but was only the prelude to the most inventive plot twist I’ve seen in years. During the previous episodes we have seen Vellek collaborate with his youngest son Kristos (also a brilliant scientist) to bind the cure and drug to the crops that will be spread across the world. Kristos is clearly Vellek’s favorite and he continually rubs that in the nose of his older son Giorgio. Fletcher catches on to this and once he figures out Vellek’s mind control scheme tries to split Giorgio from his father. Giorgio doesn’t bite and turns Fletcher in to his father moments after Fletcher manages to get a message to the Nathan James. Giorgio then shoots Fletcher in the head. I was wondering about Giorgio’s blind loyalty to his father and expected him to turn at some point until it is revealed that Kristos died in a mugging years ago and Vellek is only imagining him via the use of the same mutated hallucinogenic drug that was seen in an earlier episode. This explains Giorgio’s blind loyalty and Vellek’s desire to use the crop cure to prevent all aggression, and set up the show for Sunday’s epic double episode season finale.

The 'Kristos' revelation was reminiscent of 'The Sixth Sense' and an equally stunning plot twist!

  The double episode finale was indeed epic with a few blips along the way. The Nathan James heads to Malta to intercept the plants that will give Vellek world domination. The problem is three Greek warships are between the ship and Malta. The US warships and Greek Navy engage in a battle of wits where the Nathan James discerns that Vellek’s ship is not one of the Greek warships and the Greek Navy manages to shake one of their ships loose from the U.S. radar. The Nathan James loses its lone helicopter while managing to blow up one of the Greek warships. Vellek orders his boat to speed to Malta which gives its location away to the Nathan James, who use the new information to discern where the remaining warships will head to protect Vellek and manage to blow them out of the water also, killing Giorgio in the process.

The end of the season is the time to say farewell to some familiar faces. So long Sunshine and Giorgio....

  The season finale leads the crew of the James to Malta where Dr. Vellek has loaded three planes with the mind-controlling cure. After the epic sea battle of the previous episode the finale seemed rushed. The five member away team gets pinned down on an airstrip but manages to outshoot dozens of soldiers and a sniper with two or their number getting shot and even destroys two of the planes, leaving the James to shoot the third plane out of the sky. Chandler and his former romantic partner Sasha head to Vellek’s warship and sabotage it while the Nathan James rams the warship and boards it like some sort of pirate movie.

  Naturally our heroes all survive their encounter with the Greek warship, rescue the remaining seeds, and even get some of Vellek’s cured plants that have not been infected with the mind-control drug. At the climactic confrontation between Chandler and Vellek, Vellek’s daughter Lucia shoots Chandler in the leg before being gunned down by Sasha. I would have been happy to see the season end with Lucia crying ‘Daddy’ as she died but the plot turned maudlin as Vellek and Chandler have to share pontifications about how dark the world is and Chandler’s belief in humanity finding the light in the darkness before Vellek tells Chandler that heaven is ‘out there’ as he points to the horizon and jumps off the ship (presumably to his death).

  The second half of The Last Ship’s fourth season more than made up for a boring angst-filled first half. Peter Weller’s Dr. Vellek was fantastic up till the last episode where he inexplicably was turned from an evil mastermind to a sniveling drug addict searching his lab for one more fix of his hallucinogenic tea. Aside from that one quibble, the last five episodes were tightly written and self contained with each focused on a clear cut objective and was far superior to striving for the ‘epic narrative’ of Capt. Chandler finding himself that seemed to be the focus of the first half.

  Season five of The Last Ship was shot at the same time as season four and will likely be the final season of the show. The ratings have fallen of a cliff this season with not a single season four episode having two million viewers and the season finale ratings well behind ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’ and even ‘Fear The Walking Dead’. A Season Five teaser shows a Pearl Harbor type attack with a South American protagonist with mad computer skills which holds promise for travel and action. I don’t think the show would have been picked up for a fifth season but having already been produced should ensure it making the airwaves next summer. I saw enough the second half of this season to make me look forward to the next season. Hopefully the show will be worth my anticipation.

'The Last Ship' will be back in 2018 for a fifth (and final?) season. Here's hoping it will be worth the wait!

Friday, October 6, 2017

To Stop a Tank

  Lost in the recent ‘revelation’ that shoe companies are bribing collegiate coaches to bribe teenage players to attend the universities that are paid millions of dollars to wear the apparel supplied by the shoe companies and the hubbub over whether professional football players are kneeling, standing, or locking arms during the national anthem was the National Basketball Association changing the draft lottery rules in an attempt to prevent teams from losing on purpose in order to get better draft picks.

  The practice of ‘tanking’ or being as bad as possible in order to get a potentially transcendent player is as old as the basketball draft. Up until the early 1980’s the team with the worst records in the eastern and western conferences conducted a coin flip to determine which team would get the top pick and led to celebrations (and championships) when the Milwaukee Bucks and Portland Trailblazers won their respective coin flips and drafted Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton, respectively. This system worked until the early 1980’s when the Houston Rockets were accused of losing their last few regular season games to get in the coin flip two years in a row, winning both and selecting Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon.

  The new lottery system was designed to give each non-playoff team a one in seven chance at the top draft pick. The first lottery winner was the New York Knicks who drafted Patrick Ewing and earned the league ‘conspiracy theory’ accusations of a rigged lottery to get New York a franchise superstar. The equal chance at the #1 pick lasted only five years and was replaced with the current weighted lottery system where each non-playoff team gets a chance to get one of the top three draft picks with the best of the non-playoff teams having a minuscule chance at a top pick and the team with the worst record in the league a 25% chance at the top pick, a 65% chance at getting a top 3 pick and are assured of no worse than the fourth pick in the draft. These percentages have been in force since 2005 with minor tweaks before that.

  Practice has shown that getting the top pick in a draft with a transcendent player can alter a franchise’s destiny. Tim Duncan transformed the Spurs from a good team to a championship team while Dwight Howard and LeBron James brought their teams to the NBA Finals within five years. Practice has also shown that a poorly run franchise will not make good use of their fortune at getting a top draft pick and remain a lottery team for years. Kwame Brown was Michael Jordan’s choice as the #1 pick for the Wizards in a relatively barren 2001 draft and made no noticeable impact on the team while top picks Greg Oden, Andreas Bargnani, and Andrew Bogut (2007, 2006, and 2005 top picks) were so injury prone that only Bogut of the three was able to help his team make a token playoff appearance.

  Starting with the 2019 Draft, the three worst teams in the league will each have a 14% chance at the top pick in the draft and a 47% chance at getting a top three pick. The beneficiaries are the teams with the seventh through tenth worst records in the league and have doubled or tripled their chances of getting a top three pick. Presumably there will be less incentive to be the worst team in the league since the same draft lottery odds can be obtained by being the third worst team in the league instead.

