final-four-2011

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Some dapper Jeremy Abbott, for sams-hams!

2011 Four Continents LP (S/P), 2014 Olympics SP (S/P), 2012 US Nationals SP (S/P), 2011 Fashion On Ice EX (S/P), 2009 Skate Canada LP (S/P), 2010 Stars On Ice EX (S/P), 2009 Grand Prix Final LP (S/P), 2009 Skate Canada EX (S/P), and 2009 NHK Trophy SP (S/P).

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VCU coach Shaka Smart does the ironman drill in preparation for his team’s appearance in the 2011 NCAA Men’s Final Four.

This was AWESOME.

Can I just take a second to say that my boys are in the FINAL FOUR! I have contained my excitement for too long. Despite the fact that I am in Europe, my dedication has been unwavering. I stayed up for the Ohio State game last Friday (it was on from 2:30am - 5am here), and for the UNC regional final on Sunday. 

Let me just say this was not the team I expected to go to the Final Four. Last year when it seemed as though we were poised to make it there. Mom and I were looking into tickets in nearby Indianapolis. However, our young team showed their age and, for lack of a better term, choked, in the Elite Eight against WVU. The Draft Cats, as they are apparently called couldn’t quite finish out their college run, and headed to the NBA.

This years team is the team no one expected out of Kentucky, especially after top recruit Enes Kanter was ruled ineligible by the NCAA. And early in the season, they didn’t seem to be doing anything too special. But when tournament time came around they really came together. And I think John Calipari should note, that this team isn’t successful due only to its immensely talented freshmen, but largely due to the hold-overs from the Gillespie era, juniors Deandre Liggins and Darius Miller, and senior Josh Harrelson, who really stepped up his game in the absence of Kanter. 

Without those upperclassmen, this team wouldn’t be in the final four. And despite Calipari’s fantastic recruiting classes, it was Josh Harrelson who carried off the East Regional Championship trophy with the winning net around his neck. Cal might want to make a note.

As a Cat’s fan I love having talented players, but I’d love to have them for you know…two years, maybe three, I’m not gonna bank on four, but if they feel like staying i’m not going to stop them. You need experience on a winning team as much as you need talent. And this team has the perfect balance of that. 

This has been a basketball post. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming of nerdy things. 

#Nerds like sports too

A Dilemma Facing The Final Four

The predictions that this year’s watered-down talent pool in college basketball would lead to chaos come tournament time have held true as we head into the Final Four this weekend in Houston. For the first time since tournament seeding began back in 1979, the Final Four will not contain a #1 or a #2 seed.

Is it exciting? Yes.

Good for the game? Some would argue.

However, one thing is certain; unless you are one of the fortuitous few in a position to benefit financially from your bracket, finding a team to cheer for in this final four is more difficult than trying to locate a legitimate win on John Calipari’s record in the last 15 years. 

One game features the two Cinderella stories in VCU and Butler, and the other is a battle between the traditional powerhouses in Kentucky and UConn. Regardless of the outcome in this weekend’s slate of games, the Championship game will feature a true David v Goliath, if David was incredibly obnoxious and Goliath a pathological cheater.

The Connecticut/Kentucky game will feature two of the dirtier coaches in college basketball, which will probably comes as a shock to the majority of you who have been paying attention to CBS’s coverage of the tournament. The love fest over Jim Calhoun and John Calipari that has been going on in the media this week is perturbing to say the least. Calhoun was praised for the way he has turned this season around despite the distractions off the court, never mind that those distractions we created by none other than Jim Calhoun. 

To enlighten you, the NCAA just recently concluded a 2-year investigation on Calhoun and the University of Connecticut basketball program which resulted in 8 major violations. The violations stemmed from a former manager for the UConn basketball team providing recruits with lodging, meals, representation, etc. ($$$$$). Despite the 1,400 phone calls and 1,100 between the Connecticut staff and the former manager who provided the benefits for these recruits, Calhoun stands by the fact that he knew of nothing that went on. Calhoun will serve a 3 game suspension NEXT season along with some other minor sanctions on scholarships, which sure seems like a suitable punishment for blatantly lying to the NCAA about illegal recruiting. Nevertheless, Calhoun will be considered a boy scout in this coaching match-up. 

