Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Sport of Chess

The title of this article may seem contradictory or even absurd to some people but over 100 countries officially recognize chess as a sport, as does the International Olympic Committee. John Foley recently offered an eloquent explanation of why chess is a sport. Foley cited 10 reasons that chess is a sport and he urged his home country England to join the 24 out of 28 European countries that classify chess as a sport. Here are some quotes from Foley about each of those 10 reasons:

1) Competitive: ...Chess involves a relentless struggle against one's opponent. There is probably no sporting activity in which two people are locked in a competitive struggle of such intensity for such a sustained period of time. One lapse of concentration and suddenly a good position is transformed into a losing one...

2) Well established: The world championship has been organised since 1886 and our national federation was founded in 1904. Chess competitions are organised at every level: schools, universities, counties, cities, leagues, junior, senior, European, World, etc...

3) Physical fitness: Peak mental condition requires being in good physical condition. Players need to concentrate totally for up to seven hours. As the stress and tension builds up, blood pressure, pulse and respiration rates all increase. Contenders for the world championships have nutritionists and fitness coaches.

4) Behaviour code: Players are penalised for poor sportsmanship e.g. for refusing to shake hands with their opponent. Potential cheating is taken seriously...There is an anti-doping policy.

5) Olympic Recognition: Chess has been recognised as a sport by the International Olympic Committee since 2000. It was an event at the Asian Games in 2006 in Doha and again in Guangzhou in 2010. It is also being considered for inclusion in the Pan-American Games...

6) European Recognition: Chess is recognised as a sport in 24 out of 28 member states of the European Union...

7) Global game: Chess is played around the world irrespective of age, race, gender, income or language...

8) Mental component: All sports have a mental component. Ultimately competitive sports may be construed as strategy games differing only in their physical manifestation. Commentators are prone to similes such as: curling = chess on ice; bowls = chess on grass; snooker = chess with balls, and so on.

9) National accolade: World chess champions have won their national Sportsman of the Year competition including Magnus Carlsen (Norway), Vishy Anand (India) and Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria).

10) Player ranking system. The player ranking system was developed for chess in 1960 and has been adopted by many other sports including American football, baseball, basketball, hockey, korfball, rugby and golf. Football and cricket use a related formula.

Foley concludes, "Chess has health benefits. There is an emerging awareness of the effectiveness of chess in delaying the onset of Alzheimers. Chess promotes social integration as players travel to a venue and interacting socially. Chess presents a welcome social activity to many children who are on the autistic spectrum. Many Aspergers children find chess opens up for them a whole new world which conventional sport does not. For many adults, chess provides them with meaning in their lives."

Further Reading:

Chess as Art, Chess as Violent Sport

Chess as Art, Chess as Violent Sport, Part II

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

IM Justin Sarkar Obtains Third GM Norm

In 2009, I wrote about International Master Justin Sarkar's "perfect game." IM Sarkar has been pursuing the Grandmaster title for several years, capturing his first GM norm in the 2006 Marshall Chess Club Championship and earning his second GM norm in the 2013 U.S. Masters Championship. IM Sarkar obtained his third and final required GM norm in the May 2015 UTB Grandmaster Norm tournament, so he will receive the GM title once he pushes his FIDE rating to the 2500 level.

IM Sarkar wrote an article for Chess Life Online about his excellent performance in the May 2015 UTB Grandmaster Norm tournament and that article included his round four win against GM Holden Hernandez. In the fifth round, IM Sarkar polished off IM Joshua Ruiz from the black side of the Caro-Kann. The Ruiz game is interesting not only because of how smoothly IM Sarkar defeated IM Ruiz without allowing any counterplay but also because of some thoughts that IM Sarkar shared with me about the etiquette of making draw offers during tournament play. As a strong club player (2100+ USCF), I have noticed that in local events (and even in some larger regional events), players either do not know the correct draw offer etiquette or else they disregard it. The proper method for a player to offer a draw is to make a move, say "I offer a draw" and then hit the clock, enabling the opponent to consider the draw offer undisturbed on his own time. If the opponent declines the draw offer, it is inappropriate to offer a draw again unless you have subsequently declined a draw offer or unless the position has substantially changed since you made your first offer. It is unacceptable to offer a draw (or communicate with your opponent in any way, other than to say "I resign") when your opponent's clock is running and it is unacceptable to harass your opponent with repeated draw offers.

IM Sarkar submitted these comments about his game versus IM Ruiz:

Here's my round 5 game as black against IM Joshua Ruiz. It was played just after my fine win round 4 against GM Holden Hernandez. As hinted in the (CLO) article, I felt it was also a "convincing win" by me.

On move 23 (after playing 23.Rh3), he offered me a draw. This might have bothered me slightly, because I knew that my position was better, possibly significantly better as I correctly realized (and I think there was no extenuating factor to justify the offer, such as me being significantly down on time). However, since it was made just after making his move (and just that one time), I didn't really have a problem nor read much into it.  

