Saturday, December 30, 2006

Christmas Vacation

The last week was a very pleasant one. It started with a solstice celebration last Thursday night, and it continued with a trip to the mall for a Santa photo, a five-day trip to Ohio, and a few days of quiet time at home, including today.

So much went on, I thought it would be best to summarize the time with some potential posting headings: How I Lived Through Solstice Evening (from a two-year old's perspective), I Think Our Son Hates Santa Claus, Lazy Time in Ohio, Family Time, The War Against Christmas (Shopping), Solving Chess Puzzles with my Dad, I Really Appreciate Dates: Melissa and I See "The Good Shepherd," A Review of "The Chess Artist," and I Love Being Home Again (both here and Ohio).

We took down our Christmas tree yesterday. Today I started looking through my books and have a small pile I want to share with my friends, sell, or give away. I'm not sure. I thought quite a bit about the clutter issue I mentioned in my earlier post, and I am serious about making some small changes to see where they go.

There is much on my mind and heart, but I don't feel the capacity to write too much at the moment. I wanted to let my friends here to know I'm back. If you are interested in any of the potential topics above, comment and I'll expand on them.

I wish everyone a good new year!



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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

I caught the tail end of this Emory Lovins interview

Monday after playgroup I was driving in the car and caught the last five minutes of this interview with Emory Lovins of MPR. He ended with an optimistic tone on the challenge of weaning the United States off of oil. This echoed the optimism at the end of one of my classes at the U in the Spring, Energy and Life: From Cells to Civilization. (I just found one of my classmates' blog on the class.)

This was a fascinating class. We discussed energy and systems. All systems depend on energy to prosper. Ours is awfully dependent on oil. (We read The Party's Over: Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies.) Oil is both a scarce resource and a source of global warming carbon dioxide. Although we discussed some weighty topics, I felt that we took an outlook on the future much like others have--we can overcome the difficulties with technological and lifestyle changes.

EDIT (October 22, 2008): Many people come to my blog via searching for Emory Lovins. I wanted to point people to a recent article in the Economist I thought would be of interest, The frugal cornucopian. Enjoy! Joe

This season...

The Modern Humanist posted this article, Happy Chrismakwanzukkah, which discusses a humanists point of view on this time of year, which is a very positive outlook. It stresses joining, community, and reflection.

I'll add to the notion of reflection. Today is the last day of Fall, and tomorrow is the celebration of the Winter Solstice. I celebrate both Christmas and Solstice with family and friends. Solstice is important to me as there is an emphasis on this time of year as a time of change and reflection. I tend to be more introspective and hibernate more during this time of year than any other. The beginning of Winter and the beginning of the new year are two events that demand my attention. I don't normally make any resolutions; rather, I start to look at gradual change in my life.

I've been looking around our home and there is clutter. I work well within the clutter, but I know there is stuff that I need to either recycle or share with others who would get more use out of it. I think that will be a useful exercise in imaging life in this next year's trip around the sun. I have been busy with my search for new employment, chess, shopping for loved ones, my graduate studies, and some reading. With the exception of shopping, which is thankfully nearly finished, all the other areas need tending, in some cases a fresh look. I look forward to balance in my work and home life, my time with friends, and time to develop myself. I want to have a fulfilling year all around, so I can meet both challenges and joy with an open mind and heart.

Tags: Winter, Winter Solstice, reflection

Monday, December 18, 2006

A happy holiday weekend!

This was a wonderful weekend! Our friends, Jeff and Tiffany, hosted a party on Saturday night. It was a kid-friendly time, with a third of the entire party being kids. Some of the guests we only see once a year, so it is nice getting together with them. There was plenty of good food, good drink, and good conversation!

I made this dish. It turned out well, which complimented Jeff's awesome ziti and lasagna. There were tons of chocolates and cookies. I think I ended having cookies before, during, and after dinner! :) The kids were well behaved, and I don't recall any of us parents having to raise our voices. It was a good time.

On Sunday I went to St. Paul for a performance at The Center for Irish Music. It featured Sherry Minnick singing. (My daughter accompanied her for one of the songs.) That was a world of music I don't get to experience very often, as much of this traditional music is simply passed person to person.

This reminded me of some of the work Mickey Hart from the Grateful Dead has done in trying to preserve music, both American and world music. There is so much amazing music out there. Most of it cannot be measured by record sales; rather, it is important because it helps to tell parts of our world's history.

Tags: friends, holidays, music, traditional music

Friday, December 15, 2006

Good time last night!

Last night one of our friends got a group of us together at the Uptown Bar and Grill to see a good metal band, Niobium. I hadn't heard of them before, but I took her recommendation that they would be good, especially since they had a didgeridoo player!

