". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

'Tis Better to Give Than to Gift

I've been seeing it for months now. I saw it again today: "gift" used as a verb in place of "give," as in "She was gifted with a new car." This time it was in my church's newsletter: "Today we will gift new Bibles to the third graders." I don't think it was a typo.

So, what gives? %-} Why not "We will give new Bibles to the third graders"?

The creation of a verb from some other part of speech--also known as verbification--is nothing new. But this particular manifestation of it seems different to me. The nice thing about being able to "access" a file rather than "gain access to" it or "pepper" your steak rather than having to "put pepper on" it is that both of those formations require fewer words, and economy of words almost always means punchier writing. But to say "We will gift" rather than "We will give" affords no such benefit. So again I ask, why?

As I thought about this today, it occurred to me that there is a difference in emphasis between "We will give Bibles" and "We will gift Bibles." "Give" seems to me to put the focus on the beginning of the action and thus the giver who performs the action, whereas "gift" puts the focus on the end result--the gift--and by extension the receiver of the action. So maybe the use of "gift" in place of "give" is a reflection of the speaker's desire to direct attention toward the gift and the one who receives it rather than toward the one who gives?

What do you think? Am I chasing a bunny trail here? Or might I be on to something?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Piano Playing

No, he's not really playing yet. But he sure is cute, isn't he? Even with the poor hand position.

Can You Tell We Just Bought Wii Fit?

Recent Pickin's from the Garden

New Accompanist Orientation, or "We Have Nothing Like That Here"

I have now clocked in six days in my new job as a staff accompanist at a suburban Chicagoland high school. The school is a new one that just opened its doors last week. It is still in the building stage and is currently only welcoming freshmen and sophomores. I am working part-time, approximately 7-10 a.m. mornings and one evening per week.

It has been a long time since I have spent any time as a high school insider. Of course, I was a high school student once, in a small, rural Texas town (my graduating class had around 160). I also spent three years teaching secondary level English in my twenties. So I have experienced high school from both sides of the lectern. But what I have seen in the last week is nothing like what I remember from either of those vantage points. Times, as they say, have changed.

When construction is completed this $125 million facility will include a state of the art auditorium and fine arts wing (with midi labs, practice rooms, and sculpture garden); a football stadium with two practice fields; two soccer fields, two baseball fields, and two softball fields; an aquatic complex; a greenhouse with rooftop garden; and, of course, the latest in computer technology and media. I am impressed by the design of the building, which makes extensive use of natural lighting; windows, expansive and plentiful, are a prominent feature of all corridors and classrooms.

I am also impressed by what I have seen of student life at the school. It strikes me as much more similar to my college than my high school experience. Course offerings are extensive. Students design their own schedules based on educational and vocational goals. The library is immense, the lockers full-size (in my high school everyone had a 50/50 chance of getting a lower locker, which meant a year of stooping and bending and getting bumped on the head). The staff that I have met strike me as well-credentialed, professional, and positive. I hope these students appreciate how blessed they are.

On the other hand, some of the things that I remember from my own high school days are missing, and I think the effect is unfortunate. When I was in high school, teachers were inextricably connected to their rooms. When you entered a classroom you were entering that teacher's world. The way the room was arranged for learning said much about the teacher and his or her personality, values, and style. I have seen teachers whose rooms were furnished almost like homes, with rugs and rocking chairs and refrigerators and microwave ovens (and I'm talking upper level, not elementary teachers). But at this school the teacher's home base is his or her office (or, more likely, cubicle), and the classroom is only a teaching space which he occupies for one period. As a result, the rooms, as clean and beautiful as they are, lack personality. No motivational posters, bulletin boards, visual learning aids, displays of student work, or other teacher-specific content is to be found (except for those rooms where roaming is impossible, such as the choir room, band hall, and art department). When you go to English literature it's just the teacher and a roomful of desks: no Elizabethan timelines, diagrams of the Globe theater, or drawings of great writers lining the walls. And in my opinion something is lost in that paradigm. (Of course, the ability for a teacher to display politically charged materials is also weakened, and that may be a good thing.)

Something is also amiss when luxury items and technology and replace basic learning tools. In the first week of school I have been unable to acquire staples such as paper clips, scissors, index cards, tape, and colored markers: none of the aforementioned were included in the supply package provided to each classroom, and they are apparently not to be found anywhere else on campus (or if they are, they're being hidden and hoarded). In my search for these elusive items, I encountered one sympathetic secretary in the main office who seemed ready to raid whatever stores she could find; but when a clearly more senior secretary gave her the evil eye she demurred. I was told that my department had a budget for such things and that they would have to be ordered through it. So much for that lesson on sharing in second grade.

Then there was the quest for the paper cutter. The choir director with whom I was working had created some ensemble audition sheets to pass out to his students. They were not lengthy, so to conserve paper he put two on a page. My task was to cut the pages in half. Simple, right? Think again. Here beginneth my paper cutter odyssey.

Against my better judgement, I started with the main office. The previously sympathetic secretary, now properly indoctrinated, flatly told me, "We have nothing like that here." So it was on to the grade-level offices. No luck there either, or in the teacher lounge. Finally someone took pity on me and said, "I think they have one in the library." Upon my arrival I was kindly welcomed::cue heartwarming music:: and pointed to the object of my desire. I guess librarians still appreciate the value of sharing--all that book-lending, you know?

Now, perhaps my expectations are set unfairly high. The ribbon cutting ceremony was just last week, after all. But I can't help wondering: if it's possible, on the first day of school, to have fully-equipped computer labs, a portable Lumens in every classroom (these are so totally cool--I would have loved one when I was teaching school), and five octaves of marimbas, is a box of paper clips too much to ask for?

