Thursday, December 25, 2008

Barney was The Man

Barney Dworkin, pictued above with a customer in his Saugus MA shoe store, was the first person that ever brought me to a dog track (Wonderland Park 1967).

Barney Dworkin loved Wonderland Greyhound Park but didn't like to go there by himself. In March 1967 I was working in a shoe store in The New England Shopping Center on Route 1 in Saugus, MA. Barney managed a store a few doors down and we met frequently during each business day. One day he invited me to head over to Wonderland after work. It was the first of many visits for me to greyhound tracks from New Hampshire to Colorado.

But Barney wasn't just a chauffer. He became my mentor and what I used to call my "first Jewish friend". That wasn't a racist remark as much as it was evidence of my upbringing in an Irish/Italian Catholic little town. I admired Barney's business acumen, sense of humor, respect for others and especially his family life. He invited me to his home from dinner with his wife and children as often as he invited me to Wonderland.

I never saw him again after 1967 and don't know what happened to him. Nevertheless, he had a significant impact on my life in a very short period of time.

Barney was a superb greyhound handicapper, although I couldn't know it as a neophyte. It took me years of experience to appreciate how well grounded in the sport I had become as a result of Barney's eagerness to share his knowlege. Following are the lessons that I took in from Barney Dworkin:

1) Barney taught me how to read a racing program. He went over every detail with me and explained the reasons why each piece of information was important (or not).

2) He taught me about box bias in greyhound racing. He explained that the #1 and #8 dogs had an advantage simply because there was only one dog on either side that could bump them. And, since the shortest distance around the track was near the rail, the #1 had the biggest advantage of all. He explained the different distances and how the box bias shifted based on each distance. For the longest distances, box bias obviously had less impact on the race. Barney knew this and wanted to make sure that I understood it also.

3) Barney knew the importance of early speed. He always tried to predict the leader at the first turn and then look for comments like "faded", "caught", "tiring". He would try to visulaize the running of the race in his mind ahead of time.

4) As for posted weights, Barney felt weight was mostly meaninless because the vets would scratch a dog that was significantly above or below its established running weight. However, there were two situations where weight mattered to him. One was "weight losers" and the other was races run in the rain and mud. He kept track of the dogs from week to week and had a list of dogs who ran at lighter weights than their ususal weight in the late races. To him, this meant the dogs might be fidgety in the holding cage at the track and well worn out by race time. He would watch for a known weight loser running in the first or second race and be all over them in the double. I saw him hit a few big tickets that way. As for the bad weather, he just felt the heaviest dogs (over 80 lbs.) could handle the slipping and sliding and bumping in the mud better than the lighter dogs. So he gave the heavy dogs an edge in those conditions.

5) Also regarding rainy conditions, he noted that sometimes puddles formed along the rail. He would look for puddles and toss out the inside dogs when present. He also felt the closers had less of a chance in the mud for the same reasons as in horse racing...the behind runners get mud kicked in their eyes. "There are no goggles in dog racing," he would say.

6) When a dog was scratched, Barney would look closely at the two dogs in the neighboring boxes to the scratched entry. So, for example, if the #3 was scratched, he would look closely at the #2 and #4 and there would have to be a good reason to leave them out of the trifecta. Sometimes, if the odds were right, he would bet on those two dogs in the quiniella as a "spot play".

7) Barney had an interesting angle relating to early speed and the concept behind comment 6 above. He would watch for a flash and fade early speed dog that would likely race to the turn and eventually fall back. He would treat that race as though the speedster's box was empty, figuring that one of the adjacent pups could fire out in the early racer's slip stream and then blow by him when he faded. In other words, it was like a fullback clearing a path for the running back. Or, if you don't like football, think lead-out in a bicycle sprint. I was never quite able to put it that angle into practice, but I did see Barney do it a few times.

8) Barney was not a heavy bettor. That was his self-limiting style of money management. It was also his agreement with his wife, which he honored religiously. He rarely played more than $10 on a single race. He felt that anything can go wrong in one race and that a good handicapper will hit often enough to make a profit. He was strongly negative on betting against yourself so he would play a single quiniella or double, perhaps $2 or $5 on the nose. Occasionally, he would box three dogs in a trifecta.

9) We talked about class, including the grading requirements and the highest class won by each dog. Barney looked for double class droppers but wouldn't bet them until they showed some sign of coming back into form. And, of course, he had his own methods for evaluating a dog's current form. Suprisingly, he didn't pay much attention to average running times because, in his opiniion, there were too many variables that impacted a dog's running time on a aprticular day. And, while he was good at math, he didn't want to spend his handicapping time making math calculations.

10) Finally, Barney felt there were subtle differences during night races as compared to day racing. He felt that anything from shadows to tiredness to eating habits to bad eyesight on the part of some dogs could make a difference in performance and results. Years later I did a lot of research on this subject (day vs. night results at the same track) and found that, as usual, Barney was absolutely correct. I still use this factor in my handicapping.

I know that these are fundamentals to experienced greyhound fans but, for me, I am certainly grateful that I had a good teacher right out of the box.

Barney Dworkin also taught me how to properly trim a shoe store window, but that's another story for another time! May God Bless you Barney, wherever you are. Merry Christmas. I mean, Happy Hanukkah.

This post originally appeared in my greyhound racing blog.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Double Bronze for U.S. Chess Teams

The U.S. Women's Team, Bronze medal winners at the 2008 Chess Olympiad in Dresdan.

Both U.S. Chess teams finshed strong to win bronze medals at the 38th Chess Olympiad completed yesterday in Germany.

In the Open Olympiad, Armenia defended its 2006 title to win the gold with 19 points. Israel was second with 18. The United States won their last round match against Ukraine, despite being outrated on every board, to take bronze on tiebreak over the Ukraine. Both teams finished with 17 points out of 22 in the 11-round tournament.

In the Women's Olympiad, Georgia and Ukraine, both countries from the former Soviet Union, tied for first with 18 points. The team from Georgia took the gold medals on tiebreak (411.5 to 406.5). The U.S. won the tiebreak over Russia and Poland for the bronze. All three teams finished a point back of the leaders with 17 points.

The scoring system this year was based on two points for each match win and one point for a tie. The U.S. Open (Men's) Team was ranked 10th going into the event and the Women's team was ranked 7th.

Members of the U.S. Open Team (8 wins, 1 draw, 2 losses) were Gata Kamsky, Hikaru Nakamura, Alexander Onischuk, Yuri Shulman and Varuzhan Akobian. All five players finished with a winning record. The top three boards each scored 6 1/2 points out of ten games played. Complete results are here.

The U.S. Women's Team consisted of Irina Krush, Anna Zatonskih, Rusa Goletiani, Katerina Rohonyan and Tatev Abrahamyan. Complete results for the U.S. Women's team are here.

Anna Zatonskih won the individual gold medal for her 8/10 performance on Board 2. Rusa Goletiana played all 11 rounds and finished with a 9-2 record to take the silver medal for Board 3.

Thank you to Susan Polgar and Rob Huntington (AP) for their fast updates on the tournament. Please go to Susan Polgar's blog for detailed results and many, many photos of the 38th Chess Olympiad.

Monday, November 24, 2008

U.S. Olympiad Teams in the hunt for Medals

Both U.S. Chess teams remain in the hunt for medals at the 38th chess Olympiad currently underway in Dresden, Germany. Each has 15 points out of 20 after ten of eleven scheduled rounds. The final matches will be contested on Tuesday, November 25th.

The Men's (Open) team trails Armenia and Ukraine by two points while the Women's team is behind Poland by the same margin. A total of 156 teams are competing and 152 countries are represented in the Open event. 119 teams are entered in the Women’s tournament.

