Saturday, December 18, 2010

Adventures in Chess Journalism: Getting there is half the fun!

I got back from Orlando on Monday.  It's taken me most of the week to catch my breath and collect my thoughts.  It was a busy weekend as I tried to keep track of what was happening in 13 different sections, and sort out who I had taken pictures of and who I still needed shots of.  Multitasking was the operative word as I juggled my various tasks over the course of the three days.  However getting there was probably my biggest challenge.

In the past I've usually traveled on the same flight with the kids on our team.  We would get down early so the kids could play in the blitz tournament.  However this year people made all of their own travel arrangements.  Some came down Wednesday so they could go to Disney or Universal and then play in the bughouse tournament Thursday morning.  Other came down Thursday morning so they would get there for the blitz.  I had three classes to teach on Thursday so instead of trying to get substitutes I decided to do my three classes.  Chess teachers don't get paid vacation, so I decided it was worth teaching the classes and taking a later flight.

My last class on Thursdays is in Manhattan on the Upper East Side.  It finished at 4:00 pm, so I had 2.5 hours to get to JFK airport and still have an hour before my 7:29 departure.  There are two things I don't like to do during rush hour.  One is try to take a bus to the airport.  The other is to take a taxi to the airport.  The fastest way around New York City is by train.  However unlike some of the wonderful cities I've visited where there is direct train service in and out of the city to the airport and back, New York sorely lacks in that department.  Chicago has the Blue Line into city and easy transfers.  San Francisco has BART into Powell St.  Seattle recently put in a direct train from SeaTac. Then there is London and Paris where it's easy to get to and from the airport.  So what the hell is New York's problem?

It's relatively easy if you're near Penn Station.  You can take the LIRR out to Jamaica and catch the Sky train there.  However 82nd St and Lexington Avenue is 3 different trains to get to Penn Station.  Lexington Avenue line to Grand Central, shuttle train from Grand Central to Times Square and then #1, 2 or 3 line to Penn Station.  Once you get there you still have to get a ticket for the LIRR train.  I hate Penn Station under normal circumstances.  It's the basement, the ceiling are low and feels claustrophobic. It's even worse during rush hour.  I really didn't want to deal with my luggage, getting a ticket and dealing with all the crazed commuters trying to get home.

I decided I would adventuresome and try to do the entire trip by subway.  I got on the subway and when I got to 59th St. I thought one of the train lines that goes straight out to the Sky Train left from 59th St.  I was wrong, however I really nice lady explained what I needed to do.  She said take the R strain one stop to Queens Plaza and transfer to the E train.  The E would take me right to the Sky Train.  The next train that pulled in was an N train going to Queensboro Plaza.  I figured that was same thing.  However if I looked at a subway map before I got on the train I would have discovered that Queens Plaza and Queensboro Plaza are two distinct stops that have nothing to do with each other except they both begin with Queens and end with Plaza.

Oh crap! Now I'm in Queens, but not sure whether the train I'm on is going where I want to go.  I look at the subway map to see if the N line has a place where there's a transfer to the E.  It looks like there is, but I ask someone to see if I'm right.  She tells me I need to get on the 7 train, and transfer.  She tells me to follow her.  So we get off the N train in a few stops and get on the number 7 train.  I have no idea where I'm going at this point, but I'm putting my faith in this stranger that she'll get me to the E train.  In the mean time I'm starting look at my watch nervously, wondering if I'd make it on time to catch my flight.  Fortunately I wasn't checking any bags and my frequent flyer status on American would get me through security quicker. I also had purposely left myself plenty of time to get from the upper East side to JFK.

My guardian angel tells me we're going to change from the number 7 express to the local because the express skips the stop I need.  We get off the train and wait for a local.  Again I'm glancing at my watch, but I still have over two hours until departure.  It just means less time in the Admiral's Club to surf the internet and finish up the previous post.  A local train pulls in.  She tells me that she's getting off at the next stop, and that I should go one more stop. She tells me the E train is all the way at the bottom of that subway stop. She told me there were elevators to the bottom.  However when I got off the train I couldn't find them right away so I started walking down many flights of steps with my suitcase and backpack.  On one level I did find the elevators, but there were a number of people waiting so I just kept taking the stairs.