As for draw offers, unfortunately there have been players who violate the basic etiquette involved in offering, especially by offering during my thinking time (even a professional GM did that to me in the last year, from a position where I was much better but not yet clearly winning, while taking a long time to decide on my move). While I prefer to be shown proper respect in when to offer me a draw, especially by lower rated opponents (such as, not offering in a situation where I'm likely to decline), by far most important to me is for proper protocol to be followed. "Proper respect" in this context means different things depending on rating level: lower rated players should generally not offer draws unless they have a better, risk-free type of position (but are content with a draw) or they have a significant advantage on the clock and they consider their position at least acceptable, while equally rated players and higher rated players should not offer draws from a clearly worse position, except perhaps if they enjoy a big time advantage.

Regarding proper protocol, generally, offering in the midst of my thinking time is a no-no (except, maybe in a situation where I'm virtually certain to accept, such as when it's clear the opponent is the one pressing me), as is offering more than once before receiving one (except, again, maybe in a situation where I'm almost certain to accept the second one, such as my position being clearly worse or me being on the worse side of a drawn ending). As for the draw offer timing, if on a given move I'm taking a "long think" (as with that GM), getting impatient for me to move is not an excuse for offering a draw while I'm thinking. It's very distracting (except, maybe if I'm thinking for a long time on how to try and defend a worse or lost position; however such offers have usually come when my position is equal or better, including by lower rated players). Offering during their thinking time is also improper but not as bad, as I always have the option to just say nothing and let their clock run (or simply tell them to first make a move), while having the option to consider after their move on that turn.
IM Joshua Ruiz - IM Justin Sarkar [B12]
UTB Grandmaster Norm Tournament 5/15/13 (5)

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.h4 h5 5.c4 e6 6.Nc3 Ne7 7.Nge2 Nd7 8.Ng3 Bg6 9.Be2 dc4 10.Nxh5 Nxe5 11.de5 Qxd1+ 12.Kxd1 Bxh5 13.g4 Bg6 14.Bxc4 0-0-0+ 15.Ke1 Rd4 16.Be2 Nd5 17.Nxd5 Rxd5 18.Bf4 Bb4+ 19.Kf1 Bd2 20.Bg3 Rc5 21.b3 Rc2 22.Bd1 Rb2 23.Rh3 Rd8 24.Bh2 Rd3 25.Rxd3 Bxd3+ 26.Kg2 Bc3 27.Rc1 Bd2 28.Ra1 Bc3 29.Rc1 Bd4 30.Bg3 Rxa2 31.Bf3 Rb2 32.Bd1 a5 33.h5 Kd7 34.g5 Be3 0-1

IM Sarkar adds that 10.Nxh5 is "dubious, though a consistent follow-up, and his 9.Be2 was a slightly dubious novelty, maybe decided upon at the board." 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Djokovic Secures Status as Best Tennis Player in the World

Novak Djokovic claimed his third Wimbledon title, his third Grand Slam singles title in the past five Grand Slam events and his ninth Grand Slam singles title overall with a convincing 7-6 (1), 6-7 (10), 6-4, 6-3 win over Roger Federer. Djokovic has not only clearly established himself as the best tennis player in the world right now but he is staking a claim to be mentioned among the top players of the Open Era. His mental toughness during matches used to be questioned but Djokovic has refuted that criticism.

Federer is in an interesting stage of his career. He is in excellent physical condition and not plagued by injuries but because he is 33 years old there is a tendency to say that every new win adds to his legacy but that when he loses his age is a valid excuse. The reality is that Federer is the second ranked tennis player in the world and age had nothing to do with what happened in his match with Djokovic. In fact, prior to the Finals, none other than Bjorn Borg--arguably the greatest tennis player of the Open Era--declared that Federer was at the peak of his powers. Federer's 7-5, 7-5, 6-4 semifinal win over Andy Murray impressed Borg so much that he predicted that Federer would beat Djokovic: "That's the best I've seen him play for many years, the best for maybe 10 years. He's serving so well. It was great tennis. On Sunday, Federer will definitely be the favorite to win. He is playing well, moving well, he was doing everything he was supposed to. He is hitting the ball so cleanly and playing with a lot of confidence."

If Federer had beaten Djokovic, we would be subjected to an endless series of articles declaring that this result once again proves that Federer is the greatest tennis player of all-time. Federer's loss, though, will likely be dismissed because Djokovic is five years younger than Federer. By this way of thinking, Federer has an unbreakable hold on the greatest of all-time title: if he wins, then he further distances himself from the competition but if he loses that is no problem because he should not have been expected to win. I cannot recall any other athlete's legacy being treated this way.

Djokovic's win over Federer should be analyzed not in the context of the age difference between the players but rather in the larger context of Federer's career, which is that Federer has been remarkably durable and he has dominated lesser lights--a consistency for which he deserves credit--but he has not been dominant against the two other great players of his era, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Federer's struggles against Nadal are well documented--Nadal leads the head to head series 23-10, including 9-2 in Grand Slam matches--but Djokovic's Wimbledon triumph improved his head to head record against Federer to 20-20. Djokovic has beaten Federer two out of three times in Grand Slam Finals and 10 out of 15 times in Finals overall, meaning that when both players are at their best Djokovic has been better. Why should it be taken for granted without any discussion or analysis that Federer is better than Nadal and Djokovic, let alone the great players from previous eras?

