TV Series# 2: What is “Jeopardy!”?

The second in the series of TV Series is Jeopardy! , a favorite of trivia buffs. The show in its current avatar debuted in 1984 (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeopardy! ) with Alex Trebek as the host. The original version aired in 1964 with a different host (and possibly different format) and continued in the 1970s. In its current version the show has 3 rounds: The Jeopardy! round, the Double Jeopardy! round and the Final Jeopardy!. The Jeopardy! round has one Daily Double and Double Jeopardy! has two Daily Doubles where the contestant who buzzes for the clue can bet a max of all their earnings till that point (or max $1000 or $2000 respectively if they have less than those amounts). In the Final Jeopardy!, open for all contestants who have positive earnings, they can again bet all their earnings. Goes without saying if a contestant gives wrong response he/she loses whatever they bet and gain the same amount to the final tally if the response is correct. In the first two rounds person buzzing in first for a clue gets first crack, if the response is wrong person who buzzed later gets their turn until the response is right or all who have buzzed in get a chance. It’s a fast moving quiz show with knowledge level of contestants pretty high.

Alex Trebek has been hosting the show since the mid-1980s and he is very popular deservedly. The kind of host who comes across as knowledgeable, well prepared, witty and classy without imposing himself 👌 It also helps he is fluent in multiple languages (English and French for sure, possibly Spanish too. Can’t say the same about his pronunciation of clues with Indian origin though 😆 ). In short, Trebek, who is 80 now, is a consummate professional. The announcer for the show is a spry/sprightly Johnny Gilbert who is a young 96 year old. His voice sounds like someone half his age 👏. The show enjoys cult following with some of the big winners in the show enjoying a big fan following too. Among the winners Ken Jennings, James Holzhauer, Brad Rutter have become household names for those who watch the show. The show has also spawned variations of the regular format targeted for specific contestants. ‘Tournament of Champions’, ‘Teen Tournament’, ‘College Championship’, ‘Teachers Tournament’, ‘Celebrity Jeopardy!’ are testament to the show’s enduring popularity. 👍

The three biggest winners of prize money in the show have been Ken Jennings, James Holzhauer and Brad Rutter. I don’t remember watching shows when Brad Rutter won in his initial run. I have seen him win in other tournaments subsequent to his Tournament of Champions win. When Ken Jennings went on his incredible 74 wins streak I watched some of the games. Apart from encyclopedic knowledge that kind of streak requires focus, buzzer timing and endurance of the highest order which is quite likely not going to be matched for a long time. I watched most of James Holzhauer wins during his run. That’s the advantage of working from home and when the show airs towards the end of work day (4:30pm-5pm). When his run was on I blocked my calendar on all days when the show was on. Work is important but for the 30 minutes the show was on at that time nothing else mattered 🤣 When James was winning astonishing amount of money in each game my favorite activity was capturing his winning amount and when my wife came home from work ask her the question “Can you guess how much James won today?” 😂 Another highlight was watching Ken and Brad take on IBM powered AI competitor Watson.

Having watched Jeopardy! since mid-1990s I have seen some amazing champions who have been dominant and crushing competition or win through sheer will against strong competition. I generally get a few clues right. The ones that I get right tend to be ones that are generic, not involving knowledge specific to America. Categories like “Before and After” I don’t even try guessing. In that context I could identify with 2010 Tournament of Champions winner Vijay Balse. An Indian American he generally wouldn’t even attempt clues in couple of categories (out of 6) but the other 4 he would do remarkably well. He won 4 games in the regular season. So, he wasn’t an automatic contestant in Tournament of Champions. He qualified by virtue of having quite a bit of money during his 4 wins. Did not see his Tournament of Champions win but I was amazed he won against what must have been very strong competition. Kudos to him for winning on his strengths. 👏

Among the things I like about the show is real time check by the judges in case a contestant gives a response that is initially deemed incorrect and then they find the response is acceptable. In such instances the contestant gets credited for correct response which is fair. 👍 Few things I wish were different. Whenever I see a round finish with a few clues not completed I feel bad if it is not due to delay by contestant/s. IMHO all clues should be covered to maximize the opportunity and prize money win. Other thing that I don’t really like is pickiness when it comes to acceptable response. 👎 For example if there is a slight mispronounce in response it’s deemed incorrect and contestant is penalized. A little bit of leeway should be provided. Also, the response is always expected to be in the form of a question and I think it is strictly enforced in Double Jeopardy! round which can be tough when a contestant has got it right but forgot to phrase it in the form of a question. But these are minor irritants and on the whole I enjoy the shows quite a bit. 👍 The one allowance that is allowed is incorrect spelling in Final Jeopardy! Possibly a nod to the falling standards in spelling in these autocorrect and spell checker powered times when people sometimes use “Your” and “You are” in Emails to mean the same 🤣 Among the interesting trivia I have learned watching the show couple come to mind: 7 eleven shops got their name because those shops used to be open from 7am to 11pm (don’t know if it is still true), The Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited National Park. If there is a clue “It’s the most popular trivia/quiz show” my response will be “What is Jeopardy!?” 🙂👍🙏

Memorable chess game!