(P.S. One other revolutionary development that I would have loved in my teaching days is the online gradebook whereby teachers can post up-to-the-minute grades for parents to log in and see. No more sending out progress reports or chasing down parents to alert them to their child's falling behind. All they have to do is log in, and it's all there in black and white. It's great because it puts the responsibility on the child and his or her parents. Parents can even set up their account so as to receive an alert when their child's average falls below a certain level. The only problem with that in my Type A community is that according to one of my co-workers there are parents who will set up the alert to come when the average falls below a 92. Sigh.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Kindergarten, Day One

About 20 years ago I substitute taught in a kindergarten class for a day. It was one of the hardest teaching days of my life. I vowed I would never teach kindergarten again.

Famous last words. Today I became a kindergarten teacher again. You see, I'm a homeschool mom. But I have thus far avoided teaching preschool and kindergarten, availing myself instead of solid Lutheran day school programs for that purpose. I am not good at crafts or pretend play or that highly animated manner that is the M.O. of most kindergarten teachers, and I have a low tolerance for the goopy, gooey, messy, and loud. Better to let the trained professionals deal with such things.

Unfortunately, though, the day school at which my five-year-old attended preschool the last two years recently folded the half day kindergarten class into the full day one. There used to be half day options in the morning and afternoon. But due to lowered enrollment, half day students must now attend in the morning in the same class as full day students. Once they are picked up the full day students continue with their day.

My husband and I found this unacceptable primarily because it meant the morning group would be quite large--25 students as opposed to the 6 or 7 my son was accustomed to in preschool. He sometimes had a meltdown when he went a couple of days without getting to be the helper; can you imagine if he had to go a month or more? In addition, the morning attendance was a non-starter for our family. Not only could we not logistically get my son to and from class in the morning, but I had no desire to fight the daily battle of getting him up and out the door, seeing as how he typically sleeps every day until 9:00 a.m. (and only wakes up then because someone makes him).

Which brings us to today--the first day of kindergarten at Philipp Nicolai Lutheran Academy. Here's how Evan's day went:

9:00 Awakened by big sister (Mom and Dad were at work and big brother was in math class at the junior college today); dressed, made bed, and had breakfast
10:00-11:00 Free time
11:15-11:45 Calendar, Bible and Catechism time with Mom
11:45-12:30 Lunch
12:30-1:30 Free time
1:30-2:00 Quiet time; must be in room but may look at books/listen to music
2:00-3:00 Free time
3:00-4:00 "School" with Mom (Today's "school" consisted of some Mother Goose rhymes, several selections from the Berenstain Bears' Big Book of Science and Nature, several folk tales from The Lion Storyteller Bedtime Book, and writing in ABC Journal)
4:00-6:00 Free time
6:00-7:00 P.E./Recess: Outside with brother and sister to pick up apples that have fallen off the tree
7:00-8:00 Supper
8:00-9:00 Field Trip: Help Dad take groceries to Grandma
9:00 Get ready for bed
9:30 Devotion
10:00 Good night!

I hope to keep most of Evan's days looking very much like this one. We will have to be flexible, of course. But I think he needs the routine, and so do I. Our life is complicated right now and the schedule will help me as much as it does him. On different days of the week he will have a piano lesson with me, an art/craft activity with big sis Caitlin, a chess/math lesson with big brother Trevor, and a gym class for homeschool students in our town. Not a bad curriculum, if I do say so myself.

I asked Evan how he liked homeschool kindergarten so far, and he said he liked it but he misses his preschool friends. He is an extrovert and the lack of children to play with on a daily basis will take some getting used to (he does not have playmates in our neighborhood). But when I remind myself that kindergarten has a much higher "school" quotient than preschool, which was almost all play, and that first grade will increase the structure and institutional trappings even more, I know that this is for the best. In my experience, institutional schooling can actually be a terribly lonely place. There may be more people around, but the multiplicity of bodies does not necessarily lead to edifying human interaction.

I also doubt that it would go over too well to take sole possession of the book from which the teacher is reading and proceed to spend an additional half hour looking at pages that are not part of today's lesson. Must keep things moving, you know: "Science time is over; time for handwriting." But when you're the only student and the teacher's your mom and the "classroom" is Mom's bed . . . well, anything is possible.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A New 'Do!

Now you see it . . . .

Now you don't! Goodbye, long hair!

Now the fun begins!

A little more cutting . . .

. . . along with some shaping . . .

. . . blowing . . .

. . . and styling . . .

. . . and we have a whole new girl!

Well, actually not a new girl. I'm kind of fond of the old one. But I like the new look, don't you?

The ponytail will go to Locks of Love. Caitlin is looking forward to less pain and I am looking forward to the time I will save by not having to brush all that hair every day (Caitlin has very thick, wavy, and tangle-prone hair). On the other hand, brushing her hair was a pretty good upper arm workout. Guess I'll have to get more serious about my weight lifting!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

New Routine

I have a new job. I will be one of the staff piano accompanists at a brand new high school in the area. I am looking forward to the work--the choral director and the other accompanist are friends whose musicianship I highly respect--and, of course, the extra money will be nice! But it's going to mean some changes for both me and my family. Even though the job is part-time, it is going to be more hours working away from home. In recent years my part-time income has been generated by teaching piano lessons and accompanying church and community choirs. But the choral accompanying has just been a matter of attending several weekly rehearsals. Now, as a staff accompanist, I will be expected to be at school for part of every day. My responsibilities will include not just sitting at the piano but assisting the choral director in whatever way I can with cataloguing and filing music, working with students, and the like. This week I have been fingerprinted and background checked and have viewed a tutorial on blood borne pathogens. I am learning how to punch a time card again (it's all computerized now--wow, have I been out of the hourly work force a long time). I have filled out more papers than I care to count and have breathed a sigh of relief that as a part-time worker I am not required to join the teachers' union.