Here are the standings in the Open Olympiad:
1st (tie) – Armenia (8W, 1D, 1L) and Ukraine (7W, 3D, 0L), 17 points
3rd (tie) -- China and Israel, 16 points
5th (tie) -- United States, Netherlands, Russia and Spain, 15 points

The U.S. Men's team entered the bi-annual tournament ranked 10th on the basis of average FIDE rating. All five of the players have plus scores for the event:
Gata Kamsky (2729) 5.5/9
Hikaru Nakamura (2704) 6/9
Alexander Onischuk (2644) 5.5/9
Yuri Shulman (2616) 4.5/7
Varuzhan Akobian (2606) 4/6

The key loss was an eighth round defeat 2 1/2 to 1 1/2 at the hands of the team from Russia. They will have their work cut out in the final match against Ukraine, where they will be outrated on all four boards:

USA vs. Ukraine, Round 11
Bd. 1 Kamsky vs. Vassily Ivanchuk (2786)
Bd. 2 Nakamura vs. Sergey Karjakin (2730)
Bd. 3 Onischuk vs. Pavel Eljanov (2720)
Bd. 4 Shulman vs. Zagar Efimenko (2680)

In other final round matches, China will play Armenia, Israel is matched up against Netherlands, and Russia takes on Spain.

Here is a link to the round by round results of the U.S. Men's (Open) Olympiad Team.

Here are the standings in the Women's Olympiad:
1st – Poland (8W, 1D, 1L), 17 points
2nd (tie) – Ukraine, Georgia and Serbia, 16 points
5th (tie) – United States (7W, 1D, 2L) and Russia, 15 points

The U.S. Women's team entered the tournament ranked 7th. Like the men, all of the players have plus scores for the event:
Irina Krush 2452 6.5/9
Anna Zatonskih 2440 7.5/9
Rusudan Goletiani 2359 8/10
Katerina Rohonyan 2334 5/9
Tatev Abrahamyan 2286 1/3

The U.S. women lost their key match to Poland 3-1 in Round 9. They will play France in the final round:
USA vs. France, Round 11
Bd. 1 Krush vs. Marie Sebag (2533)
Bd. 2 Zatonskih vs. Almira Skripchenko (2455)
Bd. 3 Goletiani vs. Sylvia Collas (2352)
Bd. 4 Rohonyan vs. Sophie Milliet (2366)

In the other final round matches, Poland will take on Ukraine, Georgia is slated to play Serbia, and Netherlands goes against Russia.

Here is a link to the round by round results of the U.S. Women's Olympiad Team.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

New Blog on

Dresden, Germany, is the site of the 38th Chess Olympiad Nov 12-25. Go to my new blog (link below) for results.

I have started a daily blog on

Subsequent note: I wound up transferring most of the posts to this blog.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Delilah on Nightline tonight

Delilah will be on Nightline tonight at 11:35 pm to talk about her radio show and promote her new book, "Love Matters".

Here's the link to the ABC website describing tonight's program.

She was recently on Good Morning America and is lobbying to appear on The David Letterman Show in the near future. See what you think...

Delilah's "Stupid Human Trick"

Click on the link above to see something you may not have witnessed before ;)

subsequent note:
Friday, December 12, 2008, 11:58 AM
Delilah was on Good Morning America today. Very nice article and interview!

And finally, this:

Dear Delilah (an actual note from a listener),

My 8 year old daughter and I were on our way home tonight and listening to your show. During your show, you played a Kenny G version of "Little Drummer Boy." I told my daughter that I thought it was crazy to play that song with no drums, only horns and a piano.

She replied, "Instead of calling it 'The Little Drummer Boy,' they should have called it, 'The Little Horny Boy.'"

It took everything out of me to keep a straight face and not laugh. I had to share.



Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Happy Birthday Rick Bayko

Today is Rick Bayko's 61st birthday. Those who have read a few chapters of my upcoming book are aware that Rick's time in the service paralleled my two years in the hospital. He is also the person most responsible for my return to running after an 18-year absence.

Rick Bayko of Newburypot MA, AKA "the Polish Rifle"

I have been blessed thoughout my life with the best set of friends anyone can have. Surely, that's what got me through the toughest times. At the top of the list is Rick Bayko. We met at a race in Merrimac MA in July 1966 and have been part of each other's lives ever since.

Rick Bayko at my side at Hartford Hospital, January 1968, shortly before he was shipped to Viet Nam. We corresponded nearly every day of my two-year stay in the hospital.

When I first left the hospital I had three options: (1) wheelchair, (2) crawling around the house on my rear end and hands (especially on the stairs), and (3) my locked-kneed long-legged braces and crutches. I gradually went from exclusively option (1) to a combination of (2) and (3) by the summer of 1970. I couldn’t drive but I commuted with other Bentley students from Milford. In the fall of ’70 and spring of ’71 I lived in a dormitory on the Bentley College campus in Waltham. By the time I got married in August of 1971 I had short braces (to the knee) and a cane.

Meanwhile, in May of 1971, I was riding in a car driven by a Bentley fraternity brother when he got into a minor “fender bender” type accident. However the impact pushed my brace against my left tibia and caused another fracture. They put a cast on it at Waltham Hospital but the doctors there had difficulty determining from the x-rays what was new and was old. So they didn’t set the fracture properly and it healed crooked (very crooked). I didn’t have it straightened until 1979.

The combination of crooked left leg, osteoporosis, weak leg muscles, limited joint mobility, severed nerve in lower left leg, non-union of the left fibula (which still exists), leg braces and 4”-6” heels made it impossible to consider running as an option in any foreseeable time horizon. My leg muscles gradually regained strength between 1971 and 1980. I also gained weight (from 105 to 213) so the extra poundage offset gains in strength in terms of ability to give running a try.

I played wheelchair basketball one season (1971-72), which built up my upper body strength and dropped 17 quick pounds. But I moved away to Cornell where there was no wheelchair basketball outlet. A teammate of mine on the New England Clippers was Bob Hall who later pioneered wheelchair marathoning. I often thought of trying to be the first person to run and wheel the Boston Marathon in under three hours but never had the time or sufficient motivation. I still might some day. I once thought breaking three hours in a chair would be a piece of cake, but not so any more.

During all those years, Rick Bayko was a constant source of encouragement. He made sure I never gave up.Rick Bayko, Diana Murray and Frank Niro, circa 1989. Diana was also born on October 15th, so today is her 57th birthday. Shhhh. Don't tell anyone.

My first attempt at running again came in the summer of 1973, but physically I wasn’t ready yet. I was on Cape Cod with Rick Bayko for the APCL convention and chess tournament. Between rounds he went to run along the Cape Cod Canal as we had both done in the ‘60s. I went with him and while he was training I decided to see if I could get both feet off the ground at the same time. It seemed to me that this would be a fundamental prerequisite to being able to run again. At that point I had only one short-legged brace on my left leg. I couldn’t stand up without shoes (e.g. in the shower) because of foot drop. I was able to get about three strides, but it was quite painful. I worked at it for about an hour until Rick came back. As he watched I actually ran the distance from telephone pole to telephone pole (about 35 yards). On that date both Rick Bayko and I knew that someday I would run again.

Rick contacted Jeff Johnson of NIKE. Jeff had a pair of shoes specially made for me using Bill Bowerman’s new waffle design that had not yet been released to the public. They had lifts on the heels and extra padding inside to protect my feet. NIKE gave them to me for no charge. I used them about a dozen times at Cornell to “run” on the indoor track but, by that time, I weighed 185 pounds. The heels pronated so I couldn’t use my custom NIKEs. I would need stronger counters. There is no doubt that the use of the custom shoes set the groundwork for my return to running a decade later. But there were some physical issues to be surgically corrected first.

