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.