  This reform is a reaction to the handiwork of former Philadelphia 76er general manager Sam Hinkie. Upon taking over the team in 2012 Hinkie was clear in stating that his process for rebuilding was to stockpile as many top draft picks as possible with the goal of landing enough superstar talent through the draft to have a championship team instead of the low level playoff team he inherited. Hinkie traded every player of value for future draft picks and he continually drafted players that either couldn’t play in their rookie seasons due to injuries (Nerlins Noel, Joel Embiid) or foreign players that were going to play overseas (Dario Saric) which had the effect of an awful team not getting better by virture of their draft picks because the draft picks didn't play for the team. The 76ers were woeful but never had the worst record in the league under Hinkie and never got the number one pick in the draft. They did have the 6th, 3rd, and 3rd picks from 2013 to 2015. During the 2016 season the 76ers hired consultant Jerry Colangelo (head of USA basketball and former owner of the Phoenix Suns) who installed his son Bryan as the president of the team. There is a widespread belief in NBA circles that the change in leadership was pushed on the 76ers by other owners and commissioner Adam Silver in order to improve the ‘optics’ of the 76ers being so blatantly bad for so long in order to accumulate top draft picks. Hinkie resigned shortly thereafter and as fate would have it the 76ers finally got the #1 at the end of the season. Colangelo used the pick to draft consensus top prospect Ben Simmons but in Hinkiean fashion Simmons was injured in training camp and held out for the entire year which gained the 76ers the third pick in this year’s draft which they traded along with another first round pick for the #1 pick in the draft (Markelle Fulz).

  Now the 76ers are the envy of many teams in the league because of all the young talent they have assembled and look like a playoff team for the next few years and if everything breaks right could even be a Finals contender. Other teams have noticed and are also working hard to enhance their draft position. The Phoenix Suns held out all their veteran starters over the last two months of the season and were rewarded with the second worst record in the league which translated to the fourth pick in the draft because of the 76ers and Lakers jumping them in the lottery.

  The copycatting of the 76ers success at assembling talent by being bad is the main reason for the lottery ‘reform’ but it will barely make a dent in tanking in my opinion. A bad team will always have an incentive to be worse to get a better chance to get one of the top picks. The new system removes the incentive to be the WORST team but increases the incentive to be one of the 10 worst teams and there is still a considerable incentive to be one of the three worst teams in the league. The new system sounds great and makes it look like the league is taking tanking seriously but there will be a new system as soon as a big market team like the Knicks, Bulls, or Lakers find themselves continually one of the worst teams in the league but continually lose out on their 42% chance to get a top three pick and wallow in the depths of the standings. This is what happened to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the years before drafting Kevin Garnett with the fifth pick in the 1995 draft and after trading Garnett to the Celtics in 2007. The Wolves were perpetually unlucky in the draft, never getting top draft pick and have never made the playoffs without Garnett on the roster. The Wolves were further beset by awful management. They are favored to make the playoffs this year after trading for #1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins and finally winning the lottery and getting the #1 pick Karl Anthony-Towns in the next season. The NBA had no problem letting the Timberwolves wallow at the bottom of the league but I cannot imagine letting the same fate befall a big market team and will rerig the system to once again reward the worst team with the best chance at a draft pick.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Fingers in the Cookie Jar

  When I last wrote about my adventures using my self-directed 401K to buy stocks and write covered calls at a lower price than I paid for the stock to grab a short term 1 or 2 percent return on my investment I was going to experiment further with selling options that expired shortly after the dividend declaration date of early August with the thought that I would either pick up an extra dividend if the stock tanked or have the option picked up early in case the stock stayed above the strike price. I tried this with my two old favorites Exxon (XOM) and Emerson Process Management (EMR) with decidedly mixed results.

  I bought 200 shares of Exxon on June 19th and for $83 and collected $400 by selling an option to buy the shares on August 18th for $82.50. I expected the stock to stay somewhere close to $82.50 and was hoping the option would get called on the dividend date of August 10th and give me a 1.77% profit in less than two months. Unfortunately the day I bought the stock for $83 was the day it took a steep descent and bounced between $79 and $81 for the next five weeks. On August 2nd I bought back my option for $10 and collected $160 for selling the option to buy my 200 shares at $82.50 but with an expiration of October 20th. The quarterly dividend of $154 in dividends was mine on August 10th (payable September 11th) so I was then looking at a 3.63% return over four months. The XOM tanked even further and dropped to $76.05 on August 31st. I was able to once again buy the option back for $20 and waited for a small uptick before getting $160 for selling the option to buy my 200 shares at $82.50 but now the expiration date is January 19th, 2018. This would be very alarming if I was using my rent money for these investments instead of a 401k that I can’t touch in any case or if I wasn’t invested in a top quality stock like Exxon that has paid an ever increasing dividend for decades. Exxon has since rebounded to start touching $80 a share and I will get another dividend in November if the option isn’t called away but for the moment my XOM option investment is stuck in the mud.
6/19/2017Buy 200 XOM @83.005-16605.95
6/19/2017Sell 2 XOM Option @82.5 (2.06)
Expiring 8/18/2017
8/2/2017Buy 2 XOM Option @82.5 (.05)
Expiring 8/18/2017
8/18/2017Sell 2 XOM Option @82.5 (.85)
Expiring 10/20/2017
8/10/2017.77 dividend payable 9/11/2017+154.00
8/28/2017Buy 2 XOM Option @82.5 (.10)
Expiring 10/20/2017
9/5/2017Sell 2 XOM Option @82.5 (.80)
Expiring 1/1/2018
P&L as of 9/25/2017 price of $80.98+431.602.26%
Total (If option is exercised)+735.604.43%

  My other June option play was with Emerson Process Management (EMR). Emerson has provided a steadily increasing dividend for the past 60 years and I can personally attest to their frugality since I worked for them in their Marshalltown facility in 2008-2010. For example, Emerson is the only company I’ve worked for in the past 25 years that didn’t offer free coffee for their employees, instead having a vending machine dispense some sort of coffee-like swill for 55 cents a cup. I’ve made over $1,300 over the last two years playing the option game with this company and on June 26th I bought 300 shares of the stock for 59.41 and pocketed $887 for the obligation to sell the stock at $57.5 on August 18th (9 days after Emerson’s dividend date). This play went just the way I wanted. The stock never dipped below $58 a share and never went over $61 until a few days before the dividend was declared. On August 8th, Emerson closed at $60.43 and the next morning the option was called which meant I didn’t get the dividend but I did collect $299.75 for a 44 day investment which worked out to a 13% annual return. I could have made the same money by not selling the option, keeping the stock, and selling it on August 8th but that would have entailed short term risk and I am trying to use the options to guarantee a profit even of the stock goes down.
6/26/2017Buy 300 EMR @59.395-17823.45
6/26/2017Sell 3 EMR Option @57.5 (2.95)
Expiring 8/18/2017
8/9/2017Sell 300 EMR @57.50
(option was exercised)

