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December 8th, 2010


01:11 am - Last round win
Entering the last round of the Douglas chess championships, I was a point back after getting dusted in round 2 in an opening I didn't know well enough. 2 straight wins had put me back in contention, and the last round saw me on board 1 vs the only master in the IOM, Keith Allen sitting in clear first at 3.5. He took up a passive position but one I had real troubles breaking into, until finally getting some queen penetration going. However, my king was also pretty exposed and there was grave perpetual check danger. With a massive time edge (about 1hr to 2 mins with 10sec increment) I finally found the key idea in this position:


finding the seemingly paradoxical idea of 53. Ka3! Qa1+ 54. Kb4 Qxb2+ 55. Kc5 Qxb6+ 56. Kxb6, and he resigned, realizing that 56...f4 57. gxf4 h4 58. f5 h3 59. fxe6 hxg2 60. e7 g1=Q was going to be met with e8=Q#,

So, I end up with 4/5. Two other players with 3/4 were playing when I left. One is the one who beat me in round 2, so if he wins, he takes the title on tiebreak. If the other wins, we have some sort of rapid playoff at some undetermined time.

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January 15th, 2010


12:33 am - Leadership, Part 6 of 100
In my last post, I ended with a promise to discuss the difference between crisis management and problem solving. Many people who come up from the front lines, or relatively low and short term supervisory roles often confuse these two. In fact, one recent discussion I had with such a person saw them explain to me that (paraphrasing) “I’m really good at immediately solving problems that are brought to me; that’s why I’m such a good leader”.

To me, this really brought home the gap in understanding what managing and leading is for many people aspiring to take their first really significant step towards leadership.

Primarily, the difference is between being reactive and proactive; people who manage are putting out fires that come to them (and often doing it incredibly well). People who lead are identifying where those fires are going to start, and stopping them before they ever appear.

Back in the day, when I was an underwriter, our department business analyst decided to move elsewhere in the company; she provided ample lead time to the director, and was more than willing to assist with all necessary training of her replacement. The director called me in, and offered me the job, promising that I’d find the job very interesting, and that “the money would really be worth it”. I was young and ambitious, and any step forward was one I was going to take, and thus I accepted the job. When I later found out the salary, I was a bit disappointed, as it was an objectively nominal increase, and not one that particularly motivated me to work on overcoming the weaknesses I had relative to the position.

So, what did the director in this case do? He *managed* the situation – there was a problem (critical position going vacant), he identified a possible solution (fill the position with a relatively qualified person), and implemented it (convince me to take the role). As a crisis management job, he did perfectly fine, and the department continued to run “business as usual”. However, let’s look at the many missed opportunities to truly *lead* the situation.

First, he was unable to proactively determine the existing person (who was extremely good at the job, definitely better than I was) was unhappy, and take necessary steps to find a way to make the existing job more attractive to her. By seeing someone is bored/unchallenged/unhappy in their existing role, you can often deal with the situation, and never let it get to the point that you need to deal with the (for lack of a better term) crisis that comes when the qualified person leaves.

Second, there was nothing done in the way of succession training, even when it was clear there was a person in the department (myself) who was probably capable of doing the job. If you know that a person is unhappy in their current role, by doing very proactive advance training, you can truly determine whether or not your preferred candidate is the right person for the job. In this case, he had a basic idea I could do the job, and put me in the role with little in the way of a backup plan; had I proven totally unable to do it, he would have been left with two new crises – what to do with me, and how to fill the position now.

Third, he came with an unformed and vague offer of “more money” and the like; while this was not a huge issue for me as money wasn’t my primary motivation, for many people, he would have set himself up for a future crisis as I took the role, moved into it, and then decided I had been duped by a false promise of a “big raise”.

In essence, when you look at any situation, no matter what it’s status (good, bad, crisis), you need to, as a leader, take a “what are all the possible outcomes and how will I deal with them” viewpoint. As the leader of our department, he certainly could have looked at his team makeup and thought to himself “hm, I have this one particular role that requires specific skills and I don’t have much backup to that. If that person quits, gets hit by a bus, gets fired, whatever, I am in the soup! I better start getting some backup ready.” Alternatively, he could have looked at the existing analyst, and thought to himself “hm, she’s a really smart and driven person, and her current role is maybe a bit beneath her, as well as having not much in the way of room for growth. I’d better address this with her before she gets disillusioned and demotivated, and find additional challenges for her.”

By doing so, you move from a situation where you are constantly having problems presented to you, and coming up with good solutions to a situation where you are coming up with good solutions and implementing them to prevent the problem from ever happening.

If you’re like most managers, your first response to this will be “That sounds awesome, but where do I find the time? I can’t sit and strategize all day when I have meetings/reports/crisises to deal with!”. I believe that's a simple excuse to avoid difficult work; the easy thing about crisis management is that all you have to do is identify the solution. To lead, you have to identify the problem and the solution; twice the work, but the payoff is that problems stay smaller, and the risk of coming up with a poor solution is lessened.