Even though there are some changes coming, I am excited about the work. I like to play the piano, and I don't do it enough. I am in a phase of my life where I don't do much that I don't HAVE to do. There are just too many things vying for my attention. So if I don't HAVE to play the piano, I don't. With this job I am going to have to play the piano every day.

Trying to prepare, I have spent the last few days coming up with a master family schedule. Part of wearing the "Mom" hat is making sure that not only I but everyone else in the family is WHERE they need to be WHEN they need to be there. It's not an easy task. I'm proud of myself for figuring it all out. So proud, in fact, that I'm going to post it here. Below is a rough outline of my M-Th schedule.

5:00 Wake up
6:30 Leave for school
7:00-10:00 Work at high school
10:30 (MW) Pick up oldest son at junior college (where husband dropped him off at 8:00)
11:00 Home
11:30 Bible time with kindergartener
12:00 Lunch
12:30-1:00 Clean up, house chores
1:00-1:30 Rest time with kindergartener
1:30-2:00 Take daughter to day school for art/choir (husband will bring her home); on Thursday kindergartener will have homeschool gym from 1:30-2:30
2:00-3:00 Do "school" with kindergartener
3:00-4:00 Mom time
4:00-6:00 (M) Teach piano students; (Th) Accompany community children's choir
6:00-7:00 Supper
7:00 (Th) Church choir
9:00 Get ready for bed
9:30 Family devotion
10:00 Lights out!

Most Fridays I will be able to be home. That will be my day to do literature and history with my older children and follow up with them on their other subjects. I am blessed with two teenagers who are self-motivated and disciplined and work very well on their own. They will have French and theology with their father on Tuesday/Thursday mornings and piano lessons with him on Tuesdays (his day off). The rest of the time they will have to work off an assignment sheet that I will provide and be responsible for pacing themselves. I have no worries about them doing that. They will also each have daily chores and specific tasks related to caring for their little brother. Since I will be gone in the morning, they will have to take care of getting him up and making him breakfast. They are also both going to help me with teaching him! Caitlin will be doing arts and crafts, and Trevor will be teaching chess and math.

My biggest concern about this new schedule is not the waking up early--I am a morning person, so I do that already--but the loss of those morning hours as personal time. If I want to do anything in the morning geared towards self-care (devotion, reading and exercise) I cannot let myself get sucked in to email and blogs. It's not going to be easy. I acknowledge I am addicted to both. But I am going to have no choice but to cut back. My posting here will probably become a bit less frequent. I hope I can still manage several posts per week. To manage the email, I am planning on changing my several list subscriptions to another email address that I will not check until later in the day. Of course, by that time everyone will have chimed in on all the threads and I will probably become one of those people who doesn't have anything much to say because someone else already said it. Sigh.

One thing that will help make this all work is that my dear, wonderful, sweet, amazing, sensitive honey of a husband is letting me get a cleaning lady! ::Cartwheels through the house:: I think he may actually end this year with a relatively sane and reasonable wife rather than someone who sees people in the wallpaper. Smart move on his part, huh?

Check back in a few months and I'll let you know how the wallpaper is doing.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Supper Last Night . . .

. . . was cavatappi with creamy pesto sauce. It was so easy! I used basil leaves and cherry tomatoes grown in our garden. Here's the recipe:

2 cups of basil leaves

2-oz. bag of pine nuts

1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese

2 cloves of garlic

cherry tomatoes (however many you like, cut in half)

cavatappi (or whatever kind of pasta you want)

Chop all ingredients finely (I use a small electric chopper) and mix with 1/2 cup olive oil. Add approximately 1 cup of ricotta cheese (I used whole, not lowfat). Mix sauce with hot pasta and add tomatoes. Salt & pepper to taste.

We had Caesar salad on the side. While I was cooking, Mr. Round Unvarnished made us pina coladas with real coconut milk! (Jewel had a sale on pre-scored coconuts and I couldn't resist). The thing is, I forgot that we don't have a blender right now, so the pina (I keep typing piano and having to fix it!) coladas were on the rocks. We used this recipe found online:

1 cup coconut milk

1 cup pineapple juice

1/2 cup rum

4 tablespoons sugar

Instead of blending with ice, we just poured it over ice cubes. Yum!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Yet Another Reason to Shop at Whole Foods

Not only do they have great, healthy (and yes, I know, expensive) food, but co-founder and CEO John Mackey has just published a brilliant and brave piece on health care in the Wall Street Journal. Brilliant, because he gets it right. Brave, because he is already suffering the fallout, as liberals and Obamacare supporters are calling for a boycott of the store.

HT: The Corner

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Riddle Me This, America

So. The number of people who approve of President Obama's job performance is steadily dropping, while the number who disapprove is steadily rising. (Source.) American Thinker says the pitchforks are starting to come out. What I can't figure out is why anyone in this country would be surprised at what this administration has done. Candidate Obama ran on a platform of change. I didn't like the changes he was proposing and voted accordingly. But the majority embraced his promise of change, and they are now getting what they voted for. They should not be surprised. Anyone who took the time to study the issues and candidates with any seriousness would know that they were voting for a radical who would appoint like-minded radicals to the Supreme Court, continue our descent into socialism, and institute a new era of weakness and conciliation on the international front.

Last night on Sean Hannity's television show pollster Frank Luntz led a focus group composed of 50% Obama voters and 50% Bush voters. And yet only three people in the whole group approve of the President's plan for health care and have faith in the government's ability to solve the health care "crisis." Again, where were these people eight months ago? This is what he said he would do, people. I almost feel a little sorry for the guy. He's probably totally bewildered: "But I thought they liked me. They said they liked me."

Be that as it may, Mr. President, they aren't liking you much these days. They are starting to pay attention, and they are learning, and they are figuring out that maybe they don't want what they thought they did. And your job as their President is to listen to them. If you don't, they will find someone they like better, someone who will not make them feel like children asking new and serious questions, only to be told, "That's really too complicated for you to understand. Trust me. I'm smarter than you, and I'll take care of everything."

