Monday, September 19, 2005

On Independent Coverage of the US Chess League

An Open Response to Ilya Krasik

I would like to thank Ilya for his comment to my post on the US Chess League match between the Boston Blitz and Carolina Cobras. The issues that he raises provide me the opportunity to share my perspectives on what I’ve been trying to do by offering coverage of the league.

But before we start, I wanted to first respond to the implied suggestion that I am somehow trying to disguise my identity as a poster on BCC Weblog. This, I believe, is suggested in Ilya’s comment as well as those by JavaMaster and jim,s (For the record, I will point out that the comments of all three emanate from the same IP address. I will leave it up to each reader to interpret the meaning of this as they see fit.)

While I do use only my initials on the blog, this actually has more to do with branding within the chess blogosphere than any attempt to hide my identity. It provides an easy to remember, recognized moniker for other bloggers to use when linking to my posts or otherwise referring to me. This is actually quite common in the blogosphere – while we know the name of the person who was behind Man De La Maza, we all call him Don; the same is true of J’adoube, Tempo and many others. In fact, I’m quite sure that most of the frequent readers of the blog know my actual name. It probably takes only about a minute or two of searching around the web to figure it out. Ilya/JavaMaster/jim,s, since you might not be inclined to take that time let me make it easier for you. Here are four simple ways to get my name:
  1. Check the list of Boylston Chess Club members. Look for people with the initials DG.

  2. Ask the team captain of the Boston Blitz. He happens to be the President of the BCC and he certainly knows who runs the blog.

  3. Click the link to the 2004 BCC Championship Weblog. Not only will you find my name listed numerous times, there’s also a picture or two to check out.

  4. Click on the link under “Contact” on the sidebar and send an e-mail to BCCAdmin. I’ll be happy to send you my name.
To summarize, I am not hiding behind a pseudonym. I stand behind everything I write in this blog – good or bad, right or wrong – and I have always welcomed the criticisms of readers.

Now, let me start by reprinting Ilya’s comment unedited and in full:
Indeed the sound was off, and i played at the computer console for the last our because of lack of time. I was looking on the board which was maximized not on the small line on the bottom where i would see "DRAW". It was an exhausting game both physically and mentally as i had managed(again) to squander what was a winning game. Then i was worse and had to make precise moves not to lose in the time scramble that followed, and not to let my team down. I didnt feel that i took unnessary risks, although because of time pressure which sometimes got down to 30 sec, and nerves the game became marred in mistakes. Whoever is blogging here has no clue what's going on, both in terms of actual positions and also in terms of his personal attacks. I would only say that if you live in the Boston area and would really like to see what's going on, come down to MCC in Natick and support our team. Also, it is free to watch on ICC, (with the exception of live GM games).

As for the wise-ass blogger over here i would like to stress that he has no affiliation with our team in any shape or form and is simply acting like a bafoon out for silly publicity. I do not know why he decided to single one person out for the team's results but i can assure you that this is not the kind of attitude present on the team itself.

Because it is a new league, we are still learning and adjusting every week to changes that need to be made. I had wanted to have the sound on, so that we dont miss a move when it is made, however i was overuled because it was decided that it would be a distraction to other players. Of course when only one game remains the sound should be turned on and we will fix that. Take care
In order to respond to Ilya’s points, I would first like to establish a metaphor which I think will be helpful in understanding my perspective. Think of the USCL as Major League Baseball, both after all are sports leagues in the United States that are national in scope (let’s debate whether chess is a sport at another time, and yes I know there is still one Canadian team left in Baseball). Now think of the Boston Blitz as the Boston Red Sox – both are the teams that represent the region around Boston, Massachusetts. Ok, now I need you to keep an open mind. Think of USCL coverage in the chess blogosphere as equivalent to the sports pages of the Boston Herald, the Big Show on WEEI SportsRadio, and/or RemDawg’s color commentary during the games on NESN. You see, what I am experimenting with is establishing independent media coverage of the USCL – emphasis on the word “independent.” My posts to date have reflected several different approaches that I am trying, e.g., fan newsletter, straight reporting, real-time color commentary.

I am very intrigued by this concept and think it offers growth potential opportunities for both the USCL and the chess blogosphere. In fact, I have had discussions with league comissioner Greg Shahade about this very idea. We talked about recruiting bloggers to cover each of teams, providing bloggers “inside” access, and promoting this independent coverage on the USCL site. These are all things that probably won’t happen this year, but could be part of year two if we (the league and the blogging community) put some energy and focus into it.

Please keep this metaphor – Major League Baseball and its independent media coverage – in mind as I discuss Ilya’s specific comments. I will come back to it often.