Finally I get to the platform for the E train.  It was obvious which side of the platform I wanted.  I could safely eliminate the side with Manhattan bound trains on it.  I spent way too much time getting out of Manhattan.  I knew I didn't want to go back.  I still didn't know how long it would take me to get to the Sky Train.  Nor did I know how long the ride on the Sky Train took to get to JFK.  However at this point I was just relieved to be on the right train. Finally I knew where I was going, and no longer felt like some dumb out of town tourist without a clue.  I pride myself on being a savvy New Yorker who can help tourists get where they want to go on the subway.  I guess every once in awhile it doesn't hurt to have someone return the favor.

I finally got to JFK and to terminal 8.  I couldn't believe how dead it was.  Even if I had a bag to check it would have taken no time at all.  I already had my boarding pass so I just went straight to security and breezed right through.  The hardest part was pulling myself back together once I got through.  Now I remember why when I'm traveling I don't normally wear pants that require a belt.  It's just one more thing to have to fuss with at security and when using the bathroom.  That morning I put on normal work clothes because the new travel outfit I got really didn't fit right.  The pants I grabbed are a little big in the waist so a belt is necessary.  Note to self: When traveling never wear pants have a zipper and need a belt.  There is a reason woman's travel clothes always have an elastic waistband.

The flight was very uneventful. I saw a few familiar faces of other chess people heading down for the tournament.  When I got off the plane I hooked up with one of the other coaches I knew.  He too hadn't checked any luggage.  He was also taking the Disney Magic Express to the hotel.  It's a free shuttle to the hotel and if your flight arrives before 10:00 PM they'll pick up your luggage and deliver it to your room.  Our flight didn't get in until 10:30 PM, so that wasn't an option for me. I didn't really care, especially since I had checked luggage anyway.   I'd never used the shuttle service before since in past trips I've traveled with the team, and we would have vans take us to the hotel.  Jeremy had used it on his last trip, but couldn't remember where it was.  We spent a lot of time wandering around the A concourse looking for the bus and finally found out we needed to go to the B concourse.  It would have helped if I read the instructions that had been mailed along with my bus vouchers.  DUH!

However at least I had read the part about the luggage transfer service not being available after 10:00 PM.  One of the other coaches did not read that part, and left his bag at the airport to be transferred to the hotel.  It was only when he got to the hotel that he found out that his bag was not being picked up and he needed to go get it himself.  By the time he went back to the airport, found his bag, and came back it was well past 1:00 am.  So much for a good night's sleep before Friday's games.  Fortunately round 1 wasn't until 1:00 pm.  That still gave him plenty of time to sleep in and still help prep any of his students who wanted to do a last minute review before the first round.

I was happy that I got a room in building 3 which was just as close as building 1 to the convention center and main part of the hotel.  My colleague with the AWOL suitcase ended out in one of the buildings on the other side of the lake.  The first year we attended this tournament at this site we were in one of those buildings far away from the convention center.   When we came back two years later we made a point of booking early and getting into building 1.  This year I had made my own reservation, but I was hoping one of the early arrivals from the team could check me in.  However they needed my photo ID.  At least she was able to request that I be put as close to the rest of the group as possible.  Building 3 was fine. 

I don't mind the walk around the lake.  I did numerous laps around the lake with various people during the course of the weekend.  It was a nice way to catch up with people without being interrupted by questions or the overwhelming desire to hunt for the next picture or story.  Sometimes the only way to relax is to just go for a walk far from the action.  I needed the walk breaks in order to clear my mind, and mull over possible ideas. Fortunately as the tournament progressed it was easier to come up with ideas for my story.

Stay tuned...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Black Is Beautiful!

I'm not referring to how I play with the Black pieces.  I'm referring to my new Tae Kwon Do belt.

Black Belt - 1st Dan

The week before Thanksgiving I did my Black Belt test.  Somebody in the comments section asked me if I passed.  If you make it to the Black Belt test, you're not failing.  You've made it that far because you met all the training requirements, including a 24 hour fast, a three hour meditation and successfully passed four other tests (gup tests).  I suppose it's possible screw up so badly at the Black Belt test that they make you do it over again.  However that would mean pulling the all-time choke job.