I was impressed with them. The lead singer had the metal growl down and the didgeridoo blended well with the music.

It was also nice to take the bus last night. It was a quick ride, and I had a couple of beers without the worry of driving home in even a slightly impaired state. I wasn't out very late either, which was nice as well.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Good spirits!

This has been a busy week. Monday our son and I went to a local play group in the morning. In the evening, we all went out to pizza with my friend, Janet and her family for her birthday. Tuesday evening the Minnesota State Chess Association had a board meeting. Yesterday I had a couple of job interviews. Today the weather is pretty nice, and we took a walk with our dog in the neighborhood.

The weather has been so nice, it barely feels like the holidays. It is moving much too fast, but I feel like we are keeping on top of the gift-buying, which fortunately is not outrageous. :) I feel like we are enjoying this time of year without the huge amount of stress.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

I'm a bit fried after a busy week!

Starting with last Saturday, I have spent four out of the last eight days heavily involved with chess. Last weekend was the Minnesota Class Championship, last night was round four of the Twin Cities Chess League, and today I helped out the Harrison's with the computer work for their scholastic tournament. When I got home this afternoon, I felt very tired!

Last night was a good night in the TCCL. We had a change in our lineup this month, as John, our board three, was absent. Will, a past regular at the Chess Castle, was playing last weekend in the Class Championship. I asked if he would be able to fill in, and he was. As his rating is over 1800, he became our board one. Kelly and I were each scooted down one board, to boards two and three, respectively. Blaine had board four.

We played Slackers, composed of Matt, Paul, Skyler, and Jeff. Matt was rated similarly to Will. Paul, unknown to us at the time, is also near 1800, and Blaine and I were each rated above our opponents.

My game was the first to be decided. I was Black and had an even position with my opponent out of the Caro-Kann main line. However, he blundered a piece relatively early, and he resigned at that point.

Blaine had a good game going next to me. As I finished mine, I watched his quite a bit. He had a strong Queenside Pawn majority. Jeff left one of the key pawns in his chain unprotected on a move, and Blaine worked that chain apart. At the end of the game, he just pushed a Pawn to a6. Even with a sacrifice of his Rook at that point, there was no way for his opponent to stop that Pawn. Well played, Blaine!

I was a bit concerned with the board one game. Will was a piece behind in a tactically-complex game. It was a tough position to hold, and Matt was able to take advantage of the position to cause further piece loss and Will's resignation.

So far, we were assured the minimum of a draw. Kelly had a materially even but very energetic game going. I hope to get a picture of one of the late middlegame positions, as it was quite exciting. He played well with a Rook, his Bishop pair, and a few Pawns on his Kingside to erode Paul's material equality. They were down to nearly a minute each when Kelly mated Paul.

It wasn't until after the game when we were talking in the hallway and we discovered that Paul was 1800 strength! Great job, Kelly! Great job, Tal Tales! I'm very proud of our team!

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

A crisp, Winter day

Today is one of those sunny but very chilly Winter days. The temperature this morning was 0 F with a wind chill around -25 F. Brrrr!

I just saw a few creatures at work. The first was an albino squirrel who quickly picked up the piece of bread I tossed out the door, as our son was finished with lunch. I then saw a few birds, including a woodpecker trying to get insects out of a neighbor's tree. The wind had died down and I could hear the pecking. It didn't take long to spot it.

There is wonder to behold, even on days when I don't feel like venturing out of the house.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Twin Cities Chess League this Friday, Round Four

Just a reminder for those who are reading this from any of the TCCL teams.

(I'm glad I have a few days of rest between last weekend's tournament and this Friday!)

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Game Five

Continuing my final round story...

Yesterday I ended my last post with the beginning of my last round game. It started out 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5 5.Ng3 Bg6 6.Nf3 Nd7 7.Bc4 e6 8.h4 h6 9.h5 Bh7. This morning I was taking a quick look at Neil McDonald's book, "main line Caro-Kann" and was pleasantly surprised that we two class D players started out with a position similar (not exact) to some high level games. Bc4 is not the most common, and there often is an exchange of White-squared Bishops via Bd3, Bxd3, Qxd3. However, it is a solid position for each of us.

(I have avoided the commercial route, but if people are interested in chess books such as the one I mentioned above, sets, clocks, or other related items, please check out Wholesale Chess. Thanks!)

We continued with 10.Ne2 Bd6 11.Nf4 Qf6 12.Rh4 O-O-O 13.Be3 Ne7 14.Qd2 Nd5 15.O-O-O. As the f4 Knight was well guarded, and I could not capture nor chase away the f3 Knight guarding the Rook on h4, I tried a luring move to change his Pawn structure. 15...Bb4 16.c3 Bd6.