I stopped wearing the brace on my leg around 1976. But my left leg was still very crooked and my limp was quite noticeable. I tried to run a few times in the fall of 1978 but developed back pain for the first time in my life. My weight had climbed to 195 and probably had something to do with it. I visited my doctor in Connecticut and asked for his advice. He didn’t rule out running again but suggested three things: (1) lose 30 pounds, (2) get the leg straightened , and (3) don’t rush it. My body, he told me, would let me know when it was time to run again. I accomplished (2) in 1979. But it was a physical and psychological setback because it required surgery (operation #19) and I was back on crutches and in a cast for several more months. Meanwhile, I was worried about the back pain returning, so I put the idea of running again out of my mind for a few more years.

The weight has continued to be the real struggle. I was 213 lbs in June 1985. Diet and exercise have been continuing parts of my vocabulary and I have become the poster child for yo-yo dieting ever since. My comeback was made after 18 years, but I often wonder how much better it would have been if I had dropped the excess baggage along the way.

Nowadays, Rick Bayko is pushing 150 pounds. Happy birthday, old friend! And Happy birthday, Diana, wherever you are.

Some Rick Bayko links:
Knowing the biz made Bayko’s business by Jill Anderson
Still in great shape, Rick now competes at online stationary rowing. Click here

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Field Report

Quote of the Day: "The only thing that really matters about life is how you open your heart to it." -- web site

Tash and I have been posting and reading recently on It is a good place to practice writing while getting honest feedback, and to learn a few interesting tidbits on a variety of subjects. Apparently, as can be seen from this article posted at, it is catching on.

On the outside, FieldReport is a contest, big enough to get a lot of people involved. On the inside it's a community of writers and readers dedicated to great storytelling and to breaking down the walls of human isolation.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Jennifer Shahade cashes in WSOP again

Two-time U.S. Women’s Chess Champion Jennifer Shahade cashed in the World Series of Poker Ladies Event #15 for the second year in a row. She won $4,765 for her 33rd place finish in the tournament held on June 8 & 9 at the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas. In 2007 Jennifer finished 17th and was awarded $8,426.

The 2008 Ladies event brought celebrities and poker pros together to determine the best female poker player in the world. With a tough blind structure moving the action at a brisk pace, the field of 1,190 was narrowed to 62 by the end of the first day. Jennifer Shahade had 22,000 chips going into day two, well behind the chip leader Shavonne Mitchell (94,000). She played well and lasted far into the second day, but ran out of luck with just 4 tables remaining.

The chip leader going into the final table was Svetlana Gromenkova, who finished second to well known actress Jennifer Tilley in the Ladies event at the 2005 WSOP. Gromenkova defeated Anh Le with pocket kings against Le’s ace-six in the final pot of the tournament. Svetlana took home the gold bracelet, $224,702 in cash, and earned the title of Ladies World Champion of Poker.

Jennifer Shahade showed, once again, that the skills required to become a successful chess master are transferrable to tournament poker. USCF masters Howard Lederer, Dan Harrington, Tom Brownscombe, Boris Kreiman, Steve Stoyko, Ben Johnson, John Murphy, Walter Browne, Ylon Schwartz and Ken “Top Hat” Smith, among others, have succeeded in big money poker tournaments.

Jennifer's brother, International Chess Master Greg Shahade, has been an accomplished poker tournament player since 2003, when he finished 8th in the United States Poker Championship. In the 2004 World Series of Poker Main Event, Greg placed in the money in a field of 2,596 players ($9,350).

Her dad, Michael, has also had success at the poker table. His best result was in the 2008 World Poker Tour event at the Borgata in Atlantic City (held in January) when he placed 23rd in the $300 buy-in No Limit Hold'em event and won $2,226.

Jennifer Shahade recently published her memoir, Chess Bitch (Siles Press 2005), in which she shares fascinating stories of women in the ultimate intellectual sport.

Related links from 2008 WSOP coverage at

Here's a link to the PokerPages blog for the 2008 WSOP Ladies Event, Day One.

Day Two

Final Table

Friday, October 10, 2008

Jane Olivor on YouTube

There are several videos containing Jane Olivor songs currently on YouTube. Go here to see/hear I Believe. From there you can navigate to many other great songs by Jane, including her duet with Johnny Mathis.

I also listed some of the other links on my new "EMBRYOS" blog, which I will continue to update in the near future. This is a place where I will put the writing that is percolating and marinating in my mind. These pieces are in various stages of completion. Some require further research and fact checking. Some require just the time to sit and write. Once each is complete, I will move it to one of my main blogs. Your input is welcome.

L'Important C'est La Rose

Vincent (you may want to pause it at the beginning and give it time to load before playing)

Stay the Night

Annie's Song

The Last Time I felt Like This

Go here to see my works in progress...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Delilah's New Book

Delilah's new book, LOVE MATTERS: Remarkable Love Stories That Touch the Heart and Nourish the Soul, will be released September 29, 2008. I received my advance copy this past weekend (photo above) and will post a review as soon as I finish reading it. So please come back soon.

Subsequent note (9/27/08):
The first review, written by Bill Virgin of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, has been released. See below...

On Radio: Delilah Rene has new book out about calls, song designations
Companion to popular radio show


Delilah Rene's journey to her current status as one of the best-known voices in radio was, geographically speaking, a long one, taking her from small stations in her home state of Oregon to Seattle, then to several stops on the East Coast and finally back to Seattle.

Delilah's daily journey to her job as host of the nationally syndicated show of song dedications is, geographically speaking, considerably shorter.

"My commute is literally walking down eight stairs, hitting a landing, turning, going down five stairs and I'm at work," she says, speaking of the home studio she now has at her farm in Kitsap County. "That makes life so much easier and frees me up so much to do the things I love during the course of the day."

Those include being a mom to the five children she has at home (in all she has 10 children, seven adopted), working on causes of importance to her (including aid to a refugee camp in Ghana) and producing a book.

"Love Matters: Remarkable Love Stories That Touch the Heart and Nourish the Soul," which goes on sale Tuesday, is a compilation of calls and song dedications she has received on love found, lost and regained, and love for family, friends, children and comrades.

Listeners to Delilah's show, aired locally on KRWM-FM/ 106.9, 7 p.m.-midnight, seven nights a week, will recognize the book's format as a close parallel to the radio program. Song dedications were once a regular feature of rock/pop radio, but she's one of the few remaining practitioners."

Others have moved away from it because they didn't want to get fired, because program directors decided that they shouldn't do that any more, that music should be preprogrammed, no listener interaction," Delilah says. "Because I was never really very afraid of getting fired, I was willing to stick to my guns. And it worked."

Convincing radio management that there was still an audience for that was akin to "emptying Puget Sound with a cup," she adds. "Unfortunately something happened in radio, probably 20 years ago, where program directors went from trying to one-up each other with creativity and passion and stunts and getting listeners really hooked into the station. They switched to, 'Let's be as pabulum as we can, as noncreative as we possibly can.' That's very unfortunate. But, lucky for me, I don't have to do that."

Not having to do that is the result of a 33-year career that included stops at such Seattle stations as KAYO, KING-AM, KZAM, KJZZ, KLSY and KJR-FM (she can rattle off from memory the call letters of every station at which she worked, a list that numbers more than a dozen). She's been doing a love-songs dedication show for 26 years, the past 12 in national syndication. As the self-described "queen of sappy love songs," she's now heard on 225 radio stations in the U.S. and Canada.

Delilah's show isn't done live, but it's close to it. Calls are edited (preferably to less than three minutes each), balanced so that each segment doesn't feature three sad stories in a row or three calls in a row from listeners who are giddy and gushing about their new love affair, and put on the air, often within the hour they're received. The home studio and the program's format allow her to pop upstairs to check on dinner and bedtime for the kids.

