Sunday, May 10, 2009

Murphy Does New Jersey

Murphy's Law
(from the book: Murphy's Law and other reasons things go wrong, by Arthur Bloch)

If anything can go wrong, it will.

I am a disciple of Murphy. It doesn't matter whether I'm playing and/or directing he finds a way to annoy the hell out of me. I've read the books, and I know the law. Despite my study of Murphology, "stuff happens". Last Sunday was a classic case of Murphy working double overtime.

In the last couple of months I've made my way down to the Westfield Chess Club to play in their Sunday Quads. They run quads almost every Sunday and they draw anywhere from 20 to 50 players on a typical Sunday. Over the years they've slowly made the transition from running and reporting the entire tournament on paper using index cards and round robin tables, to a hybrid of paper (index cards and hand written pairing sheets) and computer (ratings and online reporting). They actually have Internet access right at the site, so they can report the results as soon as they have everything in the computer.

The tournament director will use Swiss-Sys to look up the current month's rating and create a roster of the players in rating order. Using that roster the cards are put in rating order and then into groups of 4 to create the different quad sections. After that's done they write out all the first round pairings for each of the sections, and then announce them. Once the round is going they will write out all the remaining pairings for all the quads. The nice thing about quads is that they run themselves once they're set up. The players just have to make sure they report the results to the director after each game.

As the tournament is going on, the director will go into the USCF website's TD/Affiliate Support Area, create the sections, type in all the names, and input results as the tournament progresses. Once all the sections are completed, and all the results are in they can submit the rating report. Online submission of results make it possible for players to see what their rating did on the same day if the TD submits the results quickly. By the time I get back home I can go onto the USCF website and see how my rating changed, or didn't change.

Their method works but it's very time consuming. There is a lot of duplication of computer input in terms of entering the names or membership IDs on Swiss-Sys to create the roster in rating order, and then typing in the same information on the USCF website along with all the results. There's also all the handwritten pairing lists that have to be done for every section. On a day with 50 players one can get a bad case of writer's cramp writing out pairings for 12 sections.

Having run lots of quads and other tournaments with Swiss-Sys I knew that there was a more efficient and less time consuming way of doing all that work. I offered to show them how to use Swiss-Sys to do everything for them the next time I came down to play. They took me up on my offer, so this past Sunday I played computer consultant, tournament director and player. I even wrote up instructions with all the steps.

Before players came into register I showed them how to set up a multi-section tournament on the computer. We set up the tournament with seven sections to begin with. I showed them how to create additional sections if needed.

Once players started registering, I had the tournament director put all the players on the computer like he normally does. After all the names were inputted, I showed them how to use the computer to set up the quad sections in lieu of the index cards. On the computer the TD can drag and drop the players into the sections that were created. Once everyone has been moved into their respective sections, it's very easy to pair the sections and print out pairings. Doing it this way eliminates the tedious step of hand writing all of the pairings for your 10 sections, and at the end eliminates having to retype all the names and results for the rating report.

Quick and easy, right? Yes, as long as one has a current version of the software and Murphy isn't lurking around. Unfortunately this was not the case. They have version 6 which has a really annoying flaw to it. Later versions don't have this flaw. And yes, Murphy was lurking around the registration table. How else can one explain why the card for the highest rated player never made it from the guy collecting the money to the guy doing the data entry on the computer?

One of the corollaries to Murphy's Law is; "If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the one to go wrong."

So what could go wrong to cause the most damage to running 10 sections of quads?

Leaving out the highest rated player, and not discovering this until the tournament director starts to announce the pairings for round 1. After announcing the pairings for Quad 1 somebody said "Why isn't David Grasso in that section?" Um....because Murphy hijacked his card, and he wasn't put in the tournament?!