It was great to hear Jim Nance gush over John Calipari’s accomplishments during Sunday’s game against North Carolina, mentioning time and time again the Coach Cal would be taking his 3rd team to the Final Four, failing to allude to the fact that not one of them has counted. Calipari is the only coach in the history of the NCAA to vacate Final Four’s at TWO separate schools. In 1996, UMass reached the Final Four with Cal at the helm, but was later stripped of that title after it was found the Marcus Camby had been taking money from agents. Calipari then made it back to the Final Four in 2008 with Memphis, but some Derrick Rose SAT issues cost them that season, and again he was forced to vacate the wins. I suppose it seems only fitting that Calipari would then be hired by one of the dirtiest and most penalized programs in NCAA Basketball history, the Kentucky Wildcats.

With a little help from the NCAA, Calipari has yet to be caught at Kentucky, despite several close calls. Last year’s star point guard John Wall was almost ruled ineligible to play for the school for accepting money from a FIBA-certified agent, but Wall was cleared after he paid the money back (Yes, it was definitely him who paid it back, who else would?). There was also an investigation run on another guard from last year’s team, Eric Bledsoe, who was in danger of not graduating from high school and had to have his transcripts looked into. The NCAA ruled for Kentucky in this case (I suppose the fact that he passed Algebra 2 the semester before he passed Algebra 1 is normal at some schools). Calipari’s star recruit this year, PF Enes Kanter, was ruled ineligible to play due to violating amateur status by taking money to play professionally in Europe. Lastly, Anthony Davis, who is Calipari’s number one recruit for next season, has been alleged to have asked for up to $150,000 from 3 different universities, but that case has been dropped as well.

So then it’s settled, you cheer for VCU and Butler, two CLEAN programs that no one expected to be there and who epitomize what the tournament is all about, right? Not so fast…

A large topic of conversation amongst the NCAA after last season revolved around the expansion of the NCAA Tournament. Many thought we could be looking at a 96-team field or even as many as 128 in the tournament as soon as this year. The final result was an expansion of the field from 64 to 68 teams, which would involve two “play-in” games taking place before the field of 64 was set, but the agenda of the NCAA had been established.

Virginia Commonwealth was only involved in this tournament because of the expansion of the field to 68 this year, going on a 5-game run in order to advance to the Final Four. VCU, an 11-seed, will face a Butler, an 8-seed, in Houston this weekend. Both teams have incredible young coaches and truly embrace the concept of team basketball.

I will admit that my issue with Butler is a bit biased, as I tend not to cheer for other Indiana schools. It also seems as though I am being force-fed by the rest of the country to like the Bulldogs and anoint Brad Stevens as the next John Wooden. However, I absolutely see the appeal to the casual fan of a mid-major school like Butler reaching the Final Four for the second straight year. Similarly, for a team like VCU to go from literally being the last team selected into the tournament to winning the entire thing would be an incredible accomplishment that I would ordinarily love to see, but there is a larger issue at stake.

The NCAA has made their intentions abundantly clear that they would like to further expand the field for the tournament. In my opinion, a team like Butler or VCU winning the entire thing would be a perfect excuse for them to do so, probably more-so if it were VCU considering they came all the way from the play-in game that the NCAA just implemented. Moving to a field of 96 or possibly even 128 teams would effectively take away the appeal of the both the NCAA Tournament and college basketball as a whole. With the conference tournaments, the regular season is already becoming less and less significant, and the expansion of the tournament would render it useless. Though the occasional ‘Cinderella’ is compelling to watch, the NCAA Tournament is at its best when the best teams and the best players are being showcased. Further expansion of the tournament will only make it increasingly difficult for the better teams to be rewarded. A team like VCU or Butler winning a National Championship would certainly seem to support the NCAA’s reasoning behind increasing the field, but it would really just be an overreaction to a down year for the upper-echelon teams in college basketball.

The 2011 NCAA Championship will feature the winner of UConn/Kentucky vs. the winner of VCU/Butler. Many fans will be cheering for good to triumph over evil, but if you care about the future of the sport, the decision isn’t all that easy.

A wee bit of aftermath after VCU lost in the Final Four. No no, definitely was not apart of the riot or nonsense. We made it as far as hell block and watched some kids set shit on fire. That’s enough chaos for me. 

Regardless. Awesome weekend with my awesome friends. Mike n’ Lu came down for a couple of days, and Mr. Roller spent the WHOLE weekend with us. So tight. Now back to the school grind (so close I can smell my damn degree) at least with awesome weather this week.


The Queen’s Gambit: Susan Polgar, the First Woman to Break the Chess Gender Barrier, Brings SPICE to Webster University
By Jeannette Cooperman
July 30, 2012 
8:58 AM

It hardly seemed fair. Hungarian-born Susan Polgár—who brought home the U.S.’s first Chess Olympiad medal and ranked among the top three women players in the world for 25 years—was hired by Texas Tech University in 2007 to create a chess program. She set to work, establishing the Susan Polgár Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE) and assembling a team. Four years later, Texas Tech won the 2011 Final Four—the World Series of collegiate chess—defeating long-established powerhouses.