Federer has had a remarkable career. He holds many records that testify to his longevity, including most Grand Slam singles titles (17). He is the Emmitt Smith of tennis and there is no shame in that. Emmitt Smith was a great running back who lasted long enough to set the NFL's career rushing record, eclipsing Walter Payton--but no serious NFL commentator would rank Smith ahead of Payton or Jim Brown or at least a half dozen other NFL running backs. Borg is the Jim Brown/Sandy Koufax of tennis, setting a high standard that may never be matched and then retiring at the peak of his powers. Borg's Davis Cup record is impeccable; he holds the mark for youngest player to win a Davis Cup match (15 years old) and he also won a record 33 straight Davis Cup singles matches. Borg won at least one Grand Slam title for eight straight years (a record later matched by Pete Sampras and Roger Federer before being broken by Rafael Nadal, who accomplished the feat for 10 straight years). Borg also pulled off the Wimbledon/French Open double for three years in a row (a mark that may never be equaled).

Perhaps most impressively, Borg still holds the all-time record for Grand Slam tournament winning percentage (he won 11 of the 27 Grand Slams he entered) and Grand Slam match winning percentage (89.8%). He reached the Finals in 16 of his 27 Grand Slam appearances (59.3%). To put those numbers in perspective, consider that Nadal has won 14 of the 42 Grand Slam events that he entered (33.3%), Federer has won 17 of the 65 Grand Slam events that he entered (26.2%) and Djokovic has won nine of the 43 Grand Slam events that he entered (20.9%). Nadal, Federer and Djokovic have each reached the Finals in less than 50% of the Grand Slams that they entered.

The tennis ranking system perhaps rewards durability over greatness/dominance but even in that category Federer has not established an edge over his two main rivals during the time that their careers overlapped. Federer holds the record for most overall weeks as the number one ranked player in the world (302) but he accomplished that before Nadal and Djokovic hit their primes. When those three players have been in or reasonably near their primes (from late 2008 to the present), Federer has held the number one ranking for 65 weeks but Nadal has been number one for 141 weeks and Djokovic has been number one for 154 weeks.

Federer is lauded for his tennis artistry and, subjectively, his game may be more aesthetically pleasing to some people's eyes than the games of Nadal and Djokovic--but all-time greatness should be determined based on results, not aesthetics, and by that standard Borg, Nadal and Djokovic deserve a lot of the praise that is showered in Federer's direction. Appreciating Federer's durability should not come at the expense of recognizing the accomplishments of other great tennis players.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

American Enterprise Institute Scholars Question Methodology and Conclusions of Wells Report

The NFL-sponsored Wells Report accused New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Jim McNally (the Officials Locker Room attendant for the Patriots) and John Jastremski (an equipment assistant for the Patriots) of participating in a plan to intentionally deflate NFL footballs in contravention of league rules. In Putting the Wells Report in Proper Perspective, I described the evidence used to punish the New England Patriots and Tom Brady as "flimsy even regarding McNally and Jastremski"  and "almost nonexistent regarding Brady."

A friend of mine who has math and law degrees directed my attention to Deflating "Deflategate," which describes the American Enterprise Institute's thorough debunking of the methodology and conclusions of the Wells report. Authors Kevin Hassett and Stan Veuger conclude:

Our study, written with our colleague Joseph Sullivan, examines the evidence and methodology of the Wells report and concludes that it is deeply flawed. (We have no financial stake in the outcome of Deflategate.)

The Wells report’s main finding is that the Patriots balls declined in pressure more than the Colts balls did in the first half of their game, and that the decline is highly statistically significant. For the sake of argument, let’s grant this finding for now. Even still, it alone does not prove misconduct. There are, after all, two possibilities. The first is that the Patriots balls declined too much. The second--overlooked by the Wells report--is that the Colts balls declined too little.
The latter possibility appears to be more likely.

The entire AEI report can be found here. My friend points to this passage as particularly relevant:

The problem here is that ideally, measurements would have been taken simultaneously for all balls, outdoors, at the end of the half, and with the same gauge that was used before the game. Instead, the balls were taken inside and measured there, but not measured simultaneously. The pressure was checked twice for the Patriots balls (once with each gauge), after which the Patriots balls were reinflated and the Colts ball pressure was measured. Only 4 of the Colts balls (instead of all 12) were measured because halftime ended and the officials ran out of time. The fact that the officials ran out of time is highly material: it implies that the Colts balls were inside a warm room for almost the entire halftime before they were measured and thus had a chance to warm up.