  With my cash back in hand from my EMR option play I decided to try something new. I noticed that Apple (AAPL) had risen from around 145 a share to over 160 a share over the previous four weeks. I bought 15 shares of AAPL in 2011 and sold 11 shares in 2012 keeping 4 shares as my profit. Since then the stock split 7 ways and started paying dividends so my 4 shares that were worth $1200 when I bought them are now 29.3 shares worth between $4000 and $5000 depending on the stock price. That was a big win (which could have been bigger if I hadn’t sold the 11 shares in 2012) and has always made me think kindly of Apple. Not to mention that my Apple iPod is my favorite toy and helps me understand why the company has such amazing brand loyalty. So on August 15th I bought 100 shares of AAPL at $161.75 and collected $83 for the option to sell the stock for $162.50 on August 17th. I thought I would either make a quick $160 over three days or I would keep the $83 and the stock and start all over the next week. I was feeling very good on August 16th when the AAPL jumped over $162.50 but less so the next day when the stock fell under $158. Making lemonade out of lemons I bought back my option for $10 and made $79 more by selling the option to sell the stock for $162.50 by the next Friday, August 25th.

  Over the next week Apple’s stock price rebounded past 160 but never threatened the 162.50 mark so on the 25th I bought back my obligation for $4 (as the expiration date of the option approaches the option becomes worth less and less if the stock price is less than the option (or strike) price. I then made another $85 for selling another option to sell the same 100 shares at the same $162.50 price but a week later on September 1st.

  This seemed like free money. I was collecting $70 to $80 every week for offering to sell this 100 shares of Apple for more than I paid for it in the first place. Over the next week AAPL’s price went straight up and by August 30th was well over $163. With my option ready to be called the next day I could have banked a cool $300 for a three week investment. Could have if I hadn’t gotten greedy. I decided I wanted to stretch this out a little further and bought my option back for the high price of $191 but collected $359 for selling the obligation to sell the stock for $162.50 with an expiration date of September 15th which was two weeks in the future. This seemed like a good play but after Labor Day AAPL began a descent, dropping under $162.50 on September 12th and under $159 on the 15th. I turned around and bought back my option for $3 and sold a new option to sell the 100 shares at $162.50 by the next Friday which is the 22nd but I only collected $65 since $162.50 was much further away.

  I wasn’t kicking myself over not letting the 9-1 option get called until this past week when AAPL lost $8 a share to close at $151.88 on Friday the 22nd. I bought my option back for $10 on the 20th but there was no late week rebound and no market for AAPL options at $162.50. I have made $450 in options over the 7 weeks I’ve owned this stock but the entire transaction was underwater by $400 as of Tuesday night.
8/15/2017Buy 100 AAPL @161.7053-16175.48
8/15/2017Sell 1 AAPL Option @162.5 (.88)
Expiring 8/18/2017
8/17/2017Sell 1 AAPL Option @162.5 (.10)
Expiring 8/18/2017
8/17/2017Sell 1 AAPL Option @162.5 (.84)
Expiring 8/25/2017
8/257/2017Sell 1 AAPL Option @162.5 (.04)
Expiring 8/25/2017
8/25/2017Sell 1 AAPL Option @162.5 (.90)
Expiring 9/1/2017
8/30/2017Sell 1 AAPL Option @162.5 (1.86)
Expiring 9/1/2017
8/30/2017Sell 1 AAPL Option @162.5 (3.65)
Expiring 9/15/2017
9/14/2017Sell 1 AAPL Option @162.5 (.03)
Expiring 9/15/2017
9/15/2017Sell 1 AAPL Option @162.5 (.70)
Expiring 9/22/2017
9/20/2017Sell 1 AAPL Option @162.5 (.10)
Expiring 9/15/2017
P&L as of 9/26/2017 price of $153.14-414.18-2.56%

  Not a pretty picture but it looked a lot worse when Apple dipped under $150 a share earlier this week before bouncing back up. I could always sell the stock and take the loss but there seems no reason to since this is 401k money that I can’t touch and Apple remains an incredibly profitable company that will explode if the government decided to give them a discounted tax rate on their billions and billions of dollars stashed offshore instead of being brought to the U.S. at a higher tax rate or when the sales from their new iPhoneX come rolling in. At the moment I’ve been caught with my fingers in the cookie jar with both Exxon and AAPL and there is nothing much for me to do except wait until the inevitable rebound which is sure to happen. I could have not written about these two decidedly non-winning ventures but it helps illustrate my point that my option strategy is best employed with super solid stocks with a proven track records. Both Exxon and Apple make tons of money and provide dividends so I will still be paid while I’m on the sidelines and when they rebound I will have a happier blog post to write!

Friday, September 22, 2017

TV Review - The Last Ship Season 4


The Last Ship still has its share of great action but has added a heaping helping of angst to this season's menu...

  One of my favorite shows is TNT’s ‘The Last Ship’ which has aired on Sunday nights in the summer for the last four years. The show explores a post-apocalyptic world through the eyes of the crew of the navy battleship USS Nathan James on an earth where 80% of the earth’s population is wiped out by a man-made virus. In the first season our intrepid heroes, led by Captain Tom Chandler, devised a cure while battling a Russian destroyer and traveling to the Artic, Guantanamo Bay, Central America, and finally Baltimore. The second season saw the crew battle a submarine and the leaders of ‘The Immunes’ who recruited people naturally immune to the virus and wanted to take over the world by spreading the virus and thwarting the Nathan James’ efforts at spreading the cure.

  Having saved the United States and established a government in St. Louis, our crew then headed to China in season three to prevent the evil President Peng from poisoning the cure to ensure Chinese dominance, obliterate rival nations, and sow distrust of the United States. Once Peng was dispatched, Chandler and crew had to save the United States yet again, this time from five territorial leaders that had taken over the government and armed forces. In the final battle aboard Air Force One we find that Chandler’s father was killed by the territory leaders in order to capture his children. With some help order is restored but Chandler murders a territory leader in cold blood. Not able to come to grips with the new world order, Chandler resigns his commission as we head into season four.

