Monday, April 30, 2012

The Baseball Hall of Fame Should Not Honor the Tainted Career of Ivan Rodriguez

Ivan Rodriguez recently retired after a 21 year career during which he set three significant records for catchers: most hits (he belted 2749 of his 2844 career hits while playing catcher), most games played (2377 of his 2543 total games) and most Gold Gloves (13). Those are certainly Hall of Fame caliber numbers--but Rodriguez' body went from chubby to sculpted during the height of MLB's so-called Steroids Era and Jose Canseco declared that he personally injected Rodriguez with steroids when they both played for the Texas Rangers. Canseco is an admitted performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) cheater, so one might be tempted to say that a cheater should not be believed because he also may be a liar--but everything that Canseco has asserted about PED usage in MLB that can be verified has proven to be true, even accusations that initially seemed outrageous. Rodriguez never failed a drug test and he was not mentioned in the Mitchell Report but that does not prove his innocence; MLB hardly did all that it could to investigate the extent of PED usage in the sport during Rodriguez' career. We know that even some of the people who later tested positive for PED usage--including, perhaps most infamously, Rodriguez' fellow Texas Ranger Rafael Palmeiro--vigorously denied that they ever cheated. Here is what Rodriguez said said when he was first informed of Canseco's quite specific and graphic accusation: "Only God knows." Think about that: a confirmed PED cheater says that he personally injected Rodriguez with steroids and Rodriguez' response was not an unequivocal, indignant denial (which could still be false--like Palmeiro's was--but would certainly be the natural response from someone who is innocent) but rather a vague platitude. That is as close as Rodriguez could have come to admitting his guilt without directly saying that he cheated the sport and the ticket buying public. The Baseball Hall of Fame voters must do the right thing and make sure that Rodriguez is not given the sport's highest honor.

It is fascinating and instructive that some of the people who write the most blatant nonsense about sports also are on the wrong side of the PED issue. As a basketball fan who also appreciates great writing and logical reasoning, I am disturbed that so much credence is currently being given to "advanced basketball statistics" that are not in fact particularly advanced; while it is certainly a noble quest to attempt to accurately quantify the individual and collective productivity of basketball players, it is hardly noble or honest to suggest that "stat gurus" have successfully completed a mission that they are in fact just beginning to undertake: baseball is a much easier sport to quantify because that sport consists of discrete actions that can be separated and measured, while basketball is a sport that consists of dynamic, interrelated actions that are far more difficult to accurately separate and measure (for instance, it is not so easy to quantify how much credit each player should receive for a successful screen/roll action that involves multiple players from both teams).

However, the follies of basketball's "stat gurus" pale in comparison to the pernicious bleatings of "stat gurus" who attempt to minimize the effectiveness and/or potential lethality of PEDs. Believe it or not, some "stat gurus" earnestly insist that PEDs do not work and that Barry Bonds' physique never changed (I think that it will not be too long before a "stat guru" insists that the moon landings never took place). The well documented reality is that PEDs do work--they enable athletes to train longer and harder and thus increase their muscle mass, explosiveness and power--and that PEDs can cause serious long term health problems. It will be interesting to see what kind of medical issues Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez and the other recent MLB drug cheaters develop in the coming decades but, if the experiences of many East German athletes from the 1970s are any indication, many of baseball's sluggers and power pitchers may not age very gracefully.

The PED issue in MLB and other sports goes far beyond tainting the record book and affecting who wins championships. PED usage is deplorable not just for legal and ethical reasons; it is a public health concern because young amateur athletes in college and high school inevitably are influenced by the choices made by their professional heroes, choices that could result in many broken lives and shattered dreams. It is silly when a "stat guru" like Dave Berri declares that Dennis Rodman was more productive than Michael Jordan but it is dangerous when "stat gurus" spread misinformation about PEDs.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Hard Fought Dayton Chess Club Championship Crowns Three Co-Winners