Excuse me. I'm going to go sharpen my pitchfork.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Home Front

After a week of eating, drinking, sleeping, and breathing chess, it is time to get back to the "routine" (ROFLOL). I put the word in quotation marks because it seems every time the phonograph needle of my life gets into some semblance of a groove it encounters a speck of dust that kicks it right out again, resulting in either a Groundhog Day or a Back to the Future effect (my apologies to the metaphor/allusion-challenged among you, but I'm moving on).

I spent yesterday trying to get ready for "school" (guess I'm in a quotation mark mood)--going through books and papers, filing, tossing, arranging, storing, and the like. First I attacked the pile on the floor next to my bed, resulting in this:

The top level has my cell phone, planner, Bible and current reading; the top compartment has homeschooling methodology and reference books; the middle compartment has photos waiting to be sorted and put in albums; and the bottom shelf has--what else?--more books (those that are in the queue for either homeschooling or personal reading).

Ahhh . . . nothing soothes my soul like organization. Who needs wine? (Um, scratch that.)

After this project, it was on to the next. At our church's garage sale earlier in the summer, I found a gem:

Here's another angle:

IT ONLY COST $20!! Did I hit the jackpot or what? I needed something else in the dining room to store books and items currently being used so that they don't clutter up the dining room table. ("What? We have a dining room table?"). Does anyone out there know exactly what kind of piece this is? The top of it is recessed. I could change a baby in there if I removed all the books (and if I had a baby)! Notice the drawers (I love drawers). The inside has a shelf--so two levels of storage!

In addition to the physical organizing, I have been working on the mental as well, trying to get a fix on what shape my life will take this year. I have taken a new accompanying job at an area high school (part-time) and that is going to significantly change the landscape. For those who may be interested, I'll share a bit more about that soon. (And if you're not interested, just move on and let me babble . . . somehow it helps me to do so.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Denker Photos and a U.S. Open Update

Day One--Arriving at the Marriott--Let's play chess!


Opening Ceremony

Trevor with Bill Hall, Executive Director of the United States Chess Federation

Nice jewelry!

First round, against Matthew Parshall

Final round against Robert Lau

Closing Ceremony - The Winners!

Abby Marshall, first woman ever to win the Denker!

Read Abby's own thoughts on the tournament here.

U.S. Open Update: Trevor ended with 6 out of 9 points, tying for 4th place in the Expert division. He has mixed feelings about that outcome because although it is quite an excellent finish, the pairings/results were such that he essentially came out even in ratings points, losing what he had gained in the Denker tournament. I guess that's the heart of a true competitor--never being quite satisfied, always looking to the future and wanting to do even better. And he will have that chance, as this fall is full of playing opportunities for him. The Chess-Mobile (also known as a Volkswagen Eurovan) is going to be on the road a lot the next few months!

One final note: Trevor's friend and fellow Illinoisan Eric Rosen had a barn burner of a tournament, first drawing one GM and then defeating another! Eric apparently decided it wasn't enough to merely walk through the gate to Master status; no, that gate is meant to be knocked down and flattened! Congratulations, Eric! We are all so proud of you!

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Mr. RoundUnvarnished again here. Just wanted to keep our readers posted on yesterday's results: Trevor won both his boards! Woo-hoo!

This means Trevor now has 5 points (out of 7). Should he win tonight and tomorrow, he would finish with 7 points, repeating his performance in the US Open last year.

Currently, 7 players are tied for the lead with 6 points. Salvijus Bercys, who dealt Trevor that crushing loss in Round 3, has 5.5 points, along with - you guessed it - Robert Lau. The 5.0 pack that Trevor is in has 30 players, including Gordon Ruan, a fellow Illinois high school student, and, at the top of that pack, GMs Shabalov, Fedorowicz, and Kaufmann. Tonight will be a breakout opportunity for all of them.


Friday, August 7, 2009


Cheryl is at the US Open with Trevor and the kids - but no laptop! What does this mean? It means Mr. RoundUnvarnished has been asked to put up a quick post in Cheryl's stead to thank all the readers who followed the Denker action and to let them know that a photo gallery will be posted here next week.

Meanwhile, in US Open action, Trevor has 3 points out of 5. After a good start, he lost in the 3rd round to IM Salvijus Bercys (2503). "IM" stands for International Master, one step below Grandmaster. Bercys is currently tied for 1st, with 4.5 points in the tournament, so Trevor's loss to him certainly wasn't shabby. In fact, Trevor's teacher, Yury Shulman, wrote to me that Trevor had a good position against him, concurring with my assessment that Trevor was indeed ahead in the mid-game. (Trevor was up two pawns!) But for Trevor to get to that point, he had to *think, think, think* and so used up almost all of his clock by move 28. He hung in there for four more moves as the clock wound down, but as he began to have to play "blitz" style (quick chess) due to his clock, Trevor's position weakened. Then, a questionable move on move 33 sealed his fate.

Trevor was exhausted and did not play his best chess in the next round. He had a worthy opponent, former Oregon Denker champ Ethan Peake (1950), but certainly not one in the same class as Bercys. Still, you've got to be at 100% to play anyone at the US Open, and so Trevor wound up with another loss before rebounding with a win last night against David Witner (1850).

But there still is a lot of chess left: 4 more boards over the next three days. BTW, Robert Lau, whom Trevor drew in the last round of the Denker and with whom he shared 5th place is currently tied for first with Bercys and a few others with 4.5 points! (And, Trevor's friend Eric Rosen, who lost the Illinois Denker championship to Trevor only on a tie-break, is having a marvelous tournament so far: he has 3.5 points and drew Grandmaster Jesse Kraai in the third round. Go Eric! "Woo-hoo!")