Then, less than a year later, in February 2012, Polgár announced that she and her entire team would move to St. Louis. In April, the team won its second—and last—national championship for Texas Tech. Now Webster University, at least on paper, has the top-ranked team in the nation.

You see, Webster’s provost, Julian Z. Schuster, was born in Yugoslavia and loves chess the way Polgár does. He had heard whispers that funds from Texas Tech’s anonymous donor were running out and Polgár was getting nervous about her students’ scholarships. A mutual friend introduced Schuster and Polgár, and in the course of their conversation, she realized that not only was St. Louis a new hotbed of chess, but Webster University had global reach (100-plus campuses worldwide) and was prepared to give her team full and ample support.

The offer felt, she says, “like a lock finding its key.”
***

Polgar’s move was unprecedented, but by the laws of college athletics, entirely fair.

It’s her life until now that has so often felt unfair.

Zsuzsa Polgár (who now goes by Susan Polgár) was born, in a phrase that today seems almost overdramatic, “behind the Iron Curtain.” In the 1970s, that barrier was all too real, even in cultured Budapest. Travel, talk, and commerce were treated like controlled substances—dangerous and potentially addictive. Zsuzsa’s parents—László, a psychologist, and Klara, a teacher—were nearly thrown in jail for deciding to home-school her. But even before he married, László had decided how he wanted to rear his future children. “Genius is made, not born,” he insisted, reminding Klara of Mozart and other prodigies who were taught at an early age.

He watched their firstborn carefully, and when, at age 4, she picked up chess pieces like she was finding treasure, he seized his moment. He wasn’t much of a player himself, but he found books on chess and taught little Zsuzsa with pawn wars and checkmate puzzles. Six months later, sitting on pillows and phone books to reach the competition chessboards, she won the Girls’ Budapest Championship with a perfect 10–0 score.

László hired a coach.

Aunts and uncles watched the intense training and clicked their tongues against their teeth; this was no life for a healthy little girl. But Zsuzsa loved being able to play a game with somebody five times her size and age and see them as engaged as she was. “When I started defeating some of the older men I played, it was a big self-confidence boost,” she says now.

“I think I recognized pretty early on that I was different,” she continues thoughtfully. “I understand that in some ways it may be a trade-off, not having a ‘normal’ childhood. But it was fascinating to me to communicate with people 10, 20, 30 years older than me. I learned about the world. I was part of a lot of conversations about politics, about art, about entertainment. I was, I think, a girl that wanted to grow up very quickly.”

By the time she was 11, she was able to travel to other cities for tournaments. Walking into stores in Western Europe and seeing all those shoes, all the clothes, all the cheese…experiences like that were her equivalent of other girls’ sleepovers and pep rallies. But between 1982 and 1985, her travel slowed: “The Hungarian Chess Federation restricted me from traveling to the West, because I believed girls should be able to play in open tournaments with men. The federation leaders were all men, and they were hoping I would compete with the girls, where I would be a favorite to win, and they would get some nice trips for themselves, representing Hungary.”

Zsuzsa wouldn’t play their game. She was young, female, Jewish, and living in a communist country, but she was determined to become a chess grandmaster. Girls cannot do that, the men around her insisted. “They came up with all sorts of theories,” she scoffs. “‘Women cannot keep quiet.’ ‘Women have a smaller brain.’”

In 1981, she won her first world title, the World Youth Chess Championship for girls under 16. She was 12. Three years later, she was the top-rated woman chess player in the world. In 1986, at age 17, she became the first woman in history to qualify for what was then called the Men’s World Chess Championship.

“I was thrilled,” she says. “I was so, so happy. I thought, ‘The world is ahead of me, and everything is going to go smoothly.’”

Several months after qualifying, she received a call from the Hungarian Chess Federation, explaining that she could not compete for the 1987 championship because she was not a man.

FIDE (the Fédération Internationale des Échecs, or World Chess Federation) changed its regulations to allow her to compete in the next championship cycle, in 1990. “Three years is a long time,” she says quietly. “It was a big setback, motivationwise.”