Chris changes the dynamics of the position with 17.Bd3 Bxd3 18.Nxd3 Qe7 19.c4. I consider my next move a critical error in my play. 19...N5b6?

19...Nxe3 would have been fine, but I invited complication for myself with Chris having a great attack.

20.c5 Nc4 21.Qb4 Nxe3 22.cxd6!!!

This was my first move in the whole tournament where I felt a sense of panic. The best thing to do in this situation is to calm down as much as possible, evaluate the threats and the likely continuations, and think of your own defense and possible counterplay. The Pawn on d6 was a nasty Pawn, and his Queen was also well placed. I knew I had to keep my eye on that Pawn and hopefully kill it before very long.

After an eleven minute think, I played the logical 22...Qf8 keeping my Queen trained on the Pawn. Of course he plays 23. fxe3. I play Nb6 training two pieces on the Pawn now. He plays 24. Nde5. I play Kb8 to avoid 25. d7+ with the possible capture of my Queen which is keeping me alive.

Looking at the game now, I didn't quite get his 25th move, e4. Perhaps it was a waiting move. I play Rxd6 quickly (I'm down to 45 minutes, with Chris at almost 72), and he springs the excellent Nxf7 on me!

26...Qxf7? would lead to Qxd6, for which I would be down a Rook instead of the Knight I lost earlier. I quickly found 26...c5. The result was 27.dxc5 Rxd1+ 28.Kxd1 Qxf7 29.cxb6 Rd8+ 30.Kc2 Rc8+ 31.Kb1 axb6 32.Qxb6 Qd7!, with the threat of 33...Qd1#. I was happy to have turned my situation around, even though I was still behind by a Knight and a Pawn.

He prevents the back row mate, but I keep the pressure on. We get to this after 33.Rh1 Qd3+ 34.Ka1 Qc2 35.Rb1 Qxg2 36.Ne5 Qd2 37.Qxe6 Rc1 38.Qd5.

I couldn't find a perpetual here to save the game with a draw, so I proceeded to finish by exchanging Rooks, Queens, and get into a Knight and Pawn endgame.

After 38...Qe1 39.Qd3 Rxb1+ 40.Qxb1 Qa5 41.Nc4 Qxh5 42.Qe1 Qc5 43.Nd2 g5 44.e5 Kc8 45.e6 Kd8 46.e7+ Qxe7 47.Qxe7+ Kxe7, we had the following:

Well, in this game, victory went to the young. I had ten minutes left to finish the game. We played out eleven more moves before I resigned.

I shook Chris' hand with the best handshake and smile I had, as I realized I won to a very good player. Though I lost this tough game, I felt good that we fought it out the way we did.

Here is the entire .pgn. It's in play-by-play mode in this posting.

[Event "Minnesota Class Championships, Class D"]
[Site "Radisson Conference Center, Plymouth, MN"]
[Date "2006.12.3"]
[Round "5"]
[White "Chris"]
[Black "Joe"]
[Result "1-0"]

1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5 5.Ng3 Bg6 6.Nf3 Nd7 7.Bc4 e6 8.h4 h6 9.h5 Bh7 10.Ne2 Bd6 11.Nf4 Qf6 12.Rh4 O-O-O 13.Be3 Ne7 14.Qd2 Nd5 15.O-O-O Bb4 16.c3 Bd6 17.Bd3 Bxd3 18.Nxd3 Qe7 19.c4 N5b6 20.c5 Nc4 21.Qb4 Nxe3 22.cxd6 Qf8 23.fxe3 Nb6 24.Nde5 Kb8 25.e4 Rxd6 26.Nxf7 c5 27.dxc5 Rxd1+ 28.Kxd1 Qxf7 29.cxb6 Rd8+ 30.Kc2 Rc8+ 31.Kb1 axb6 32.Qxb6 Qd7 33.Rh1 Qd3+ 34.Ka1 Qc2 35.Rb1 Qxg2 36.Ne5 Qd2 37.Qxe6 Rc1 38.Qd5 Qe139.Qd3 Rxb1+ 40.Qxb1 Qa5 41.Nc4 Qxh5 42.Qe1 Qc5 43.Nd2 g5 44.e5 Kc8 45.e6 Kd8 46.e7+ Qxe7 47.Qxe7+ Kxe7 48.Kb1 g4 49.Nf1 Kf6 50.Kc2 h5 51.Kd3 h4 52.Ke4 Kg5 53.b4 h3 54.Ng3 h2 55.a4 Kh4 56.Kf4 Kh3 57.a5 1-0

(Finally, I ran the endgame through my chess computer. It was a drawn endgame! Arghh, but I suspected that with my talk with my opponent after the game. I had to attack his last Pawns instead of trying to promote one of the kingside pair.)