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

And That's a Wrap

I'm back! (Thanks for filling in this morning, honey.) I arrived in Indianapolis just in time to watch about the last five minutes of Round 6. For the last hour of the drive Phillip was giving me regular updates via cell phone, and for the last fifteen minutes or so we didn't hang up. We were interrupted at one point by the fire alarm going off in the hotel where the tournament is being played! It turned out to be a false alarm (I always kind of wonder about those "false" alarms in public places) and the game proceeded. As is so often the case, Trevor's game was the last one to finish. So I quickly found a place to deposit children and belongings and joined my husband and other onlookers in the board-side nail biting. By the time I got there Trevor was down to a rook and a pawn against his opponent's lone rook. Given that the rooks cancel each other out, it all boiled down to whether or not Trevor could get his pawn to the other side of the board, whence it would be promoted to a queen and he'd win the game.

Excuse me? Did you say something? Oh, you mean you would like to know how the game turned out?

It was a draw. :-) At the conclusion of the game Trevor and Robert exchanged handshakes and smiles as they each finished the Denker 2009 Tournament of High School Champions with 4 points each. And Miss Abby Marshall of Virginia (one of only two girls in the tournament) drew her last game, giving her clear first place. Abby, a senior, may now claim (if she so desires) a 4-year full scholarship to the University of Texas at Dallas! Congratulations, Abby! Let's hear it for girl power (something that is statistically rare in the chess world).

The award ceremony is starting soon. We don't know Trevor's final position, but of course as soon as we do we'll post it here

UPDATE: Trevor tied for 5th place, and so was recognized at the awards ceremony. A nice finish to a wonderful tournament!

Can you believe this young man is not finished with chess this week? His first round of the U.S. Open starts TONIGHT!

The Final Round

Good morning, RoundUnvarnished readers! The final round of the 2009 Denker National Tournament of Champions is up and running. This morning we find Trevor playing Robert Lau on the third board. The winner of this match has a strong chance of coming in 3rd or 4th in the tournament, where Abby Marshall of Virginia remains undefeated on the top board. She's playing Michael Yang of Minnesota, who has 4.5 points to Marshall's perfect 5.0. Two players have 4 points: Jeffrey Haskel (FL) and Vincent Huang (CA). Currently Trevor is tied for 5th along with Lau, Deepak Aaron, and Steve Breckenridge of Oregon. (Special Note for Pastor Rossow: Matt Anzis of Iowa has 2.5 points with a group of 10 other competitors.)

As usual, the Champ spent time this AM on opposition research and game prep while Chess Dad fixed breakfast. Trevor is black this round, and so Lau will set the pace. Trevor explained over breakfast that he was wary of another closed Italian game, and hoped that Lau would play the Ruy Lopez. Fortunately for Trevor, he doesn't have a lot of games readily available over the internet, so unless Lau of Hawaii reads Illinois Chess Bulletin, the "opposition research" on Trevor actually shows a player with success against the Italian. So perhaps Lau will go with the Ruy Lopez - Trevor's best game - and play into Trevor's hands. So Dad will look for 3. B-b5 as the game begins.

We have some turmoil getting here. We neglected to watch the weather this AM, and so were surprized by a fierce thunderstorm. We rushed to get out the door, knowing that it might take extra time to get to the site. The parking lot was already flooding and my Grand Marquis was only a couple minutes' rain more from not getting out of the lot. A little hail was felt, but I plodded on, saying: "This is why we have insurance!" Fortunately, the hail held off. Traffic snarls were fortunately on the other side of the freeway and we got to the tournament early.

Arriving early gave me a chance to soak in the hall one last time. I took a few pictures and listened to the TD (tournament director) give final instructions to the players. Six years of "Denker Dreams" in our household and now it is coming to a close. We've worked hard to get here and Trevor has done well in the tournament to get to this point. No matter how this board turns out, this has been a great experience. Time to bask. God is good.

Meanwhile, the tournament starts and so Dad watches the opening before heading off to blog and to read. Watch for that third move. White plays B-b5. The Ruy Lopez!

We're off and running.

Monday, August 3, 2009

And we have . . .

. . . another win! Those 2-1/2 points just became 3-1/2!

One round remains to be played at 11:00 a.m. EST tomorrow. Trevor and his dad are on their way back to the hotel to get as much sleep as possible. My other children and I will be departing Chicagoland tomorrow morning so as to make it to Indianapolis in time for the closing ceremony at 4:00 p.m. I think Phillip may need to hijack my blog entirely tomorrow since I will be on the road and unable to post.

See what I mean about the roller coaster?

. . . and another update from Dad

It's hard to believe that by this time tomorrow Denker 2009 will be over. But there is still a lot of action and excitement to take place. Each round sees top players fall and, at this point, only Abby Marshall of Virginia remains undefeated. (An interesting aside: she is one of only two girls in the tournament.) She's playing Deepak, who defeated Trevor in the last round, on Board One.

Trevor fell from being tied for 3rd to being tied for 10th, with Robert Lau. Trevor's now playing on Board Six on the "strong side" against Joshua Bowman of Pennsylvania. In between the top board and Trevor's are some exciting matches, as favored players such as Jeffrey Haskel, Andrew Ng, and John Patrick Tae fight to get back on top. There are three players with 3.5 points and 5 players with 3 points, followed by Robert & Trevor leading the pack of 2.5's.

Anything can happen when so many state champions mix it up. Chris Andrews of Wyoming came in as the lowest-rated player (only a 1118), but has two points and is tied for 19th with Evan Sandberg of California (2131)! This puts him ahead of Richard Herbst of Colorado, a USCF Expert with a rating of 2052 who has had a rough start and will have to work hard to come out above .500 in the tournament. Biggest surprise so far: Felix Yang of Massachussetts may "only" be a 2033, but he has 3 points and is holding his own against Robert Lau.