Then, she says, just after she was told she couldn’t compete against men, “something unbelievable happened. The international federation decided, based on a request from the Soviets—who didn’t like the fact that a non-Soviet was leading in women’s chess—all other women should get 100 points” for the women’s world championship. The rationale was that Zsuzsa had earned her top rating by playing primarily against men, so the other women chess players had deflated ratings from playing in women-only tournaments.

She competed without the 100 extra points and got knocked out of the No. 1 spot. She still wound up ranked third in the world.

***

In 1988, Zsuzsa and her two younger sisters, Judit and Zsófia (then ages 12 and 14), played on the four-woman team that represented Hungary at the Chess Olympiad, held that year in Thessaloniki, Greece. The Soviet women’s coach, Eduard Gufeld, was growing weary of all the fuss over their brilliance: The Soviets, after all, had won the gold in every Olympiad they participated in. Gufeld predicted that the Polgárs would suffer a comeuppance: “I believe that these girls are going to lose a good part of their quickly acquired image,” he said briskly. “Afterward we are going to know if the Hungarian sisters are geniuses or just women!”

They won Hungary the gold medal.

“That kind of opened all the doors,” says Susan. In 1991, she became the first woman to win the title of grandmaster by performing at grandmaster level three times in succession. “In a way, it was a big relief,” she recalls. “It’s like finishing a life goal. At the same time, it gives you a feeling of, ‘Now what is my next goal?’”

She answered herself immediately: moving closer to the world championship. In 1992, she won the women’s blitz and rapid chess world championships. In 1993, she tried for the classical world championship, and she led through the entire semifinal match. Then, after trailing behind for two weeks, her opponent equalized and tied the score. “The rule at the time was, if it keeps being a tie, you just simply decide by a draw of luck,” Susan explains. “Literally, we had two boxes to pick from, to get either a gold or a silver.” Asked what kind of box, she winces: “I have tried not to remember the details.” Her opponent chose the box containing the gold.

In 1996, Susan finally won the Women’s World Championship. She was now the only player in history, man or woman, to win the triple crown of chess: world championships in the classical, blitz, and rapid styles.

The championship tournament was held every two years, so she would defend her title in 1998. She was supposed to find out her opponent and the location six months ahead of time. But she’d still heard nothing in February 1998, when the match should have been played. She was now married to her first husband, and he was eager to start a family. FIDE said it was having trouble finding a sponsor for her title defense match. Finally, in the summer of 1998, she went ahead and got pregnant. That fall, FIDE announced the match was set for early April 1999. Her child was due in mid-March.

Susan asked for a six-month extension. She was told an extension could not be granted.

Furthermore, the match was to be held not on neutral ground, but in China—the home country of her challenger, Xie Jun. And the prize fund was to be half of its previously stipulated minimum of 300,000 Swiss francs.

“I said, ‘What about helping me with two out of three?’” she recalls wryly. “At that point, I was still training, flying in my coaches from Israel and Russia, and I wanted enough money to pay a full-time nanny.”

FIDE said no. The match wound up being delayed until July anyway, so Jun could play a different contender. Susan sued in the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland, and was awarded monetary damages. But what mattered most—the title—could not be restored, as it now belonged to someone else.

She retired from competitive chess.

“I was, obviously, discouraged,” she says. “And I wanted to be with the baby, and my priorities started changing. I figured I’d won enough prizes; maybe it was time to refocus and use my fame to open doors for others.”

***

Susan’s sisters continued to compete, and Judit is currently regarded as the world’s top woman player. “She is a lot more aggressive and takes more chances than I do,” Susan says. “Generally, I like to have a solid development before I will start an attack. I like to have a solid strategic place, create weaknesses in the opponent’s position, play longer endgames.”

After Susan had her second child, she started dreaming the way her father had, thinking about how chess affects young minds by developing the ability to plan ahead, understand cause and effect, and learn from mistakes. “You need to be creative, to calculate and readjust,” she says. “In a single chess game, you typically have to make 30 to 50 decisions. It helps organize your thinking process, because you constantly have that process of evaluating and deciding.”

She especially wanted to see children learn chess between kindergarten and second grade, when their thinking processes were being shaped. She also wanted to see societies learn chess’s lessons, so they could resolve disputes thoughtfully, logically, and peacefully. But to reach that point, chess had to become more than a game. It had to be respected—and supported—the way it is in Europe.

(“I also believed chess champions should be rewarded a lot more,” she adds with a twinkle in her eye. “Maybe not quite as much as football players—but close.”)

In 2003, the U.S. Chess Federation’s executive director begged Susan to come out of retirement. She decided that if she competed for the U.S. and hopefully won some medals, it could help her larger goals. So she agreed to compete in the 2004 Chess Olympiad in Majorca—on the U.S. women’s team.

