Wednesday, February 25, 2009

GM Kiril Georgiev Displays Mental and Physical Stamina in Setting World Record

Uninformed people may believe the stereotype that chess is a game played by old men in the park but the reality is that it takes a tremendous amount of mental and physical stamina to play elite level chess; that is why most of the top players in the world are in their teens or twenties and why the performance level of elite chess players tends to decline after the age of 40.

Bulgarian Grandmaster Kiril Georgiev has just accomplished a remarkable feat of mental and physical endurance, setting a world record by playing 360 opponents at the same time! He scored 284 wins, 70 draws and just six losses (88%) in a simultaneous exhibition that lasted for more than 14 hours. He had to walk about half a kilometer just to make one move on each board, which is why part of his training for this event consisted of walking for five to six hours a day.

I am a USCF rated expert who has done simultaneous exhibitions of between one and three hours against 10-30 players, so I can say from firsthand experience that what Georgiev did is incredible.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

HAVA Technology Enables You to Watch Games on The Go

The HAVA Player is described by its developer Monsoon Multimedia as "a revolutionary TV place-shifting device that allows you to watch and control live home TV from broadband Internet or data network connected PC or mobile phone." All you have to do is connect a HAVA Player to any TV or video source and then you can stream what you are watching to your PC or mobile phone; the HAVA Player also has the capability to pause, rewind and fast forward live TV programs and to save live TV broadcasts onto your PC's hard disk for later viewing.

There are four different versions of the HAVA Player, ranging in price from $99.99 to $249.99. You can get find out more about the HAVA Player--including ordering information--here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Alex Rodriguez: MLB's "Joe Isuzu"

In the late 1980s, "Joe Isuzu" (who was played by actor David Leisure) made outlandish statements about Isuzu cars while assuring viewers, "You have my word on it." Listening to Alex Rodriguez talk about his use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), one cannot help but think of "Joe Isuzu." The two most important things to remember about Rodriguez are (1) he is a criminal (using steroids without a proper prescription is a violation of federal law) and (2) for several years he has been a bold faced liar about his criminal activities; obviously, committing a crime and lying often go hand in hand but when considering whether or not to believe Rodriguez now it must not be forgotten that he has a lot of practice being a liar in front of TV cameras and members of the media.

Jayson Stark provides an important account of the inconsistencies and omissions in Rodriguez' recent public remarks:

What Rodriguez most needed to accomplish Tuesday was some semblance of closure. Instead, he merely unleashed a whole new set of story lines. So if he thinks this is over, oops. Just wait a day.

But there are other important areas where A-Rod failed the credibility test Tuesday.

For instance, try to glue all these quotations together into one coherent, consistent thought:

• He said at one point that whatever he took, whatever his cousin was injecting into his body, he "didn't think they were steroids."

• But he was still so terrified of anyone finding out, it was "one of those things you try not to share with anyone."

• For "all these years," he said at another point, "I really didn't think I did anything wrong."

• Yet just minutes later, he said: "I knew I wasn't taking Tic Tacs. I knew it was something that could perhaps be wrong."

OK, everybody following that?

One minute, he's continuing to insist he had no idea he had tested positive--or, apparently, done anything wrong--until this story broke. The next, he's grateful that this confession was allowing him to lift the boulder on his shoulder he's been carrying around for eight years. So which is it, exactly? I'm confused. And I'm not alone.

Rodriguez claims that he used PEDs because he was "young and naive" but he was already a 25 year old, seven year MLB veteran in 2001, the first year that he admits taking PEDs. He certainly was old enough and savvy enough to know that what he was doing was illegal and wrong. Why else would he have covered this up for years and lied about it multiple times? Rodriguez' power numbers shot up during the time frame in which he has admitted using PEDs (2001-03), dipped in 2004 but then spiked in 2005 and 2007. Why should we not suspect that he switched to using undetectable PEDs during those years? Also, some research suggests that PED users enjoy permanent competitive advantages that persist even if they stop taking the drugs.