I’ve had various managers who come down very differently on how to finish the sentence “If it ain’t broke...”, with some saying “don’t fix it.” and some saying “break it!” My philosophy would be more to finish it by saying “make sure it’s not going to break.”

I got a bit off topic, so I’ll return to the idea of problem solving in my next post.

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January 13th, 2010


10:09 pm - Leadership, Part 5 of 100
After some delay due to (shockingly!) work pressures, it’s time to carry on. In my last post, I talked about how signature moments can truly start to help you be seen as a leader, and promised to talk about how to create these signature moments.

The first step in creating such moments is to identify where the opportunities lie to address them. In every company I’ve worked in, there has been certain areas that every single employee knew were sources of inefficiency that the department simply worked around because “that’s just how it is”. Most management books suggest that the role of a manager is to try to encourage and empower their employees to help come up with solutions and ideas that will improve efficiency. If you’re on the other end of it (being that employee), you can go a long ways towards making yourself look like a standout and leader if you proactive approach your boss with ideas.

A good example for me came relatively early in my current career. We were an extremely flat organizational structure; it basically went CEO, then General Manager, then everyone else. We had many new and relatively inexperienced staff, and the default whenever you had a question was to go see the CEO or GM. Obviously, they were two extremely busy people, and it was very hard to get time with them to answer questions that were (in all honesty) of a relatively minor level of importance. This then created a great deal of inefficiency in escalating non basic but non crucial items.

A standard reaction in such cases is for people to simply “get used to” this situation, and new staff who came in quickly became acclimated to the fact that this was part of the job. However, another co-worker and I prepared a proposal for the GM and CEO for a new escalation level – one of relatively experienced and knowledgeable staff who could take some of these issues off of the plates of the senior management. We put together a full proposal that showed what the duties would be, how the duties could be scheduled, and even came up with a name for the position.

Putting together this kind of proposal showed that we were both thinking beyond just “what is my job today” and at least looking at some sort of bigger picture, as well as moving beyond the idea of organizational problems not being our responsibility. By coming up with a relatively simple solution that improved the work experience for both front level and management staff, there was a definite moment where we were moved up an intangible notch in the eyes of all of our coworkers (peers and managers), and it’s little surprise that when it was decided to create the role, we were both essentially slam dunk picks.

Now, before you start putting together random proposals to take to your boss, you should notice the key elements that helped us succeed in getting some real recognition for this idea:

1) We identified something that was known to be having a clear negative effect on our department performance
2) We identified something that was a source of frustration for our management
3) We identified something that was a source of frustration among front level staff

As a senior manager now myself, I see a number of proposals that come to me, and there are some that fit the above three criteria, but many more that don’t. They tend to be more:

1) They see something that could *potentially* improve our department performance
2) They see something they are interested in doing

If you cannot clearly link to me the idea of the project you want to do, and how it resolves a problem that I am clearly aware of, you’ve jumped ahead of where you need to be, and you’ll likely be seen as someone who is just looking for something other than your normal job to do.

So, when you start trying to think about what signature moments you can create, the first thing you should do is identify what your boss thinks is the biggest weakness in the department. If you bring a proposal for an idea that is directly targeted at an area near to his consciousness, you will have a much greater chance of support for your idea.

So, let’s think a bit more about your proposal. One of the worst things that you can do is come to your boss with a formal proposal to a problem that seemingly has an incredibly simple solution; you may have to accept that your boss is not an idiot, and will often not have implemented certain ideas for a good reason. In many cases, it’s even good to have a preliminary, informal meeting with your boss to say “Hey, I believe X is a real issue in the department, what do you think?”. If your boss responds in agreement, you may then want to ask something along the lines of “Do we have any good ideas or have we tried anything to fix this?” – note that this is a tricky question to ask your boss as it can come off a bit aggressively, so do be careful in how you word this.

Once you get a basic idea of whether your boss agrees it’s an issue, and some perspective on exactly what has been tried, you should then plant the seed in your boss’s mind – even something as vague as “I have some thoughts on how we can improve this – can we meet next week to discuss them?” will likely get a very positive response, and (as an added benefit) stretch out the time your boss is thinking of you as someone who is a proactive problem solver.

Once you get there, the only challenge left is to come up with a good idea for fixing the problem. In my next post, I’ll talk about the differences between problem solving and crisis management.

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January 10th, 2010


11:08 pm - Leadership, Part 4 of 100..
So far, I’ve done nothing but talk about how basically you should sit in a dark room and think about yourself and how you can be a better leader. But what exactly do you do our in the real world, and what do you do to overcome existing biases and prejudices about you and your personality?

Once you’ve recognized a deficiency in your performance, and taken the necessary steps to correct it, many people then assume their work is done and that “people will see”. Nothing, frankly, could be further from the truth. Once people have a certain perspective of you, changing that perspective is a whole different struggle that has to be addressed in an entirely different way. It involves making the effort to sell yourself to the people you need to; many people have trouble doing this as they may feel that the perception change will simply come naturally as their behaviour changes.

