Life Lessons of Chess

“Don’t be afraid of losing, be afraid of playing a game and not learning something.” – Dan Heisman

“Win with grace, lose with dignity!”  -  Susan Polgar

For so many personal reasons, I have a strong dislike of bullies. In my third year of high school, I became aware of a new type of brute that likes to push their weight around: The intellectual bully. This type of bully likes to hide behind a wall of logic and supposed facts to back up any argument they present. They never agree with anything you say, unless they say it first.  They also like to compete at games they are familiar with, particularly against weaker opponents.

I met two such “brainy bullies” when playing backgammon against them. Being a newcomer to the game, I was soundly beaten every time, and to be sure, they would rub my nose in every loss. So, I went out and bought a book on how to play the game called “Backgammon for Blood”.   It opened my eyes that even though the randomness of dice plays a major roll, by simply memorizing some basic statistics and a few strategies, you can greatly even the odds.

As with most bullies, these two backgammon players were very sore losers, and started claiming I was winning by luck and not by any strategy I may have learned. They got so tired of losing in fact, they soon began to decline my invitations to play backgammon, and invited me to join the chess club they belonged to.  Since both of them had at one time been high school champion, they both bragged to teach me a lesson or two in this more intellectually challenging game.

I had never before played chess, but as is my usual, I jumped in with both feet first.  I purchased some chess books, joined the club, and promptly began my journey of getting trounced on a regular basis.  Of course, the teasing by these two brainiacs was merciless, but six months later I actually finished fourth in the annual tournament.  I still could not beat these two bullies, but I was actually winning matches against other players. I was stoked to learn more about this classic game.

In my second year of playing chess, I was rabid for the game.  More books were purchased, and on the weekends, my friends and I would play using that ancient precursor to the internet, the telephone, as we called out our moves and played on separate boards. I swear there’s a crook in my neck decades later, so many hours I spent with the handset nestled there.  By the end of my second year of chess training, I finished in third place, but my goal of beating those two bullies continued to elude me.

Then, I came across a book that taught me some of the most important lessons that can be applied to any sort of competition: “Why You Lose at Chess” by Fred Reinfeld. There was one specific chapter called “Play the Man, Not the Board”, where Mr. Reinfeld suggested that you should learn about your opponent’s likes and dislikes, and consistently push the game towards those dislikes.

If your opponent prefers a crazy offensive game, exchange pieces as quickly as possible, aiming to sap your opponent’s creative energy and bore them into making careless mistakes. If they like a stodgy defensive position, it might be worthwhile to sacrifice a piece to break the game open where your opponent is less comfortable.

In my third and last year of playing chess, I began getting results that really pleased me.  I finally got those two bullies off my back one day, when I beat them both during a simultaneous three board challenge. The grumbling and excuse making from those two was particularly memorable.

Chess Tournament

Chess Tournament

In my last high school tournament, victory in the championship match eluded me. I lost two games out of three to a terrific player by the name of Samuel Flahaut.  But I was so very proud of myself just getting into finals, and making Sam work so hard for his victory.

What I love most about the game of chess is that there is no luck involved in the outcome.  It is the purest game where your plans and logic come up against another person’s strategic skills with no other element or excuse you can hide behind.  If you lose, there is no bad call by a referee, no bad bounce or lucky break that can change the outcome.  If you are a humble sort of fellow, you live and learn from your mistakes. If you are a blustery intellectual bully, making excuses when you lose just makes you look foolish.

Proud as I was of my chessly accomplishments, I soon gave up playing competitively as life began to present new challenges:  Coaching lacrosse, going to college, moving out on my own, and in general, crossing over into adulthood.  But every once in a while, I crank up a good old game of chess on my computer, and remember the lessons chess taught me:

  • Study the subject matter
  • Study the opponent (or system) you are up against
  • Practice, practice and practice some more
  • Learn from your mistakes
  • Never ever give up
  • Be classy
  • Always have fun.
Posted in Being Bullied, My Life So Far | Leave a comment

Of Perseverance and Bay Leaves

It’s so fascinating raising your child, watching them grow and learn.  Some days the changes are subtle, and on others, you see great big leaps.

For example, the other day Annika used a pretty big word for a not quite yet five year old. On her way home from school with momma she said that the tortoise showed “perseverance” when he raced the hare. When I double checked to see if she actually understood the meaning, Annika said “Perseverance is when you try really really hard, and never give up”. I think all that reading we’ve been doing with her for the last four years is really paying off !

And yet, there are days where you have to repeat the same thing, over and over until your head is about to pop off from the frustration.

But then, out of nowhere, they repeat something that you were not actually even trying to teach them.  Near the end of suppertime today, Annika quietly diced up what was left of her celery and chicken, and then mixed in her green peas.  She revealed to us her new “recipe”, and then said “But you know, if I had cooked it with a bay leaf, we would have to remove that, because you shouldn’t eat a bay leaf.”

Now I realize she must have learned that from the many cooking shows she has watched with us over the years, but still as parents, we complain ever so mildly: Why oh why can she never remember to stay on the hallway rug when she comes into the house with her muddied boots?

I know: Maybe we have to stick a bay leaf in her BOOT, so that she will remember to take them off upon entering the home, in order to take out said bay leaf before eating her boot, or muddying the floor, or something like that.

Posted in Annikdotes, Humor | Leave a comment

Create Like a Child

Being creative for adults requires letting go of fears.  Fears of not being “good enough”, being made fun of, or fears of “wasting time”.  Recently, I read somewhere that fear is an emotion that one cannot fight with logic.  One must resist fear with an equally strong emotion like joy.

Sunflowers By Annika

Sunflowers By Annika

When Annika painted this sunflower, I doubt she had any worries at all. Looking at it makes me think of warm summer days and happiness. Whether a child is painting, drawing, writing silly rhymes, lego-ing, humming/singing or roll playing (acting), they are so overcome with joy, they don’t give a rat’s bum-bum about the end results.  They become so totally lost in their creative process, real world concerns drift away to be replaced by a world full of possibilities.

Become like a child today for just thirty minutes. Drop what you are doing, play like a child and feel the power and joy of letting go of your adult preconceptions.

Here’s another article written by a watercolor artist.  You could easily replace “painting” with any other creative pursuit.

Posted in Blocked Artistries | 3 Comments

My Rock and Roll Days

When I was five or six years old, my family would catch me singing along with the radio. “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin was one of my favorites at the time. As I grew up, I remember sitting in my bedroom, listening to my favorite songs, and singing along at the top of my lungs.  My mother would often politely knock on my door, and ask me to turn the music down.

Flash forward some twenty years later, and imagine my huge surprise when a friend (Scott Murray) asked me to hang out with him during a practice session at studio Base Bin on St. Laurent Boulevard here in Montreal.  I knew Scott from a folk band we played in, and I was surprised that he also played in a rock band.  At the time they called themselves “The Merry Magdalens”, and eventually abbrieviated the name to ‘The Magdalens”.  Without hesitation, I agreed to tag along.

The Magdalens

The Magdalens

A member of the band once described the musical style of The Magdalens as “a hybrid of the Foo Fighters, fronted by Barbara Streisand on lead vocals”.  Strange as that sounds, it really worked. I found myself being invited back to these practices, as I figured out how to best fit in my Irish whistles, and backup vocals.

Rock and Roll Whistler

Rock and Roll Whistler

Frank, Nancy, Scott

Frank, Nancy, Scott

Being in a rock band was the most exciting musical experience of my life. The Magdalens were actually writing their own songs, with contributions coming from multiple members.  There was not a single cover we performed, it was all original material.  Friday night practices became the highlight of my week.  After work, I would head off to my favorite little restaurant called Pattati-Pattata, for a quick burger and poutine. Then I would cross the street to a bar called Domino, where we would meet for some beers and a post work-week venting session that always left us laughing. At seven o’clock we headed to the studio for a three-hour practice.

Personally, it was the practices I loved most, breaking into a musical sweat, and inventing new riffs. In fact, when some band members took their smoke breaks, which often stretched into long twenty-minute yik-yak sessions, those of us who truly loved our craft would switch up our instruments, and start playing whatever the heck we wanted.  Sometimes, I would sit at the drums, while the drummer would grab the lead microphone, and we would crank out “London Calling” by the Clash, or some other classic. We figured the studio was expensive enough, why not take advantage of every single minute?

Of course, I did love performing in concerts:  Being on stage is when I feel the least shackled by my physical limitations.  I get to present what is inside of me, rather than worrying about what my unique exterior looks like. But to be honest, even at this entry level, being a rock and roller is not an easy life, especially when you have to maintain a day job.  Despite the highs I experienced performing live, coming home at two in the morning can be quite hard on a middle aged dwarf who has more heavy metal in him than some electric guitars.

A fellow band member once said that “Putting a music band together is harder than herding cats”, and I could not agree more.  Also, life being what it is, people get married, and people move on to what interests them more. Not long after we recorded some tracks for CHOM FM’s annual “L’Esprit” competition, I was informed by Scott that the band decided only our two leading ladies would sing from that point on, and that the men were no longer going to provide back-vocals. They still wanted me to play my whistles on some of the tracks, but in the end, that alone was not incentive enough to carry me through the more grueling aspects of our schedule.

I politely declined to stay on with the Magdalens, and wished Scott the best of luck.  I think, (I hope), I did not give Scott too much grief at the time, but still we did drift apart after that. I regret this because Scott is a gifted songwriter, and a very nice person to be with. Scott recognized something within me that even I did not know was there.  (Thank you Scott, to this day, I continue to hum and write songs for my daughter, based on the confidence I gained from my experiences with you and that whacky bunch.)

Ironically, the band broke up soon after, the lead singer deciding she wanted to pursue an acting career, if memory serves. I have no hard feelings towards any of my former bandmates. I will forever remember the weekly fun we had, sharing jokes during our pre-practice pub sessions, and the unbelievable excitement of practicing and performing with, the Merry Magdalens!

Here are some tracks from the Magdalens way back when:





Andre Kovalenko:


Here is where you can read and hear what Scott Murray is up to these days:


Here is where you can hear what Mario Miniati is up to these days:

Posted in My Life So Far | 1 Comment

My Water Color Process

Calligraphic Pen Nib

Being creative is not something special, or only what “gifted people” do.  Creativity is a muscle in your brain that can be exercised, expanded, and strengthened by the things you choose to do.  Join me in this lovely pursuit of doodling, and share the results.  (Lord knows, I don’t want to be the only person sharing the windshield splats of my imaginative mind.)

First, let me state, I’m no trained artist, I just know what pleases me.  Colors make me happy, as does non-restrictive processes.  I realize how oxymoronic  “non-restrictive process” sounds, but, that is the best term I can come up with. In essence, most of my pieces are a kind of Frankschach inkblot, with a bit of refining afterwards.

For my watercolor works, I begin with a watercolor paper block like the following:

I lay my block down flat rather than propped up on an easel. Then, from my tubes of watercolor, I select the colors that appeal most to me at that very moment, and begin splotching colors wherever I feel like.  Then, using my paint brushes, I splotch, speckle, slather and spatter plain water wherever it pleases me.  Sometimes I will pull a water trail into a color patch and let the color bleed onto the water.  Depending on how much water you use, you can also grab the block and tilt it to “encourage” the flow of water and colors to go where you want them to.

While the paints are still wet, you can then begin to disperse the paint where it is thickest, moving the brush in random directions, through other colors, or through watered areas, letting colors meld where they may.  If you “see” an image in your mind’s eye as you go along, then, encourage those outlines with finer brushes.

Self-Portrait: Pain In My Neck

Self-Portrait: Pain In My Neck

At this early “wet” stage, you can also use different tools to spread the paint, and not just brushes.  Fine flat surfaces like an artists spatula or plain ruler can have interesting results. Sponges and rolled up paper towel corners can also create interesting textures. I find minimalist color choices work best at this stage, one to three colors at most, otherwise, images that might appear to you will be muddied.

Then, once I like what I see, I let the whole thing dry completely. After a day or so, I go back and decide if the painting needs another color or two laid down on top.  Once I’ve laid down my additional colors, while they are still wet, I will wipe away parts of the top wet layer with q-tips, rolled up paper corners, in order to reveal the original layer beneath.

Let the whole thing dry again, and just look at it as you please.  Sometimes, I will see images in the paint, and start highlighting them with black ink.  If you are at all nervous about ruining your original water color, get a color copy of it printed up and doodle on that. Or, you can sketch in very light pencil, and once you are satisfied, ink over your pencil lines.

What The ?

As I’m doodling on top of my water colors, I’m just putting down what I see in my imagination.  If what I see is a silly face, a balloon, or a scary monster, then, that’s what I draw. In the end, you are just trying to make yourself happy.  Perhaps in the process you will find some surprises, and learn a bit about what makes you tick.

For my black and white drawings, I like to use various Pilot fine point pens, and, a Pentel “inkbrush”.  I start with laying down random lines everywhere, and then laying down various patterns and other squiggles in-between, as I rotate my drawing pad.  Mostly I’m just learning what my tools are capable of, but as I’m playing, I pause and look at the lines, letting images flow in my mind, and occasionally managing to capture one that pleases me.

Too Many Doors


Posted in Blocked Artistries | 1 Comment

Sharing Can Be Hard

Reflecting Boy

Reflecting Boy

Sharing can be hard sometimes, especially if we are not surrounded by like-minded and supportive people.  Add to that, the fact that practicing any art can more often be a release for ourselves, and not necessarily something that wants to be shared.

Boy,s Cluttered Mind

Boy,s Cluttered Mind

When I was very young, I had two siblings who particularly loved to tease and make fun of me.  To this day, I fight the effects of their almost constant and mocking laughter that echo in my mind, especially when I’m drawing.

Who You Looking At ?

Who You Looking At ?

With this first series of drawings, it took me a little while to realize that in many of them, you can see a little boy hiding somewhere in there, just having a little fun. Particularly if you download them, zooming in, and/or rotating them, you will find some surprises here and there.  I hope you all enjoy!

Peekaboo !

Peekaboo !


Posted in Blocked Artistries | 1 Comment

Our Provincial Taxes

Here’s what I think Pauline Marois and the PQ are doing with our taxes.

Voici ce que, selon moi, le PQ et Pauline Marois font avec nos impôts.

Posted in Cartoons | 1 Comment

We Danced Beneath the Stars

Bonnie & Frank: Xmas 2000

My wonderful wife Bonnie and I have been together now since 1998.  Early in our relationship, she noticed that some people stare at me when we go out in public.  For me, such things are like water off a duck’s back: One gets used to being a rare visual occurrence in the lives of people that have never had the pleasure of encountering a dwarf.  Bonnie, the love of my life, did not like it one bit, and I don’t blame her.  It is a rude thing to stare at anyone, never mind if they stare at you with their jaw dropping to the ground, and eyes fairly popping out of their heads.

In our first summer together, we attended the jazz festival, and the gazing goons were out in fool force, whoops, so sorry, I mean, full force. At one point, the staring got to be so ridiculous, I can’t remember who suggested it, but one of us decided “Fudge it, they want something to stare at, we’ll give them something so stare at!”

The night was so beautiful, and the music so great, we just got up and danced.  Of course, you could hear multiple thumps, as even more jaws hit the ground, but eventually, those people got the hint.  We were just two people, obviously in love, and enjoying ourselves.  Nothing to stare at, move along please.

And even better, there were other couples dancing together and having a wonderful time, and they looked at us too, but in a much more polite manner.  Their discreet smiles and brief glances said to us, “Yeah, right on, be yourselves, have fun, and let the gawkers hurt their jaws”.

We had not yet moved in together so that night when I went home afterwards, I sat in my living room, fairly humming from the positive vibes Bonnie and I had generated.  I then went to my dulcimer and started playing, and a song magically appeared out of the blue.  The words are still a work in progress nearly sixteen years later, partly because our story is still in progress, and partly because, I can be so very strangely shy when it comes to sharing.

But still I will share the refrain written that evening, as well as the basic song recorded long ago on my dulcimer.

We Danced Beneath the Stars – Words and music (C) 1998 – Frank Verpaelst


And so we danced beneath the stars,
Unafraid of who we are.
And though one time, we were alone,
Our hearts have found a happy home.

Posted in My Life So Far | 1 Comment

Invasion of the OQLF-ers

Supporters and members of the Parti  Québécois get angry when you call them fascists.  Looking at the definition of fascism, the Oxford dictionary states:

“The term Fascism was first used of the totalitarian right-wing nationalist regime of Mussolini in Italy (1922–43); the regimes of the Nazis in Germany and Franco in Spain were also Fascist. Fascism tends to include a belief in the supremacy of one national or ethnic group, a contempt for democracy, an insistence on obedience to a powerful leader, and a strong demagogic approach.”

Although the PQ appears to be more left leaning, I’d say, they are much more FASCIST leaning.  They clearly display at least 3 of the major points above:

#1) Belief in the supremacy of one national or ethnic group (Français Pure Laine, hostie!)

#2) Contempt for democracy.  (The recent denial of many student’s voting rights, and the rigging of the last referendum being just two examples)

#3) Strong demagogic approach (appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument)

Also, what else can one say, when you have citizen-spies working voluntarily for the “language police”, reporting instances of non-french usage between working class free citizens?  (I’m referring to the case where two co-workers at the Jewish General hospital were reported on by some anonymous tipster to the OQLF for speaking Creole amongst themselves while they were working.)

I understand the right to be served in French whilst in Quebec, but if you are not the person being spoken to, who cares if people are speaking in Latin, Swahili, or Esperanto, IT AIN’T NOBODY’S BUSINESS!  And if you do feel that what they are talking about is your business, then just ask.  I’m a Francophone by birth, and yet, I feel like a dog with an electronic collar, waiting for some stranger to zap me if I misbehave by daring to speak English.

More and more, living in Quebec feels like being trapped in a nightmarish combination of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and George Orwell’s “1984″.  Any minute now, some linguistic alien-zombie will point at me and screech.  At which point, an OQLF SWAT team will surround me, and I will then be carted off to the Ministry of Love, for some Language Re-Education.

Posted in Random Meanderings, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Funny Language Mistakes # 5

My father-in-law recently bought a Proscan PLT-1066 tablet for our daughter Annika.  Reading the user guide feels like you are taking dance lessons for the first time, where you sort of understand some of the steps being shown to you by an instructor who is South American, and has a very thick accent. Once in a while, you do a double take, wondering if you heard correctly, as you try to replicate the dance instructions and hoping you don’t wind up looking like a pretzel, or injuring yourself during an impossible maneuver.

Only instead, you are reading a technical manual about an electronic device, and it is your mind that winds up in a pretzel. There were oh so many examples of bad writing in this tablet manual, but here are my top three pics in reverse order.

# 3: You can set up the font size according to individual’s favorite, there were respectively: small, ordinary, big, huge.

My smartass comment: “there were” different font sizes, but most of them are gone now.  The only size we have left is huge.

# 2: Storage capacity that dishonest nominal for android system occupies about hundreds of MB storage capacity, also in order to install the software needs, the system must lay off certain storage capacity, so the actual usable space and nominal space have deviation.

My smartass comment: You just can’t trust those dishonest nominals anymore, let alone understand just what the heck they are!  I also love how precise they are NOT being when they say how much storage the operating system needs: HUNREDS of MB.  Since when is guestimating that wildly acceptable in the profession of electronics engineering?  (This might not be totally the fault of the technical writer.  If the engineers gave that estimate, then how can the writer argue with them?)

# 1: When CPU in high-speed operation, especially in 3D games or in long time playback high-definition video, the fuselage will have the phenomenon of fever.

My smartass comment: Is this a jet plane, or is it a tablet? Also, I can hear it now:

“My tablet’s fuselage has a fever!” said the end user.

“No worries, take two virus checkers, and call me in the morning” replied the technical support specialist.

Considering how much money was spent developing and manufacturing this tablet, you’d think they could afford a few writers who know how to actually WRITE. I know, I know, there I go being unreasonable and unrealistic again.  I think I’ll go work out my frustrations on an unsuspecting dishonest nominal.

Posted in Funny Language Mistakes, Humor | 5 Comments