Unless MLB Commissioner Bud Selig is forced to act (whether by Congress, fans or some other outside entity) he will never do anything about this but what he should do is take a page out of the playbook used by the Olympics and by the governing bodies in track and field: at a minimum, Rodriguez should be stripped of the three Silver Slugger awards and one MVP that he received in 2001-03--and MLB should give serious consideration to erasing his home runs, RBI and other statistics from those years. One complicating factor is that in track and field it is easy to expunge one individual's stats without affecting the stats of other competitors but if Rodriguez' stats are expunged then there is the matter of what to do with the stats compiled by the pitchers who faced him. Frankly, I'm not sure how to completely fix this mess--but I absolutely and without hesitation can say that Rodriguez does not deserve his 2003 MVP and 2001-03 Silver Sluggers any more than Marion Jones deserved the Olympic medals that were stripped from her.

Monday, February 9, 2009

A-Rod's Confession Prompts More Questions Than it Answers

Unlike Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and many other disgraced Steroid Era stars, Alex Rodriguez has made the correct p.r move by admitting that he did in fact use performance-enhancing drugs from 2001-2003. However, this confession does not in any way alter the reality that the Steroid Era Has Trashed MLB's Record Book. In fact, Rodriguez' remarks raise more questions than they answer. First, though, here are some important facts to keep in mind:

1) Regardless of when MLB banned steroids or what punishments the union collectively bargained in negotiations with the owners, using steroids without a proper medical prescription has been illegal in the United States since 1990.

2) Anabolic steroids were added to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act in 1990. Therefore, using them without a proper medical prescription is a federal crime punishable by up to seven years in prison.

3) Although MLB did not institute a punishment mechanism for steroid users until 2004, the sport banned steroids in 1991.

Thus, all of MLB's steroid cheaters in the Steroid Era have violated both federal law and a ban implemented by the sport itself--do not let anyone tell you otherwise.

Rodriguez says that he used steroids because of the pressure he felt to live up to the 10 year, $252 million contract he signed with the Texas Rangers in 2001: "When I arrived in Texas in 2001, I felt an enormous amount of pressure, felt all the weight of the world on top of me to perform and perform at a high level every day. Back then, it was a different culture. It was very loose. I was young, I was stupid, I was naive and I wanted to prove to everyone that I was worth, you know, being one of the greatest players of all time. And I did take a banned substance. For that, I'm very sorry and deeply regretful. And although it was the culture back then in major league baseball was very...I just feel that...I'm just sorry. I'm sorry for that time, I'm sorry to my fans, I'm sorry to my fans in Texas. It wasn't until then that I thought about substance of any kind, and since then I've proved to myself and to everyone that I don't need any of that."

The idea that Rodriguez illegally enhanced his performance because he was "young" and "naive" does not wash. He was hardly some innocent babe in the woods by that time; he was a 25 year old, eight season MLB veteran who consciously made a bad decision to illegally enhance his performance--and the steroids clearly worked: in 2000 he hit 41 home runs but in the next three years he blasted a career-high 52, a new career-high 57 and then 47, which still ranked as the third best total of his career at that time. He won his first AL MVP in 2003, the third year of his admitted steroid use. In 2004, when Rodriguez claims that he discontinued his steroid use, he dropped to 36 home runs and had his lowest slugging percentage and on base percentage since 1999. reports that the new contract that Rodriguez signed with the Yankees in November 2007 guarantees him a $6 million bonus for each time he ties one of the top four players on MLB's all-time home run list (Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds), with an additional $6 million for passing Bonds. If he sets the all-time career home run record then that amounts to a $30 million reward for at least three years of illegal activity that boosted his production! I don't care how many speeches Rodriguez gives about the evils of steroid use, if he collects more cash for his cheating than the average lottery winner then how much impact will his words have? He is poised to earn a fortune as the fruits of committing a federal crime.

Rodridguez' confession is a good p.r. move but his story has holes in it. He claims that he does not even know exactly what substances he took. Call that the "flaxseed oil" defense; it has not worked for Bonds and it should not work for Rodriguez. No one should believe that an elite level athlete does not know exactly what substances he eats, ingests and/or injects.

Although the MLB steroid testing results from 2004 were supposed to be confidential, now that Rodriguez' name is out and he has confirmed that he did take steroids, MLB and the Players Association should agree to release the names of the other 103 players who flunked drug tests. Otherwise, a cloud of suspicion hangs over several hundred players from that era who were clean.