Frankly, this simply doesn’t happen, or at least not in any kind of timeframe that is acceptable to real leaders. I started to write some examples, but frankly, I had too many to count – people I’ve discussed with superiors as promotable, only to be advised that they have some sort of problem which is related to an incident that occurred years ago that formed an impression that was never changed.

There’s a relatively well known commercial (that I can’t remember the product of, showing how effective it was) that used the tag line “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”. I say that is absolutely false. While there are some close minded people in the world, I’ve almost always interacted with people who were fact based and open to the idea that others can change (whether they were open to changing themselves was another matter). They just have to be made aware of a change rather directly before they can accept it and change their mindset, and you have to do something sometimes dramatic to change their mindset.

An example that I always recall is Michael Jordan. For many years, he was the incredibly talented high scorer who “couldn’t win the big one”. As Bird and Magic’s careers ended, he came in as the heir apparent, and won a title or two, and was definitely seen at their level. However, for many people (including me) he was not in the discussion really of “absolute greatest of all time” yet – he was just an incredibly talented player whose physical gifts allowed him to dominate. For me, the turning point came in a famous playoff game where he was incredibly sick, literally vomiting at every break and barely able to stand, but where he sucked it up and just took over the game. For me, it was this that led him to start to be seen as he is now – an amazing physical talent, but more importantly someone who had absolutely soul devouring desire that would have pushed him to be exceptional no matter what his physical gifts.

On the flip side, his teammate Scottie Pippen was also a ridiculously gifted athlete, and played a huge part in the success of those Bulls teams. After Jordan moved on to baseball, another famous playoff game occurred, where the Bulls and Knicks were deep into a series, and Pippen was now the Bulls unquestioned leader. Late in a “down to the wire” game, the Bulls had the ball and were going for the last, winning shot. The play was drawn up, and Pippen wanted it – the coach believed someone else should get it, and as a result, Pippen refused to re-enter the game. At that moment, I realized he wasn’t a leader, and I think the remainder of his career showed that this assessment was shared by NBA executives – he was never again given the chance to be the #1 focal point of a team. A great complementary piece, sure, but never “the main man”.

The point of all of this is that changing people’s perspective of you, whether for good or bad, will almost always come as a result of a signature moment. If people have a poor perspective of you, and you want to change it, you can’t simply wait for that moment to come – you have to create it, by looking at something you’re doing badly, and making it known that you are going to deal with it, and then (the most crucial part) following up to ask if the people saw it. How you do that can be tricky, as you don’t really want to be basically begging for nice things to be said, but you can call attention to it in more subtle ways.

One of the most frustrating people I have ever managed was someone who basically disagreed with the goals he was given, and carried along on his path doing what he believed was right until his annual review, where he received a terrible score. After an extremely long meeting, which left us both frustrated and upset, I think we both spent a good deal of time thinking about it. From his perspective, to his credit, he realized I now had the perspective of him as being stubborn, argumentative, and difficult, and he took the introspective time to realize that he needed to make me understand that wasn’t the case – he just had very strong feelings about the way his job should be done, and that he needed to communicate them to me before it was too late next time. He then proceeded to do so, to the point that it almost became overbearing – however, he certainly changed the perspective I had. I now saw him as passionate about his work and the company (though still a bit stubborn sometimes!), which led to him being seen much more positively by me, and led to his later growth in the company.

In my next post, I’ll be more specific about how to create these signature moments.

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01:01 am - Leadership, Part 3 of...100?
Sure, why not 100? So far, I've had a pretty easy time cranking 1000 words per day (actually I'm having to edit hard to get it down to 1000 - today for example is 999 not including this preface), so I figure 100 days leading to 100,000 words is a cool goal to target.

In my last post, I talked about self assessment as being one of the hardest things a person can do. After further reflection, I think I need to clarify that statement. Doing a self assessment is easy – many people have a particular self image, and it includes many negative facets of themselves that they are aware of and fully acknowledge.

However, this represents only a superficial self assessment and a lack of personal responsibility regarding your individual characteristics. How many people do you know who say things like “I’m not great at math” or “I am the worst singer you’ve ever met” or other comments along those lines. This could, I guess, qualify as “an honest self assessment”, but frankly, is a waste of time. It’s not until you internalize the results of your assessement, and take steps to correct it that you are accomplishing something worthwhile.

Like many people, I struggle with my weight, and I have friends who share similar struggles. Many times, we’ve been out to eat, and joked about we needed to start losing weight, or eating better, or exercising more, or whatever. Do any of us not honestly assess that this is an issue that we are currently weak in – of course not. However, last year, I was catching up with one of these friends, and he had clearly dropped a substantial amount of weight. When I asked him about it, he said that he had had a meeting with his doctor where short term consequences of not losing weight were spelled out to him quite clearly, and this was the shock he needed to internalize and take responsibility for fixing his “weakness”.