Delilah offers a sympathetic ear, but no advice. Having been divorced three times herself, she tells people: "Have you listened to my show? Do you not know I mess up relationships? Don't ask me. Call somebody that knows this stuff. I'm not Dr. Phil -- I'm not here to fix people's problems."

But listening has proved to be more than enough to build a devoted following. "There's a huge amount of value in having someone listen," she adds. "When you have somebody who's not involved in the situation, an objective person, that can listen and hear what it is you're trying to say, you can pretty much figure things out on your own. But you need that sounding board."

The biggest change in the calls she receives is a marked increase from family members of military personnel. The subject matter, however, remains constant: "Life is life. It's about falling in love and babies and kids and challenges and relationships."Between the commute-free work setup, her kids, her projects and being in the Puget Sound region (when she lived on the East Coast, she says, she "missed Seattle the way you long for a lover"), Delilah, 48, says she is "at a really, really, really wonderful place in life right now."

One worry she does not spend time on is the future of radio; whatever happens, she figures there will be a demand for what she does."

I don't know what the future is technologically," she says. "People are always going to hunger for good content ... something that impacts their heart. They want to laugh or cry or hear a story or whatever. So there's always going to be people that want to hear human interaction, and there's always going to be new technology developing to deliver that."

Article courtesy of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Here's the link to the P-I web site.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Chess Combination

White (to move) has a winning combination in this position. Can you find it?

Click here to see the solution posted in my Archives blog.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Mile 5: Embrace of a Lifetime


As always, your comments and suggestions for improvement can be sent directly to the author at

Frank Niro, on his 18th birthday, September 28, 1966

Unlike the previous year, the 1967 Boston Marathon was run on a chilly, drizzly, windy day. It was a tough day for the runners and especially miserable for spectators. Nevertheless, a 40-year-old housewife and mother stood near the 14-mile marker in front of Wellesley High School counting the runners as they passed by. She was there, standing alone in the rain, for one reason. She didn’t drive a car but, luckily, her neighbor Antoinette Cormier offered to bring her to watch the race. Mrs. Cormier sat in her car with the heater on while the mother stood watching and counting, in a motionless gaze as each runner went by.

The first runner, New Zealander Dave McKenzie came by at 1:12 pm with American track star Tom Laris close on his heels. The remaining runners were spread out in the distance like an endless parade. One by one she counted the runners as they passed. She was prepared to count all 650 entrants if necessary. She needed to do it; she needed to find out if her son was still alive. It had been more than two months she last heard anything at all from him. Anxiously she thought, if he is alive he will be in this race and, if he is in this race, he will run by and I will see him.

As for me, I trained hard for the 1967 Boston Marathon, averaging more than ten miles per day during the previous twelve months. A large percentage of the training was in races. I completed six other full 26-mile marathons plus a 24-miler, and participated in my freshman cross country season at Bentley College. The highlight was my finish in Atlantic City in October 1966, where I became the youngest American runner to officially break three hours in an AAU sanctioned marathon. A few months later I was able to complete three full marathons in an eight day period. So I was quite confident that I would perform well here.

Despite the fact that I had temporarily withdrawn from college in order to save money for tuition, my Bentley teammates and I were given permission by the school to form its first track & field program. We competed in invitational events on the track as well as open road races. We entered a team in the Boston Marathon consisting of Ed Sicard, Bob Benoit, Jim Jeneral, Scott White and Dan Heary. Since I wasn’t currently enrolled in classes, I entered as a member of the North Medford Club.

The race started at noon. My Bentley teammates and I arrived at Hopkinton High School, about a mile from the starting line, before 10 am. Most of the veteran runners were accustomed to changing into their running clothes in the school’s locker room. This year would present a more difficult challenge because, for the first time, the race had more than 650 participants. Getting there early was a necessity.

The runners spilled over into the gymnasium. Nobody wanted to go outside because of the cold and rain. The distinct wintergreen smell of Bengay permeated the room. In one corner, the two Johnny Kelleys (John A. Kelly the ‘elder’ and John J. Kelly the ‘younger’) held court and posed for photographs. I was impressed by the fact that Johnny Kelley the younger, who had won the race ten years earlier in 2 hours, 20 minutes and 5 seconds, sported the biggest bunions I had ever seen. When he stood, his feet looked like sailboats crossing on the gym floor.

On the other side of the room, newspaper reporters were interviewing the contenders: Canadian champion Andrew Boychuk, American hopefuls Amby Burfoot and Tom Laris, New Zealand visitor Dave McKenzie and, through their interpreter, three Japanese runners.

I found a seat next to Ted Corbitt, an ultra-marathoner whom I had talked with at the Atlantic City and Cherry Tree marathons. He was accustomed to doing 50-mile races, and longer, which I found intriguing. Ted Corbitt liked regular marathons too and ran a lot of them. His best finish in the Boston Marathon was 6th place in 1952, the same year he competed for the United States in the Olympic games.

No sun block would be required this year, as it was in 1966, but Ted Corbitt was applying Vaseline liberally to his entire body. It made his skin shine like a new car. He looked every bit the superb athlete that he was, even at age 45. “Here, take some,” he said as held the jar within my reach. “Put some under your arms and on your nipples and anywhere else where there will be rubbing,” he said. “It prevents chafing. That’s important on a day like this.” So I did. I was getting advice from one of the best and I knew I could trust him.

Rick Bayko, Tom Derderian, Jim Conley and I started the race at the back of the pack. We were inexperienced and didn’t realize that it would take almost a minute after the gun to reach the starting line. Kurt Steiner, a short man built like a fireplug, charged into the lead for the first 300 yards, just as he usually did before settling into his customary four hour pace. Kurt probably held the lead in more marathon races than any other runner in history but, as far as I know, never finished in the top half of the field.

My eyes were on the lookout for Johnny Kelley the elder. Even though he was 59 years old, I knew that he could be counted on to break the three hour barrier. I figured that if I stayed close to him, I would too. Remembering Stan Tiernan’s advice from last year and the mistake I made in the Brockton marathon, I decided to start out more slowly and let Johnny the elder be my beacon.

Once we began moving, the cold didn’t seem bothersome but the headwinds were brutal. I tried to duck behind some tall runners whenever I could. My main focus remained old Johnny. It was easy to find him because of the applause from the crowd. There were not as many spectators as usual due to the poor weather, but most of them came to cheer for the icon Kelly; it was a rite of spring. Old Johnny Kelley won the Boston Marathon in 1935 and 1945. He had 15 top five finishes between 1934 and 1950 and finished second an unbelievable seven times. He was a link to the past. Johnny Kelley WAS the Boston Marathon.

I caught up to him at the four mile mark between Ashland and Framingham and ran beside him for the next eight miles. He didn’t seem bothered by my company. “I’m trying to break three hours and I know you will do it,” I said. “Sure you can, son,” he replied, “but it might get pretty noisy.” He probably expected me to over-extend myself trying to keep up, and quickly drop off. He had the reputation for being aloof toward ordinary runners, but on that occasion he seemed warm and obliging. He was in his Element. And he was correct about the noise.

As we approached Framingham square, the fans cheered wildly and loudly. Johnny Kelley was who they were there to see. Old John waved his arms in the air and acknowledged the accolades. Occasionally, he blew a kiss to someone in the crowd. I felt like I was crashing a private party. At the same time, I knew that I belonged.

We passed the 10-mile mark in 64 minutes, a little faster than what I had planned, but I remained confident that wise old John knew what he was doing. The crowd in Natick was even bigger and the cheers reverberated like Fenway Park. This time Johnny waved and, what the heck, I waved too. He smiled at the fans. I smiled too. Blowing kisses, though, was out of the question.

