Posted on March 14, 2019 by Wesley Surber

Nigel Short Hosts Simul in Atlanta

It’s refreshing to see FIDE officials playing chess. After many years of gutless politicians holding the organization hostage in a reign of terror, recently elected FIDE Vice President visited the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Atlanta to host a simul pitting GM Nigel Short against 25 players. The center is run by GM Ben Finegold, who spent many years as the GM-in-residence at the Saint Louis Chess Club (formerly the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis).

Atlanta Chess Players (Credit: Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Atlanta)

Nigel’s willingness to visit so many different chess federations around the world and engage in simuls with players is a welcome change to past FIDE leaders. For more details, check out the Atlanta Chess Club’s Facebook page.

Posted on March 12, 2019 by Wesley Surber

Five Recommended Chess Streamers

Streaming movies, music, video games, and other forms of entertainment is nothing new. Chess, on the other hand, has been relatively slow to catch up to the digital craze until recently with a growing number of channels on Twitch and YouTube showcasing the game. At almost any time throughout the day you can find chess being one of the most viewed activities on Twitch! To me, that’s an impressive feat when the centuries old game is competing for attention with ADHD-generation specific offerings like Fortnite and Apex Legends. So, given that I’ve spent an ever increasing amount of time watching these streamers, I thought I would share five of my favorites.

Grandmaster Benjamin Finegold

Once you know Ben Finegold, it’s impossible to forget Ben Finegold. No matter  how hard you try. He was the GM-in-residence at the Saint Louis Chess Club until 2012. Now he lives in Atlanta, Georgia and runs the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Atlanta. He streams most nights and is incredibly interactive with his audience. Be warned, fair reader! His streams are chess-centered, but they’re peppered with off-the-wall pop culture references and jokes; it’s that special flair that makes his stream one of my personal favorites. Also be prepared to learn a variety of new songs explaining why you should never play Bishop f3 or similar chess references. Check out his Twitch channel here.

Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura

Hikaru Nakamura doesn’t really need an introduction, but I’ll give him one anyway. He’s a four-time US Chess Champion and is one of the most dominant blitz players in history. He does a lot of work with Chess.com, so you’ll often see him playing in blitz tournaments on the site or contributing in various ways to the different streams on ChessTV. Nakamura is a mostly calm and collected player when he’s online. He sings a lot, which adds a nice flair to the broadcast. You’ll also find him taking a break from chess every now and then to play other games, which can liven up the interaction and show the non-chess side that many are not used to. Check out his Twitch channel here.

Grandmaster Eric Hansen (The Chess Brahs)

I have to admit: it was the Chess Brahs who convinced me that chess streaming had finally arrived in full force. The stream is run primarily by Eric Hansen, who is an astonishingly good blitz player along with Grandmasters Robin van Kampen and Aman Hambleton. It was one of the first streams I started watching regularly. Soaked in techno and flashy hair, the Chess Brahs are a highly interactive group stream that alternate between streaming competitions in the Chess Arena as well as game challenges with other streamers like Hikaru Nakamura. One of the things I like the most about Chess Brahs is the moments when Eric Hansen struggles with his games. He can be a very ungraceful loser, which I relate to 100%! I’ve lost a keyboard or two due to losing a game at the last minute, so it’s nice to see the touch of reality and human element in the game. Check out the Chess Brah Twitch channel here.

US Chess Expert Frank Johnson

Chess Coach Frank Johnson is a regular chess streamer who runs the website Chess-Coach.net. Known simply as “Coach” to his viewers and fans, he regularly plays games with his streamers and offers realtime commentary on the games to help his viewers make improvements. He typically has good tunes and a very chilled-out vibe to his stream. You’ll hear catchy phrases like Losing is Learning and True Story that resonate well with someone who is looking to improve their skills at one of the most difficult games ever created. Frank is a warm and entertaining streamer who welcomes newbies and challengers of all skill levels. Every loss is a chance to do better…true story! Check out his Twitch channel here.

Women’s FIDE Master Alexandra Botez

Alexandra Botez is a regular chess streamer who typically plays a mix of her viewers and challenges with other streamers. It was actually a recent stream against International Master Levy Rozman (aka. Gotham Chess) where he played blindfolded against her. The match came down to a single game where Rozman pulled out a last minute victory. I was impressed by the chess along with the interaction with the audience and the fact that she streams regularly with my ultimate chess crush, Anna Rudolf. She plays regularly with her subscribers on Twitch on Sundays. Check out her Twitch channel here.


