08 November 2009

Director's Woes

Yesterday, I ran a small scholastic chess tournament--the fourth annual Black Knights' Joust--with seventy-nine players in three sections (K-3, 4-6, 7-12).

As I was starting to pair the first round, a message popped up in SwissSys 8 telling me that I was running an unregistered copy. I had purchased version eight last May. The license covers one copy on my desktop computer, and one on my notebook. I received the codes from Thad Suits, developer of the software. This message at the start of the tournament revealed my oversight: I had installed SwissSys 8 on both computers, but only entered the codes in my desktop. I ran several test tournaments to familiarize myself with the changes in version 8, including several nifty new features, but failed to run these tests on the machine I use during events.

I've run more than a dozen scholastic tournaments with 70-142 players, one large state championship with over one thousand participants, and I've helped at many others. I've learned from some of the best in my state--Jon Licht, Elliott Neff, Rick Jorgensen. Even so, I always make errors. Most errors are small, insignificant, and easily concealed. I might have hid yesterday's error because I resolved it quickly. But, I answered the phone at a critical moment.

Cascading Errors

A few years ago, I plugged my computer into the wall, turned it on, and then left the TD room to set up tables, chess sets, other aspects of the venue. When I returned to my computer, it was off. The outlet was switch controlled, and dead. On battery power, my notebook was set to shut off after a certain period of idleness. That event had ninety players preregistered, and enough late entries to bring the total to one hundred forty-two. I transferred my computer to a live outlet (per my wife's command), got my assistant TD (who runs most of the area's adult tournaments) to enter the late registrants, and after some delay we were ready to pair round one. Already, we were running late when the pairings were sent to the printer.

The computer failed to find the default printer. The usual printer was connected, but ordinarily was part of a home network, and so the computer was looking for the printer in all the wrong places. It took a few minutes to cancel the print job, and switch to the printer as configured at the tournament site. However, a spooling process continued to run until--panic behind--we deciphered the problem and shut it off (thanks to Dr. John, who has more experience with SwissSys than the rest of us--he and my tremendously experienced "assistant TD" ran the pairings at last year's state tournament). Printing was slow through three rounds, and the tournament ran further behind.

We managed to finish about the time that would be normal if elementary age children used all of their available thirty minutes per game. However, kids play too fast. These scholastic events tend to run ahead of schedule, so "on-time" is considered late. My tournament announcements list start times that once seemed realistic:
Schedule: First round begins at 10:00 a.m. Check in 8:30 to 9:30. Late arrivals will forfeit first round. Rounds 2-5 at 11:15, 12:30, 2:00, 3:30, or ASAP
Winterfest Scholastic Tournament Announcement 2004
ASAP is the key. In Spokane, the children usually finish play before 3:00 pm.

We ran close to the published schedule near the end of the day, and trophies were distributed near 5:00pm. Parents were frustrated. Since that event, I've asked for 100% preregistration (and get 90-98%). I always test my printer on Friday night. I do not repeat the same errors from prior events.

Yesterday, the K-6 awards ceremony ended close to 3:00 pm. The high school/middle school players finished play just before 4:00 pm, and after clean-up I was in my vehicle ready to head home at 4:40 pm.

Courting Disaster

I find new errors to commit with each new event, and seem to be growing more inventive in how I can sabotage myself. Friday evening, my spouse and I ran through the checklist. She no longer attends these events, as she did for my first few. She did help significantly with the state tournament last spring, and complied a list of lessons learned. Our Friday night checklist did not include: "Is the pairing software registered?" It should have.

When the message of doom appeared on my screen yesterday morning, I felt a sense of terror that may have lasted fifteen seconds or three minutes. Of course, I had options: pair by hand (not in a scholastic tournament of this size if that can be avoided), recreate the tournament set-up in an older version of SwissSys (five to ten minutes delay), get the codes before round three.

I called my wife. I told her where to find the email from Thad Suits and the information in it that I would need. She set to work, so I knew two things: I would have the codes in time, and I would be buying flowers on the way home. At 10:11 am, players were seated for round one. I was beginning the meeting for players and parents only a few minutes later than normal, and my phone rang. It was my wife, so I answered.

Don Lester captured the moment and posted the photo to Facebook.

As I talked on the phone in front of more than one hundred players, parents, and coaches, my wife told me she had sent a text message with the necessary codes.

Please add mobile phone to the list of essential tournament director's equipment.

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