By the same token, in a leadership role, there are few things more inspiring to people than seeing their leader take on his weakest point aggressively and publicly. When you lead people, you are a focal point of attention for others, and they all are consistently assessing you in a way that is probably even more honest than you do of yourself. They know what your strengths and weaknesses are, and they know when you are using them.

As part of our recent annual performance process, I sat down with Excel (one of my known strengths among people on my staff) and spent an afternoon crunching a substantial amount of numbers down into a very simple and easy format (another strength of mine) that will likely save substantial amounts of time for my direct reports in the process. In my early days as their leader, it was something that earned me some “wow” factor, but by now, it’s pretty much part of the informal contract between me and my staff – they know they can expect this from me, that I’m good at it, and that I like doing it. While they appreciate it, it only reinforces what they feel about me as a leader, rather than enhancing it.

Conversely, a weakness I have is my lack of truly fluent spanish in our office; I openly acknowledge that my spanish isn’t where it should be, and I openly acknowledge that it’s really something that would enhance my ability to be a leader in this office. However, I never really internalized it to the point that I took the necessary steps to fix this weakness, and I’m sure my failure to do so has not been one of the areas of my leadership that many people look up to. If I were to come out at the office Xmas party, get on stage, and (to give a crazy example) sing a song in Spanish, it would be the kind of gesture towards fixing my weaknesses that really builds leadership and inspires your staff.

This leads to one of the most common mistakes I see new managers make, both with themselves and their direct reports. A weakness or area of improvement will be identified, and all parties involved will then agree that it is to be worked on. A great meeting will be held, extremely positive and well intentioned, and everyone will leave feeling like the problem is going to be solved. The problem? No clear action plan was identified, and no timelines or goals were set. Without clear action points and accountability, the almost certain outcome is no change.

A problem many new managers have is learning to be direct and clear with staff; many of them have come up through the ranks, and are now managing former peers or even friends. When the time comes to give negative feedback to them, the usual outcome is a very pleasant meeting that results in little in the way of actual change. Many of these managers then become frustrated with the lack of change in their staff.

In my early days, I would tell my manager “You have to be direct and firm with them and make them understand how serious this matter is”, and my managers would say “Yes, I absolutely will!” and we’d be in the exact situation described above – “extremely positive and well intentioned, and everyone will leave feeling like the problem is going to be solved”.

As time went on, I learned that part of managing people (or yourself) is not only deciding where you want to get, but how you want to get there, and reviewing that plan to see if it’s realistic. What I did with one manager in the above situation was to meet with them, and roleplay out the situation before nearly every meeting they had with their staff, and then give feedback to them on how they’d done in terms of keeping the message direct and firm, followed by once again restating our understanding of the consequences of failure to be direct with staff and our committment to fixing the issue.

So, is leadership all about ideas bouncing around in your own head? Of course not, and in the next post, I’ll talk about some things anyone can do to be seen as a better leader.

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January 8th, 2010


10:54 pm - Leadership, Part 2 of ... ?
Doing an honest self assessment is about the hardest thing for most people to do, and this is magnified when you put someone into a new role where they have direct authority over others. While a promotion of this nature is generally meant to lead to personal growth, and a wider range of knowledge, what it tends to do is magnify your existing personality traits as you fight to maintain your personality in the face of the challenge of higher expectations and greater reliance on you of others. A relatively generic quote that I have heard applied to many different activities is that “Some things don’t build character – they reveal it” and I believe management of people is one of those things.

Many new managers struggle early on, as they start dealing with people who feel passionately about their personal and work issues, and fight hard to get their way. The most common reaction to this is for the new manager is to have difficulty understanding why the people they manage are such problems, why can’t they grow up, I was never immature like this, I’m just trying to help them for god’s sake!

This is a result of the hardest thing for a person taking on a managerial role to understand – every relationship (work or otherwise) is under your control, and the success or failure thereof is heavily influenced by you. If you are having trouble with a relationship, the only thing you can worry about is how you’ve failed in the situation – blaming the other person is only going to cause the relationship to deteriorate further.

This is where honest self assessment comes in – if you cannot look at how you’ve failed in the situation objectively, and determine what action you need to take to fix it, you can be pretty sure it’s not going to be fixed.

After I was promoted as an underwriter to a business analyst, I was given a more flexible schedule, with one exception. Every Wednesday at 9am, I was supposed to meet with our divisional director to discuss issues and set priorities. Early in my promotion, I was extremely diligent about these meetings and showed up every time; as time went on (and I found the meetings less than useful), I became much less punctual about them, and in fact often missed them without notice. It wasn’t an “end of the world” level issue, as our director was quite busy and often just as happy not to have them, but it definitely was a bone of contention with him that I was (essentially) blowing them off, and it caused some unpleasant feelings between us.

