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)