The Dayton Chess Club Championship has been held since 1959. I entered the 2012 event seeking my record ninth championship and my first back to back crowns since 1999-2000. This year's tough field included promising young Expert Les Whorton (the number one seed, sporting a career-high 2145 rating after winning the Board One prize in the recent Midwest Open Team Chess Festival), six-time former DCC Champion Earle Wikle (my first chess mentor) and several strong Class A players. I was the second seed but I got off to a rough start, scoring just 1.5/3 (conceding a draw to my talented student Noah Keating-Adams and blundering a piece in a winning position against Mark Kellie, my first loss in the DCC Championship to a player rated below Expert level since 2008). Whorton sprinted to four straight wins and seemed poised to lap the field--but I recovered to win my fourth and fifth round contests while veteran Class A player Riley Driver held Whorton to a draw in round five, giving me the opportunity to have a last round battle on board one with Whorton; Whorton had already clinched at least a share of first place and I needed to beat him with Black to join him in the winner's circle.

I took my inspiration from Garry Kasparov's win versus Anatoly Karpov in the 24th and final game of their 1987 World Championship match; Karpov only needed a draw to wrest the title away from the man who had dethroned him in 1985 but instead of attacking from the outset Kasparov patiently and methodically built up his position, turning around the notion that it is hard to win a chess game when you must win: Kasparov proved that it can also be challenging psychologically for the player who only needs a draw to find the proper balance between the necessary level of caution to keep the game equal and the appropriate amount of aggression to avoid drifting into a passive position. Kasparov later called that win "the most important game of my life." It is difficult for me to single out one game from the more than 2000 rated games that I have played since 1987 but this struggle with Whorton certainly ranks among the more memorable battles of my chess career; any last round game against a strong player with first place on the line is special. Also, Whorton and I have faced each other very frequently so--like Kasparov and Karpov (but obviously at a lower level of the sport)--we each entered the game with certain notions about how our opponent likes to play; according to the data at USCF's MSA webpage, I am Whorton's most frequent opponent at both Regular and Quick time controls, while Whorton is my third most frequent opponent at Regular time controls and is tied for my third/fourth most frequent opponent at Quick time controls (Whorton holds a slight lead over me in our Regular head to head encounters, while I have a larger lead in our Quick head to head encounters).

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

[Event "DCC Championship 4/28/12 (6)"]  [White "Whorton, Les"] [Black "Friedman, David"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "A53"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 d6 3. Nf3 Nbd7 4. g3 (Objectively there is nothing wrong with this move but Whorton usually plays more aggressively so I took this as a sign that he would try to avoid risks because he only needed a draw to clinch clear first.) e5 5. dxe5 dxe5 6. Bg2 Bc5 7. a3 a5 8. Nc3 O-O 9. O-O Re8 10. Rb1 Qe7 11. Bg5 c6 12. Ne4 h6 13. Bxf6 (Superficially it may seem like these exchanges bring White closer to the desired result but in fact they actually free up Black's position a bit.) Nxf6 14. Nxf6+ Qxf6 (Black now has the two Bs on an open board.) 15. b4 Bf8 16. Nd2 Rd8 17. Ne4 Qe7 18. Qb3 Bf5 19. e3 axb4 20. axb4 Ra7 21. c5 Rda8 22. Qc3 Ra3 23. Rb3 R3a7 (A little bit of psychology is at play here. My 22nd move induced White to play Rb3, thus preventing White from trading off Rs with Ra1. White could of course play R3b1 here, repeating the position, but I gambled that Whorton would like his position too much to just settle for a draw by repetition.) 24. Nd6 (There is nothing wrong with this move but the game continues without pieces being exchanged and I sensed that White was a bit conflicted between wanting a draw and wanting to play for more.) Be6 25. Rbb1 Ba2 (I remember a classic game when Karpov [as White in a Ruy Lopez] closed the a file to double Rs and only opened the file again when he was ready for action. Objectively this position is equal but I felt very comfortable with my practical prospects here.) 26. Ra1 Qe6 27. Rfd1 f5 (This double-edged move is objectively not best--but it may have actually effectively been the winning move because it induced White to go for broke and abandon any pretense of seeking a draw;  27... g6 followed by ...Bg7 was my original plan but I wanted to first prevent White from enforcing an e4 blockade. I overlooked his clever response.) 28. Nb5! Bb3 (28... cxb5  29. Rxa2 is deadly: White threatens Bd5 winning the Q and Black's Q-side pawn structure is ruined.) 29. Nc7  (29. Nxa7 Bxd1 30. Nxc6! Houdini suggests this move, a desperado that neither player noticed during postmortem analysis; White wins a solid extra pawn and forces Black to trade Rs.) 29... Rxa1 30. Rxa1 (30. Nxe6 Rxd1+ 31. Bf1 Bxe6 and Black is winning) 30... Rxa1+ 31. Qxa1 Qc4 (This position is objectively equal but White has to play very carefully to keep Black's Bs under control while also avoiding back rank problems and making sure that the Nc7 does not become trapped.) 32. Qe1 e4 33. Qd2 (The losing move. White understandably--but carelessly--assumes that Black will not want to trade Qs. After the game, Whorton suggested 33. Bf1 and this is clearly better than the text.) 33... Qd3 34. Qe1 (34. Qxd3 exd3 and White must give up his B to stop Black's passed d pawn; this is the point that Whorton overlooked when he played his 33rd move.) 34... Qd8 35. Qc3 Bf7 (White's N is trapped.) 36. Bxe4 (36. Qe5 Qd1+ 37. Bf1 Bc4 and Black is winning) 36... fxe4 37. Qe5 Qd1+ 38. Kg2 Bc4 39. h4 Qf1+ 40. Kh2 Qxf2+ 41. Kh3 Bf1+ 42. Kg4 Qf3# 0-1

