April 24, 2010

Football and chess

Last night, I watched a clip from a press conference with Arsene Wenger, manager of Arsenal FC. I'd never heard his voice before, so I just wanted to get an idea of what he sounded like. I think he's one of the more handsome men of his age that I've seen, and the voice and expression seem to match that. The substance of the presser didn't interest me so much, although I did find it remarkable that one reporter had the impertinence to ask him straight out about the impact that Arsenal's failure to win a trophy again this year might have on his tenure as manager there (IOW, "So, buddy, do you see yourself getting fired next month?"). Wenger took it in good (enough) humor, though. I guess impolite queries of that sort are common enough in the European sporting press, so he must be used to them. On the other hand, it could also be said that Wenger can dish, so he should be able to take it.

It was presumably because of this and my plans to watch Arsenal vs. Manchester City at Wolff's today that I had a dream with Mr. Wenger in it last night. In the dawn hour (this was the dream, now), I was ambling along a driveway next to a little training field, getting some exercise, and next to the field, under a tree, I see Arsene Wenger standing pensively. I said hello and introduced myself, and he was actually pleasantly surprised to meet an American supporter. (It can't be that unusual in real life, can it? This was me flattering myself subconsciously, see, that he would be pleased to meet me.) We chatted for a bit about tomorrow's game. I may even have mentioned the thing with Adebayor in some capacity, but it didn't disturb him. As we parted ways, he got into his van (yes, he had driven a van to the training facility that morning), laughingly tossed me a bottle of cognac out the window (like some odd French Santa Claus), and we went our ways.

The game itself was pretty dull, ending 0-0 with not much in the way of chances having been made or used (it took ages for van Persie to put anything on frame). It wasn't as chippy as I'd expected, which was a relief. Adebayor did show up early in the second half, to major boos, but he didn't flip out as the guy next to me watching the match expected would happen at some point. It was sad to see Shay Given get hurt the way he did--it looked like a very odd way to fall in the course of making an important save. I never like to see folks get hurt in a game, especially not goalkeepers.

After that ended, they switched over to a Bundesliga match, Werder Bremen vs. FC Köln. I always like to see Bundesliga matches when I can--the quality of the league may not be as high as some of the other biggies, but the German clubs show a kind of compromise between the approach based on speed and physicality that seems to dominate in much of the EPL and the emphasis on skill in Spain and Latin America. As it happened, the quality of the play in this German match was, I thought, overall better, but maybe that's only because these two teams weren't quite as evenly matched as Arsenal and City, so not everything bogged down in midfield. It must be admitted that the FC Köln keeper was quite a bit busier than his counterpart. I was surprised to recognize a few faces on the Köln side--Podolski, Maniche--and of course Frings for Bremen.

Partway through the match, being on my second beer, I realized that I should have had the Reissdorfer Kölsch then instead of earlier. Oh, well.

Overall, though, this game was still kind of boring to watch, because it was also 0-0 almost the whole time, though Bremen had had the better of it mostly. Wouldn't you know it, in one final attempt by Werder to score, some poor guy from the Köln squad handled the ball off the line. So Werder picked up a literally last-minute penalty, Frings put it away, and after the last futile flurry from the boys from Cologne, that was that.

While that had been going on, on the next TV screen there had been the match between Palermo and AC Milan. Palermo was up 2-0 by the 20th minute, which kind of irritated me. I take no particular interest in Serie A--I'm sure it's a fine league, but it just hasn't caught on with me yet. (I must be a sucker for the snake-oil salesmen that claim the EPL is the Best League in the World, For Sure.) But it's funny that seemingly every time I do watch an AC Milan match, they play badly. This happened even when they still had Kaká. Maybe I'm jinxing them and they should pay me to avoid watching their games, at least live.

So having spent most of the afternoon at Wolff's, I come home to find that Anand blundered away the first game of the World Championship match. I think it had been right before I left to head down to Wolff's that I had taken a glance at the game feed and seen that Anand had taken his king to f7, but I was on my way out the door by then, so I wasn't around to see Topalov's Nxf6!.

While at Wolff's, during breaks in the football, I tried to think of a few ideas for tournaments we could have in the Capital Region this summer. Do any of these look interesting?

* One or more G/10 short (half-day or less) tournaments at the area clubs;

* Youth vs. Grownups--since there aren't any Right Move events in the summer around here, it might be interesting to give the area's youth players a chance to get some good experience in a local tournament playing in a field that would have some adults as well. Ideally the adults wouldn't be just the top local players; I'd rather see a mix of skill levels that would make it more competitive for the kids. Not sure how to arrange this.

* A Saturday 4-round Swiss G/60 in Schenectady;
* My personal favorite, a kind of World Cup-theme tournament. Since, after all, the World Cup is being played this year. What I mean by 'theme' here is more in terms of the format of the thing. The World Cup is run in two stages, group and elimination. In the World Cup, groups of four teams each play a round-robin, and the top two on points progress to the elimination bracket, which is where the real fun starts. I was thinking we could do something similar chesswise--have quads from which the top two scorers advance to an elimination bracket. The bracket could be built in a way similar to the way the WC bracket is arranged, i.e. A1 plays B2, C1 plays D2, etc.

Now to make that happen, we would have to have a venue for more than one day. Day one would be the quads, and then depending on how many players there are and so on, we would need at least a second, maybe a third or even a fourth day, to finish the elimination part. The tournament would have to have a limit on number of players--we'd need a multiple of 4 to have proper quads. I suppose it might be acceptable to have one section be a 3-round Swiss instead, as was the practice in the Studio Quads; otherwise we'd have to limit entries to the first 16 or 32 players.

Or if we had an in-between number (but still a multiple of 4), we could have a wildcard option, e.g. if we had 24 players, that would make 6 quads, but if you just take the top two finishers from each, that makes a bracket with 12 players for the next stage, which means a lot of byes. We don't want byes. Byes are bad. So to make up the number in the bracket to 16, we could have the top 2 from each quad plus the best four third-placers.

Here I see a potential snag. Given that the traditional scoring system of chess (1-1/2-0 points) makes it harder to differentiate the spread than in soccer (3-1-0 points), we could either make the quads a double-round robin (which would pretty much require a rapid time control, like G/10 or so) or--what would be more intuitive and in keeping with the theme--use the soccer scoring system for the quads. (This, by the way, has been done in a couple of the FIDE Grand Prix tournaments recently.) Yes, I like that last idea. Much more sensible. So then we might not need playoff games to get the best four third-placers in that scenario. But, given that there's no 'goal difference' measure in chess, there'd have to be a different tiebreak mechanism just in case.

And then there's the question of how to sort the quads. If we just make a list of everyone in rating order and split the list up on that basis, that would certainly be traditional from a chess point of view, but it wouldn't be very competitive when it came to the elimination stage, since the rating mismatches would increase in magnitude as more players are eliminated from the bracket. Games should be getting more, not less, competitive as the bracket progresses.

One alternative would be to seed the quads by sorting the list of all registrants by rating, but then instead of the top four going into the first quad, first figure out how many quads are needed, then take every Nth player going down the list until each quad fills up, then the next, and so on. So say you have these hypothetical 24 players, which means 6 quads. Sort by rating, then take numbers 1, 7, 13 and 19 from that list--that's one group; 2, 8, 14 and 20 are another, and so on. Of course, the rating spread within each group would make the outcomes rather predictable, but what are you going to do? Make it all just random? At least the elimination stage would have some suspense using this arrangement. Besides, the World Cup itself, while it doesn't involve an Elo-like rating system for the national teams, certainly has the usual favorites within each group. In the same spirit, in the proposed tournament, it should be perfectly okay to have favorites who are expected to progress from their quads.

Another alternative, kind of like the way FIFA creates the draw for the World Cup groups by representing as many different regions as possible within each group, would be to take the list of tournament entrants and alphabetize it, then constitute the quads as above.

The only thing is that the time between now and the World Cup final is only about two months. Is that enough time to find a venue and do publicity? Maybe... maybe.....

April 19, 2010

Today's news and olds

I wish to show more of what the ChessFlash viewer can do. This is a repost of an older post of mine from very early in this blog's infancy, with one crucial addition.
Now, having gotten that out of the way and preserved the corrected analysis for posterity (thanks, Bobby!), I'll move to the next bit of news, that being that a deer was seen dead by the roadside in Norton Hill westbound on Route 81 this morning. It looked like a pretty professional hit to me. (ba-dump-bump!) Thanks, I'm here all week.

In other developments, I took advantage of a slow work day (we've had a few of those lately) to do some planning of my time-off schedule for the rest of the year (note that I didn't say 'vacation'). Most of it has to do with a tasty-looking bunch of tournaments later this year. Last summer, there was a stretch of nearly two solid months in which I played out of town at a major weekend Swiss just about every week. I think it helped my training, but it was grueling. This year, I think I may be able to spread the activity out more evenly. Here's what I have in mind:

May 14-16 New York State Open, L. George, NY
May 28-30 Massachusetts Open, Leominster, MA
Jul 1-5 World Open, Philadelphia, PA

Believe it or not, I've never played in it before; but I want to get good experience, so I think I ought to this time. And maybe I'll be able to afford it!

Jul 23-25 Bradley Open, Windsor Locks, CT
Aug 6-8 Northeast Open, Stamford, CT
Aug 13-15 Continental Open, Sturbridge, MA
Sep 3-6 New York State Championship, Albany, NY
Oct 7-11 Continental Class Championship, Arlington, VA

I'm not quite sold on this one yet, but it does look intriguing. Among other factors to consider, two big nine-round events in one year might be too much for me to take on.

Also, I'm not even sure which section I'd want to play in. There doesn't seem to be a restriction on people playing up--if my rating is 2100 or so by October, I'd prefer to play the Master section if allowed. This tournament is going to be similar to Foxwoods the Philadelphia Open in one detail: top section nine rounds, all others seven. I'm not traveling that far for only seven rounds of chess, just as I refuse to drive more than 3 hours for a five-round event.

Speaking of travel, this is where the real problem with this Continental Class Ch. might lie for me: how to get there and back most practically? I'd really like to take the train, but I'd have to burn an extra vacation day to do that, since if I play the last round in full, that would take the game potentially until about 10 pm on the last day. Sadly, the last Amtrak from DC Union Station to Albany seems to leave at about 6:30 pm that evening, and the next one after that looks like about 3 the next morning. Obviously, if I took the train, I wouldn't have to drive for about 7 hours one-way and could relax a bit before and after the tournament, maybe even work on chess during the ride. I looked at taking the bus on the return trip, and those schedules get a little freaky as well. Besides, a laptop on Greyhound? Hmmm. Dunno. (I like the thought of taking Megabus, but I'd have to transfer in NYC with a couple hours' layover.) So there really seems to be no good way to get it done! Why does it have to be so hard to travel in this country? And this is the Eastern seaboard, at that. Terrible. (Yes, Germany spoiled me.)

I suppose the easiest thing would be to just chuck in the additional vacation day, suck up the extra night in the hotel, and get my train ride both ways, so there.

And then there's the small problem of rating... can I get close enough to 2200 in real knowledge to make a contest of it if I play up? 'Cuz like I said, I ain't schleppin' myself all that way for no seven-round tournament. Anyways...

Nov 12-14 Eastern Chess Congress, Stamford, CT
Nov 26-28 National Chess Congress, Philadelphia, PA (man, all these congresses...)
Dec 26-31 I get this week off, so... pick your poison.... what's going to happen with the Empire State Open this year? Maybe go play at the Marshall? We'll see.

This was an intellectually challenging activity, truly. That's largely because picking tournaments that might be good to go to is relatively simple, but the trick is figuring out how much of my limited vacation time I can spend on each of them. I had to figure out things like where I could shave off half-days and bank them for later use, which wasn't so easy. The above schedule, if followed to the letter, is going to use nearly all of my paid time off for the rest of the year, so the planning has to be done carefully.

April 18, 2010

Test of a new (to me) game viewer

A new (?) chess game viewer for the Web is out there at Chessflash.com. As the name suggests, it's a Flash application. Chess Teacher has tried it and is thinking it over. Here's a sample silly game:
One very nice part of Chessflash's site is that you can preview the appearance of the code output. Here are the parameters I used for the above game:

Basic publishing: Vertical layout, Width = 100%, Height = 600, Theme = Moonlight
Advanced publishing: Variations Tab, colors: Dark = DAAF85, Background = CCDDBB (the latter matches this blog's background)

What do you think? I believe this will work better than Chesspublishing's viewer, which I've been using until now. The latter is nice, but pretty cumbersome. It takes me a long time to prepare a blog post with Chesspublishing's viewer. I think I could crank out games pretty quickly with this Chessflash implementation.

My only major wish for Chessflash would be to have all NAG codes for PGN parsing recognized. I noticed that the code generator will handle the basic symbols like +=, !, ? and that sort of thing, but it doesn't like the ones for 'better is', Zeitnot, etc. etc. But for now, given the efficiency of the thing, I'll take it! I thank Chess Teacher for his contributions to the field and to my education, but I'm afraid I have a new favorite toy for this blog.