On a personal note, I was very proud of how Trevor handled his loss today. Sure, we weren't expecting to win this thing. But it is still hard to watch a dream die. So we had some quiet time to absorb the loss and then went out for a cold, invigorating swim. And Dad's "bachelor food" seemed to provide just the right fuel to get us back on track. We got to the tournament site a little earlier than usual, so had a chance to enjoy meeting Trevor's opponent, Joshua. They are off to a good start and are both enjoying what we all came to do: play (or at least, watch) good chess!

A Photo . . .

The Master (Almost) at Work

I'm not sure which game this is, but I think the photo was taken yesterday, so it's probably either Round 2 or Round 3.

He's a handsome fella, ain't he? And to think he's just as good at piano as he is at chess.


Cheryl, reporting from home base in Chicagoland.

If you read my huband's comments on the morning post you know that at some point while he was going for coffee the game took a turn for the worse (from Trevor's perspective, anyway). Phillip called at about 1:30 Chicago time to let me know that Trevor had lost. :-(

It's okay. Trevor has been here many times before. How does that old saying go . . . the "thrill of victory" and the "agony of defeat"? "Thrill" and "agony" are pretty fitting words for the roller coaster ride that is the typical chess tournament. This tournament in particular, pitting as it does a group of young players who are so similarly talented and equally matched, means that the ride is going to be even more harrowing than usual. There are slight ratings differences among the players at Denker, but they are slight, and any one player is capable of vanquishing any other player in any given game. Trevor was the underdog in this round, by virtue not only of his rating but of playing as Black. And yet the result could have easily gone the other way, and no one would have been surprised. Every competitor at Denker knows how amazing every other competitor is. That is what makes it so special.

One of the things I have come to deeply appreciate about the world of chess is the cameraderie of it. How many times have I watched as Trevor, after experiencing a dizzying win or a devastating loss, has left the tournament room with his opponent, only to immediately find an empty table or open spot on the floor where the board is rolled out yet again and he and his opponent set about analyzing the game they just finished? Sometimes it goes on for an hour, as the winner and loser consider together where the loser went wrong and how the game might have played out had he made another choice at this or that point. Does this sort of thing happen anywhere else? Maybe. But I don't remember the last time I saw two football, basketball, or tennis players spend an hour after their game going back through it step by step as they play out other ways the game could have gone.

The chess world is not large. One sees the same names at tournament after tournament after tournament. Trevor has repeatedly played many of his Illinois chess friends in competition. Right now in Skokie, Illinois, the family of the young man with whom Trevor tied at the Illinois Denker Qualifying Tournament is watching and cheering for Trevor as he gives this his best shot. (Although Trevor and his friend Eric each had the same number of points at the qualifying tournament, Trevor squeaked through on tie breaks.) If the shoe were on the other foot, we would be doing the same. Next year Trevor and Eric and the rest of the top-rated Illinois high school chess players will again contend for the Illinois Denker title, and each of them will give it his all, showing no mercy, playing to "kill." And yet after the dust has cleared, they will smile and shake hands and study their games together and play some "skittles" (chess for fun) while wishing the victor well as he moves on to Nationals.

So here we are, more than halfway through. Wow, it's going fast! No matter what happens, the memories that have been made and the things that have been learned will be a part of Trevor and will return home with him. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. There are two rounds left to be played. And I have a feeling Trevor is already looking to the future.

An Update

Yes, chess fans, it's CLOSED. We're in for a long one!

Time for a cup of coffee.

A Beautiful Morning in Indy . . .

and we are up and running with Round 4 of the Denker National Tournament of Champions!

This morning Trevor is playing Deepak Aaron, a USCF Master (i.e. rating over 2200) from New York. Deepak is the third seed in the tournament, besting some stronger players along the way--no surprise, as New York is the strongest state for youth chess. Trevor would have played the former tournament leader, Robert Lau of Hawaii (who also drew his game last night), but this would have meant one of them playing as White for three games out of four. Thus, computer adjusted the pairings to keep things more even, resulting in this morning's battle: Aaron (White) v. Magness (Black).

Thanks to the tireless efforts of our tournament officials, who are doing a great job keeping things running smoothly and making everyone feel comfortable and well-informed, we were able to discover Trevor's pairing first thing this morning. So "opposition research" was intensely being pursued as Chess Dad cooked a high-protein breakfast (bacon, eggs, cheese, lo-carb bread). For those watching on MonRoi, expect Trevor and Deepak to play what is called "The Italian." The big question for Trevor is whether Aaron will make this an "open" Italian or a "closed" Italian. (Hint: look for move 4 or 5, to see if Aaron plays d3, to "close" the Italian, or d4, to open it up.)

What does this mean for the general spectator? An open game will move more quickly; a closed likely means a long match. As Black, Trevor will have more opportunities to gain an advantage with the open game. (Side note from Cheryl for those who like me are not chess "savvy": Black is always at a disadvantage because White moves first and determines the opening and pace of the game. Thus, a draw for Black is akin to a win because it means that Black was able to overcome his inherent disadvantage. If Black wins, it's probably because White made a mistake and Black was able to capitalize!). If the game is closed, black has to play very carefully and wait for white to make some sort of mistake. Trevor comments that this latter game is similar to a variation of the Ruy Lopez known as "The Spanish Inquisition."

Fortunately, Trevor does well with long games, and is strongest in the end game. It may be that Aaron will close the game, thinking that it will give Black fewer opportunities. But then, he may have done some opposition research on Trevor . . . . :-)

Round 4

The pairings are posted for the morning round. Trevor will be playing Deepak Aaron of New York (rating 2208) on the third board. The round begins at 11:00 EST. No rest for the weary! (But if I know my son, he's not feeling weary right now, just motivated.)

I'll post more as soon as I get the "on location" report from my husband. Good luck, Trevor!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Round 3 Result!