The game of 64 squares is about as bloody any non-contact game can get. But it’s much more than that. Involves knowledge, strategy, patience, stamina, calculating ahead, waiting for the right opportunity, knowing when to attack and when to defend and most importantly knowing how to put available resources to good effect. At the highest level it’s a game of lyrical beauty and balance with top players having almost same and similar pieces on the board for most part of a game. It’s in how the pieces are positioned that makes a difference. Controlling the 4 central squares is crucial to gaining upper hand. For interested and casual observers like me most top-level games appear balanced (and at times it can be boring when a player appears to take forever to make a move). When you replay the game on the computer move by move, and especially if there is expert comment along with it, that’s when the almost imperceptible shift in advantage of one player becomes somewhat clear. Growing up when I used to read about a player being a pawn up I used to wonder what is the big deal, a pawn is just a loyal foot soldier. Later I realized why that could translate into a decisive advantage. When the players start exchanging pieces rapidly (generally it’s like for like or pieces considered of equal power) the board starts clearing up and the game could reach a stage where a player with extra pawn could have a king and pawn while the other player could just have a king. In such a scenario the player with extra pawn could advance the pawn (under protection of their king) to the other end of the board and promote the pawn to a powerful piece, for example a queen! All married men know how powerful queen of the home can be 😀 Jokes apart the queen is the most powerful and therefore coveted piece on the board that can move straight up or down and diagonally across end to end and capture other pieces coming in the way.

One memorable chess game that comes to mind is the final game of World Chess Championship in 2016. After the regular games ended with both Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin tied with the same # of points they had to play set of tie-breaker games to determine the winner. Tie-breaker games tend to be with stricter time control. Meaning each player should make at least N moves within a time limit. Just for the sake of example let’s say 30 moves in 30 minutes. That could translate into a player under time trouble making a serious blunder that could lead to a disastrous result and the player resigning if the position is hopeless. In serious competitive play the game does not continue till a player makes a final move and announces “Check and mate!”. The # of games in a championship are a even number to give both players potentially the same # of games with white and black pieces.

Coming back to that game Magnus Carlsen playing white in final game of tie-breaker retained his World Chess Champion title with a move that was stunning. He offered to sacrifice his queen with a check and won immediately which is considered ultimate winning move and a beauty in chess. That move had both chess experts and non-experts gushing 🙂 Not a bad return at all for a 26th birthday gift 😀 If you look at the attached image it shows where the white queen was moved. Player with black pieces (Karjakin) has 2 options for next move
1) Capture white queen which is moved to H6 with pawn which is on H7. This would result in player with white next moving rook from F5 to F7 and giving check to black king that cannot move to open squares on row 8 as that would be check from white rook placed on C8. Black king cannot move to G6 either as that would result in check from white pawn on H5. Black checkmate would be the end result
2) The other possible move is capturing white queen on H6 with black king on H7. If that move is made, white rook on C8 will be moved to H8 resulting in instant black checkmate as black king cannot evade check by staying in column H with white rook at H8 nor can the black king move to G6 as that would be result in check with pawn on H5!

Needless to say Karjakin resigned immediately as soon as white queen was moved to H6. Of course The Raj had to work out all possible moves by black to figure out why it was a certain loss for black 😀

Ironically for Karjakin without a check Carlsen would have lost to opponent Karjakin’s next move either by giving check moving black queen from F2 to G2 or moving black rook from A2 to A1 😦

As in life it helps to stay ahead one move in chess too!

Guts and Glory, Grace and Misery!

July 14, 2019: Absolutely fantastic day for sports fans!
Fitting finale for two major sports events: Wimbledon Men’s Tennis Final and Cricket World Cup Final! Both matches totally riveting, nerve-wracking, filled with twists and turns, culminating in a pulsating finish 🙂
It’s beyond me to do justice with words both finals which were throbbing with excitement and suspense right till the very end. I hope writers, photographers and movie makers work together to create a work of art to capture the essence of both games, juxtaposing exquisite prose with beautiful images and stunning video clips that bring to fore the ebbs and flows, never-say-die spirit and soul-stirring emotions that were on abundant display throughout. Congratulations England for winning one championship and thanks for giving us fans two memorable matches that will stay etched in memory for a long time.

First the contrast: One an individual sport the other a team sport. One played and followed in most
countries the other played and followed in much fewer countries but enjoying rabid following among the fans

Next the commonality: Riveting from the start both matches featured sensational shot-making, jaw-dropping action in plenty and some sensational play by protagonist/s on both sides