Whoever is blogging here has no clue what's going on…in terms of actual positions…

While I’m not entirely sure what Ilya is saying here, I think he is suggesting that I am not a strong enough player to be commenting on these games and that my descriptions and assessments are incorrect. First, let’s deal with the facts. Based on ratings I am, in fact, not as strong a player as Ilya or anyone else playing for the Boston Blitz (or probably for any other USCL team for that matter). To underscore the point, let me share my one OTB encounter with Ilya which, as you’ll see, he won quite easily:

Krasik,I (2148) - DG (1981)
BCC April TNS Somerville, MA (2), 14.04.2005
D36: Queen's Gambit Declined: Exchange Variation: Main line (5 Bg5 c6 6 Qc2)

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.Nc3 e6 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Qc2 g6 7.Bg5 Be7 8.e3 Bf5 9.Bd3 Bxd3 10.Qxd3 0-0 11.Bxf6 Bxf6 12.h4 Nd7 13.h5 Re8 14.hxg6 hxg6 15.0-0-0 Kg7 16.g4 Qe7 17.Rdg1 Bg5 18.Rh5 gxh5 19.gxh5

19...Kh6? [critical was 19...f6 20.Nh4 Qe6] 20.Nxg5 Qxg5 21.Rxg5 Kxg5 22.Qh7 Kf6 23.e4 Nb6 24.Qh6+ Ke7 25.e5 Rad8 26.Qf6+ Kd7 27.Qxf7+ Re7 28.Qf6 Rg8 29.Ne2 Rg2 30.Ng3 Re6 31.Qf7+ Re7 32.e6+ Kd8 33.Qf8+ Re8 34.Qf6+ Kc7 35.b3 Nc8 36.h6 Rh2 37.Qf7+ Re7 38.Qf4+ Kb6 39.Qf6 Rh7 40.Qd8+ Ka6 41.Qxc8 R2xh6 42.b4 Rf6 43.Qd8 1-0

However, it seems ridiculous to me to suggest that players with lower ratings are automatically disqualified from commenting and reporting on the games of high rated players. It’s the same as suggesting that Peter Gammons shouldn’t be able to write about baseball since he was never a major league ballplayer.

Further, most readers of the blog know they aren’t reading commentary from a master. I have never hidden my strength (or lack thereof) from the readers; in fact, I have posted about it (by the way, you’ll find a link in this post which provides a 5th way to find out my name). Are some of my assessments wrong? Probably, perhaps certainly, but they do reflect my best efforts and I do try to be honest about positions I don’t really grasp or understand. For example, in the post in question, I wrote, “It's too early for me to tell which way this one is going.” Further, the comment link allows any reader to share an alternative perspective.

So to summarize this section, I contend that 1) a chess player of any skill is entitled to provide independent commentary on the USCL and its games, 2) I have done nothing to hide from readers my actual skill level as a player, 3) my commentary reflects my best efforts, and 4) those with alternative views are welcome to contribute their perspectives.

…he has no affiliation with our team in any shape or form…

Thank you for making my point. What I am providing is INDEPENDENT media coverage of the Boston Blitz and the USCL – independent of the team, independent of the league. The sports reporters at the Boston Herald do not work for the Boston Red Sox, but they do report on the team. The talk show hosts on SportsRadio don’t work for the team either, but they give their opinions about them everyday.

Whether I am assuming the role of reporter, color commentator or editorialist, I am doing so out of my own interest and initiative. I don’t think any of the readers of this blog are confused on this point. Nor do I think that Goran or Michael’s readers believe that they are representatives of the league. But, just to be clear – my coverage is independent; it is not directed by the team or the league; I am not trying to represent myself as a member of the team or the league; I cultivate my own sources of information; the opinions I express are my own; I, and I alone, stand behind what I write. Is anyone still unclear on this?

… out for silly publicity.

We can certainly debate the merits of the modifier “silly” (after all, many people think it is “silly” for people like us to spend so much time on a “silly” game), but otherwise I’m guilty as charged on this one. My goal as a blogger is to produce content of quality and interest and thereby build a loyal (and hopefully, growing) readership. To that end, I am constantly experimenting with new concepts and ideas. Independent coverage of the USCL is one of those ideas.

While certainly not attributable to USCL coverage alone, I would have to say that, in general, what I am doing is working. BCC Weblog receives critical acclaim from readers and other bloggers, is frequently linked throughout the chess blogosphere and is growing its readership (almost 50% in just the last 3-4 weeks). Unlike the Boston Herald, I’m not trying to sell papers – I’ve not tried in any way to monetize the blog for the foundation. So what we are left with is publicity -- for the club and for the contributors.

My reputation as a blogger is shaped by the extent to which readers appreciate the content I provide them and/or find me to be a credible source of information. And it is definitely one of my goals to develop a strong reputation in the chess blogosphere; what’s wrong with that? Of course, it’s the readers that will decide.

Indeed the sound was off, and i played at the computer console for the last [h]our because of lack of time. I was looking on the board which was maximized not on the small line on the bottom where i would see "DRAW".

Now we can address the specific facts of the case at hand. Based on Ilya’s description of the events, which seems both reasonable and plausible, there is no doubt that my commentary regarding the draw offers did not accurately describe his experience or his actions. I am happy to report that fact in the blog (both through the comments on the original post as well as through what I am writing here). I am also quite comfortable in saying that with these facts in hand, I certainly no longer have support for the contention that he played “selfishly.” Consider that characterization withdrawn.