Now what? In Version 7 and 8, no problem. Reset the pairings to zero, add Grasso to Quad 1, drag and drop #5 to Quad 2, and keep repeating this step with each section right down to Quad 10. Remember I mentioned that the old version has a flaw? The flaw being that once you pair the section as a round robin you can't back track in case a player needs to be switched or added. Consequently there was no way to put the missing player into Quad 1 and move players down in every section. Unfortunately at the time I forgot about this flaw, and tried everything I could to make it work. What does Murphy say about that? "Nothing is as easy as it looks."

In the meantime we have 40 antsy players waiting for the first round that should have started at least a half hour earlier bringing to mind another Murphyism. "Everything takes longer than you think."

There were only two choices at this point. Completely re-input everything on the computer and start over, or go back to the old way and use the cards. The TD decided he wanted to use the cards. Unfortunately the cards didn't have the May ratings on them so I quickly start getting the ratings off the computer, write the player's rating on each card, and hand it to the director. He's trying to get the cards into some semblance of rating order, but Murphy isn't through with us yet. "Every solution breeds new problems."

The cards didn't end out in exact rating order so some players ended out in the wrong section, including me. I was supposed to be number four in Quad 4, instead I was number one in Quad 5. Was Murphy starting show me some mercy by having me end out in a lower quad then I was supposed to be in? Ha! The only thing Murphy and mercy have in common is they begin and end with the same letters, and they kind of sound alike. Just remember, "When things just can't get any worse, they will."
Besides I wasn't really the number one player in the section. My May rating was slightly higher then the other players May ratings, but two of the players had slightly higher June ratings. Besides, when playing people within a 50 to 100 point range it doesn't really matter who has a higher rating. The probability at that range is 50%. Anything can happen. That brings up two laws from "Murphy's Law, Book Two: more reasons things go wrong."

1. "All things being equal, you lose."
2. "All things being in your favor, you still lose."

In round one I played someone who has been in my quad every time I've played in Westfield. The funny thing is this time we should not have even been in the same quad. I should have been in #4, and he should have been in #6. The first time we played he was the unfortunate victim in this Wacky Wednesday post. In March we had a rather boring game that ended in draw after reaching this position. He had just played ...Kf8 and offered me a draw which I accepted.

What would our third game be like? It wasn't boring. It wasn't short in terms of time or number of moves. 67 of the total 70 minutes used and 58 moves long. Here's the game.


The remaining players in my quad were on the two extremes of the age scale. A little girl young enough to be my granddaughter, and a man old enough to be my father. The young girl was Alice Dong who last I played in Philadelphia at the Liberty Bell Open. We've played a few times, and our games are always interesting. Beware of cute little 10 year old girls that like to attack. Like our last game, she hung a bishop. Unfortunately I gave back more then a piece this time. I can't even blame it on the clock.

Black to move and lose. 35...Qc7?? 36. Qa8+ Kh7 37. Qg8+ Kg6 38. Bf7#

Given how my day had gone up that point, it was no great surprise when my third round opponent picked the white pawn when we did our toss for color. Beware of 85 year old men who like to attack, and can grind out an ending when the attack is stopped. He won a pawn on move 20. We slugged it out for another 38 moves, but a pawn is a pawn until it threatens to become a queen. Then all hope is lost.

Despite the Murphy mishaps, they asked me if I would like to join their directing team. I haven't said yes or no yet. They're also willing to give it another shot after they upgrade to Version 8. Next time I'm following the rules that got me through my corporate world days as a data center manager and computer trainer.

Rule #1: Never run a new procedure live.
Rule #2: Run the new procedure in parallel with the old procedure.
Rule #3: Back everything up in case you forgot to follow #1 and #2.

I may write my own book of Wright's Laws. Here are the first two.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

No good deed goes unpunished. (Mark Twain)
And yes, "Everything takes longer than you think." I started this post on Tuesday, and I'm finishing it a week after the event. It's good thing I can submit rating reports faster then I can write about events associated with a rating report.


chesstiger said...

That good old Murphy. Maybe better to invite Murphy for tea next time so you can watch what he is doing during and before the tournament. :-)

Blue Devil Knight said...