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Minnesota Class Championships, Class D

This weekend I played in the Minnesota Class Championships in the Class D section (USCF ratings from 1200-1399). We had a solid 14 people compete in our class, with a total of 70 people for the entire tournament.

As it states in the link, we played at the Radisson Hotel Conference Center in Plymouth. I did not play in the Northern Open, so this was my first tournament here, but it was my second time in the Minnesota Class Championship. I played last year with an anemic 2-3-0 finish. I enjoyed the games I played last year, but I could tell that I have grown much in my chess since last December.

The pacing for the class C, D, and E players is fairly brisk on the first day. We play three games, each with a 90 minute time control. I don't think that is a bad time control, but it is still fast. (Chess at my level can be a bit like two people scrapping. The chess is far from perfect, but there is a lot of energy in our games. Few draws!)

So Saturday was definitely that kind of chess. I summarized it as this:

Game 1) I won a losing game. My opponent played a solidly good game; I felt he had the tempo going in his favor most of the time, and I had to play defensively as White. However, he made a blunder that gave me the win.

Game 2) I lost a winning game with an excellent opening, mostly good middle game, but left the one weakness in my position unminded in the late middle game, and I overextended my attack and my opponent got in the necessary counterpunches for the win in the endgame.

Game 3) My opponent and I had a good even opening coming out of the Scotch. I was White, and by early middle game a pair of Pawns and both pairs of Knights were off the board. I created a weakness in my opponent's position that later that cost him a Rook, or else mate.

So, by the end of Saturday evening, I felt okay, happy with my 2-1 start, but didn't feel like I played my best chess. I didn't play badly, but three rounds in a day can be quite exhausting. I need to balance my level of energy and eat well without eating too much, I need to keep my nervous energy to a moderate level, despite how intense the games are, and I most of all need to keep focused. If I played in a tournament like this every month, I would have no problem with the regimen here, but I only play two or three of these events per year, so I forget those mental lessons.

Anyhow, Sunday morning was interesting. I didn't have to get up early and get to the site for registration like I did on Saturday, so I had time to eat a good breakfast and think through the last day and what was to come today. I haven't had this good a start in any tournament, so I was in unfamiliar emotional territory. "I actually have a chance to win this, if I'm paired up on the higher boards," I thought on my drive in. Also, on Sunday we have only two games, each with a time control of two hours.

When the tournament director posted the round four pairings, I was delighted! I was on board 2, playing an opponent who had two wins and a bye for the third round. Of course I was a bit nervous, but it felt great playing!

I played Black against my opponent's 1. e4. I played my Caro-Kann and had a good opening rich with many interesting variations. I gave up a Pawn in the early middle game, but I earned that Pawn back with an exchange sacrifice of my Rook for his strong Knight and a Pawn. I had two good Knights and a powerfully-placed Queen that more than compensated for the Rook. It was a delicious attack that eventually led to my opponent's resignation.

Lunch in between rounds was nice. I went out with one of my friends who was also on the top board for his section. We talked chess over a good lunch at the Tea House Chinese Restaurant. I got back about fifteen minutes before the last round, and I was so excited to be sitting at the first board for my section! This was a first for me, and I felt honored just to make it so far!

I was now the top player with three points, 3-1-0, ready to play the top overall player with a perfect score of 4-0-0. I'll call this student, "Ironman" for playing such great chess. I didn't get to watch him play very much, since I was concentrating on my own games, but I took notice during my fourth round game in case I would have to play him. He played a solid game and had great focus.

I sat down a couple of minutes before 2:30 to set up the set and the clock. Once I had myself set with scoresheet, iPod ready to play the Hydra show I went to last year, I shook my opponent's hand and wished for us both to play a good game.

I had Black for the second time in a row. I played the Caro-Kann again, but this time we didn't play the advanced, but instead it was the classical 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Bf5 5. Ng3 Bg6. This was the start of a very exciting game...

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I had my 1000th site visitor today!

I was looking at the Site Meter stats since I began keeping track, and 1000 people have visited! Thank you all of you for checking this site out, whether it's those who get here by the referral bars, or those who are regular visitors. (However, I especially enjoy those who stop here often!)

Friday, December 01, 2006

I started a new blog for the Chess Castle

I want to bring more people out to play chess at the Chess Castle as we move to our new location in January. I thought one way to spread the word would be for regular members of the club to post and discuss their games.

In order to make this possible, I started a blog for the Chess Castle this week. I encourage those who both like to play and to discuss their games to join me in this interactive forum.

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