At the time, I was maybe 25 years old and just out of university; I saw him as an old school, out of touch boss who was wasting my time with pointless meetings straight out of a bad Dilbert cartoon. He on the other hand probably saw me as a snot nosed kid who was getting away with a lack of respect due to having certain technical skills and knowledge he couldn’t easily replace. This simply led to a lot of unspoken negative feelings towards each other as we both thought the situation was a mess, and that it was the other person’s fault.

In this case, neither of us could do an honest self assessment about how we were each contributing to the problem; had I come to him and said “Sir, I know you are used to doing these meetings, but I have to say I’m not getting much out of them. I love getting direction, but a 9am meeting isn’t the time I’m going to be at my best, and I don’t really need face to face meetings to prioritize my work. Can we find another way to do this?”, I’m sure I would have had a very positive response and done a lot to fix the issue. Had he come to me and said “These Wednesday meetings are a total failure – we aren’t acccomplishing anything with them and half the time, we don’t even have them. If we still believe they’re important, we have to find another way to make them effective”, I’m sure I would have responded more positively than the “you missed the Wednesday meeting, I really need you to make that”, “yeah, sorry, I’ll be there next week for sure” type of conversations we actually had.

You’ll note how carefully the words are chosen in those two examples (in fact, I had to rewrite them several times to get them correct) – in neither example does he or I say the word “you”. It’s always “I” or “we”, and getting that kind of language correct is absolutely crucial to fostering the kind of environment and meeting where you can deal with a difficult situation in a dispassionate way. It also sounds easy, but no matter what you think of your boss, it’s not easy to go to him and say “hey, frankly 9am just isn’t me”, and not easy for a highly experienced manager to go to a subordinate and say “how can we work together to do something I feel like I should be able to just order you to do”. Putting aside your own ego, fears, or whatever other baggage you have is critical to resolving problems positively.

This is a small picture example of how you, over time, can develop a fully honest self assessment of yourself, as in my experience, the problems you face with others will frequently be caused by the same root problem (maybe you are afraid of confrontation, maybe you have no patience with people who don’t have your skills, maybe you get intimidated by women, who knows?). There’s a reason that every AA meeting starts with people being forced to stand and acknowledge their problem before any help can be offered – you can’t change until you accept the problem.

In my next post, I’ll talk some more about self change, and change in general.

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12:40 am - Leadership, Part 1 of ...?
A lot has been written about how to be a leader, so why don’t I write some more? In the past year, I’ve spent a lot of time doing development with my staff, and it’s helped me a lot to spend a great deal of time thinking about leadership and the nature thereof. So, in an attempt to make my nightly internet surfing slightly more productive, I’m going to try to start writing about leadership in my blog. Generally, I’ll talk a little bit about my thoughts, and then try to give an example of it (with a goal of posting every day, and keeping the posts to 1000 words apiece).

When people subconsciously choose who they will look at as role models and leaders, they look at a whole range of aspects of your personality. The first is a specific talent or skill they may recognize that they have no ability to mimic (say for example that you are excellent at math, and they get scared when they see a calculator watch). Having those kinds of skills, and making use of them in a natural way can start to lead to people seeing you as someone they want to emulate. It’s critical to understand that to lead by example, it’s almost a given that you will have some sort of special skill that is not commonly held that can translate into the ability to do your job in a superior way.

In my second job out of school, I worked as an underwriter, where once a month, we had to do an extremely manual recalculation of a variety of policy renewals. I saw this as a perfect task for Excel and created a sheet to take care of most of the calculation, allowing me to finish much faster (and thus take much more workload) than other people at my level. Even though the others were not comfortable enough with Excel to use the sheet, they recognized that I was clearly a standout in the group I was in.

The next is an overall image and personality I believe you have to project to be able to lead by example, and there is one absolutely underlying characteristic that has to exist – confidence. If you can’t speak in public, or you are more of a shy type, you simply can’t lead by example. You’ll simply be seen as the company Rain Man – autistic genius who can do things but can’t work with others. Being confident means that you are willing to approach others and offer your help or assistance, and are able to articulate well how to help people. I’m sure everyone has been in a meeting where the presenter said “Don’t be afraid to ask questions – every question you have, there’s probably 5 other people who want to ask it”. If you want to lead by example, be the one who asks the questions. Every time you initiate a conversation, whether in a group or individual setting, you are risking looking silly. Without the confidence to take that risk, you are not going to be seen as a leader.

In a meeting a year or so ago, I was in with a very senior group of managers of a particular department that I was not directly part of, including two owners of the company, incredibly smart people who have very strong opinions. The meeting was to discuss an issue that many in our company felt was a relatively minor problem, but that I believed was a much bigger problem. The two owners felt the correct way to solve the problem was to take a certain step, and I felt that a much more radical step was warranted. I was confident that I understood the problem and that I could anticipate their counterarguments and chose to stand against the two owners on my position. While I didn’t convince them, they did acknowledge that my point of view held merit, and I did (according to later private discussions) at least convince some of the other senior managers that the issue deserved more consideration. It was extremely nerve wracking to disagree publicly with such high level people in our company, but that kind of meeting (again, outside my department and regarding an issue that didn’t directly affect me) I believe certainly raised my “leadership cred” in the company.