Based on using his mathematical training to evaluate AEI's scientific analysis and on using his legal training to identify the flaws the Wells report's logic, my friend reached the following conclusions, which he permitted me to quote as long as I did not reveal his name (the quoted remarks have been edited slightly for length and clarity, but without changing the analysis and conclusions) :

As I view things, there are several (potential) problems to consider here: 

i) From a legal standpoint is there adequate "foundation" to admit the original air pressure results into evidence?; in particular: 

ii) Were the original notations/recordings of the individual ball pressures, both before the game, and at halftime, accurate? (Note: I think all commentary I've seen as to this point the values are...each and all...a correct "recording" of the various values, but "in court," this would almost certainly be "tested.")

iii) The AEI report, quoting/referring to the Wells report, says there were two pressure tester devices (gauges) used, one with an NFL logo on it, one without. The NFL on site official (Anderson) remembers using the "Logo" gauge on the balls before the game. The AEI report says that the Wells report concluded, notwithstanding Anderson's (stated, according to AEI) memory, that Anderson used the non-Logo gauge to run the tests before the game. The AEI report (correctly) notes the significance in the gauge used to test the air pressure before the game because the "Logo" gauge "reports" pressure (apparently consistently, if I'm understanding the AEI report) at .4 pounds per test greater than that reported by the "non- Logo" gauge. For example, if a particular football had been tested using the "Logo" gauge as having 12.0 psi, then presumptively had the same ball been tested instead using the "non-Logo" gauge, then the pressure would have been reported at 11.6 psi.

iv) Were all the NFL personnel involved in testing the footballs at the game equally skilled in each relevant aspect in using the gauges? [For instance--and here I'm confessing specific lack of knowledge--if the gauges "report" psi either by displacing a "ruler" (like an car tire gauge) or by causing a thin pointer to spin on a clock style display ... (I'm not being argumentative here... I have not seen a photo or video of the device(s) used. Here's a link to images turned up via a yahoo search using search terms "NFL football pressure gauge":;_ylt=A0LEV0vt6H5V5j0AcXJXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTE0dGo2bWE1BGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDQTAxMDRfMQRzZWMDcGl2cw--?p=nfl+football+pressure+gauge&fr=yfp-t-252&fr2=piv-web )

 .... then whether a particular "tester" accurately reads the gauge's reported result is potentially an issue. Not so much (or not at all) if the psi is "reported" via...for LCD device.]

v) Not trivially, it seems all the Patriots footballs tested at halftime were tested twice. An article by a team from Purdue at Columbus (an initial engineering report [yahoo search terms: "NFL football pressure purdue columbus" will yield a link to "Deflate Gate Examined"]) noted that "The football pump needle made a very poor seal when inflating the football. A noticeable amount of air was felt coming around the side of the needle when inflating the football. The amount of air leaving the football when removing the pump needle from the ball also released a small amount of air each time. The team estimated that with each removal of the valve 0.1 psi was released as we closely observed the behavior of the interaction between the needle and the football. Thus, it could be plausible that if a ball is inspected several times in succession without being inflated could be subjected to a significant loss in pressure and should be noted for further testing."

In other words, when the Patriots’ footballs were each tested twice at halftime, it is possible that the second test on most or all the balls reflected a lower value than the first test. Depending on how the “halftime/Patriots” psi results were reported (i.e., did the refs take the average of the two tests, and report this?) this has the potential to affect the overall likelihood that a reviewer might conclude that the Patriots footballs were improperly deflated.

vi) In light of something I frequently hear engineers say when trying to get a point across: "Do the math." Relevant here, because the AEI report (though rather obliquely and politely) seems to attack the accuracy of the simple math/statistics calculations contained in the Wells report.

OK, all that said, what does this all mean?

In front of a competent judge, the NFL could expect to have significant difficulty in getting the halftime psi results admitted into evidence.

Even if the results were admitted into evidence, I think it unlikely that they would be accorded much evidentiary weight.

In particular, I think a judicial fact-finding might look something like this (what follows is intentionally compressed):

Acting as finder of fact, the Court noted Defendant Brady’s objection to admitting into evidence the reported values of the psi testing of the Patriots’ and Colts’ footballs as measured before the game, and at halftime. The objection was a lack of foundation. The Court admitted the evidence, under the proviso that the Court would later evaluate them “for what they are worth.”

As it turns out, the Court finds they are not worth much.

In particular, the evidence shows that Referee Anderson tested all the footballs before the game using a gauge that reported values--each time, each test--0.4 psi higher than the other gauge used, in part, to measure the footballs during halftime. The Court finds the evidence does not demonstrate precisely which gauge or gauges were used to test each football during halftime. However, it is clear that both gauges were used. Also, it is clear that each “Patriot” football was tested for pressure twice during halftime, while only four “Colts” football were tested for pressure at halftime. Clearly, the Patriots’ footballs were tested first, and there was insufficient time to finish testing all twelve Colts’ footballs.

A significant difficulty in assessing the evidentiary weight of the test results arises from the lack of clarity as to which “gauge” tested each football during halftime. If all of the Patriots’ footballs were tested with the same gauge that Referee Anderson used to test them before the game, then the comparative results between the pre-game and halftime tests are sensible in a “math-physics-engineering” sense. However, if some or all of the Patriots footballs were tested at halftime using the second gauge, then the halftime test results would generate results that would unfairly and incorrectly support a conclusion that the Patriots’ footballs had been improperly deflated after the pregame testing, but before the game started.

Moreover, while the evidence and simple high school chemistry teach that application of the Ideal Gas Law (pv=nrt) mandates a conclusion that both teams’ footballs would have been found to have “lost pressure” between the pregame testing and the testing at halftime, another problem for assessing the weight and meaning of this evidence arises because of the specific circumstances of the halftime testing. All the game balls were taken into the warm “testing” room at halftime for the required testing. Testing on the Patriots’ footballs began immediately. Testing on the Colts’ footballs began after all the Patriots’ footballs had been tested. The evidence establishes that all the footballs that
“waited” to be tested underwent some increase in pressure due to being in a significantly warmer environment than that existing outside, during the game. However, this “re-inflation” was not uniform.

The end result is that the halftime testing was improperly skewed to support a conclusion that the Patriots’ footballs had been improperly deflated after the pregame testing. The Court finds that the total impact of this improper skewing is contained within a range of 0.6 to 1.0 psi as to each Patriots football. Adjusting the reported results to remove this improper skewing means the Patriots’ footballs did not demonstrate evidence of having been improperly deflated when they were tested at halftime.

To conclude this discussion of the pressure testing and the conclusions that might be drawn from it, the Court notes the criticism the AEI report (and Defendant Brady) level against the accuracy of the statistical calculations contained in the Wells report (and asserted in these proceedings by Plaintiff NFL). While the Court finds the AEI report’s conclusions in this regard to be well founded and accurate, the Court does not rely upon this point to reach its final decision. In other words, the Court assumes, arguendo, that the Wells report’s statistical calculations are accurate.

I have no advanced mathematical training and I am a second year law student, not a lawyer, but my friend's take on the AEI Report's numbers and how that evidence would be used in a hypothetical court setting comports quite well with my understanding of math and law. If NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell does not rescind the four game suspension that he levied against Brady it seems as if a competent judge would rule in Brady's favor if Brady decided to sue the NFL for suspending him based on evidence that lacks proper foundation.

The mathematical and legal issues in this case are interesting but there are some deeper questions here as well pertaining to the NFL as a whole and to media coverage of the NFL:

1) Who "tipped" the NFL with (apparently false) information that the Patriots were deflating footballs and why did this person do so?

2) A false allegation of cheating is a punishable offense under FIDE (International Chess Federation) rules. Since there is no credible evidence that the Patriots cheated, will the "tipper" be punished in some fashion by the NFL?

3) Who holds media members like Bob Kravitz, Mike Wilbon and others accountable for their baseless speculations and for their overwrought calls for punishing the Patriots in general and Bill Belichick in particular? Even the Wells Report, which appears to be incomplete and flawed at best, exonerates Belichick from any wrongdoing. Freedom of the press is a cherished and essential American right but accountability of the press should exist in some fashion as well. If media organizations, editors and writers/commentators will not hold themselves accountable then the public should be aware that anything written or stated by media organizations is highly suspect, particularly if that information is delivered by someone who has a track record of being more interested in self-promotion (or the promotion of some other personal agenda) than in seeking out the truth.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Remembering Bryan Burwell

For many years, I enjoyed reading Bryan Burwell's articles about the NBA. He covered the league for a variety of publications. I never had the opportunity to meet him face to face--and I regret that I never will, since he passed away from cancer last December at just 59. Bernie Miklasz, a St. Louis sportswriter who was a colleague of Burwell's, penned a warm and loving tribute to his friend titled
Bryan Burwell Will Always Live in Our Hearts. Here is an excerpt:

Day in and day out, Bryan Burwell was the happiest person you could find in any press box, or in a media work room. In a profession of notorious grumps, he was good for morale. You'd show up, and grouse about something, and Burwell would turn and smile, offer support, and then get to work on repairing your mood.

And you didn't have to be a media star, or a colleague, or a longterm friend to get Burwell's attention or empathy. He always treated nervous young journalists with respect and caring, giving them so much of his time you'd think these kids were Pulitzer Prize winners. Burwell didn't care about your status, or where you ranked on the ladder of journalism. If you shared a press box with Burwell, you were his equal. And if you needed his advice, he would patiently and generously offer it. There was no time limit on his kindness.

Until the end of his life, Bryan maintained the kind of enthusiasm that often wanes when sportswriters and broadcasters have been in the industry for a decade or two. Well, it was impossible to diminish his joy or take away his laughter...

Burwell saw the best in everyone, but he had the courage to take a stand and express a strong and unpopular opinion. And as you probably can understand, it wasn't always easy being an outspoken African American sports columnist who didn't hesitate to take a stand. I cringe at the memory of some of the emails he received; you can only imagine. He would show a few to me every now and then and it made me crazy with anger. But you know what? The nastiness couldn't take Burwell down. The viciousness probably stung him more than he'd let on, but he'd brush it off and continue being Burwell. A first-class man, all the way.

Astounded by his relentless civility, I once asked him: Why do you respond to people who are so vile and hateful? I'll never forget Bryan's answer. "Because they took the time to write," Burwell said. "That's the first thing. The other thing is, I can't change the world we live in. But by having a conversation, I can try to change one heart at a time."

And he meant it. Burwell put that into practice, every single day.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Putting the Wells Report in Proper Perspective

When Bob Kravitz, Mike Wilbon and other reporters called for the NFL to heavily punish New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick based on unsubstantiated accusations about the Patriots deflating footballs prior to the 2015 AFC Championship Game, I criticized them for reckless reporting. I stand by what I wrote; it is wrong to call for someone to be fired based on a mere accusation and it is even more wrong to do so when that person is subsequently completely exonerated. The NFL's investigation of this matter, known as the Wells Report, has been publicly released. The Wells Report explicitly states that neither Belichick nor the Patriots organization had anything to do with deflating footballs. Kravitz, Wilbon and the rest of the reporters who engaged in reckless speculation and accusation owe Belichick and the Patriots a public apology.

After months of investigation of the matter, here is the conclusion reached by the Wells Report: " is more probable than not that Jim McNally (the Officials Locker Room attendant for the Patriots) and John Jastremski (an equipment assistant for the Patriots) participated in a deliberate effort to release air from Patriots game balls after the balls were examined by the referee. Based on the evidence, it also is our view that it is more probable than not that Tom Brady (the quarterback for the Patriots) was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls."

Put more simply, there is no evidence that anyone from the Patriots actually deflated the footballs but it is possible--given the time frame involved and where the footballs were prior to the game--that enough time existed for the footballs to be intentionally deflated. If the footballs were intentionally deflated, this was most likely done by McNally and Jasremski. Based on the fact that McNally and Jastremski referred to Brady in text messages and that Brady called Jastremski after this became a major news story, it is "more probable than not" that Brady "was at least generally aware" of footballs being intentionally deflated.

From a purely legal standpoint, it is true that in criminal trials defendants are convicted based on circumstantial evidence all the time. The idea that you cannot be convicted on circumstantial evidence is a common misunderstanding of people who do not have legal training. However, the circumstantial evidence in the Wells Report--which was not prepared for a criminal trial or using the standards required for a criminal trial--is flimsy even regarding McNally and Jastremski and is almost nonexistent regarding Brady.

The NFL's response to this flimsy evidence is to suspend Tom Brady for four games, fine the Patriots $1,000,000 and deprive the Patriots of two draft picks. The Patriots have already suspended McNally and Jastremski indefinitely.

Frank Schwab has written a must-read takedown of the NFL's overreaction to the Wells Report. Schwab starts by noting that the NFL historically has taken very little interest even in proven game day manipulation of footballs:

Last season, the Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings were caught, on a cold day, using sideline heaters to warm up footballs. That's against the rules. You can argue that it's not the same level as deflating footballs in a bathroom, but it has the same effect: something outside of the rules to make the football easier to grip and catch. The Panthers and Vikings were...warned. That's it...

Also, in 2012 the San Diego Chargers used towels with an adhesive substance on their game balls and didn't give them up to the NFL immediately when ordered to do so. If you think the Panthers-Vikings thing was just some honest mistake, it's a lot harder to convince anyone that there was no intent by the Chargers to gain an advantage. And the Chargers' punishment? A $20,000 fine. That's it.

What about the Patriots' supposed "failure to cooperate" with the investigation? The authors/investigators of the Wells Report did not have subpoena power nor did they have the power to receive any testimony under oath. No one was under any obligation to say anything to the authors/investigators and--legally--no one can assume that someone is guilty because he fails to say something. As far as I know, the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination still applies to the NFL and its employees. Nevertheless, Schwab documents that the Patriots did cooperate:

They turned over text message records of employees, security tapes, secured interviews with dozens of their employees. "The failure to cooperate" is the NFL's pandering at its worst. The "failure to cooperate" is this: The Patriots say McNally was made available for four interviews but the investigators were turned down when a fifth interview was requested. Brady met with investigators, answered all their questions, but refused to provide text messages and emails. That's it. That's the extent of "failure to cooperate." There are no other examples of any lack of Patriots cooperation in the report.

Brady's alleged guilt/complicity is supposedly proven because he made some phone calls to Jastremski after the deflated football issue became a public story. The Wells Report says nothing about the content of those phone calls but implies that because Brady had not called Jastremski in the preceding few months this means that Brady knew about Jastremski's (alleged) activities. Think about that tortured logic for a minute. Pretend that you are Tom Brady and you know absolutely nothing about footballs being deflated. Then, the alleged deflation of footballs by your team becomes a national news story and you are being accused of deflating the footballs. Would you not call the equipment manager and try to find out what happened? That scenario is just as plausible as the one that the Wells Report offers. In fact, look at it the other way and pretend that you are Tom Brady and you are the mastermind of the football deflation. Would you make traceable phone calls to your accomplice just days after the story broke, after not calling him for months? If you were able to set up the whole conspiracy without using a phone, would you not either lay low or else communicate in a less traceable way? If there was a conspiracy, wouldn't each party know that the best thing to do is to keep quiet? Would that message really be best delivered in a traceable phone call?

Tampering with footballs is wrong but the NFL has never seriously policed this issue, as noted above. If the NFL intends to severely punish violators it should (1) make that clear beforehand and (2) have very credible evidence before issuing severe punishments. In this case, all the Wells Report proved is that it is theoretically possible for one person to use a needle to deflate a dozen footballs in less than two minutes. The Wells Report offers no credible evidence that this actually happened, let alone that Brady was complicit in this happening.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

David Friedman Scores 6-0 in DCC Championship to Capture 10th Title

The Dayton Chess Club Championship has been held since 1959. After winning the event a record nine times (1997, 1999-2000, 2002, 2004, 2007, 2009, 2011-12), this year I sought to capture one more title to double the original mark of five set by Richard Ling in the late 1960s/early 1970s. This year's field included three other former champions: Les Whorton (2012), John Dowling (2004-05, 2008) and David Guehl (1979-80). I was the second seeded player (2151) behind John Miller (2163), followed by Whorton (2110), Dowling (2078) and my former student Yutong Cao (1792).

After my third round victory over Dowling, I owned clear first place with the only perfect score, setting up a round four showdown with Miller, who had two wins plus a half point bye. I defeated Miller to move a full point ahead of the rest of the field with two rounds to go. I have a long history with Whorton, my fifth round opponent; I have faced him 39 times at regular time controls, more than any other opponent other than four-time Ohio Champion (1958, 1975-76, 2005)/two-time DCC Champion (2005-06) Ross Sprague (who I faced 52 times at regular time controls). I defeated Whorton en route to a 3-0 start in the 2014 DCC Championship but I did not finish that event well. My most memorable game with Whorton is probably our encounter in round six of the 2012 DCC Championship. Whorton had White and only needed a draw to clinch clear first but I won in 42 moves to join Whorton (and Richard Mercer) in the winner's circle. This time, a win would clinch me clear first while Whorton needed a win to pull even with one round to go. I had to maintain the delicate balance between not taking too many risks and not playing so conservatively that I drifted into a passive position, while Whorton had to take calculated risks to complicate the position.

Here are the moves from my game versus Whorton, along with some brief annotations:

[Event "DCC Championship 5/2/15 (6)"]  [White "Friedman, David"] [Black "Whorton, Les"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B33"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Qb6 5. Nb3 Nf6 6. Nc3 e6 7. Be3 Qc7 8. a3 This is a good prophylactic move, denying Black use of the b4 square. Be7 9. Be2 O-O 10. O-O Rd8 11. f4 d5 12. e5 Nd7!? (...Ne4) 13. Nb5 White is slightly better. Qb8 14. Bd3 g6 15. Qg4 b6 16. h4!? (N5d4 is more solid) Nc5= 17. Nxc5!? (N5d4) bxc5 18. h5! Fortune favors the brave! I only needed a draw to remain a point ahead of the field with one round to go but this is the best and sharpest continuation. c4?? (Kg7) 19. hxg6+- cxd3 20. gxf7+!? (gxh7+ +-) Kh8?? (Kxf7 is Black's only chance, though White is better after Qh5+) 21. Rf3 Ba6 22.Rg3 Rg8 23. fxg8(Q)+ Qxg8 24. Nc7

Now the only remaining questions were if I would finish with a perfect score and if a perfect score would be enough to push my rating above 2200. I completed the tournament with a 44 move victory as Black against Bruce Bryant, who earned an upset win against Dowling in round five. Not including Alex Goldin, a Grandmaster who once ranked in the top 100 in the world who did not reside in Dayton but inexplicably elected to play in a tournament otherwise comprised of dedicated amateurs, the last time a DCC Champion achieved a perfect score was 1984 (Jim Jordan). Ling is the only player who is confirmed to have posted two perfect scores in DCC Championship play (1965, 1973). My new rating of 2190 is a career-high and just 10 points short of the National Master title that I have been chasing for quite some time.

Cao scored 4/6 to claim clear second, while Miller and Whorton drew to join a four way tie for third place.

Here is the complete list of DCC Champions, along with available score information (to the best of my knowledge, this score information has never been previously published in one place). I will continue to update the scores until they are complete, much like I did in History of the Ohio Chess Congress. The score data prior to 1988 is courtesy of the Ohio Chess Bulletin, the Dayton Chess Club Review and Bill Wall's History of the Dayton Chess Club. Wall's article is excellent in many respects, though I did find at least one error; he states that Blossom scored 5-0 in the 1987 DCC Championship but both the original wall chart and the crosstable published in the September-October 1987 Ohio Chess Bulletin show that Blossom scored 5/6 before defeating Burk in a one game playoff.

The 1988-2015 data comes from my own records (I participated in every event except for 1996) and from USCF crosstables.

DCC Champions, 1959-2015

1959 J. Fink 5.5/6

1960 H. Fleat 6.5/7

1961 R. Ling 5.5/6

1962 V. Zukaitis

1963 D. Wolford

1964 D. Wolford

1965 R. Ling 5/5

1966 R. Ling

1967 R. Ling 3/4 (match)

1968 R. Buchanan 4/5

1969 D. Wolford 4/5

1970 V. Burk 4.5/5

1971 C. Unruh 5/5

1972 D. Wolford 5/5

1973 R. Ling 5/5

1974 B. Espedal 6/6

1975 A. Casden 6/6

1976 A. Mantia 5.5/6

1977 A. Mantia 5.5/6

1978 V. Burk 5/6

1979 D. Guehl 5/6

1980 D. Guehl 5.5/6

1981 B. Beard 5.5/6

1982 V. Burk 5/6

1983 V. Burk 5.5/6

1984 J. Jordan 6/6

1985 G. Vitko 5/6

1986 A. Hood 4.5/6

J. Jordan 4.5/6

E. Wikle 4.5/6

1987 D. Blossom 5/6

1988 T. Chou 5.5/6

1989 A. Miravete 5.5/6

1990 R. Springer 5/6

1991 M. Chiminiello 5/6

1992 V. Burk 4.5/6

A. Mantia 4.5/6

J. Langreck 4.5/6

1993 J. Vehre 5.5/6

1994 A. Mantia 5/6

1995 F. Titus 4/5

1996 C. Atkins 5.5/6

1997 D. Friedman 5/6

1998 M. Fowler 5/6

1999 D. Friedman 5.5/6

2000 D. Friedman 5/6

2001 E. Wikle 5/6

2002 D. Friedman 5/6

E. Wikle 5/6

2003 C. Atkins 5.5/6

E. Wikle 5.5/6

2004 E. Wikle 4.5/6

D. Friedman 4.5/6

J. Dowling 4.5/6

2005 R. Sprague 4.5/6

M. Kalafatas 4.5/6

J. Dowling 4.5/6

B. Coraretti 4.5/6

2006 R. Sprague 5.5/6

2007 D. Friedman 5.5/6

2008 E. Wikle 4.5/6

C.Atkins 4.5/6

J. Dowling 4.5/6

2009 D. Friedman 5/6

2010 A. Goldin 6/6

2011 D. Friedman 5/6

2012 D. Friedman 4.5/6

             R. Mercer 4.5/6
             L. Whorton 4.5/6
2013     W. Sedlar 5/6
2014     W. Sedlar 5.5/6
2015      D. Friedman 6/6


The December 1966 Ohio Chess Bulletin explains that to determine
the 1967 champion the DCC held a six player round robin challengers'
tournament including the highest rated (based on club ladder, not
USCF) members who accepted invitations. Ed Lawrence scored 4.5/5
to earn the right to face two-time defending champion Richard Ling
in a match. Ling lost the first game but eventually won the match,
3-1. Lawrence, who wrote about the championship for the OCB,
opined, "After four times champion, Ling could retire confident that
no one will match his record." Ling did not play in the 1968-1970 DCC
Championships but he returned to action in the 1971 DCC
Championship. In 1973 he added one more title to his resume
and his mark stood untied until 1992 and unbroken until 2007.

In the 1973 event, Ling and Bud Lytle each scored 5-0 before Ling
defeated Lytle in a playoff match.

Dale Burk's given name was Vernon, so that is why he is
listed as "V. Burk" on the trophy; Chiminiello (1991) changed his
surname to Kalafatas (2005).

5/24/15 Update: Tony Mantia graciously provided additional
information about the 1976, 1981-83 and 1990 DCC
Championships. Guehl and Ling tied for second in 1976, a full
point behind Mantia. In 1982, Burk tied with Riley Driver and
Richard Ling for first place but prevailed in a playoff by winning
against Ling and drawing against Driver. 

Most Wins:

David Friedman: 10
Earle Wikle: 6
Richard Ling, Dale Burk: 5
Dave Wolford, Tony Mantia: 4

Repeat Champions (including shared titles; except for special circumstances affecting the 1986 and 1992 championships, most first place ties were resolved by playoffs until the late 1990s when it was decided to simply list tied winners as co-champions):

Dave Wolford (1963-64)
Richard Ling (1965-67)
Tony Mantia (1976-77)
David Guehl (1979-80)
Dale Burk (1982-83)
David Friedman (1999-2000)
Earle Wikle (2001-04)
John Dowling (2004-05)
Ross Sprague (2005-06)
David Friedman (2011-12)
Will Sedlar (2013-14)

At Least Three Championships in a Four Year Span (including shared titles):

Richard Ling (1965-67)
David Friedman (1997, 1999-2000)
Earle Wikle (2001-04)
David Friedman (2009, 2011-12)

At Least One Championship in Three Different Decades:

Dale Burk (1970s, 1980s, 1990s)
David Friedman (1990s, 2000s, 2010s)

Won Championship With Perfect Score (data incomplete for some years):

Richard Ling 1965 (5/5)
Charles Unruh 1971 (5/5)
Dave Wolford 1972 (5/5)
Richard Ling 1973 (5/5)
Bruce Espedal 1974 (6/6)
Alan Casden 1975 (6/6)
Jim Jordan 1984 (6/6)
Alex Goldin 2010 (6/6)
David Friedman 2015 (6/6)