Soon the young women in front of Wellesley college were in sight. They came onto the street to catch a glimpse of old Johnny Kelley. They reached out to touch his shirt like he was a living relic. “I hate it when they try to touch me,” he said in a stern tone of voice. I moved over to the left side of the road to avoid the crowd completely. I wasn’t going to risk pouring ginger ale over my head like I did at the same place the year before. It continued to rain heavily so I didn’t feel the need for hydration.

Despite his words to the contrary, Johnny Kelley seemed to thrive on the attention and the affection of the fans. While I went to the left, he inched closer to the right. It was slowing him down. Then I made a huge mistake. I shifted gears and started running as though this was a five mile cross country meet. I felt good and decided to test what my body could do. To my detriment, I picked up the pace.

The negative impact was not immediate. I reached the half way point in Wellesley Center at 1:21. It was eight full minutes faster than Atlantic City. Had I really improved that much? I had covered the five kilometers since Natick in just over 17 minutes. Once I gave myself a reality check and determined that there was no way I should be running a 2:42 marathon pace, I started to panic. My confidence sagged. It was all psychological. Or was it?

My train of thought was soon interrupted. Up ahead, a woman ran into the center of the road. She was jumping up and down, waving frantically, right in the middle of my path. I would have to change direction to get around her. At first I felt very annoyed.

“You are in 88th place,” she shouted. “I counted every runner ahead of you. Come home, Frank. Please come home, I miss you. Everyone misses you. It doesn’t matter what you did or why you did it. It’ll be alright; just come home.” The tears dripping from her face were hard to distinguish from the rain drops. Then she wrapped her arms around me with the embrace of a lifetime.
“I will, Ma. I’ll be home tonight. I promise.”

I stumbled back into the stream of runners. Now, besides being in a physical state of high alert, I was an emotional wreck. My entire body was on overload. For a couple of minutes I lost my bearings. I forgot where I was, and I lost my concentration and focus.

My next dose of reality came soon enough as Rick Bayko came up on my left shoulder. Like he did in our last marathon, he was about to roar by me like a freight train. The 15-mile checkpoint was in plain view and this was absolutely not the time and place that he wanted to engage in one of my irritating mid-race interrogations. “Hi, Rick. Where have you been? I’ve been waiting patiently for you to get here. Do you know we’re on a 2:40 marathon pace? Do you think we can run that fast? Wouldn’t that be great? I ran all the way from Ashland to Wellesley with Johnny Kelley. What a trip. Hey, Rick…”
Without a word, he glanced at me with ‘the look’. I knew the look and I knew exactly what it meant: ‘Shut the hell up!’. He didn’t have to say a word, even if he wanted to, which he didn’t.

As we crossed the route 9 overpass in Wellesley Hills, Rick picked up the pace. Like an earlier version of Bill Rodgers, Rick Bayko was very fast on the downhill section of the course. This day, he was fast on every part of the course. Rick had run hard in 1966, but collapsed at 22 miles and wound up in the Peter Bent Brigham hospital emergency room instead of the line for beef stew at the Prudential Center. He wasn’t going to let that happen again. Regardless of our friendship, he wasn’t going to let me jeopardize his race with my incessant babbling. Down the hill we went into Newton Lower Falls. He wanted to shake me as fast as he could and this was the place to do it.

It worked. At 16 miles I hit the wall, and it was my own fault. I should not have picked up the pace at Wellesley College. Nor should I have tried to match strides with Rick Bayko coming out of Wellesley Hills, not to mention the energy wasting chatter. Some lessons in life are learned the hard way. For me, this was one of those lessons.

Soon three North Medford teammates came by: Dick Clapp, Lenny Holmes and Dick Ruquist. These were folks I should’ve been running with, or ahead of, like I had so many times in recent races. Yet they went by me like I was standing still. “Keep it up…hey, what’s wrong Frank?” Lenny spouted as he looked back over his shoulder.
“I’m having a problem with my universal joint,” I responded while taking a page from Tom Derderian’s ‘good humor’ manual. Tom was fond of characterizing his running travails in terms of a finely tuned automobile.

My wake up call was right behind them. I could hear the cheering getting louder and louder as Johnny Kelley got closer and closer. In Auburndale, we turned onto Commonwealth Avenue and started up the Newton Hills. “Hi Johnny, I missed you.” I had to make up my mind to run through the pain. If I was going to get a shot at a sub-three hour Boston Marathon, I had to stick with Johnny Kelley.

I got into Johnny Kelley’s space. There were no shadows that day due to the lack of sunshine…except for one: me. I was like a puppy on a leash moving faithfully behind. This year the hills were hard work. I was determined to stay with the Master. Without him to draw me forward, I would have seriously considered dropping out. I blew my race and now I knew it.

The marathon, like life, is long and winding, with its ups and downs, with its raindrops and headwinds, with its opportunities for redemption. There was still plenty of time to salvage a good race. “I can do this,” I said audibly. “Show me the way, Johnny.” I raised my eyes skyward and said a quick prayer. I needed all the help I could get.

One by one, the hills came and went. We eventually reached the crest of Heartbreak Hill near Boston College. I appreciated for the first time how the name originated and why the moniker has stuck. “It’s all down hill from here,” said Johnny. I could see the top of the Prudential Center six miles in the distance; it finally felt within reach.

We made the left turn onto Beacon Street. “Sometimes these are the shortest four miles of the race,” Johnny said. “And sometimes they are the longest.” Unlike the previous year, there was no young boy standing there with a chocolate bar. It would’ve been pretty soggy by now. I assured myself that it would have tasted awful (a little internal psychological warfare).

Suddenly it happened: I got my second wind. I felt like I was back at mile 10. It is a phenomenon that is hard to understand and even harder to explain. But it can happen to any runner at any point in a long race. I was glad it was happening to me. This time I wasn’t going to make the mistake of charging ahead. We still had a half hour to reach the finish line by 3 o’clock. I asked Johnny if he thought we would beat three hours. “By a minute or two,” he said confidently. “Just keep the same pace.”

The noise in Kenmore Square was deafening. The crowd from the Red Sox game was streaming out of Fenway Park and they all seemed to know that Johnny Kelley was crossing the B.U. bridge. Word of mouth was moving faster than the runners. I didn’t want to be next to Old Johnny Kelley going through Kenmore Square. This was his show and the applause was for him. “You’ve got it made now,” he said. “Go ahead and stretch it out. Get the best time you can.” His thoughts and mine were in synch. I lengthened my stride and left him behind to enjoy the moment.
Old Johnny Kelley is shown approaching the finish line for his thirty-eighth Boston Marathon in 1967. At age 59, it was the last time he would finish a full length marathon in less than three hours.

I ran the last mile under six minutes, finishing in 132nd place with a time of 2 hours, 57 minutes and 19 seconds. I was thrilled to see Frank Conti on Hereford Street, a half mile from the finish, cheering for the runners, especially his Bentley College teammates. Frank had been one of the runners responsible for forming the cross country program at the college a few years earlier, and had recently advocated with school administration for support of a track & field team. Not only was his dream a reality, in our first ‘season’ we had competed at distances from 60 meters to 42,195 meters.

My time wasn’t as fast as I would have liked but it was my best so far, certainly not bad for an 18-year-old. I was confident that I would do better next time. Of course, I assumed there would be a next time.

The race was won by Dave McKenzie in course record time of 2:15:48. Tom Laris was second. He recovered well after falling back to eighth place in the Newton hills. The first two North Medford Club finishers were, as expected, Jim Daley (2:34:12 in 34th place) and Larry Olsen (2:37:42 in 48th). The next NMC finisher was a shocker: 19-year-old Rick Bayko of Newburyport, after dropping out the year before, finished 56th in 2:40:27. He never slowed down after dropping me in Newton Lower Falls, while picking off at least 40 runners over the last ten miles.