  At its best this show reminds me of the classic Star Trek television series with the crew meeting disparate groups of survivors that have evolved or devolved their society in unpredictable ways and having to come up with inventive methods to deal with man-made or natural obstacles. What I especially appreciated was that even though each season had an overarching theme each episode was fairly self-contained with definable concrete objectives and obstacles to be overcome. Much of that was lost in the third season and the took on a soap-opera tone as the group was split up at the beginning of the season with multi-episode dramas of some crew members being taken hostage for their virus free blood and the fight against the government coup. The show still had plenty of action but seemed more suited for binge watching than Sunday night appointment television because along with the action came plenty of angst on the part of the crew over humanity’s seemingly inexhaustible capacity for inhumanity.

  Season four and five were both filmed this year and this year’s season was delayed while Eric Dane (Chandler) battled some real-world depression. I think the cause of his depression may have been the first half of the current season which I found improbable to say the least. The season starts with Chandler and his children living in a Greek village where he works on a fishing boat. Meanwhile a mutated version of the virus from the first three seasons called the ‘Red Rust’ is slowly wiping out the global food supply. The good news Is that mankind has hope in a container in virus-immune palm seeds from the Global Seed Vault whose genetic code can be merged with crops to make them immune to the virus. The bad news is that the palm seeds have been stolen and are being sold to the highest bidder. But there is more good news because the crew of the Nathan James has been tasked with following the seeds from Algeria through the desert to Italy.

  Meanwhile, Chandler’s village is having their daily catch of fish extorted by a gangster type named Giorgio. Chandler and the owner of his fishing boat steak their fish back and the owner of the fishing boat is killed with the boat set ablaze. In the normal gangster/extortion genre Giorgio would kill Chandler, his children, and the entire village but instead he recruits Chandler to join his crew of gladiators that fight each other for entertainment. Chandler signs on, leaving his children in the apparently defenseless village to join Giorgio’s crew to fight in the arena against other fighters.

  While aboard Giorgio’s yacht, Chandler seduces his sister Lucia in order to steal the key to the stateroom where he discovers test results and eventually finds out that Giorgio and Co. are headed to Italy to buy the same palm seeds the Nathan James is searching for. It was a cacophony of coincidences interrupted by brief bursts of action as Capt. Chandler (who fights under the name of Hercules) demolishes Giorgio’s best fighter and the Nathan James has to make their way through the Strait of Gibraltar while overcoming a mobile missile launcher on tracks in the Rock of Gibraltar. In episode three Chandler and crew are reunited Italy and join forces to take the seeds which are left in the hands of Chandler’s right hand man Slattery who is stabbed by Lucia and drugged with a super hallucinogen strain of weed (one of the byproducts of the plant virus) but manages to make it to the top of the tallest building in the town which is a church steeple.

  In episode four Chandler and the away team search for Slattery and the seeds while the Nathan James wards off an attack by a Greek warship and uses radar trickery to buy their rescue helicopter enough time to get to the church tower and pull of a daring rescue. It was a great episode only marred by the many cutaways to Slattery’s hallucinatory flashbacks to his early meetings with Chandler and family outings with his now missing wife and children.

  Episode five was my least favorite episode of this show to date. There was no action whatsoever with the focus of the show turning to Chandler’s angst at his upcoming decision to sign back on as the commanding officer which not only means assuming command but shaving his ‘Hercules’ beard. The other subplots were Slattery’s angst at missing the great memories from his hallucinations in what surely seems to be the harbinger to an ‘addiction episode’, and in the only advancement of the plot the rescue of a fishing trawler which is commanded by a British spy who is trying to convince the other British agent on the Nathan James to steal the seeds which will be turned over to Dr. Vellek (Giorgio and Lucia’s father) in return for the first batch of disease resistant crops. The seeds are conveniently located in a refrigerated unit in the ship’s sick bay where almost anyone can steal them. I’m not sure why the seeds have to be refrigerated since they have been through the desert on a camel and Slattery’s backpack in scorching heat but at least there was more action in watching the container of seeds in the refrigerator than there was in watching Chandler shave and take his oath of office and seeing Slattery descend into addiction.

The second half of the season started with an action packed angst-less chase in a massive storm and gave me a reason to look forward to the rest of the season.

  After a muddled beginning with some great action, ‘The Last Ship’ turned into an angst-a-thon interrupted by brief bursts of action. When I had to make the choice between this show and AMC’s ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ I chose to watch ‘The Last Ship’ Monday night from the TNT web site. This is a decision that would have been inconceivable last year and is a sad indicator of how far the show has fallen in my eyes. I had high hopes for this week’s episode six and was not disappointed with an action packed episode of two rogue agents stealing the seeds while the Nathan James eluded Greek warships by sailing through a massive storm. With only four episodes left in the season our heroes have to recover the seeds, defeat the Greek Navy, and have the final showdown between Capt. Chandler and the evil Dr. Vellek (superbly played by ‘Robocop’ Peter Weller). I can’t imagine any room left in the series for character angst and I am glad of it. There is enough angst in a world decimated by plague and plant virus without having the main characters of my post-apocalyptic Sunday evening sharing their personal angst with me.

Friday, September 15, 2017

A Gamble Worth Taking

  As I set about loading the 2017-2018 NBA schedule into my basketball prediction program and resumed my never ending search for the elusive formula that would give me better results than the 54% success rate my program returned last season the biggest trade in many years was completed when the Cleveland Cavaliers traded all-star guard Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics for injured all-star guard Isaiah Thomas, starting forward Jae Crowder, a prospect, and the Brooklyn Nets first round pick in the 2018 draft which is almost certain to be a high lottery pick.

  Most of the sports media proclaimed this trade a big win for the Cavaliers. Irving demanded a trade this summer from a team that has been to three NBA finals with one championship. While Irving was contractually obligated to play for the Cavaliers for the next two years, a holdout or halfhearted effort would cripple Cleveland’s chances to compete for a championship in what may be superstar LeBron James’ last year with the team before his rumored departure to the West Coast to finish his career.