Watched the tennis match on TV and followed the cricket score online. Boy, I never knew following the score could be this exiting and filled with tension 😀 I had my Sunday morning routine that meant I couldn’t catch the start of tennis match. But I made sure to have the DVR on just before the start of the match so that I could catch up on the action with my son as soon as possible. We started watching the match from the beginning. Son couldn’t resist checking the score and said the match was tied at one set apiece. So, we fast forwarded to the most notable moments of the first two sets and within a few minutes started watching live action. Federer turned back the clock and as usual his play featured sublime strokes and incredible skills that had to be seen to believe. Djokovic was not his usual efficient self, mixing breathtaking returns with unforced errors, grit with with some ordinary serving at times. After 4 sets of action it was locked at 2 sets apiece. I looked outside and in contrast to the well manicured lawns at Wimbledon my lawn needed some work. So, I stepped out at the start of 5th set and instructed my son to give me a holler when it was at a decisive point. After few minutes of trimming the lawn edges I heard my son shout “Dad, it’s 4-2 with Djokovic leading!”. Lawn beckoned but lawn tennis beckoned even more. No prizes for guessing what won 😀 Expecting the action to not last more than 20-30 minutes I dumped the weed whacker and headed back in. What followed was absolutely sensational. Both the players were trading shots of brilliance that had the spectators at the venue and viewers elsewhere rising to their feet to applaud the warriors laying it all out and refuse to be beaten. Federer was magnificent and making the sublime look very normal but Djokovic showed why he is the #1 now. Despite being outplayed almost the entire match he hung in there and managed to stay on. Federer had his hands firmly on the winner’s trophy and it took an almighty effort from Djokovic to metaphorically snatch the trophy from Federer’s grasp. The great thing about champions is that even when they appear to be outplayed and on the losing side they find inner reserves of strength and determination to do just enough to win. Djokovic managed to just about do that and emerge the winner finally.

Even as I was watching live tennis action I was following the score of cricket world cup final during
changeover and between points. England were struggling to chase a respectable but modest target set by New Zealand. The Englishmen was hanging in desperately trying to not lose wickets and at the same time trying to ensure the required run rate did not get out of hand. The hardy antipodeans as usual were amazing in their resilience and efficiency, using their talent and resourcefulness to the max. As the tennis match ended the cricket final was nearing conclusion too. The ending overs had everything: frenetic action, heroic play (from both sides), oodles of courage, some mistakes induced by tension of the moment and scarcely believable role of Lady Luck. The end of regular play resulted in both sides tied even (a first in Cricket World Cup final). An extra over for each side in the form of overtime ended again in a tie. Ultimately the winner by the team with the most # of boundaries in the game (rough equivalent of team that scores more 3-pointers in NBA being declared winners). England finished as winners on that basis. Hindsight is 20-20, it now appears a fairer rule might have been to continue playing overtime till there was an outright winner.

I am not into cliches but not only did worn out phrases like “The game is the ultimate winner” and
“It’s a pity there could only be one winner, both were winners” not only rang true but sounded profound 🙂 on this day that showcased the very best that sports has to offer!

Silicon Valley enterprise!

A declining enterprise in Silicon Valley was in danger of losing relevance as many of their competitors marched ahead of them. Years of underwhelming performance led to low employee morale with many leaving to seek their fame and fortune elsewhere. Competitors from both coasts, Texas and even upstarts from Seattle were stealing their thunder. Determined to reverse the trend they looked for help outside even willing to entertain the idea of seeking suitors willing to buy and revive the enterprise. The old ownership gave away to Valley veterans with successful track record in VC (Venture Capital) and starting/running startups and entertainment industry. That was the first step. The task of turning around the enterprise still lay ahead. The new owners decided new, exciting talent was the first priority to revive the fortunes of the enterprise. Towards that end they got couple of very talented young men who were very creative. The youngsters did not disappoint, they were splashy and willing to take risks. Since the new talent was inexperienced it would take them a few years to mature to be at their productive best and they needed to be nurtured and tempered along the way. In short this would be a multi-year, multi-million dollar project requiring full commitment from the sponsors and product owners. The next year a passionate and talented young lad was added to the team. The young team needed someone with experience who could guide them through the ups and lows and keep them focused. For that they got a veteran of many battles. The team performance got an immediate lift and picked up
noticeably. After a few iterations realization came in that the team was still not performing to its fullest potential. Even though the team was agile, responsible and collaborating well there were errors creeping in. Analysis revealed that the guide was a strict manager and there was a communication barrier which was coming in the way.

Another search ensued and this time the person selected to guide was more of a mentor and a leader and less of a manager. This new addition also came with the advantage of having experienced success multiple times at the highest level overcoming personal tragedy and adversity along the way. This mentor was not averse to letting the team make mistakes and learn in that process. Also let the team work in their preferred style, be more communicative and take collective responsibility for resulting success or failure. The team left competitors trailing in the dust and achieved great success. However, they fell short of expectation in the next project after starting with great promise. Some soul-searching ensued with the realization the missing ingredient for more consistent success was the need for a veteran with zen-like calm and a warrior mentality without disturbing the team dynamics. Luckily one veteran, among the best in business and hungry for major success, was looking just for such an opportunity. With this new addition the enterprise that once appeared moribund turned around in a spectacular way and has been enjoying great success. Some areas of concern have appeared in recent times though. In an age where quarterly results matter a lot, the now uber-confident team has been performing with the mentality all that is needed for a successful year is a strong 3rd quarter and maintaining a reasonably high level of performance in the 4th quarter. Competition has been nipping at the heels and hubris could yet upset the apple cart even as whispers of team members wanting a greater share of credit for their role in the success have emerged.

I am, of course, referring to the Golden State Warriors 🙂

Bet you knew that already!