Eventually, Rick Bayko finished in the top 20 of the Boston Marathon four consecutive times. His best time was 2:20:56 for 17th place in 1974. His highest finish was 13th in 1971 (2:27:37). His streak of top 20 finishes ended in 1975 when he was 31st. But his time that year (2:21:28) would have won all 56 Boston Marathons before 1953. That year’s winning time, as well as those recorded in 1954-56, were later invalidated when the course was re-measured and found to be short. So, the 1957 victory by Johnny Kelley the younger was the first journey by anyone under 2 hours and 21 minutes for the full distance. Rick Bayko won many other races including the Philadelphia and Houston Marathons, and the New England 30K Championship over Bill Rodgers in 1974. All things considered, it is my opinion that his 1967 Boston Marathon result was his best effort of all.

Tom Derderian, still a senior in high school in 1967, dropped out in Wellesley of what he termed a ‘blown transmission’. He didn’t compete in 1968 but managed 2:49:33 in his next try in 1969, followed by 2:29:57 in 1970. His eventual best was 2:19:04 (18th place) in 1975. His first marathon victory was in the 1972 Holyoke Marathon (2:38:14).

Old Johnny Kelley crossed the finish line in 2:58:13; it was the last time he would finish a full marathon in less than three hours. Amby Burfoot was 17th with a time of 2:28:05. But it wasn’t his time yet. Amby came back in 1968 to win the race in blistering heat. Lenny Holmes finished in 2:53:35 for the best marathon of his life. Siggy Podlozny beat more than half of the field in one of his best marathon results: 3:30 for 294th place. Notably, high school senior Leo Duart of Vineyard Haven finished 90th in 2:47:15 to become the new youngest American runner to break three hours in a marathon.

As promised, I went home that night to get reacquainted with my family. My mother had her son back. Mrs. Cormier, the neighbor who had driven her to Wellesley, was not so fortunate. Her son, Eugene, was a classmate and friend between 4th grade and our junior year in high school. We were cohorts on many adventures and practical jokes while growing up. He dropped out of school after a disagreement with one of the nuns and, as soon as he was eligible, enlisted in the marines. On the day of the marathon, Gene Cormier was fighting for his country in Viet Nam; or to put it more precisely, he was doing what his Country asked him to do in a strange and far away land.

On September 22, 1967, her son Pfc. Eugene Cormier of Milford, Massachusetts, was killed by enemy fire in Quang Tri Province in the republic of South Viet Nam. A short time later, Richard Ramskwich received word that his good friend and neighbor, Dave St. John, was coming home from Viet Nam in a box. For me, the reality of the Viet Nam war was beginning to sink in. It would soon become a reality for Rick Bayko as well.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mile 4: Bobbi, Sue & Kathrine

Quote of the Day: Bobbi Gibb made big headlines and big photos in the Boston papers. “Hub Bride First Gal to Run Marathon” and “Blond Wife, 23, Runs Marathon.” Yet she could not join the other runners for their traditional bowl of beef stew in the Prudential cafeteria: Women were not allowed. Photographers followed her home, and one of the shots showed her at home later on race day in the kitchen, making fudge with a friend. -- Tom Derderian, from his wonderful book: BOSTON Marathon, The History of the World’s Premier Running Event.

Following is an excerpt from the fourth chapter of my upcoming book, Safari Into the Black & White Jungle. Please send your comments and suggestions to the author via e-mail:

Chess and running have been constant threads throughout my life. They haven’t always represented the same level of importance but they’ve always been part of my personality and part of my character. Sometimes these threads have run parallel and sometimes they have become entangled, often braided in my mind like a cord.

So it’s not surprising that I used metaphors about running in my Strategic Vision presentation to the US Chess Federation delegates in 2002. While discussing chess and Alzheimer’s disease, I talked about the prevalent myth heard in my youth that running a marathon would make a person immune from heart disease. After running Guru Jim Fixx dropped dead of a heart attack, the pendulum swung the other way as doomsayers started to warn that running would lead to all kinds of medical maladies. Eventually, however, most competent health professionals came to understand that people have inherent risk factors that cannot be overcome in all cases by diet and exercise. Nowadays, it is generally understood that vigorous physical exercise on a regular basis reduces the risk of coronary artery disease and other illnesses such as diabetes and stroke, but it does not make anyone immune.

Recently, there have been studies that demonstrate that playing chess and engaging in other forms of mental gymnastics may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. It is my belief that one day it will be generally understood that vigorous mental exercise on a regular basis reduces the risk of dementia and related mental health problems. Promoting this notion in the public eye, I urged, will give a boost to the popularity of the game of chess.

As with the sport of running before the mid-1960s, chess is a male dominated activity. Less than 5% of adult tournament chess players in the U.S. are female. Almost as many girls as boys up to about the fourth grade play chess in school, but most young girls give it up for other activities soon thereafter. Chess helps develop cognitive skills, teaches kids to plan ahead, helps developing minds identify consequences related to their actions, and improves self esteem and social skills. It is equally as beneficial for girls and boys.

There were virtually no women runners when I was growing up because of various prejudices. But after Joan Benoit won the 1984 Olympic Marathon in Los Angeles the popularity of running among women took off. It took off so much, in fact, that many of the local 5K and 10K road races around the country now routinely have more female entrants than male.

Of course, like most other greats, Joan Benoit stood on the shoulders of others. Perhaps she wouldn’t have been running herself had it not been for those who tried it before her. The longest women’s track and field event in the Olympics was only 200 meters until 1960. After that it was the 800, then the 1500 and later the 10,000. Finally in 1984 the Women’s Olympic marathon was introduced.

Many casual runners will probably tell you that the first female marathon runner was Kathrine Switzer. She became famous when race director Jock Semple tried to pull her off the course during the 1967 Boston Marathon. Kathrine was an athlete, not just an agitator. Once women were allowed to run ‘officially’ in 1972, Switzer placed in the top 5 four times, including 1975 when she ran her personal best time of 2:51:37 for second place. Only a world record performance that year by West German superstar Liane Winter kept her from the ultimate satisfaction of having race officials place a laurel wreath on her head.

Kathrine Switzer was inspired, according to her own words, by someone who did it before her: Roberta Gibb. A friend had run the 1966 Boston Marathon in 3 hours and 45 minutes. He was a 2-mile runner on the local college track team and related the story of how a woman named Roberta Gibb had finished more than a mile ahead of him in the race. Amazed, Kathy Switzer ran the Boston Marathon the very next year.

Most serious runners, especially those who have read Tom Derderian’s book about the Boston Marathon, know about Roberta Gibb. Only a handful of them have ever heard about Sue Morse. Not to take anything away from Kathy Switzer, as I think her accomplishments were terrific and great for the sport, but Roberta Gibb and Sue Morse ran a marathon before her.

Tom Derderian’s personal recollection of the 1966 Boston Marathon was coaxing his father to pick me up after the morning track meet in order to transport me to the starting line in Hopkinton. It was a gift for which I will remain eternally grateful since my own father had no interest. It was too inconvenient for him. Tom eventually ran 2:19:04 for an 18th place finish in the 1975 Boston Marathon, the year of Kathy Switzer’s best race.

Tom’s description of the 1966 race is a masterpiece. In it, he presented a well-researched biography of Roberta Gibb, who wore an official number and ran as “R. Gibb”. She finished in 3 hours, 26 minutes and 40 seconds for an unofficial placing of 126th. Bobbi, as she was known to her friends, completed the Boston Marathon again in 1967 in 3:27:17, but was pretty much ignored by the media in favor of Kathrine Switzer who finished an hour later. As mentioned above, Switzer gained national attention when race official Jock Semple tried to rip her number off her shirt as he shouted, “Get the hell out of my race and give me that number.”

Then there is the story of Sue Morse, which I witnessed with my own eyes. The Philadelphia Marathon was held on December 18, 1966, my third full length marathon in 8 days. My goal was to see if had recovered well enough from the previous weekend to break three hours.

The Philadelphia Marathon course was the most scenic of any that I ran. It started at the last boat house on ‘boat house row’ along the Schuylkill River, went around the Museum of Art (the building with the steps featured in the first Rocky movie), and back along the river through Fairmount Park for about four miles to a turnaround point near the Philadelphia Zoo. Then it returned to the starting line for a total of 8 ¾ miles. This was done three times.Frank Niro, running the first of three 26.2 mile marathons in eight days, Brockton, MA, December 1966

One of the enjoyable aspects of the race was that you could see the other runners going the opposite way after each loop. It enabled the runners to participate and be spectators at the same time. Such an event would be impractical today because of the large fields, but with less than 30 entrants it was probably easier for the officials to keep track of everyone on a three lap course.

Amby Burfoot, a friend from Connecticut, won the race. He was in second place early and closed fast to take over the lead on the last lap. His winning time was 2:24:43. I remember our paths crossing as I was heading out and he was coming back. “You look good. Keep it up,” he said. On the other end of the field was Sue Morse, a local high school senior who was running her first marathon. I had spoken to her at the starting line where she told me she just wanted to finish before dark and thought she could do better than four hours. Each time our paths intersected I tried to give her a smile and some encouragement.

I finished the race in 3:01:22, disappointed that it took me longer than three hours. Later, the course was re-measured and found to be 462 yards too long. I was pleased when I saw the race report by H. Browning Ross in the Long Distance Log noting the discrepancy.

After the race I took a shower in the boat house, changed into my street clothes and headed for the finish line to cheer for Sue Morse. On the way out I passed the race officials coming into the building. “Hey, aren’t you going to wait for Sue Morse?” I asked. “She’s not finished yet and has a good chance to break four hours. Somebody should be there to record her time.”

“She’s not an official runner,” I was told. “If you want her time recorded then you get it. Here...”, one of the officials blurted as he transferred his stopwatch that was hanging from a string around his neck to mine. Sue Morse was met at the finish by a crowd of one. “Three hours, 58 minutes and 49 seconds,” I told her. “Nice job. Here, put my sweatshirt on and stay warm.” Back inside, I recorded Sue’s time on the bottom of the official list of finishers and returned the watch.

At the awards ceremony, the room was filled with newspaper reporters, politicians and other dignitaries. I was awarded a trophy for finishing in 12th place and a medal for being a member of the 3rd place team. Then they called me to the podium for another award. “Youngest finisher; congratulations” I was told. “There must be some mistake,” I said into the microphone. “The youngest finisher was Sue Morse. This award belongs to her, not me.”

Sue Morse came forward and I gave her HER prize. The newspapers took note. The article in the Sunday paper said, “The marathon had an unofficial entry in Sue Morse, Olney High School student who represented Philadelphia Hawks TC and finished 27th. She became the first women ever to run this distance in the area.”

Within a few days of returning home I received the following letter from the Mid Atlantic Association of the Amateur Athletic Union:

“The Chairman of the Long Distance Committee of the Mid Atlantic AAU has called to our attention your recent violation of AAU rules that resulted when you publicly presented your award for finishing the MAAAU championship race in Philadelphia, 12/18.66, to a non-AAU member.

Under these circumstances your action calls for punitive measures. You are hereby notified of the suspension of your privileges, effective immediately, to participate in any and all MAAAU events for a period of 90 days from the date of this letter. During this period, no travel permits to run in any sanctioned races in the mid-Atlantic region will be issued under your name and AAU membership number.”

Professionally, Jock Semple was a physiotherapist and a masseuse. He worked on Causeway Street in Boston next to the old Boston Garden. His office was quaint and doubled as the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) headquarters. Every wall was decorated with trophies, plaques, medals and old photographs.

I liked to run across town to see Jock at least once each week. He was entertaining, funny, knowledgeable about running, and most of all, opinionated. Originally from Scotland, Jock Semple had an unmistakable brogue that imprinted every word he spoke. I enjoyed listening to him tell stories and rant about whatever happened to be on his mind. It was not unusual to bump into a Boston Bruins player or one of the B.A.A. elite runners in his office for a whirlpool or a rubdown. I often stopped to pick up a sandwich for him since he frequently was busy with clients. It pleased him for two reasons: he didn’t have to leave the office, and he saved a buck and a quarter. On most occasions, I was a welcome guest.

After receiving the letter from the AAU, I visited him to tell him what had happened. “Well you shouldn’t have done it,” he said. Then with his trademark accent he added, “Girrrrls can’t run marathons.” “Sure they can, Jock, I witnessed it myself.” He walked into the next room shaking his head. Maybe I should have tried harder to convince him, but it was pretty difficult to budge Jock Semple once he had made up his mind on any subject. Four months later, his attitude earned him headlines.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day

Quote of the Day: My father used to play with my brother and me in the yard. Mother would come out and say, "You're tearing up the grass." "We're not raising grass," Dad would reply. "We're raising boys." -- Harmon Killebrew

For the second year in a row, Tash and I spent Father's Day in Idaho. And like last year we had a wonderful time visiting Tash's parents, Gene & Celeste Fox. With the temperature in the upper eighties and not a cloud in the sky, we sat on the lawn at Ste. Chappelle Winery in Caldwell, Idaho, sipping wine and listening to a live concert by Steve Eaton. Mr. Eaton is a talented vocalist who played the keyboard and accoustic guitar. He was accompanied by Steve Flick on saxaphone and flute.

The last time I was with my children on Father's Day was 2006 when my daughter Elizabeth drove me from Massachusetts to Connecticut to visit my son, daughter-in-law & granson before taking me to the airport for a flight to Seattle. Sadly, I have not been able to fly back east since.

I'll be right back with more text and photos...

Friday, June 13, 2008

Problem Solution

White to move.

Position is after 31...exf3+. The game is between F. Niro & D. Gregoryev, Eastern Open, Washington D.C., 1996.

Your choices are:
a. gxf3
b. Kxf3
c. other

Answer and analysis:
Best is b. 32.Kxf3 with a dead draw after 32...h5 33.Kf4 g6 34.h3 Re7 35.Kg5 Kf7 36.g4 (1/2-1/2).

a. 32.gxf3? loses after 32...Re7+. For example, 33.Kd3 g5 34.Ra2 Kf7 35.Kc3 h5 36.Kb4 g4 37.fxg4 hxg4 38.Rc2 f4 39.Rg2 f3 40.Rxg4 f2 41.Rf4+ Ke8, etc. (0-1)

c. Any other move will lose because once the king steps aside, White has the choice of f2 or fxg2. One or the other will win easily in every situation.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What's the best move?

White to move.

Position is after 31...exf3+. The game is between F. Niro & D. Gregoryev, Eastern Open, Washington D.C., 1996.

Your choices are:
a. gxf3
b. Kxf3
c. other

Click here for answer and analysis.

Friday, May 30, 2008

In the running for a seat at the WSOP

OK, I admit it...I'm just a little bit excited. As of the moment I am in the running for a sponsored $10,000 seat at the 2008 World Series of Poker.

Realistically, I have less than a 5% chance but, hey, that's better than no chance at all. PSO ( will be awarding as many as four seats to the main event between now and June 7th to its top players. With two days left for qualifying I am in 4th place in my league. I only need to finish in the top 50 to advance to the next level.

I will be back with the details later and will include links that will allow anyone interested to view the online qualifying tournaments while they are in progress. You don't have to be a member of PSO to watch.

You can look at the schedule of events for the World Series of Poker 2008 on The $10,000 main event starts July 3rd in Las Vegas. Please come back for updates.

Update #1: The 100-player qualifying event is Sunday, June 1st at noon central time (10 AM PDT). I was seeded into this event by virtue of my 4th place finish in the 207-member gold league. The top 50 from the gold league, top 30 from the silver league, and top 20 from the bronze league each recieved a seat in this event.

The top 20 finishers from today's (Sunday) event will advance to the Main Event Final next weekend (June 7th) where three WSOP $10,000 seats are up for grabs. The first and second place finishers today will be invited to the so-called Elite Final, where another $10,000 WSOP seat will be awarded.

You can observe the tournament while it is in progress by downloading the client software at either pokerpages, Bugsy's Club, or PokerSchoolOnline. It is not necessary to be a member of PSO to watch, but you will need to select a screen name and password. In fact, poker pages offers a very popular free play site (referred to as the "blue side" for reasons that will quickly become obvious). PSO is the "red side". Bugsy's Club (the real money affiliate) is the "gold side". You only need to click the tabs in the tournament lobby to navigate between the sites.

Once you are in the PSO section, look for the "Learn to Be A Champ" qualifying event and double click on it. That will bring up a tournament window. The tables will be listed in a white box on the lower left side of the tourament window. Select the table you want and click the tab "Observe Table" and you will be brought to the rail. You won't be able to use the chat feature unless you are a PSO member, but you can see the action at the table, chip stack sizes, read other people's chat comments, etc. and easily follow what is going on. My PSO screen name is, of course, ChessSafari.

Update #2: The tournament has started. 100 players on ten tables. 10,000 starting chips. My table number is #7492939. Next update at the break, or when I double up or bust out.

Update #3, Status at the First Break:
Players remaining = 89
Average Stack 11,236
My Stack 9,400
Largest Stack 39,800 (Sailor Moe - at my table)
Hands played = 102
Saw Flop = 18 (4 as BB, 5 as SB, 9 from other positions)
Hands Won = 13
Won at showdown = 2; uncontested = 11

Update #4: I am still at table #7492939, seat 4. My stack is now 11,250 (won a hand with AK). Avg. Stack = 11,363 with 88 remaining. Top 20 advance to next week's finals.

Update #5, Status at the second break:
Players remaining = 73
Average Stack 13,698
My Stack 7,300
Largest Stack 65,775 (hurricane - good player from UK)
Hands played = 179
Saw Flop = 29 (6 as BB, 8 as SB, 15 from other positions)
Hands Won = 18
Won at showdown = 3; uncontested = 15
I lost a couple of big pots just before the break.
Blinds going up to 200/400 with 50 ante.

Update #6: I busted out in 45th place. Lost with pocket 4's vs. AJ when my opponent hit his ace. 2009 will have to be my year. Thanks to those who stopped by to cheer me on. I appreciate it very much.

Update #7: These are the PSO players who will be competing at the 2008 WSOP main event:
Sailor Moe (Leon Morford)
NvFlag (Steven D'Argenio)
xxPiratexx (Jerry Garver)
SeekingPlumb (Christina Schroeder)
Dealmein (John Dobbs)
Runngunnin (Robert Reifendifer)
itpro800 (James Fisher)
AirborneDaddy (Jimmy Burgess)

In addition, YeahDonkey (Chris Davis) won a seat but has deferred until 2009. He has a new born and says he wants to utilize PSO and get his game even better!

I will be back with further updates regarding the results for my PSO friends, as well as my own progress towards a seat at the 2009 main event.

66-year-old Leon Morford from Chicago will lead a group of 8 PokerSchoolOnline members in this year's World Series of Poker Main event in Las Vegas beginning July 3rd.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Get your latest sports news at...

Quote of the Day: "While it seems everyone is complaining about the dumbing down of sports journalism these days, it is outstanding to see a site take an approach designed to step things up a level." --
Get your latest sports news at... The Wall Street Journal?? Apparently, the rumor is true. WSJ's sports menu has historically been quite limited. According to RotoNation, Fantasy Sports Blog (link in the next sentence), "WSJ runs a full-page of sports coverage in the Friday edition of the paper, and a golf page on Saturday. The WSJ has not heavily promoted its new sports offerings, but are doing some grass roots outreach to blogs and other influential sites online." Click here for the details.

Here's an example from today's paper: "China Leader Says Quake Won't Hinder Olympics" by Shai Oster.

While we're on the subject, the 2008 Summer Olympic games in Beijing begin 08-08-2008... just a little over two months away! also does a nice job with their online sports coverage. You can subscribe to daily updates. Here's today's: "Read it and weep, Detroit: Boston's 29-0 when leading 3-2" by Mike Freeman.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

McKay Tartan Books No. 4

Quote of the day: "Force is mobility: the more mobile the piece is, the more power it has." -- Reshevsky & Reinfeld, Learn Chess Fast, page 102This is a follow-up to my blog of April 17,2008. Please click here to view the first part.

Unlike the first three books in this series, book #4 is very much a beginner's book. Reshevsky & Reinfeld threw together the basics in 147 easily absorbed pages. Like the others, this book went through a number of editions before finding its way into the Tartan series.

I have four editions in my personal collection. The first is a red hardcover with black printing on the spine and no dust jacket (at least my copy doesn't have one -- see below). It was published by David McKay Company, copyright 1947, and printed & bound in the U.S. by Kingsport Press in Kingsport, Tennessee. 147 pages, English Descriptive Notation. A previous owner's signature is handwritten on the first inside page: "Eugene E. Kohlbecke" and is dated March 3, 1951.

The second copy of Learn Chess Fast in my collection was printed in Great Britain in 1952. The cover is cloth bound and more of a carmine red color with gold printing on the spine. As with the U.S. edition, it is 147 pages with English Descriptive notation. The original seller is listed as "Charles Wilson, bookseller, 46 Renshaw Street, Liverpool". The publisher is Hollis and Carter of London.The 1947 edition of LEARN CHESS FAST is pictured above. The 1952 edition, with its faded cover and light gold spine writing, is shown below.
The McKay Tartan softcover edition was printed at least 6 times that I am aware of, probably more, each time with a higher cover price. The one shown in the photo at the top is a first printing 1967 book with a cover price $1.25. Once again, it had 147 pages and was written in English Descriptive notation. It does not appear that the text changed in any substantial way, if at all, between 1947 and 1967.

The book shown in the upper right photo (with books #5 & #6) is the 6th softcover printing with a $3.95 cover price. At 147 pp with EDN and appears identical to the earlier versions. It does not appear that this particular book has been incorporated into the later McKay Chess series by Random House.

As for content, all the rules and basic principles are covered: setting up the pieces, how the chessmen move, basic mating patterns, relative value of the pieces, attack and defense, castling, capturing en passant, stalemate, and elementary tactics.

There are 282 diagrams, so the book is well done from that perspective. In other words, a lot of material can be internalized without setting up a board and pieces. There are five illustrative games, with light notes, spread throughout the book. That's plenty, in my opinion, in a true beginner's manual.

All in all, this was a good book for its time and purpose. However, there is so much more and better material available now, almost exclusively in algebraic notation, making Learn Chess Fast substantially obsolete. Nevertheless, it is a good nostalgic read and helpful refresher that can be read cover to cover in a weekend with no problem, as long as you don't mind the out-of-favor notation. Certainly the material presented remains timeless and fundamentally accurate.

Next time we will look at one of the all-time chess classics, My System by Aron Nimzovitch, #5 in the McKay Tartan series (and I will add a list of all the books in the series that I can locate.