  When I look at basketball trades I look at two things – who got the best player and is the best player a superstar? The team that gets a superstar as the best player is almost always the winner of any trade. Almost. There are a few times where the team getting the best player lost the deal. In 2014 the Lakers obtained perennial all-star Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic in a complicated four team trade that involved them sending their own all-star center Andrew Bynum and a lottery protected first round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers. Another notable player involved in the deal was Finals MVP Andre Iguodala. The Lakers didn’t win this deal because Howard played the same position as the Lakers other star center Pau Gasol and while Gasol could share the floor with Bynum (who played more of a defensive forward), he was rendered superfluous because he could not play with Howard. Howard left for the Houston Rockets after one season with the Lakers which meant the Lakers traded Bynum and a first round pick for one season of Dwight Howard’s services. The Lakers haven’t lost the deal to my mind until we know who the first-round pick will be (which will be given up this season) since Bynum’s career has fizzled out worse than Howard’s but they certainly didn’t win it Another deal where the team getting the best player didn’t win was the Knicks acquisition of Carmelo Anthony in the middle of the 2010-2011 season for promising rookie but often injured Danilo Gallinari and spare parts. The Knicks with Anthony have won exactly one playoff series in the intervening six years which has more to do with their poor management than anything Anthony has done but the Knicks cannot be considered winners in the Carmelo Anthony trade. The sad truth is the Knicks have only had a better record than the Nuggets once since getting Anthony.

  When I think of teams that have won trades by getting the best player in the deal, I think of the Lakers getting Kareem-Abdul-Jabbar from the Milwaukee Bucks in 1975 for a couple of prospects and spare parts or the same Lakers getting Wilt Chamberlain for Archie Clark and some other spare parts. There is no doubt the Phoenix Suns won their 1992 trade for Charles Barkley for first time all-star guard Jeff Hornacek and two other players since they got to the NBA Finals for the first time in 16 years (and haven’t been back since). The Lakers trade of Marc Gasol, two first round draft picks, and some parts to the Grizzlies for Pau Gasol can be looked at as a win for both sides but the Lakers got to three finals (with two championships) with Pau Gasol and while Marc Gasol is a perennial all-star now he wasn’t close to being that player a decade ago.

  The reason the team that gets the best player so often comes out on the long end of a basketball trade seems obvious – there are less players on a basketball team and a basketball court than any of the other team sports so getting a top player can immediately elevate a team in basketball like no other sport.

  The winner of the Irving-Thomas deal hinges on who is the better player and it is clear to me that Irving is by far the better player than Thomas. This wouldn’t have been a debate two years ago but in the meantime Thomas has made two all-star teams. Irving has made four all-star teams (including twice without LeBron James as his teammate) Thomas has never been picked for the USA basketball team, Irving was on the Olympic team last year and was the most valuable player in the FIBA World Cup in 2014. And did I mention that Irving made the game winning three pointer that won Game 7 of the NBA finals in 2016? When the Cavs and Celtics met in last year’s Eastern Conference finals the Cavaliers were leading 2-1 but in Game 4 fell behind by 15 points and James had four fouls in the first half. Irving took over the game and scored 42 points in leading the Cavaliers to a comeback win that broke the Celtics’ sprit. Thomas is a very good player and a great scorer but Irving does things that only a handful of players have ever been able to do. And don’t forget that Irving is four years younger than Thomas and Thomas is still recovering from a major hip injury.

  I believe this trade was a major win for the Celtics but there are a number of ways this trade can go wrong or even very wrong. Irving is signed for two more years. If he decides he wants to play somewhere else in two years the Celtics will have traded a top draft pick for two years of Kyrie Irving and there is also the possibility that Irving may want to force an immediate trade from Boston just like he did this summer. Irving has had a knee surgery and tendonitis in his left knee which is a cause for concern but has been healthy for the last two years. If the Nets pick turns out to be the next superstar then of course the deal will look bad although at this point there is no way of knowing where or who that pick will be.

  All in all, Kyrie Irving is one of the best players in the NBA. Top players are so hard to get that this was a gamble Boston had to take. There is one consideration that I hadn’t heard mentioned much that could have long-term impact. Isaiah Thomas was a beloved player in Boston and the 5 foot 9 inch last pick in the draft personified the underdog image the city has of itself. He played for the Celtics in the playoffs with an injured hip and through the death of his sister last year. And he was traded just like a commodity. It cannot be argued that he has been treated very poorly by the franchise and I wonder if future NBA super stars will pass on playing for Boston or insisting on no-trade clauses or other compensation that wouldn’t be expected from other teams.

  As for Cleveland, if the Nets pick turns into a superstar or is traded for a player that helps the Cavaliers win another championship then they have to be considered winners in the trade but I can’t agree until I understand how a winning team can drive away a multi time all-star. The Cavaliers got some value for Irving but should have never been in that position to begin with.

Friday, September 8, 2017

TV Review - The Defenders


  I binge watched ‘The Defenders’ over four days a couple of weeks ago. This is the latest Netflix series based on the Marvel comic books and the climax of the previous Netflix series featuring the adventures of two seasons of Daredevil and one season each starring Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. I thought the first season of Daredevil was great, really liked Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, was lukewarm towards the second season of Daredevil and found Iron Fist to have a maximum of teen angst and a minimum of action.

The long awaited 'Defenders' series has arrived via Netflix. Was it worth the wait?

  Even though there are four times the superheroes in ‘The Defenders’, the series was only eight episodes instead of the standard 13 episodes that comprised each of the previous five series. This was a welcome change as the 13 episode series invariably included entire shows devoted to character development with little action or (in the case of Daredevil season two and Iron Fist) increasingly tedious battles with dozens upon dozens of ninjas with swords, ninjas with arrows, ninjas with throwing stars, and ninjas with more ninjas behind them. Luke Cage and the first season of Daredevil and Jessica Jones avoided some of this tedium with genuine villains to battle in Kingpin, Cottonmouth, Diamondback, and Killgrave. Each of these villains were explored during the 13 episode season which cut down on the angst or ninjas that Netflix seems to call upon when there is more screen time than script.

  The major villain of the Defenders is ‘The Hand’ which has been portrayed as the source of the never ending supply of ninjas in Daredevil 2 and the sworn enemy of Iron Fist’s city of K’un-Lun. This means that our heroes yet again get to fight against hordes of interchangeable ninjas but in this show we get to see the leaders (or the five fingers) of the Hand who are revealed to have been banished from K’un-Lun after finding the secret to immortality by using what is mysteriously referred to as ‘the substance’. The crux of the plot is the Hand trying to find more of the substance under Manhattan by digging a massive hole in the basement of a Hell’s Kitchen skyscraper which is causing tremors in Manhattan and will ultimately lead to the city’s destruction by earthquake.

  We had already met two members of the Hand previously – Bakuto from Iron Fist and Madame Gao who has been featured as a crime lord in Daredevil and Iron Fist. The two are joined by weapons and fighting expert Murakami, Sowande, and the Hand leader Alexandra played by Sigourney Weaver. Alexandra is introduced at the series beginning as having a terminal disease with slow reveals that she lived a long time with references to Bach’s state of mind when he composed a particular piece of music and how a particular meal was better than the first time she ate it in Constantinople (instead of Istanbul). It is also revealed that Alexandra has used the last of ‘the substance’ to resurrect Daredevil’s deceased lover Elektra in order to make her the Hand’s master weapon and forfeited the group’s immortality unless more of ‘the substance’ is uncovered under Manhattan. Alexandra shows no special fighting abilities or skills which makes me wonder how she was chosen to be the group’s leader. There is considerable animosity among the fingers over her choice to use up the last of the substance to resurrect Elektra but no open revolt against her leadership.