(Cheryl here, filling in for Chess Dad Phillip, who is whisking our fearless warrior back to the hotel for some much needed zzzz's. It's an hour later in Indianapolis than it is here in Chicagoland, so they will do well to get to bed by midnight.)

My husband says the game played out pretty much as anticipated. Almost exactly four hours after they began, the players agreed to a draw. For the final hour, Trevor's parents' ears were glued to their respective phones and their eyes fixed on their respective computers as they simultaneously viewed the progress of the game on Monroi, each trying to keep the other from having a stress-induced heart attack. Because my chess understanding is almost non-existent, much of the conversation also focused on my husband trying to help me understand what was going on. At one point, however, he was scratching his head in bewilderment as it first appeared that Trevor had "sacked" a rook and that his opponent had then declined taking that same rook. It turned out that there was a glitch in the Monroi reporting that had skewed what we were seeing on the screen.

So . . . Trevor goes to bed tonight, so far undefeated at Denker, with two wins and a draw under his belt. Sweet dreams, honey. I love you and am so happy and proud. See you in a couple of days! Keep playing your game!

Round 3, Continued

The opening proceeded as expected, with the French Defense. Then, in a surprizing acceleration, moves 18-23 saw a massive exchange of major material moving the players quickly to the end game. Now that the fireworks are done, both players are settling in for the long haul: trying to calculate a win instead of a draw when they are both looking at a rook and seven pawns each. Trevor is down on time, with 23 minutes left to Haskell's 38, but the clock is ticking on Haskell as he considers Magness' slight advantage: Haskell has doubled pawns in an isolated file, putting him at a disadvantage against Trevor's pawn line. Still anyone's game, though.

A little inside baseball: what does it mean when Illinois Champ taps on the top of his Lipton Iced Tea after briefly looking at Coach Dad and then turning his attention back to the board? Time for Dad to go to the Circle K down the road and get more tea!

Denker, Round 3

The third round of the Denker has started, with Trevor Magness of Illinois facing off against the top seed in the tournament, Jeffrey Haskell of Florida. Haskell's team won the U.S. Amateur Championship last year, and this is an encore appearance at the Denker for Haskell, who represented his state in 2007. Trevor and Jeffrey are playing on the fourth board. The top five boards are being broadcast over the internet on Monroi, which also has a nice article with photos on the tournament. (The gentleman in the first photo, with Alabama's Jeffrey Byrd, is Bill Hall, who talked movingly at the opening ceremonies about the impact this tournament had on his life as a young man from a small town in Tennessee.)

As usual, Coach/Manager Dad had much to do between boards: shop for groceries so that appropriate comfort food could be secured for an in-room dinner, exercise with the Illinois Champ so that he can stay in optimal tournament condition, and keep track of developments back at the tournament site. Actually, Trevor did that last part while I took a short nap. And it paid off: we found out around 4:00 p.m. that two players at a higher board than Trevor's had drawn, meaning we could be 99% sure that Trevor would indeed play Haskell. What did this mean for Trevor? It meant he had time to take advantage of opposition research and review Haskell's game style before heading in. But first, we called home so that my daughter (thanks, Caitlin!) could send the appropriate data file, which Trevor then loaded up on to ChessBase--a program that stays on my laptop for useful purposes such as this.

Trevor is playing White this round, which means he gets to move first and set the pace. Trevor plays 1.e4, to which Haskell has historically responded with what is known as the French Defense. Trevor has known the first seven moves of the "French line" like the back of his hand for years now and has further studied it and its variations this past year with his teacher, GM Yury Shulman. One likely path this line will take with Haskell goes to move 12, the other to move 18. In preparation for the game, Trevor reviews these two expected variations of the French Defense before exercising and then again before dinner.

All that remains now is the execution. Let's see if his planning and preparation pay off.

And the winner is . . .



Phillip, reporting the latest from Denker:

We are now 2 hrs, 45 minutes into the game and so boards are starting to finish. It looks, though, like Trevor and his opponent will be using most of their clocks: the board is fairly even, with plenty of material (pieces) left on the board. Trevor has a slight advantage: he's "up" a pawn (i.e. he has one more pawn on the board right now than his opponent, Spencer Bledsoe). But Trevor has one set of pawns "doubled" (on the same file), so that advantage is somewhat negated. Bledsoe has more maneuverablility on the board (more territory), but Trevor has more authority over the center files of the board, with both rooks & queen in good positions for coordinated attacks sure to come. So it appears that Trevor has yielded some territory on the board for the sake of optimizing his forces. Most auspiciously for Trevor: he is ahead on time (interpolation from Trevor's mom: this is SO rare). Trevor still has 27 minutes on his clock. Bledsoe is down to 14. (N.B. Players get 30 second "increments" added to their clock every time they make a move, so the game may continue considerably longer than the 41 minutes currently allotted.)

The next hour is going to be very interesting.

Denker, Round 2

The morning report from my husband, chaperoning our son in Indianapolis.

The second round of the Denker National Tournament of High School Champions is up and running. There was more than the usual excitement when the pairings (the listing of who is to play whom) were posted this morning. My mind was taken back to when Trevor use to play in scholastic tournaments and how excitement filled the room as the joyful report filled the air: "Pairings are up!"

Trevor is playing Spencer Bledsoe of Georgia this morning. Spencer is a stronger player than Trevor's opponent last night, a high "Grade A" player with a rating of 1962. Trevor has moved up from 10th to 9th position; Spencer is in 18th by virtue of having won his first game. With this pairing, Trevor may have dodged a bullet: the top-rated player in the tournament, Jeffrey Haskell of Floida, drew (tied) his first board last night and so dropped from 1st to 19th place. Because the "fold" right now has players 1-9 playing 10-18, and the 19th position playing down, slight changes in how the other games went could have resulted in either Trevor having to play Haskell this round or being paired up against the current gentleman on the first board: Robert Lau of Hawaii. But, of course, if Trevor continues to win, he will have to play one--or both--of these dynamos before tournament's end. Indeed, looking at the current standings, it seems likely that he'll have to mix it up with Lau tonight.