I can understand that saying “have a special skill” and “be confident” are pretty seemingly obvious parts to being seen as a leader. I also realize that these are two of the aspects that cause people to believe leaders are “born, not created” – just as I can say “hey, just be confident and speak up”, and have little understanding of why others have so much trouble with it, others could look at weaknesses I hold that they believe are silly and easily overcome.

In the next post, I’ll talk about doing an honest self assessment on yourself.

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October 9th, 2009


01:14 pm - Obama, Nobel Peace Prize, seriously?
The guy is even attacking the moon!

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20091009/ap_on_sc/us_sci_shoot_the_moon

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July 14th, 2009


03:34 pm - WSOP Main event trip report
So, the WSOP Main event. This is my third year in the main event, and fifth year at the WSOP, which has seen the preceding four years have me cash-less in the tournaments I've played. I spent a good deal of time thinking about the game leading up to this event, specifically how to adjust to the much much deeper structure (we started with 30,000 chips, and blinds of 50-100).

In reading the online updates, and knowing how the Series can get, I expected to see a lot of fast play in the early going, and I was planning to be quite patient. My starting table was all unknowns until Justin Bonomo (the infamous multiaccounter ZeeJustin from online) showed up. Our table had one horribly over aggressive player who was playing every hand and bluffing most of them, while the rest seemed pretty tight.

In level 1, I caught the bluffer with my KK early and got myself up to around 50K, and beat ZeeJustin in a pot where I raised with AK, he called with AQ, flop xxx, ch ch, turn A, I check he bets I call, river X I check he bets I call. I basically stayed around there for a while, until ZeeJustin (for all intents) busted the bluffing maniac right before the dinner break.

Post day 1 dinner break didn't go very well for a long time, and I was down to around my starting stack again, when I raised with 77 and was called by one guy. Flop came down an acceptable 775. I bet and he called. Turn was a 4, I checked, he bet and I called. River was a 6, I checked, he bet, I raised, and he folded. The rest of the play for the day was uneventful and I ended day 1 at 51,275, with average stacks around 45,000.

Day 2 started off great, with no names at my table, and most people playing pretty tight. This was unfortunate in one spot where I raised in MP to 1500 with 88, and was reraised to 5000. I called and flopped 866. I checked, he bet 6000, and I pushed in for his last 24K. He stood up, went through the whole "this is my tournament life" song and dance, and finally folded QQ face up.

I ran myself up to 70K pretty quickly, then ran myself right back down to 35K when I made a good read but couldn't win the coin flip; I raised to 3600 in late with KTo, and the BB who had been playing pretty tight but shortstacked, pushed all in for 20K. I gave it some thought and decided he didn't have a monster and called to see his 33. Unfortunately, 33 ended up being the winner.

Shortly after, I was actually all in with much the worst of it. Some big stack raised from the middle and I called on the button with 65s. The flop came down a theoretically awesome 552, and after a few raises, we ended up all in, and I was licking my chops about my obvious double up against his overpair until he flipped over A5s! The turn paired the 2 and I managed to chop and stay alive.

I sort of hovered around there for most of the rest of the day and was down to about 22K when I was moved to a new table. I opened with AQ for 2200 with blinds at 400-800, and a big stack raised enough that I was going to be all in if I elected to play. I didn't see a huge option here and went for it all. To my surprise, the big stack was just making a move with K4o and I held to double to the mid 40s. Shortly after, I raised with AJ, and a short stack pushed in for about 15K from the BB. I called and sucked out on his JJ with a flop of AAx, leaving him without even his one outer to sweat. Thus, I ended day 2 with 57,100, with average about 95,000.

Day 3 started like both other days, with a mini rush from me (seems like most people didn't really wake up that sharp and I was able to steal some pots early). Quickly up to 70K, but then back down to about 50K through various loose calls and overaggressive moves. Then I finally got a double up; some french pro named Thomas Fougeron open raises in early, one caller, and I call on the button with 7s5s. Flop is AQ9 with two spades. He bets half pot and I call. Turn is a little spade, making my flush; he checks and I bet 3/4 pot and he calls. River is a K and he instantly bets all in. I have only 25K left and the pot is 150K+ so I figure if I'm out flushed, I'm outflushed. I call and he has JTo for the straight and goes on some tilty french rant as he pays me off. So, finally, I have a decent stack!

I immediately start donking away chips and am quickly down to like 130K when another big hand comes up. EP raises, one caller, and I call in the cutoff with Qd9d. Button (super tighty) calls, one blind calls. Flop is an intriguing Td8s6s, giving me a double gutter. Blind bets out, original raiser folds, I call, tighty on the button calls. Turn is a 3d giving me a flush draw with my double gutter. Now blind checks and I bet it up pretty hefty; like 25000 if I remember correctly. Tighty on the button surprises me by calling, and blind folds. River is absolutely perfect, the Jh, giving me the nuts. I bet 40,000 and tighty on the button starts moaning and groaning about how he should have just moved in on the flop and finally folds AsTs face up; yeah, I'd say moving in on the flop was good! So, now I'm up around 200K or whatever.

Tighty busts and is replaced by another tighty. A little while later, I raise with KTo in the cutoff and this tighty pushes on me for like 40K more. Feeling a little gambly I call and face his 88, which again I cannot defeat. My table broke shortly after and I was moved to a table with Dennis Phillips. With about 190K, and 15 minutes left in the day, its folded to my SB. I look at the BB who has 48K, and figure he's going to fold just about anything, so I move in with 98o. He instacalls with AQ and we both whiff the board entirely. End day 3 with 123,000, with average at about 245,000.

At this point, we are down to 789 players, with money at 648. I'm in about 550th place so I could probably fold into it if I really desired, but I decided to just keep playing normally and see what happened. I checked my table draw and it was obvious we were going to break very quickly (we were table 89 of 89) so not much happened at my first table. I then got moved to a new table where things seemed quite friendly. On my second orbit, I am in the BB with T7o, and its folded to the SB who has about 250K and limps. I check, and see a flop of J98. After some raises, we get all in and he has J9 for two pair. He fails to suck out and now I'm pretty much going to cash unless a negative disaster happens.

Shortly we are in hand for hand, which takes nearly two hours to bust five players. All short stacks are grimly hanging on, and any all in requires ESPN's presence and direction of the dealing of the hand. I liked two announced hands during the hand for hand; shorty is all in with AA vs KJ, board goes KJ4-2-2, and he stands on a chair and screams "IM STILL IN IT" to all of us, and another shorty all in with AA vs AJ, which led the whole room to start chanting "Jack! Jack! Jack!". Anyways, finally somehow the bubble bursts with some dude all in for like his 600 ante or whatever, and I'm $21,000 richer!

The payout structure was incredibly flat (to give an example, 648th was worth $21,365, while 227th was wroth $32,963 - 400+ spots for another 10K) so I knew it was going to be fast and furious after the break. My plan was to pick up some aces or kings and double up a few times. Instead, I immediately spewed off 60K on a ridiculous move against some Scandanavian (he opens in MP, someone calls, I call in the BB with 65o, flop 222. I check he bets 17,000, I raise to 42,000, he calls. Turn J, I give up and check, he touches one of his chips and I fold). This took me back down to the low 100s. Meanwhile, all you are hearing all over the room is "all in and call" and our table is right by the prize window, and there's literally a 10 person lineup there at all times.

We reach the break and I have something like 103,000, with average pushing 450K, and coming back to blinds of 3000-6000, ante 1000. Still plenty of play but getting short undoubtedly. I'm also feeling the effects of 30 hours of live poker in 4 days, which exceeds my last one year of live poker played. Thomas and Melina tell me to stop being a little bitch and get in and fight, so back I go.

Shortly after restart, I open on the button with KTo and am called by the BB. The flop is AKK, and after some raises, I'm all in, once again surprised to be facing his KJ. I request a queen for a chop, and I hit exactly that card on the river. While disappointed, he does concede that I deserve it because I was not "greedy - you only asked for a queen, and not a ten".

I then immediately get moved to a new table, with two of the top ten leaders. I manage a double up fairly early when a MP raises to 17000 and I push for 95000 with 88. He doesn't install call so I know I have a chance at least; he finally makes the call with QT and my eights hold up for the win, getting me back to 200K.

Finally, my bustout hand of the tourney. I am in the BB of 6K and UTG (who has 2.2M) raises to 15K. Another monster stack (1.4M) cold calls. I have seen UTG splashing around in a lot of pots already, and the other big stack trying to take some flops with him, so I'm not seeing either of them as monstrously strong here. I look at Tc7c, and think, ok, 18K in the pot preflop, plus their 30K, makes it 48K that I have to call 9K for. I figure its a fairly obvious call and call. The flop is AK4 with two clubs. I check, unsure how I want to play this, and the chip leader immediately bets 27,000. The other big stack elects to slowly call, and I now see the pot as 111K, and I have 174,000 in my stack, exactly a perfect size to jam with (since I will put in the 27K to call, and raise 147K more, basically one full pot size bet). I further think that there is no really bad result unless one of them has a set. Bigger clubs are going to have a really tough time calling, and even top pair will have to think about it. To be honest, I didn't even think either of them had top pair! In any event, if they both fold, I get a risk free 50% addition to my stack up to 300K, and if one calls, I will have to hit my flush which I will do more than 1/3 times, after which I'd have 450K and be average stacked and in position to maybe do a little something.

As it stood, UTG raiser instantly folded to the other big stack's laugh and comment "you evil man", and he started thinking about whether or not to call me. He asked me what I had, and I said 147,000. He gave it a fair bit of thought, seemingly leaning towards folding, but then visibly realized there were two clubs on board and starting figuring I might have a flush draw. Finally he elected to call with his AdTd, and I couldn't hit the flush, and was eliminated in 430th place for $27,469.

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April 21st, 2007


07:24 pm
Today, I took part in an exhibition match against the world's top rated chess player, Viswanathan Anand, having paid a pretty penny on eBay as a charitable donation in exchange for the privilege

Sadly, I missed my chance to score, making the wrong choice between two attacking lines.

[Event "Charity Simul"]
[Site "Internet Chess Club"]
[Date "2007.04.21"]
[White "Anand"]
[Black "Me"]
[Result "1-0"]

1. Nf3 c5 2. e4 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 g6 6. Be3 Bg7 7. f3 Nc6 8. Qd2 O-O 9. O-O-O d5 10. exd5 Nxd5 11. Nxc6 bxc6 12. Bd4 Nxc3 13. Qxc3 Bh6+ 14. Be3 Bxe3+ 15. Qxe3 Qb6 16. Qxe7 Be6 17. Qa3 Rfd8 18. Ba6 c5 19. Qa4

This was the first move out of theory for me. I was well aware of an old Kasparov-Topalov game that had proceeded 19.Be2. Although I knew Kasparov won that game, the maneuver Ba6-e2 seemed utterly ridiculous to me and I was willing to face it. The move played was new on me (and a database search turns up nothing), but I didn't really see the point of it. As it loosens the defense of the queenside, I decided to go straight for the jugular.

19...Rdb8 20. b3 Qc7 21. Rd2 Rb4 22. Qa3 Rab8 23. c4 Qe5 24. Qb2 Qe3 25. Rd1

Here is where I had to make my choice. I was seriously considering 25...Rxb3 26. axb3 Rxb3, and debating whether he would play:

1) 27. Qxb3 Qxb3 - I wasn't sure what his next move would be here. Obviously he's immediately threatened with Qa3+, and I'm not sure I see any very good defense to it. Fritz considers 28.Rb2 Qc3+ 29.Kb1 Bf5+ 30. Ka1 to be white's best, where I have at minimum a perpetual with Qa3-c3-a3-c3, etc, but Fritz thinks I should play for more, based I imagine on the fact that white simply has no good moves. I analyzed this variation very poorly during the game, and likely would have gone for 25..Rxb3 if I'd realized how tied up white is in this spot.

2) 27.Qa2 - a move I didn't really expect him to play, thinking 27...Ra3 would give me a very good position. This is probably ok, but Fritz puts 27...Bf5 as even stronger, taking control of the c2 square and allowing black to retake the long diagonal with Qc3+ next, as well as leaving the haunting threat of Rb1+ at some future moment.

Fritze evaluates both of these positions as solidly in my favor. However, having misevaluated most of these positions quite poorly, I actually thought I saw something even better..

25...R4b6 26.Kb1 Qg5 27.f4 Qe7 28.Bb5 a6 29.Bd7 Bxc4

This was approximately what I had looked at, thinking he would be very tied up, as I threaten sacrifices on b3, or simply to retreat my bishop and play c4, opening him up further. His move as played came as a big surprise.

30.Qe5 Bxb3

At this point I thought I was actually getting somewhere and that I'd have him in trouble - and really, how often do you get to offer the world #1 a queen sacrifice? The main point, obviously, is 31.Qxe7 Bxd1+ 32.Kc1 Rb1# Joel Benjamin on the live audio broadcast indicated that I definitely had a lot of cheapo potential but that he thought it probably was not going to work "but it's close".

31.axb3 Rxb3+ 32. Ka1

I just about fell off my chair when he played this, as I immediately saw 32...Qxd7 33.Rxd7 Ra3# !! A moment of sober reflection and I noticed 32..Qxd7 33.Qxb8+! and I lose. Lord, how I was wishing I could make my c5 pawn evaporate into thin air at this point. The rest of the game is a fairly efficient consolidation and mopping up.

32...Qf8 33. Ba4 Ra3+ 34. Ra2 c4 35. Qd6 Qg7+ 36. Qd4 Qxd4+ 37. Rxd4 Re3 38. Rd1 h5 39. f5 gxf5 40. Bc6 Rb6 41. Bf3 h4 42. h3 Reb3 43. Rc1 c3 44. Ra5 Rd6 45. Ka2 Rb2+ 46. Ka3 Rdd2 47. Rxf5 Ra2+ 48. Kb3 a5 49. Kxc3 a4 50. Ra5 a3 51. Kc4 Rd8 52. Kb3 Rb2+ 53. Kxa3 Rdb8 54. Rc8+ {Black resigns} 1-0

Going into the game, I was hoping I didn't get blown out and that I'd at least make him sweat a bit. I think I probably did (a little bit), so I'm kinda happy, but I really wish I'd played the Rxb3 line :)
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