  The first half of the series is pretty slow moving. The first episode has to introduce Alexandra and Elektra, show Luke Cage’s release from prison where he ended up at the end of his series, and follow Iron Fist’s pursuit of the Hand from the end of his series. What little super hero action there is centers on Jessica Jones’s investigation of a missing architect only to find he has enough C4 to take down a certain Hell’s Kitchen skyscraper that is covering the giant tunnel to the ‘substance’. Over the next two episodes our heroes are slowly introduced to each other with a great battle between Iron Fist and Luke Cage, the reintroduction of Daredevil’s mentor Stick (a prisoner of Alexandra) and his escape by cutting his hand off, and more backstory for Electra and the Hand. Eventually our heroes converge on Alexandra’s headquarters at the top of the skyscraper where they fight an endless supply of ninjas while escaping and making their way to a Chinese restaurant where they spend the entire fourth episode talking while we wait for the inevitable attack by Elektra and the Hand.

  Things pick up in the second half of the series. We get a lot less character interaction by talking and more character interaction by fighting as our heroes start to team up to take down the Hand and we get to see each character’s support groups get together as they are all tucked away in a police station for protection from the Hand. The problem I have with the all the battles is that they are almost exclusively martial arts matches with the occasional burst of gunfire so Luke can show off his impenetrable skin. The only super powered villain (discounting martial arts skills) appears to be Madame Gao who can summon a wall of force with a gesture very much like the Invisible Woman of the Fantastic Four.

  The big plot twist happens at the end of episode 6 with a switch in villains as Electra takes over the Hand by killing Stick, kidnapping Iron Fist (whose power is needed to unearth the substance), and then run Alexandra through with a sword. The villain switch is fast becoming a staple of the Netflix Marvel shows with the same device used in Luke Cage and Iron Fist. There is a battle in the tunnel under the skyscraper with the good guys naturally winning although Daredevil is presumed dead. Daredevil and Elektra had a classic fight scene in the last episode with Daredevil trying to convince Elektra she is the good person he used to know instead of her current persona of criminal mastermind. Elektra for her part seems to still love Daredevil but wants to turn him into her partner in seeking power. It is the 21st century version of the Batwoman/Catwoman dynamic from the old Batman television series. Presumably Elektra, Daredevil, and the uninjured Madame Gao meet their end as the skyscraper is demolished and collapses on them but if Daredevil survived the blast (which we see in the final scene) there is the possibility that Gao and Elektra did also.

  The Defenders was a good series that had some glaring flaws and is not something I could recommend except for fellow super-hero watchers. When it was clicking it was great – the heroes and their respective supporting casts had great chemistry and played off each other superbly. Daredevil and Jessica Jones made a great team of detectives while Luke and iron Fist played off their disparate backgrounds to explain their motivations. The action scenes were fun when Jones and Luke Cage were given chances to show their super strength. The scene with Jessica, Luke, and Daredevil riding the subway with Jessica stealing a can of beer from a passed out drunk was an instant classic. What made the show hard to watch was interminable amount of ninjas and having someone with no discernable paranormal skills in charge of the Hand. I can’t understand going to the trouble of getting a star like Sigourney Weaver to play the lead villain and relegate her to boardroom work. It seemed as ridiculous as having the other four more capable fingers of the Hand follow her lead. If Weaver had been given some sort of Killgrave-like mind control type powers then I could have understood her being in charge but her only super power seemed to be her refined taste and that was not enough to make her a super-villain I want to binge-watch. The series would have been far better served by having Alexandra be a lesser known actress that could be gutted by Elektra in the first episode. Nothing against Sigourney Weaver but the best episodes of the series were the last two when Elektra was in charge and the money saved by not paying Weaver could have been used for same special effects to keep the Stick’s arm with the decapitated hand from being longer than his unblemished arm.

Until 'The Punisher' arrives at Netflix later this year, we can all enjoy this 2012 Punisher short featuring the iconic Thomas Jane in the title role!

  Next up in the Marvel/Netflix Universe is 'The Punisher' with Jon Bernthal reprising his epic role from Daredevil 2. Bernthal’s Punisher was a mix of the familiar no holds barred criminal-killing vigilante mixed with a confused almost insane sadistic pleasure in punishing criminals. The series will be 13 episodes which may be too long for a character as dark as the Punisher but a series I think will be great as long as I don’t have to see Frank Castle battle endless ninjas for 13 hours.

Friday, September 1, 2017

2017 Twin Ports Open - Anchors Aweigh

  After a reasonable night’s sleep I once again woke up in Superior, Wisconsin at 4am for the second and last day of the 2017 Twin Ports Open chess tournament. I woke up at 4am even though I was in a hotel room with my Troy (my roommate for the weekend) instead of at home with two beagles whose 6+ years of training made them insistent on eating and walking by 5am. Troy was still sleeping while I washed and spent a couple of hours doing some work on my side job of monitoring and maintaining the software I wrote for my previous job that interfaces with a government entity.

  Once I was done working I took a nap and reflected on my Saturday of chess. Even though I wasn’t seeing a lot at the chessboard I was still sitting at 2.5 points which was only a half point behind the three leaders: Brent Gudowski (who beat me in last year’s tournament), Alex Braun (who I drew in last year’s tournament), and my roommate Troy who was still fast asleep. The pairings posted the night before had me with the white pieces against Troy this morning. I could probably have asked not to be paired against my traveling companion but since I hadn’t known Troy 48 hours before I didn’t think it was a big deal. A bigger deal was that Troy was playing well above his provisional rating. I was sitting at the next table when Troy just destroyed my friend Destiny Jorenby in round 2 and talented youngster Uri Moon-Rosha in round 3 the day before.

Troy Curfman
  Before I could really focus on my morning game I had one task to attend to. Since it was Sunday I had 100 or so pet pictures to post onto Facebook like I have been for the past 6+ years. Normally this takes just a few minutes but the Barkers Island complimentary wireless internet had troubles posting to Facebook all weekend. I was only able to post the pictures five at a time using the very basic Facebook picture uploader so a task that should have only have taken a few minutes took over a half hour. Luckily the wireless internet was flawless in allowing me to log into my work computers which would have been more of a concern than an inconvenience in the realm of first-world problems.