Class A player Richard Mercer bounced back from an upset loss in round one to finish with 4.5/6 as well; he defeated Driver in the last round to become a DCC Champion for the first time. The Dayton Chess Club Championship holds a special meaning for me and I am very happy to once again add my name to the list of champions on the Richard Ling Memorial Award trophy and I extend a warm welcome to Richard Mercer and Les Whorton as they each join that distinguished list for the first time. Each of this year's three winners are separated in age by approximately 20 years, so we represent three generations of chess players.

DCC Champions, 1959-2012

1959 J. Fink

1960 H. Fleat

1961 R. Ling

1962 V. Zukaitis

1963 D. Wolford

1964 D. Wolford

1965 R. Ling

1966 R. Ling

1967 R. Ling

1968 R. Buchanan

1969 D. Wolford

1970 V. Burk

1971 C. Unruh

1972 D. Wolford

1973 R. Ling

1974 B. Espedal

1975 A. Casden

1976 A. Mantia

1977 A. Mantia

1978 V. Burk

1979 D. Guehl

1980 D. Guehl

1981 B. Beard

1982 V. Burk

1983 V. Burk

1984 J. Jordan

1985 G. Vitko

1986 A. Hood

J. Jordan

E. Wikle

1987 D. Blossom

1988 T. Chou

1989 A. Miravete

1990 R. Springer

1991 M. Chiminiello

1992 V. Burk

A. Mantia

J. Langreck

1993 J. Vehre

1994 A. Mantia

1995 F. Titus

1996 C. Atkins

1997 D. Friedman

1998 M. Fowler

1999 D. Friedman

2000 D. Friedman

2001 E. Wikle

2002 D. Friedman

E. Wikle

2003 C. Atkins

E. Wikle

2004 E. Wikle

D. Friedman

J. Dowling

2005 R. Sprague

M. Kalafatas

J. Dowling

B. Coraretti

2006 R. Sprague

2007 D. Friedman

2008 E. Wikle


J. Dowling

2009 D. Friedman

2010 A. Goldin

2011 D. Friedman

2012 D. Friedman

               R. Mercer
               L. Whorton

Notes: 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).

Most Wins:

David Friedman: 9
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)

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)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Armageddon on the Chess Board

If you think that chess is boring, slow paced or not a real head to head sport, then check out this 1995 video of Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand (who is currently the World Chess Champion) versus Grandmaster Alexey Dreev in an "Armageddon" showdown. "Armageddon" is a tiebreaking procedure in chess; the two players face off in a one game showdown in which White has six minutes to Black's five minutes but Black only has to hold a draw to be considered the victor; a coin toss usually determines who gets to choose the white or black pieces. The commentators for this game are Grandmasters Daniel King and Maurice Ashley.