I actually was pretty relaxed going into the test.  I think I was more nervous during the four gup tests I had done in the last year.  I think that's because I never knew what I would have to do.  I would be told I would be doing certain color belt forms, but most times I ended out doing other ones instead.  It often depended what color belts were testing at the same time.  For this test we knew exactly what forms and one-step sparring routines we would do and we knew what type of breaks we would do.

Everything I did leading up to board breaking had gone well.  I didn't mix up the forms and I remembered all the defensive moves in the one-step sparring.  In the picture below I'm completing the take down move of this particular sequence.

After all the forms and sparring, Grandmaster Kim had us doing pushups, situps, some endurance drills of 100 punches and then 100 kicks.  The 100 kicks are particularly exhausting.  In the picture below I'm doing the 100 punches.  If you look at the picture you'll notice I'm the lone adult on that one row.  That's what happens when you're the shortest adult test candidate.  There were 5 people in each row.  With 14 children there three row of kids, but I filled out the last spot in the last row of kids.

Fortunately in Tae Kwon Do I don't have to compete against kids like I do in chess.  Given my "success" in chess against kids I found it kind of amusing that I would be the one adult in the row of little kids.  There were two teenage kids in the row behind me.  Teenagers are treated like adults in these tests.

By my feet is the board that I was supposed to break using a speed chop.  I hold the board in one hand and break it with the other hand.  The Monday before the test we had a board breaking class.  In that class I nailed my breaks.  The speed chop and back kick breaks I did on my first try.  The spinning hook kick break took a few tries.  However that was vast improvement over the previous month where I had a lot of difficulty with it.

Notice everyone else is watching because they're all done.

For what ever reason I could not do the speed chop on the first try.  Nor could I do it on the second, third or 4th try.  Each attempt got me more flustered and my focus was rapidly vanishing.  Finally they held the board and had me attempt the chop.  I still couldn't do it.  They finally had me do a hammer fist break.  The hammer fist break is the most basic break.  That's the break a new student does in the trial lesson.  It's also the break that a newbie does in his first belt test.  Here I am having to resort to that break to do a hand break.  Note: Last week in board breaking class I once again nailed it on the first try.

Once the speed chop went awry I could not get my focus back to perform the back kick and spinning hook kicks.  Again I was the last one to finish.  I eventually got the back kick done but they held up two children's boards instead of the regular board.  The spinning hook kick did not happen at all.  That's a kick I have difficulty with even under normal circumstances.  Under pressure to perform I couldn't do it.

What happened during that portion of the test reminds me of some of my chess meltdowns.  It's hard for me to get back on track when I'm still thinking about what happened before.  Since taking up Tae Kwon Do I have found many similarities in the mind skills necessary for chess and martial arts.   The same type of concentration and focus is needed to progress and be successful in both.  As I discovered in this test, the loss of focus or inability to move on can disrupt one's form in Tae Kwon Do just as much as it can in chess.  I know doing a martial art has helped me in chess though at times my results don't necessarily reflect it.  I've been working on a post reflecting on my Black Belt training and preparation and how it compares to chess training.  I will finish it eventually!

This picture was taken at the Black Belt Tea Ceremony that was held several weeks after the test.  One does not receive the new black belt at the test like one does for color belts.  Instead there is a waiting period and then this formal ceremony where you are presented your belt. It's a lovely ceremony and steeped in much Korean tradition.  Grandmaster Kim ties each belt first around his waist and then around the recipient's waist.  The reason behind this is a symbolic gesture of the bond between teacher and student.  The teacher being loyal to his student and his student being loyal to her teacher.

I started this post Wednesday night. I continued working on it sitting in the airline lounge at JFK yesterday evening.  I'm finishing it in between rounds at the National K-12 Championships in Orlando.  I will be taking pictures for Chess Life Online and also writing another article for Chess Life.  Come back for the adventures of Polly the chess journalist.  Getting to the airport was just the beginning of my adventures.  Stay tuned.