  I figured I would just play the same way against Troy that I had been playing in the tournament which was to attempt to be aggressive and hopefully not make any mistakes of commission which I had avoided on Saturday although there were plenty of sins of omission in my first three games. I knew he would play the Benoni defense since he and Tim had been talking about it on the drive up before they had an idea we would be playing. I’ve never had good luck against the Benoni but as Troy and I sat down to play I reminded myself to try to play aggressively and be on the lookout to break open the center with e5.

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of
  A pretty gross loss and a well-deserved one. I once again left an hour on my clock and made most of my moves within a minute. By comparison Troy spent 30 minutes on the key moves Rac8 and Qa5. I was thoroughly outplayed and kind of annoyed that I didn’t put up a better effort. Most lower rated players that beat me in long games end up having much higher ratings than me after a couple of years so I’ll be keeping an eye on Troy’s progress as he balances his chess with his studies at Drake University.

York Marlowe
  Tim, Ty, Troy, and I had a breakfast\lunch at the hotel’s salad bar which also had a separate breakfast bar for Sunday brunch. My tournament was over as far as winning a cash prize was concerned and as it turned out I was the first of our foursome to lose a game. I took a quick rest after lunch and at 3pm it was time for the final round. There was no pressure and no hurry to finish because we were staying over Sunday night and driving home Monday morning. My opponent was York Marlowe, a late 20’s – early 30's EMS worker who was playing in his first tournament in a couple of years. I saw York play Destiny in the first round and he seemed to be a careful player. I had nothing to lose in this game and decided I was going to go all out for an attack.

  What a shame. If I had finished this game off the way I started it I could have had a Mt. Rushmore (top four) game. I took no more than two minutes on any of my moves. I had over an hour to find what York was trying to do but used none of it and allowed a draw. I had the same result in the 2017 Twin Ports Open and last year – 2 wins, 1 loss, and 2 draws but my play was so much worse this year. I missed chances all over the place and had no self-discipline to take my time even though I reminded myself before every game. It was a great tournament and I had every chance to get a better result than last year which was undone by my lack of training, practice, and patience.

  When I signed up for the tournament, organizer Dane Mattson promised me an anchor burger. I had never had an anchor burger and was looking forward to it. The Anchor Bar and Grill was featured on a food show called ‘Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives’. Slowly my traveling companions finished their games but as I know all too well the tournament organizer has to stick around until the last game is over and there were still a few games left. Tim, Troy, and Ty were getting pretty hungry and I was too so we decided to head on over to the Anchor Bar and Grill and let Dane and the crowd catch up with us.

The Anchor Bar and Grill menu along with the famous $6.25 Anchor burger. After a photo of the Anchor Bar's Anchor with tournament organizer Dane Mattson, tournament winner Bryan Smith, and my last round opponent York Marlowe we headed to the VIP Pizzeria to close the place down...

  With the help of Google Maps we made it to the Anchor Bar and Grill which is located in what looked to be a pretty seedy looking section of Superior that was covered in seedy looking bars and the Anchor Bar and Grill fit in perfectly. There was a big bar full of memorabilia and a patio which smelled like stale beer with dozens of used food trays hanging out over the garbage cans. There was a classic 1942 video game in the bar so I played that for about 10 minutes, The rest of the group were figuring out what to order so it was OK if I spent some time at the video game because I knew what I wanted – an anchor burger. The anchor burger was just what I expected – a huge pile of meat and cheese on a bun. It was a great burger with lots of lettuce and onions and juicy but not greasy but at the risk of disappointing my friends from the Twin Ports of Duluth and Superior it is not close to being the best burger I’ve ever had. That distinction belongs to the White Rose of Roselle, New Jersey (which is still in business) whose meat is as good as the anchor burger and overtakes it with their amazing Kaiser rolls! What the Anchor Burger has going for it is a low, low price of $6.25 which a super low price for 2/3 of a pound of meat and if you were really hungry there is the Galleybuster with a pound of meat for only a dollar more. With dozens of beers on tap I can see why the Anchor Bar and Grill is legendary.

  After we had all eaten (and eating a two thirds of a pound anchor burger is no small task) Dane arrived to tell us that there was a group of players meeting at a local pizza place called VIP Pizza (VIP standing for Vintage Italian Pizza). We left before Dane was able to tell us so he made a special trip to let us know and even paid for my anchor burger besides! We headed over to the VIP Pizzeria and the chess players were in a huge room in the back playing chess, telling stories, and mostly getting very much lubricated on the giant glasses of beer from the large selection of beer on tap that every place in Superior, Wisconsin seems to have. I’ll keep the details private since I believe that what goes on in Superior, Wisconsin should stay in Superior, Wisconsin but I will say it was the best chess after-party I’ve ever been to.

  It didn’t matter how late or early I got to bed. I was still up by 5am on Monday and worked for an hour or so monitoring my program. We left at 8am, were back in Marshalltown, Iowa by 4pm, had the rental car returned by 5pm, and was walking a pair of enthusiastic beagles by 6pm. It was a great mini-vacation even though I worked more than I wanted to and played chess less well than I wanted. After reading my 'Superior' posts and comparing it with my Duluth posts from last year's tournament it is obvious that one contributing factor to my subpar play was that I worked every single morning whether I was playing or traveling whereas last year I still got up early but napped the mornings of the tournament. The second job is great for 'making hay while the sun shines' since it is a temporary situation until the companies I work for find a more permanent solution but it was a mistake to think I would be as sharp as normal at the chessboard. Maybe I could get away with this burning the candle at both ends half a lifetime ago but it is clear that as I hurtle towards 57 years of age I need to make sure my responsibilities are at a minimum when I try to play in a long tournament.

Friday, August 25, 2017

2017 Twin Ports Open -The Saturday

   The Barkers Island Inn’s room was quiet and comfortable and I had a good night’s sleep. Even though I had no beagles to walk I still woke up at my normal time of 4am. Tim’s student Troy was rooming with me and being a college kid was still asleep and after washing up I had six hours to kill before the 10:30 first round start time. Even though it was Saturday I still had plenty of work to do on the program I was supporting that interfaces with a government entity. I checked to make sure the morning reports were downloaded and reconciled the accounts like I do every day and worked on some programming assignments.