Honorable Mentions: I wish I had the time or mental energy to keep listing streamers because there are many more out there that are worth checking out. Here are a few that you shouldn’t pass up:

  • IM Anna Rudolf – My chess crush and frequest host/commentator for professional chess.
  • Helmsknight – Canadian player who dominates in bughouse and streamer vs. streamer content.
  • Sara Herman – Colorado-based player who often streams bullet, blitz, and some game analysis.
Posted on March 4, 2019 by Wesley Surber

ChessNoteR Forges A Digital Pathway

Editor’s Note: Purchase your own ChessNoteR for a 10% discounted rate by using the code CAMPFIRECHESS when you checkout. This offer is good until 30 April 2019, so don’t wait!

One of the things I love about chess is how it leverages technology and even drives advancement of new hardware/software or repurposing of old hardware/software. Throughout history, engineers and developers have found ways to incorporate chess into their projects. When new supercomputers are designed, chess gameplay is often the first thing to be implemented as a way of demonstrating the new system’s intelligence. Programs like Deep Blue and Google’s AlphaZero are just a few examples of this push. But what about the everyday chess player sitting in a smokey club trying to decide which Sicilian Defense line to follow? Well, technological advances in the club have also modernized the game. Few people use manual clocks anymore in favor of digital clocks with increment controls and other unique features. And, for a growing number of players, paper scoresheets are being replaced by a growing field of electronic ones.

This brings me to today’s topic: electronic scoresheets and a dangerous new contender. My regular friends and readers know that I’ve used the Plycounter electronic scoresheet for years and even did a review several years ago. It’s a small touchscreen device that uses a stylus to move the pieces. It’s been an OK device that, honestly, hasn’t held up as well over the years as I had originally hoped. That’s why I’m pleased that I was fortunate enough to get my hands on an emerging device called the ChessNoteR.

Re-purposed Technology

DISCLAIMER: Black Mirror Studio graciously provided me with a ChessNoteR to test and review.

As you can see, the ChessNoteR (pictured above) looks a lot like a cell phone. Well, that’s because it is a re-purposed cell phone! The ChessNoteR I tested is a Motorola Nexus 6 cell phone running a custom flavor of Android OS called ChessNoteR OS. While the device still bears the mark of its previous life as a cell phone, it immediately boots into its custom OS that only runs the ChessNoteR app and its support services. I found the interface to be relatively easy to set up. Upon booting, it enters into a default setup wizard that enables a user to connect to WiFi and input their own user information. You can opt out of the WiFi settings, but you’ll lose some of the more interesting features if you do. On that note, WiFi access has been one of the biggest hurdles for electronic devices being certified by US Chess. Access to telecommunications services is forbidden during official tournaments, so that has squashed the hopes of many iPhone and Android apps of being certified for tournament play.

ChessNoteR is the first device to find a way around this. At its core, it’s an Android app, but it owns the device. So, you cannot run any additional apps and you cannot run the notation app with WiFi enabled. It’s this feature that gives ChessNoteR the leverage it needed to become certified. I’ll get into the software next, but I wanted to note that it comes with two different delivery methods. The first option is to buy a pre-configured device from the website. The second option is to buy your own used Motorola Nexus 6 and ship it to the company and they will load the software onto the phone and configure it for a much cheaper price.

Exploring the Software

The core of ChessNoteR is its software. As I said, you can buy a pre-configured device or ship your own to the company for configuration. So, what about the software? Well, I must say that I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen so far of the software. The interface is very clean and user friendly. You can tell that the designer has put a lot of work into it. There are options for inputting your rating and demographic information which auto populates on scoresheets and in the exportable PGN files (sweet).

Once you start a new game, the device disables it’s WiFi service and you cannot exit the game without ending the game. This prevents a user from exiting their game and using it to reference any other information that might be stored on the device during a tournament. You’ll also find that you can drag the pieces to any point on the board. This is an important part of certification through US Chess because restricting piece movement would be a form of electronic coaching. For example, you could actually play 1.e6 on the device and it would properly annotate the move.

The notation interface also enables you to change the board colors to better suit you if blue and white (the default scheme) are not your preferred colors. Typically I change the board colors to match my favorite color scheme which matches that of Chess.com’s default dark green scheme. However, I enjoyed the blue and white design of the ChessNoteR app, so I left it alone.