“I was ready to play every match except the one against my native country,” she says. “That’s what alternates are for. But as fate gave it to us, our countries were paired against each other at the very end of the competition, when a lot relied on the match. So I had a sleepless night.”

As if her internal battle weren’t fierce enough, she received messages from compatriots threatening to kill her if she played against Hungary. “I did. I won. And I hope I won’t ever have to do that again,” she says quietly.

The team brought home a silver medal, the first Women’s Chess Olympiad medal in U.S. history. Polgár also won two gold medals for performance. (She’s never lost an Olympiad game.)

In 2005, she broke four international records in a single match in Palm Beach, Fla.: the largest number of simultaneous games played (326), the most consecutive games played (1,131), the highest number of games won (309), and the highest percentage of wins (96.93 percent).

Hold on: 326 simultaneous games? “It’s I guess visually impressive to a non–chess player,” she says with a shrug, “but the reality is that when you look at a position, you see a lot of things immediately. A piece is hanging on to be captured, or a checkmate’s coming up…

You simply recognize what’s going on.”

In 2006, Susan won the U.S. its first Women’s World Chess Cup.

Polgár remains eligible to compete. And now she’s in St. Louis to coach future wins for Webster University.

***

Isn’t coaching a little…tame, after all of her life’s drama? “Competing has its beauty—the tension, the challenge, and obviously, winning,” she concedes. “It’s a fulfilling feeling when you outsmart your opponents. In coaching, you have less pressure, and less of the direct impact of winning or losing. But it’s more nerve-racking, because you are not in control.” That part’s slowly getting easier, she says. “I think with age, you don’t take things so much to the heart anymore. You do whatever you can and let fate decide the rest.”

As glassed-off as each chess match can feel, she’s glad her students have a team. “The fact that they don’t just play for themselves, but also for their SPICE family, I think is quite important,” she says. “Russia has been ranked No. 1 so many times, yet lost because of the lack of chemistry in the team.” She watches over her players, making sure there’s camaraderie, discipline, and balance—not too much cockiness or timidity, the distractions of dating and wine kept in check, and physical fitness as well as emotional stamina maintained.

“What happens is, because you put in so much effort and a tournament is the culmination of years of preparation, it’s very tense,” she says. “At least in some sports, it’s over soon—you have two minutes to swim the relay and then you’re done. Here you need to maintain that tension and discipline for two weeks. When I was preparing for world championships, I was doing physical exercise to develop not only endurance and fitness but self-confidence. Trust me, after two-thirds of that time on the treadmill, I was saying, ‘When is it over already?’ But to still accomplish that goal, day after day, even when I didn’t feel like going—overcoming that sensation of giving up was very important for me.”

On the chessboard, there’s at least the consolation that you’re not going to be tackled or hurled to the ice. “There’s no physical contact,” she concedes, “but that mental competition can be even more painful or draining. It’s actually horrible when you lose.” She still winces at the thought of her loss to a German grandmaster 15 years ago: “I missed getting checkmate in three moves, and it was a checkmate I’d been teaching my students three weeks earlier!”

***

Susan Polgar has made chess her life’s obsessive focus. She grew up in a hothouse of genius theory. Yet overall, she seems pretty sane. She and her sisters are as brilliant as their parents intended. “We are all competitive,” she says, “but not with each other.” She is once divorced (chess’s cool logic doesn’t always help with relationships, she concedes) but happily remarried, and Truong now manages her team. Their four children play chess to varying degrees, she says, and lead as balanced a life as she knows how to give them.

For fun, she plays table tennis and swims. “I love music, mostly pop. Not”—she hesitates, then pronounces the term distinctly—“hip-hop. Michael Bublé or Italian music or ’80s disco music. When I lived in New York, I saw all the Broadway shows. For a long time, my favorite movie was Coming to America. The latest is The Vow.”

Chess can be as entertaining as a good movie, she insists—if it’s carefully edited: “You cannot show six-hour games live. You highlight the critical moments, when one player or the other makes a mistake and how he felt. It’s the ambience you want, the drama and the emotions.”

Above all, she says, “You need to introduce the personalities. Some are very outgoing and good-looking; others are funny or sexy. That’s what chess is lacking: that marketing to put it out in the mainstream. Poker or golf or tennis, those activities weren’t always in the mainstream as they are today. And I think chess has no less to offer.”

Source: http://www.stlmag.comChess Daily News from Susan Polgar via Susan Polgar Global Chess Daily News and Information