  That took a couple of hours and after heading to the hotel lobby for a free cup of coffee (sadly there was no free breakfast) I headed back up to the room for a nap. I felt I played good in the 2016 Twin Ports Open except for settling for a quick draw in the Sunday morning round so my goal this year was to fight in all my games. I’ve had very little time to play or study chess since I took on my second job in April and had no idea what to expect from my play since my chess work has been limited to doing tactics puzzles on my amazing iPod’s Chessimo app and the occasional bursts of one minute play. I was considering purchasing Grandmaster Simon Williams Master Method series titled ‘Chess Improvement Secrets for the Busy Player’ but I was just too busy to order it much less download or study it. I’m not complaining about not having any time to work on my chess, mind you. I am merely stating fact and the fact is that I am taking a financial windfall now and letting everything else take a back seat. Anyway I’ve won tournaments days after playing some of my worst chess so it wasn’t inconceivable that my relative inactivity would lend itself to having the ‘beginner’s eye’ and a fantastic result.

Josh Denton
  As I mentioned there was no free breakfasts (continental or otherwise) at the Barkers Island Inn but I did bring some apples and granola bars on the trip so I had an apple for breakfast and headed down to the tournament room. This year the open section was in its own room and the reserve section for players rated under 1800 and the section for players rated under 1200 were in a separate room. The time control was 90 minutes for the game with 30 seconds added for each move. Except for the first game which gave us only 60 minutes for the game and the extra 30 seconds per move. I was the fifth seed in the reserve section and my first round opponent was Josh Denton. Josh looked to be in his 30s and was wearing an impressive array of new looking golf apparel which made me think he was either a golf fan or a golf apparel salesmen or perhaps a golfer. I was attired in black pants and a Punisher skull t-shirt as I sat down in front of the black pieces to start the tournament.

pgn4web chessboards courtesy of
  A week later this game looks smooth as silk – fight off the attack, win a pawn, and grind to the victory. At the time it seemed very touch and go with my opponent seeing more than I was. During the game I didn’t understand why Josh was giving me the pawn but in hindsight it was clear by his reaction that he had counted it out better than me. Josh’s 7.Ng5 got me wrong-footed and I never saw his attack on f7 until I had to defend against it. My Qd7 was a big concession but I was pleased with aggressively grabbing the center with e5. Overall a workmanlike effort in a game that took a little over two hours. I grabbed a quick nap in the room and with about an hour to go before the 2:00 second round start time headed to the hotel restaurant for lunch.

  The Barkers Island Inn’s restaurant has a full menu with some reasonable prices. There was a $10 pizza buffet and an $8 salad bar in addition to the giant prime ribs and bottles of wine that I saw other people dining on. The salad bar had some tuna and herring for protein and beets for filler in addition to the normal vegetable type salad bar stuff. I had three plates from the salad bar while Tim, Troy, and Ty had pizza and then it was time for the next game.

Allen Hanm
  I had the White pieces in the second game. My opponent was Allen Hahm, an older well-dressed guy with a suit jacket, cane, and a large amount of jewelry including a giant class ring on his hand. I looked up Allen after the game and saw that he is a member of the Twin Ports Chess Club that plays in their events at least twice a month. I don't have any strategy for playing against older players but if I did it would be to try to stay away from the endings and not be afraid to mix up the position, which is exactly the opposite of my strategy against younger players. The only problem with this strategy is that I am getting to be an older player myself and I am as likely to make a mistake as anyone. Almost as soon as I sat down I felt myself getting tired from my third plate of salad at the Barkers Island all you can eat salad bar so I chugged two cups of free coffee during the first four or five moves and perked right up.

  This game took a little longer than two hours. I never took more than two minutes on any of my moves and only took a minute a move when it became clear that my opponent was never going to resign. I could have saved myself an hour and a half if I had spent a couple of extra minutes on the follow-up to Qh7. Someday someone will have to explain to me why people who are losing trade off all their pieces. In my first two games my opponents could have kept pieces on the board to keep swindling chances but instead traded down to completely lost endgames. I do have to admit that if Allen Hahm had seen the early checkmate that I missed he may have been encouraged to keep playing to see what else I would miss.

My traveling companions Tim, Ty, and Troy with a typical plate from the Barkers Island Inn salad bar...

...and here is Tim with our server of the day Brody or with our Brody of the day the server along with a view of the harbor from the restaurant.

  I got in another nap and then took a walk along the island with my traveling companions. I like walking my dogs but am not big on walking for walking’s sake. There were some geese and seagulls around and a few people swimming in the water despite all the signs mentions that there have been drownings on Barkers Island. After the walk it was back to the salad bar where we were served by someone who said “I’ll be Brody your server today!” I wanted to ask him who he was going to be tomorrow but thought the better of it and instead struck up a conversation with the teenage girl that was sweeping the floor. The restaurant was facing a harbor with lots of massive expensive looking boats. I asked the sweeping girl if the people parked their boats here all the time or only when they stayed at the hotel. She didn’t know but we came to the conclusion that the people who stayed here had a lot of money since none of these boats looked cheap.

Marcus Gardner
  At 7:00 the final round of the day was starting. I was expecting to play one of the higher rated players in the field but was instead matched up against 13 year old Marcus Gardner who defeated the third seeded player in the previous round. I didn't know this at the time but Marcus is pretty serious about his chess - he has a chess coach, went to Nashville for the youth Supernational tournament this year, and plays a tournament a month at the Chess Castle in Minneapolis. I have always had good luck playing youngsters by taking my time and trying to win in the ending and was hoping this game would be no different. I had noticed that I hadn’t used much more than an hour in either of my first two games and tried to remind myself to take my time.

   Like my previous two games I barely used an hour of my almost 2 hours (including the increment) but this time it cost me half a point. For the third game in a row I was outplayed in the opening but Marcus made no obvious errors and I had to dig my way out to equality. I felt like I missed some chances so I took advantage of the free analysis that was being given out by organizer/master chess player Dane Mattson. Also in the room was Bill Harrison, another master chess player and Marcus’s coach. Dane is in the mental health profession and immediately saw that I was playing by very basic guidelines instead of challenging myself to think ‘outside the box’. He pointed out that by taking on d5 with my c pawn I don't get pushed backwards and instead of trying to hang on to the d file and trading off I should have been working on getting my queen to e5 where it could do damage behind enemy lines. Of course Dane saw that 29…Bd3 wins the game as soon as the opportunity presented itself. I spent three minutes on what I was going to do after I played Qe1+ but my only thoughts were how to not lose my queenside pawns after White played Qc8+ or at least how to win as many of White’s pawns. This tournament had a $60 entry fee but when I count the lesson with Dane it was the best $60 I’ve spent on chess in many a year.

  After three rounds of the 2017 Twin Ports Open I had 2 wins and a draw the same as last year with the only differences being I never played a stronger player, I had 2 blacks this year instead of 2 whites, and that I missed chances in every game. I joined Tim, Troy, and Ty for a post-mortem of all our games (Tim found my mistakes as fast as Dane and the computer) and I rolled into bed around 11.