LOL. Awesome. You are too nice I think :)

I have a question. Rated 1050, why does the TD seem to pair me with people rated 1450 or higher when there are plenty of people rated 1200 or lower.

Even when I lose.

It is demoralizing and I don't like going to his tournaments much.

I have a paranoid fantasy that it is because he is rated 1500+ and I was able to draw him (and came very close to beating him), so he is punishing me.

Polly said...

BDK: The way the Swiss system works it's always top half versus bottom half within a score group. What may be happening in your case is may just be missing the cut off and ending out at the top of the bottom half. let's use this an example. You have 8 players in a score group as follows:


Divide the group in half the pairings will look like this:

1450 - 1050
1390 - 1030
1280 - 980
1240 - 940

I didn't make any color considerations in my example. I just listed how the match ups would be assigned.

Maybe in the next round you're at the top of the score group, but a player drops down from the score group of above, and he may be 1300.

Or you may be at the bottom of a score group and getting dropped down to play the highest in the lower group.

In theory the more you lose, the easier your competition should become. However if there are a lot of upsets you might never get paired down.

When I play on Thursday nights if I'm somewhere in the middle of the bottom half it only takes one upset on a board below me to have me play a 2000 in round two versus playing an 1100. If I play the 2000 and lose I won't get the 1100 in the next round. I'll probably play a 1400 - 1500. If the tournament is middle heavy I may still get paired up in round 3.

If the TD is following proper Swiss pairing rules then your TD is named Murphy, and you just keep ending out in the wrong part of the score group. :-) If your paranoid fantasy is true then you need to challenge his pairings.

Spend a little time reading the rule book to understand how the pairing system works. You may have no interest in becoming a TD, but I think it's to a player's advantage to understand as much as he can about what the TD is doing, how a tournament works, and the proper rules. Knowing and understanding the rules puts you in a better position to know your rights as a player.

It's hard playing 400 points higher round after round. If you can find some class tournaments with an under 1400 or under 1200 section that will help boost your confidence. If you get blown out of an under 1200 section, then there are other issues that I can't begin to help you with. However I don't think that will happen.

chesstiger said...

Also one looks at color when doing pairings. One may only be 2+ in a certain color, meaning one has played the first two rounds with white (thus 2+ white) one must have black in the third round which can mean that the normal half-half cut like Polly says isn't possible since you will not be the only one with a 2+ color thing. Which mean that you can get paired with a person higher up in the points group then you should with normal half-half cut.

I hope this is understandle for you, otherwise i am sure Polly can explain it much more clearer then i can.

Polly said...

Tiger: There are rating point limits when making switches for color. A transposition means changing a player within his half of the score group to fix color. An interchange involves switching a player from bottom of the upper half with a player from the top of the bottom half to fix color.

I'm not going to rehash the 10+ pages of the rulebook regarding switches for colors. That's why I'm happier letting the computer figure it all out.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Polly: many thanks for taking the time to explain this to me :) It makes excellent sense.

I tried to find the USCF rules online, but I only could find the book to buy. I guess I'll buy the book at some point. When is a new edition due out, or is it safe to buy the present edition now? (It seemed the internet chapter was in need of some expansion).

Anonymous said...

I see you writing about the White Plains chess club, but I didn't find a current website for it. How often does it meet? I would be interested in going on weeks my regular chess club (WCC) does not meet.


Polly said...

Marty: I'll add you to the email list. We have 3 round game/30 tournaments every Monday. The competition is getting tougher and tougher!

Polly said...

BDK: Buy the current rulebook. I'm not sure when the next edition will come out. Frequent rules discussions come up on the USCF Chess Tournament forum.

There are links to updates that have been made since the 5th Edition came out. I just can't find them. Grrr!

Saul R. Priever said...

Hi Polly,
Sorry to post this here on your blog, but I'm excited that you'll be in LA for John's Memorial Day weekend tournament! I will be playing in the 3 day Premier section.