Choking in the Clinch

Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.
-Ernest Lawrence Thayer, “Casey at the Bat” ago on a programming team I had a co-worker, “Bob”,  a brilliant control engineer and programmer. He had one weakness: he could easily freeze up during debugging.

Bob would call me into his office, his voice quavering and with tears in his eyes, “Please help me! I’ve been on it for hours and I can’t find the bug!”

“No problem!” I always replied, because truly it was no very great problem. I had learned how to debug with Bob. He’d “drive” (sit at the screen and operate the keyboard and mouse) and I’d navigate. “Show me your code … okay, let’s follow this function down … no, let’s back up and look at the next statement …”

It didn’t really matter, I would just casually and aimlessly walk him around his code until I sensed sensitivity. “Jacques, we’ve been over this, why are we going to that statement again?” As soon as I sensed touchiness, I’d bear down. “Let’s look at this again …” “I told you, we looked at that!” Bob would almost shout, and when he was ready to explode with rage I knew we had closed in on the bug. It worked like a charm, every time.

Last week, I came home after narrowly failing to win the second tournament in a row. In both tournaments, I had choked in the clinch, dispatching with finesse my quality opponents, only to lose both times in the last round to a lucky woodpusher. Why? Why?

The wife, no chessplayer she, setting out dinner that night opined casually, “Maybe you have trouble handling the pressure?”

“No, that’s not it,” I said angrily, and then I thought of Bob.

Jacques Delaguerre