While I accept responsibility for this error, I think consideration of the context is necessary. I was watching the match on the ICC (this is quite clear from the post) and reporting the impressions and experiences of someone watching on the computer (not live). In addition, I was providing real-time play-by-play and had no means to investigate beyond what I could see on my screen before posting; that’s simply one of the limitations of this approach. In this context, I believe that my commentary (while wrong on the facts, in this particular case) was an accurate reflection of an ICC viewer’s experience. In fact, while this would not have been visible to Ilya, anyone who was watching his game on the ICC that night can confirm that my characterizations of the draw offers and “non-acceptances” were quite measured compared to many of the comments in the gallery. Quite simply, the virtual crowd was up in arms.

Second, given the seemingly strange occurrences on Board 4 during the match, I started investigating the next day to see if I could discover more about what happened. I emailed Greg Shahade on Thursday to see what he knew; his comments on the post were in response to that e-mail. I spoke to the team captain of the Boston Blitz on Thursday night. And when JavaMaster left a comment – “MR. DG i think you should shut your mouth because a lot of nonsense is coming out of it”. – I asked if he had any information to share. As I learned more about the actual circumstances, it was always my intent to do a follow-up post clarifying what happened and talking more broadly about some of the “technical” challenges facing the new league (I’ll probably save the broader topic for later in the season). In any case, Ilya’s comment and this piece render that post unnecessary.

In summarizing this section, let me repeat another of Ilya’s points, “Because it is a new league, we are still learning and adjusting every week to changes that need to be made”. This statement is absolutely true, not only for the league but also for those of us who chose to cover it.

Whoever is blogging here has no clue what's going on…in terms of his personal attacks

While I have no doubt that Ilya believes my post contains personal attacks on him, I actually do not agree with this characterization. Back to our baseball analogy, when the guys on SportsRadio complain that Mark Bellhorn "sucks" because he leads the league in strikeouts, I don’t believe they are making a personal attack on him. Instead, I contend that they are describing his performance (or lack thereof) on the field. In the same way, I believe what I wrote about Ilya were (negative) descriptions of his performance, but not personal attacks. I think some people will agree with this line of reasoning, others not. Feel free to decide for yourself.

As to the specific characterizations, as I said above I can no longer support the term “selfish.” However, while perhaps an overly harsh choice of words, I continue to stand behind “pathetic.” As a minor proof point for this consider Ilya’s own words – “i had managed (again) to squander what was a winning game.” Not withstanding Greg Shahade’s contention that no one could have been expected to do better under the circumstances, I believe fans can and should expect more. If Keith Foulke blows saves in the ninth, fans are entitled to boo and reporters to suggest that he be replaced, waived or traded. Management, of course, will do whatever they think is best for the team. I was certainly not suggesting that I could have done better (we’ve already established that I would have done worse). However, while a bit of hyperbole, my comment regarding a “trade to Vancouver” did intend to suggest that NM Riordan probably could, and ought to be given a try on Board 4. Unfortunately, the composition of the Blitz roster makes that somewhat difficult, but that’s a topic for another post I am working on.

The major piece of information which informed my “pathetic” opinion was this position after Black’s 82nd move of last week’s game:

With White to move, this is as dead a draw as dead can be against a player of reasonable skill level. I wouldn’t play out such a position against a B-player, never mind a Master. Yet, this game continued for 15(!) additional moves. Fair-minded people will differ on their opinion of this, but in my view this was an insult to the opponent as well as the game itself. It’s only my opinion; others should feel free to disagree.

While we are still on the topic of personal attacks, I thought I might point out that in their comments Ilya/JavaMaster referred to me as a "tool", "wise-ass" and "buffoon." I believe there is a metaphor about pots and kettles that might apply here.

I do not know why he decided to single one person out for the team's results

I think the baseball analogy works perfectly here. There are two outs in the ninth inning, the bases are loaded and your team is down by a run; if you strike out then you failed to deliver for your team. Even if Keith Foulke blew the save in the top of the ninth and Edgar Renteria hit into a double play with the bases loaded in the fifth, this doesn’t change the fact that you didn’t perform in the clutch.

There is no doubt that the Blitz have had a problem on Board 3 throughout the season. Nevertheless, in the last two weeks the outcome of the match has come down at the end of the evening to the result on Board 4.

Let me conclude by reiterating that, like the USCL, independent media coverage of the league is a work in progress. Like mainstream media coverage of Major League Baseball, we’ll always try our best but we’ll sometimes get it wrong. And like the local media coverage of the Boston Red Sox, we won’t always say things that the club or the players want to hear. In the world of sports, players are often encouraged not to read their own press clippings. This is certainly an option, but the good news is that the blogosphere is a highly interactive medium which provides opportunities for all to disagree, offer alternative perspectives or provide new information. The comment link awaits…

No comments: