Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

Computer assistant

The Lovejoy High School stands about 15 minutes from my home. In November, this fellow I know who runs chess tournaments asked me to assist him with the computer-operating parts of running a large scholastic tournament at this very high school. I rose early this morning and got the school at 7 a.m. They had a cool name badge for me, including my title, "Computer Assistant". i believe this is as close as I will ever come to being an IT guy.

I've run a goodish few chess tournaments over the years. Mine always involve 4 to 24 participants. I usually eschew software to run them, preferring the archaic pairing cards of my childhood to do hand-calculated pairings. The "Swiss system" of pairing involves pairing top to median with the same score. It's not hard to do when you know what you are doing. When you have software, it's a few mouse clicks to do. Today's tournament had 150 participants, so use of software to pair opponents in each round made sense.

Prior to the tournament, I obtained the latest version of SwissSys, a familiar pairing software, and practiced with it. I did not establish any proficiency with it, but I get a kind of shock probation of exposure to its fairly intuitive workings.

Childrens' chess tournaments are curious things. Chess is pretty big with kids now in our area. Parents love the way that kids who are disciplined about chess get disciplined about studies--which is rather a change from my college days, when I thought kids who were discplined about chess were studying chess instead of calculus.

Chess parents can get a bit worked up. They fret about whether a child gets a 1 point bye or a 1/2 point bye in a given round. Tournament directors ban the parents from the tournament halls, and make them wait outside. Otherwise, they might try to relay moves by morse code to their kids, or hover and disrupt, rather like sharp-shinned hawks. Though in this upwardly mobile area, most parents were late-to-parenting folks in their forties, a few parents were parents young enough that I could almost be their parent.

The parents, though, were by and large very well-behaved. The school teacher who organized the tournament was very effective, as was the man who actually directed the tournament, a chess player who once played in one of my tournaments. I heard one father needlessly carp when a round started a bit late. Overall, though, the
parents behaved themselves.

The marquee attraction was a simultaneous exhibition by Susan Polgar, the former world's women champion and one of the three amazing Polgar sisters, whose dad helped to evolve into world-class players. Susan enjoyed her belated lunch in the computer lounge after a chess puzzle talk she gave. I did not go and introduce myself and seek an autograph, though. I just did my job. Had time permitted, I would have bought one of her books, but time did not permit. Instead, I sat doing my menial computer tasks while she sat across the room, eating BBQ. It turns out that even great chess grandmasters from Hungary are just folks, too, like any other.

I suppose I wish I could say I was a major cog in the great tournament wheel, but on the other hand, I am glad that I was a little wheel, really. I read out winner and losers each round for quick data entry. I did minor work in the software, like correcting spelling errors. I did a fair bit of go-fer work, like placing the 'participation medal' each child received at the middle school and high school chess boards, or helping one little girl who missed her first round game get a new pairing for a second round game from the tournament director for her age group once she was not paired for the second round. I find there is a comfort in being of little importance and yet useful.

I was touched that the organizers even gave the low-level help like myself a little honorarium, and I did not point out that the sum, expressed as an hourly rate for the 12 hours I spent there, was roughly 1 percent of my hourly rate as an attorney. The guy I assisted was patient and kind, and his daughter a college girl
who was the chief assistant TD, thanked me graciously for my work.

My conclusions:

a. it's fun to be behind the scenes of any large undertaking, to understand how it works;
b. the best chess tournament for me to direct still has 4 to 20 players;
c. there really are chess parents;
d. everyone deserves a medal or trophy;
e. I want to run a simple tournament with no admission fee;
f. I am not a software engineer, but I could run chess software;
g. putting up pairing charts while elementary school kids hover is a bit outside my day to day experience;
h. my accent most approaches standard English when I am computer assistant at a regional championship scholastic chess tournament;
i. I love doing any work that involves being given monopoly money which can be redeemed to buy a dry baked potato; and
j. when you assist anyone who is polite notwithstanding that you're an idiot, you're pretty well-placed.

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