April 07, 2010

Christos anesti! Holy Week postmortem

Happy Pascha to whoever's reading this! Yes, all three of you. :-) Be warned that a somewhat technical discussion of Byzantine chant takes place in this post. I hope that someone out there will find this comprehensible, even if only in terms of a diary entry. If you have some question about what on earth is being discussed, please add a comment to that effect and I'll get back to you on it. I find the subject of Byzantine chant as a technical art quite intriguing, to say nothing of its spiritual subject matter.

So now Holy Week is over and we can say that "Christ is risen!" I made it through without getting sick and without any health problems (excepting the lack of sleep, of course). My voice came close to giving out on maybe two occasions, but I managed to keep enough control to make it through.

One of those times was during the slow Evlogitaria of Friday night. Long, slow hymns are often challenging for me, which means that I find most entrance hymns (cherubica), as well as the Eothina at the end of Matins, unusually demanding to execute. I know that if I had better physical technique, the difficulty would be less. But anyway, I soldier on. When I chant the Holy Friday Benedictions, I do so a little faster than for the entrances, but the duration of that set of six verses wears on me. And because the crowded church soaks up sound, I have to project more than usual then. Thus the near-crisis, which actually did result in my voice cracking at the very end of the last verse last year, but this year I avoided that by trying to concentrate on my technique.

I felt this Holy Week went pretty well. I've gotten more used to Byzantine musical notation--this is the second year in which I've been able to use that knowledge to advantage. The regular practice of chanting Matins every Sunday (when I'm not at a tournament out of town) has been enormously helpful in learning notational mechanics and getting comfortable with the tones. One of the things that makes Holy Week for a chanter in Byzantine music so hard is that at various times, every one of the eight tones is touched. There are a couple of services in which I think every tone is featured, some in more than one scale. The Twelve Gospels service on Holy Thursday is like this.

Because of this wide tonal palette, there are some particular spots in the Holy Week music when the chanter is called upon to make some very awkward transitions, such as from First to Plagal First, which happens in one of the Bridegroom services early in the week, for example. The scales of those are similar enough to deceive one's inner ear into staying stuck in First Tone, which leads to a melodic train wreck later on in the next hymn. Another tough modulation is to go from First to the hard-chromatic scale of Plagal Second. But this year I got both of these right, I think! I did have problems finding the tone for a hymn two or three times this year, which is much better than my failure rate from previous years.

I've been able to find arrangements that work for most every hymn now, though there are a couple that I've not been able to find the music for yet in either Greek or English. Maybe they're somewhere in the books I already have and I just don't know it. One, for example, that I'd like to have is the hymn to the Theotokos that's the second of the pair that we chant at the end of the Holy Unction service. (I did find the first one, for the Holy Unmercenaries--the melody was rather different from what I'd been sort of improvising over the past few years.) The one I felt really good about finding was one for 'Let all flesh keep silence', the Cherubicon for Holy Saturday morning. I think I still need to refine it in the sense of understanding the modulations that happen in it, but at least I have it written out now.

I had a major project in the works to copy out the entire Greek text and music for the Canon of Holy Friday and Saturday nights, , because I seem totally unable to learn the Irmoi well enough to be able to fit the other verses to their melodies without drifting off into space at some point. I got as far as the fifth ode with that. If I can get that done at some point, I'll have basically what Fr. Seraphim put in his big Holy Week music book, where he has every verse with music, not just the Irmos. Ever since I took over as chanter at my parish, my practice with this canon on Holy Saturday (the midnight service) has been to run through it in Greek completely once, then I go back to the beginning of Ode One and go in English until Father calls time. I can get to around the end of Ode Six in English in that time.

On Saturday night, I actually made the uncharacteristic mistake of skipping an entire page in Fr. Papadeas' book! It was early in the service, fortunately, before there were a great many people in church. I think I chanted the Irmos for Ode Five, and as we proceeded through the verses for that, I remember thinking, "How'd we get here so fast?" And then it came to me--I had just flipped two pages at one point, which meant that almost the entire Third Ode had simply been overleaped. Poor folks must have been confused... For a second, when I got to the end of Ode Five, I thought about going back and picking up the third ode in full, but I figured that it'd just confuse people more, and we'd get to it in English eventually anyway. This is another reason that having the canon scored out completely would be a good thing to do--I must be less likely to suffer this kind of accident if I work with larger pages.