On a personal note, it was a morning to savor. We slept loud and long, having gotten to bed relatively early due to Trevor's quick win last night. This is unusual, because Trevor is a methodical player who usually prevails over his opponents three "yards" at a time. So it was great to have an alarm-clock-free morning. We went out for breakfast, taking a chance on the Waffle House nearby and being very pleasantly surprised. (I had stopped going to WH due to a couple of bad exepriences, but this one was like the WH's of my youth: clean, friendly, fast, and good.) The only drawback was Trevor's infamous "tournament tummy," which kept him away from the bacon. His stomach seems to be the way his body expresses his anxieties, and so Coach here will need to make sure that we get him on a schedule--and diet--that is as close to his home routine as possible. Fortunately, we secured a room at an Extended Stay hotel, and so have a large fridge, range, dishes, pots, utensils, and cutlery. So, we'll be off to the grocery store later so that we can have comfort food in our room for dinner tonight.

Meanwhile, for me and the rest of the chess parents, it's the "world wide wait" as the players' clocks tick away . . . .

Stay tuned for more updates!

Reflections from Denker

Because I am unable to be with my son over the next few days as he competes at the Denker Tournament of High School Champions, I asked my husband to do some journaling about the event. Here are his thoughts from the first day.

It really is a great honor to be here. The opening ceremony was about ninety minutes long and included several speeches and moving testimonies. This is the 25th Denker Tournament of Champions, and many former participants have gone on to great things--both in and out of the world of chess.

All the participants have a little state flag by their board. Trevor really is representing our state of Illinois! At the opening ceremony all the state champions got a gold medallion--plated in real gold (so, yes, they are heavy!). They also received a thickly laminated chess card of Arnold Denker, after whom the tournament is named. The cards were signed by Denker before he died and have the notation of a game he personally picked as one of his best on the back. They also got a copy of the Arnold Denker Commemorative Edition of Chess Life magazine.

Trevor is 10th seed in the tournament, so is not favored to win, but could possibly come in the top five and get a few hundred dollars for college. The winner, of course, gets a 4-year, full tuition and room-and-board scholarship to the University of Texas at Dallas.

Right now Trevor is playing his first round*, against Matthew Parshall of Alaska. He's favored to win this, but the question mark on Parshall is his rating. Because he doesn't get a lot of tournament play in Alaska, he probably is seriously underrated.

On a personal note, I'll add that I'll miss these tournaments. Trevor and I really enjoy the times we share together. As I write this my eyes mist up with memories of playing "keep off the bed" in Pittsburgh, "There is no pawn!" in Atlanta, and, of course, the wild trip to Orlando when we almost missed our flight due to my driving to the wrong airport.

We've had some heartbreaking losses along the way--especially in the beginning. But, oh, has Trevor had his triumphs! State Primary Champion in 3rd grade; 4th in Nationals at that wild Orlando tournament; tied for 5th at the U.S. OPEN last year, and now, Illinois Denker champion.

Earlier tonight, at the ceremonies, one of the chess celebrities, Bill Hall (USCF Executive Director), talked about how he played in Denker almost 20 years ago, representing Tennessee. He was from a small town (pop. 3500) and never had much opportunity to travel. He didn't say how he won the state championship, but evidently his little high school had a chess team and he won a state championship and so got to go on to nationals. He said it opened up the world to him, which is why he devotes so much of his life to promoting chess for America's youth.

I think of how much better Trevor's world is and will be because of chess, and am thankful that the Lord opened up this path for him. So many things fell into just the right place for Trevor: we moved to Chicagoland, I happened to pick up Chicago Parent magazine at a health club resulting in our sending Trevor to a chess camp on the other side of the city, etc. And now he studies with Yury Schulman, who is the highest rated U.S. player who accepts students. Yury is rated fourth in the USA right now. The top three players don't have teaching studios.

God is good.


*P.S. from Cheryl: HE WON!

I Think I'll Pass

A few days ago we got a flyer in our mailbox. (Isn't it illegal for people to put things in your mailbox?) It was from a neighborhood girl advertising her tutoring services. The large, bold-print attention grabber at the top of the flyer didn't bode well about what was to come:

Going back to School?

(For those of you in Rio Linda, California, "school" is a common noun and should not be capitalized here.)

A little further down the page, the young woman in question offers her contact information:

Call: 1-[555]-555-5555 and ask for _______

Two things here. First, the colon. Here's an easy rule to help avoid colon abuse: never use one after a verb or a preposition. (That last sentence is an example of how to correctly use a colon.)

Second, a phone number with area code is correctly written with either dashes OR parentheses separating the area code from the rest of the number. It is overkill to use both.

Back to the flyer. She who seeks students enumerates her areas of expertise:

I can tutor in:
Math (basic math, algebra I, advanced algebra, and geometry)
English (basic engilsh, Honors 8, 9, & 10, and AP 11)
Science (including physics, biology, chemistry, and aerospace)

There's that colon issue again. And might someone who is going to tutor in English be expected to know how to properly spell and capitalize it? And I would think someone who is going to tutor in composition would be familiar with the spell and grammar check functions in her word processing program? Regarding all those subjects, here's the rule: if it's the name of a general discipline (e. g. math, history, biology), it's not capitalized. If it's the name of a language, of course, it is. If it's the name of a specific course (Algebra I), it should be capitalized.

Here's the clincher:

I'm a senior at __________ High and am looking to use my academic skills to earn some extra cash. I have a GPA of 3.89 and have taken honors and AP courses.

And you wonder why we homeschool.

Saturday, August 1, 2009