ESPN's Peter Gammons asked Rodriguez if admitted steroid users should be inducted in the Hall of Fame but Rodriguez essentially avoided the question by saying that he has been clean for many years now and that by the time he has retired the bulk of his numbers will have been put up outside of the three seasons that he admits are tainted. Frankly, that just doesn't cut it. He has already admitted to breaking the law, cheating the sport and then lying about it, so we cannot know for certain that he only did steroids for three years and/or that he is not taking undetectable illegal substances now. Also, there is evidence that steroid use elevates performance even after athletes stop using the drug, which has raised the issue of whether steroid users should be banned for life.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Steroid Era Has Trashed MLB's Record Book

Major League Baseball's record book should be reshelved in all bookstores and libraries; it belongs squarely in the fiction section. Five of the top 12 home run hitters of all-time--including Barry Bonds, who tops the list with 762--have been implicated in some way as users of performance-enhancing drugs; the latest revelations concern Alex Rodriguez, who reportedly failed a drug test for steroids in 2003. That drug test was part of the anonymous testing that MLB conducted to determine how big a problem performance-enhancing drug use had become in the sport--and 104 players, including Rodriguez and Bonds, flunked a test that they knew was coming.

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig encouraged fans to view Rodriguez as the sport's clean poster boy--in contrast to the disgraced Bonds--but, as Howard Bryant writes, "If Bud Selig did know the individual results, he knew that Bonds' 73 home runs were steroid-tainted, and that in touting Rodriguez to be the player to pass Bonds and restore glory to the home run record, he was willing to replace one steroid-fueled slugger with another, albeit one with a better reputation and nicer smile."

When Hank Aaron became the all-time home run king he was a thick-wristed, wiry strong athlete who was listed at 180 pounds; he was undoubtedly a bit heavier than that by the end of his career but the extra weight had come naturally with age, not in the form of outsized, comic book-hero style bulging muscles fueled by illegal performance enhancing drugs. He and the other old school athletes who did things the right way do not deserve to be surpassed in the record book by liars and cheaters who belong in jail. Steroid cheater Marion Jones was rightly stripped of her tainted medals and MLB should do a similar cleansing of its record book.

Another Perspective on Borg/Nadal/Federer

I have written several posts comparing the accomplishments of Bjorn Borg, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer; I most recently offered my take on that subject here. I maintain that Borg should still be considered the greatest Open Era (post 1968) player and that anyone who tried to pass that crown to Federer acted prematurely. I consider Pete Sampras to be the second greatest Open Era player and I think that Nadal and Federer's places in that pantheon are yet to be determined. Nadal's head to head dominance over Federer coupled with the powerful Spaniard's ascension to the top of the ranking list are two strong pieces of evidence that my initial assessment well over a year ago--before Nadal beat Federer at Wimbledon and took over the number one ranking--was quite correct, although some readers who have posted comments here vigorously disagree.

Raymond Lee has extensively researched Open Era tennis for various articles that he has written for Tennis Week. He recently sent me an email offering his perspective about these issues and he granted me permission to quote some of the contents of that message:

"One of the reasons I wrote some of these tennis articles was because of the misuse of the information given in tennis. For example the reason Sampras is often mentioned as the GOAT is because he holds the official record of 14 majors. That's great and true but it isn't mentioned that he played in over 50 majors, if memory serves I believe it's 52. Borg won 11 in 27, Budge won 6 in 11.

It's like saying I'm a better free throw shooter than Larry Bird because I made 100 free throws in one day. Of course I may have attempted 1000 free throws and shot at a percentage of 10% while Bird made 99 out of 100 for 99%. By their logic, I'm a better free throw shooter because I made one more than Bird."

In a subsequent email, Lee added, "Borg was described by Arthur Ashe as a player without stroke weaknesses. I don't think I can say that about Roger Federer. Don't get me wrong I think Federer is a fabulous player but I try to put things in perspective."

Borg's lack of weaknesses and his Grand Slam dominance over an eight year period (1974-81) are persuasive reasons to still rank him ahead of every other Open Era player. Sampras displayed impressive longevity in setting the record for Grand Slam singles titles won (14, three more than Borg) but Sampras had an Achilles heel on the clay courts of the French Open. Federer has won 13 Grand Slams and perhaps he will match or surpass Sampras' mark but Nadal has clearly established himself as the best active player--and how can Federer be the greatest of all-time when he is not even the greatest of his time while still in his (late) prime years?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Monday, February 2, 2009

Nadal Gives Federer Good Reason to Shed Tears

Can we officially place a moratorium on calling Roger Federer the greatest tennis player of all-time? I have repeatedly insisted that it was premature to even consider Federer for such status in light of the fact that his main rival Rafael Nadal enjoys a dominant head to head record against him and it is becoming increasingly clear that I was quite prescient to say this at a time when the so-called tennis experts were throwing flower petals at Federer's feet. Despite having to make a quick return to action after surviving a record five hour, 14 minute semifinal victory over Fernando Verdasco, Nadal improved to 13-6 against Federer by beating him in a five set Australian Open final match that lasted well over four hours. Federer openly sobbed during the trophy presentation and for good reason--he, better than anyone, surely understands that the window of opportunity has most likely shut for him regain the number one ranking or to break Pete Sampras' career record of 14 Grand Slam singles titles. The tennis world firmly belongs to Nadal, who has now defeated Federer in the most recent finals at the French Open, Wimbledon and the Australian Open.

Don't let the closeness of the Australian Open match score deceive you--yes, Federer extended a fatigued Nadal to five sets and certainly had some chances to win but Nadal has proven that on the big points in the big matches he simply will not lose to Federer. This is not a fluke; Nadal has beaten Federer the last five times that they have played and is 5-2 against him in Grand Slam finals. For a brief time, Federer advocates could try to claim that he was still superior to Nadal on grass and hard courts but Nadal's Wimbledon and Australian Open wins have ended that argument.

Anyone who ever touted Federer as the greatest ever must look at the following numbers and concede that Nadal is way ahead of the pace that Federer set at a similar stage of his career. When Federer was 22 he had a 259-112 match record, had won 14 titles (including two Grand Slams), had spent 10 weeks as the number one player and had notched a 2-3 record in matches against players ranked number one; Nadal tops Federer in every one of those categories, enjoying a 344-78 match record, winning 32 titles (including six Grand Slams), spending 24 weeks ranked number one and posting a 12-6 record against the number one ranked player (with all of those matches coming against Federer before Nadal passed him in the rankings). Nadal is just the sixth player to reach the finals at three different Slams by age 22 and only the third player to win three different Slams by that age; Federer did not accomplish this, while Bjorn Borg reached three different Slam finals by 20 (the youngest to do so) but never won the U.S. Open.

Nearly two years ago, I made the case that Borg should still be ranked as the greatest player of the Open Era; Borg owns numerous records, including career won-loss percentage in matches (.855) and percentage of career Grand Slams won (.407, light years ahead of anyone else), but perhaps his most impressive feat is his "triple double": winning Wimbledon and the French Open in the same year three straight times (1978-80). When Borg retired, he owned the Open Era records for Wimbledon titles (five) and French Open titles (six) and his multi-surface dominance is simply unparalleled.

The real question now is when do we start considering the possibility that Nadal could prove to be the greatest player of the Open Era? Nadal's case is actually better than Federer's ever was, for two reasons: Nadal does not have a rival who enjoys personal dominance over him and Nadal has won a Grand Slam on all surfaces, something Federer has yet to accomplish. I would still rank Borg's eight year run of dominance from 1974-81--highlighted by his French Open/Wimbledon "triple double"--ahead of what Nadal has achieved but if Nadal continues to add French Open and Wimbledon crowns to his resume he could potentially surpass Borg. Like Borg, Nadal led his country to a Davis Cup victory. Nadal also won the Olympic Gold Medal in singles, a prize that did not exist during Borg's career.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

One for the Ages and a Sixth for the Trophy Case: Pittsburgh Outlasts Arizona in a Classic Super Bowl

In one of the most dramatic Super Bowls ever, the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals 27-23, claiming their second title in four years and sixth Super Bowl win overall, breaking the record that the franchise shared with the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers. Santonio Holmes caught the game winning touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger with just :35 remaining, balletically tapping both of his feet inbounds while reaching full extension to snare the ball as it sailed just over the outreached hands of three defensive players. Just moments earlier, it seemed as though the Cardinals had the game won after Kurt Warner completed a 64 yard touchdown bomb to Larry Fitzgerald. Warner finished with 31 completions in 43 attempts for 377 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, compiling the second most yards in Super Bowl history; he now owns the top three single game yardage performances in Super Bowl history but is only 1-2 in those contests, with those two defeats coming in the final seconds by a combined seven points.

Roethlisberger completed 21 of 30 passes for 256 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He only had two yards on four rushing attempts but his ability to move around in the pocket and buy time proved to be critical throughout the game, particularly on the game-winning drive. Holmes led both teams with nine receptions for 131 yards and was awarded the Super Bowl MVP but ESPN's Steve Young insisted that Roethlisberger should have won the MVP, declaring, "The Steelers are beat--dead beat--unless Ben Roethlisberger makes about seven or eight improvisational plays at the end of that game on that critical drive and he was the MVP in my mind because of what he did right there. It was like what Dr. Seuss said--he grew three sizes right in front of my eyes...He made play after play after play and without that they are beat." Holmes made some huge plays but I have to agree with Young, who I consider to be the best football analyst on TV; if Roethlisberger does not scramble around, elude the pass rush and then make some tremendous throws, Holmes would have never even had the opportunity to make those plays. The Steelers franchise is justifiably renowned for their punishing running game and hard hitting defense, so it is somewhat ironic that three of their six Super Bowl MVPs have been wide receivers (Lynn Swann and Hines Ward are the other two).

The Cardinals got off to a very slow start and were fortunate to only be trailing 10-0 early in the second quarter; the Steelers seemed to have scored a touchdown on a short run by Roethlisberger to cap off the opening drive of the game but the Cardinals challenged the call and the officials ruled that Roethlisberger had been stopped just shy of the goal line. Pittsburgh Coach Mike Tomlin elected to kick the chip shot field goal instead of going for it on fourth and one, a conservative call but certainly an understandable choice. The Cardinals only managed one first down on their first possession before having to punt the ball and this time the Steelers drove 69 yards for a touchdown. Warner finally got Arizona on the board by engineering a nine play, 83 yard touchdown drive to cut the lead to 10-7. After Roethlisberger threw an interception deep in his own territory late in the first half, the Cardinals were poised to at least tie the game and possibly take the lead. Instead, on first and goal from the one yard line Warner was intercepted by Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison. Holmes' late TD catch will forever be remembered as the signature moment of this game but the biggest play overall was undoubtedly Harrison's 100 yard interception return for a touchdown as time expired in the first half; that was a 14 point swing in a game that was not decided until the final seconds. With all of the talk about what constitutes a Hall of Fame career, that play is a tribute to why Pittsburgh assistant coach Dick LeBeau should be inducted: LeBeau designed the zone blitz that the Steelers have perfected and it was a classic zone blitz call that fooled Warner, as Harrison faked like he was going to rush the passer before dropping back into coverage.

The Cardinals did not score in the third quarter but held the Steelers to three points, meaning that Arizona would need to make the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history to win the game. After the teams traded punts, the Cardinals went to a no huddle offense for the first time in the game and put together an eight play, 87 yard touchdown drive in just 3:57, passing on every down, including a one yard jump ball to Fitzgerald for the score. The teams again traded punts but the Cardinals were able to pin the Steelers in at the one yard line, which led to a safety after the Steelers were called for a holding penalty in the end zone, making the score 20-16 Pittsburgh.

After the free kick, Arizona took over at the 36 yard line. Warner threw an incomplete pass on first down but on second down he hit Fitzgerald on a short slant over the middle and, much like Jerry Rice used to do, Fitzgerald outran everyone to the endzone. The Steelers held Fitzgerald in check for most of the game but he finished with seven receptions for 127 yards and two touchdowns. The Cardinals now led 23-20 with just 2:37 remaining. That set up the heroics by Roethlisberger and Holmes, who had four receptions for 73 yards and a touchdown on the final drive.

Prior to this game there was talk about how a victory could put the final touches on Warner's Hall of Fame resume, although I think that the two regular season MVPs, one Super Bowl MVP and top five career passer rating that Warner already had make a pretty compelling case on his behalf; Warner certainly played well--though the big first half interception was costly--and he put together what could have been the game-winning drive but--as Young stated so strongly--Roethlisberger is really the player who added to his legacy. Roethlisberger is now the second youngest quarterback to win two Super Bowls and, considering that he has a young coach and a strong defense, it is entirely possible that he could match Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana's record of four Super Bowl victories.