Next Generation Feature Set

Sure, it’s cool to have your games in electronic format on a hand held device, but what good is the device in the world of tournaments and real chess? Well, this device seems to have that covered as well. ChessNoteR enables a user to export games in multiple formats.

  • First, you can export the games in the traditional PGN format for use with Chessbase and other desktop (or mobile) database applications. Plycounter also does this, but it requires installation of a third party application. ChessNoteR takes advantage of built in hardware support through the Nexus device to export the game.
  • Second, you can export the games on a professionally designed scoresheet with signatures that are ready for submission to a TD. When a game is complete, the user and opponents sign their scoresheet using the touch screen. Those signatures are exported on the scoresheet in PDF format via WiFi transfer using integrated Dropbox functionality! So there’s no need to connect to a TD’s computer. Just connect to their WiFi and submit your game to be officially logged electronically.

I’m a big Chromecast and video streaming user, so I was pleased to see that ChessNoteR supports wireless video casting, which allows you to cast your game to a device using a device compatible with Android video casting. This is great for reviewing games with a coach or for those times when your chess study demands 4K high definition. ChessNoteR does not support Chromecast itself, but instead supports some built-in protocols in smart TVs from Samsung, LG, and others through standard Android OS protocols.

These are nice features that bring the convenience of digital scoresheets and notation to the tabletop chess world with a minimum amount of hassle. The controls and features are intuitive enough that anyone who uses a cell phone or tablet should have no problems using it.

Final Thoughts

I’ve been using my Plycounter for almost five years and it’s certainly taken a beating. The screen is showing significant signs of wear and overall the device feels much more cumbersome than it did when I first reviewed it. I was extremely excited to have an opportunity to test out the ChessNoteR and I am very pleased with it. The screen is much larger and more responsive than anything you’ll find on the market today.

The only thing that I don’t like is how the device comes stamped with the giant Nexus logo on the back. There’s a small label on the device with a QR code for certification data, but the logo bothers me for some reason. In no way does that affect the device operation. Instead, it effects my OCD tendencies more. This can be fixed with a simple skin or decal from a place like SkinIt or DecalGirl.

Bottom line? You won’t find a better device for the price for digitally tracking your tournament games. Check out the ChessNoteR on their official website. You can also find a large selection of videos on the ChessNoteR official YouTube Channel that demonstrate the various device features and how to use them.

RATING: ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟


ADDENDUM: I didn’t realize how out of it I’ve been lately. In researching this article and doing the review/evaluation of this device, I realized that Plycounter ceased operations in February 2018 and the Monroi Personal Chess Manager is not available for purchase on their website.

Posted on February 12, 2019 by Wesley Surber

San Antonio Chess Club Announces New Officers

A new year is fully underway and the San Antonio Chess Club has elected new officers for its executive board.

  • President: Rosalinda Romo
  • Vice President: Joel Salinas
  • Treasurer: Juan Carrizales
  • Director-At-Large: JP Hyltin
  • Webmaster: Martin Gordon

Founded in 1888, the San Antonio Chess Club is the oldest chess club in the state of Texas. They currently meet at the Lions Field Center on Broadway from 1730-2100 every Thursday (except holidays). They are also the official governing body for US Chess activities and tournaments in the greater San Antonio area.

The club is currently exploring ways to expand chess activities in scholastic and amateur arenas across the city. If you’re interest in joining or would like more information, check out their official website for details.

Posted on February 5, 2019 by Wesley Surber

A Solid Blitz

I’ve been carving regular time out of my day to do chess studies and they have started paying off. Despite all of the mistakes and blunders, I believe that my fundamentals are improving steadily as a result. Here’s a solid game I played recently on lichess.org that I felt was worth annotating.

Posted on January 29, 2019 by Wesley Surber

The Awesomeness of lichess.org Studies

Chess has a reputation for being a game of intellgience both on and off the board. In recent years, this has manifested heavily in the realm of information technology development. Chess engines continue to get stronger by the day and programmers of all skills are constantly developing new tools to help players analyze, sort, annotate, and improve their games. One such recent development is a growing feature on the popular lichess.org website called studies.

The study system on lichess is, at its core, a highly advanced PGN creator and annotator. It allows a user to create a new study that can be public or private. New moves, annotations, and other elements are automatically synced with the lichess server and between all of the users with access to the study. This makes studies an excellent utility for chess teachers and exhibitions since users can see, follow, and even provide collaborative comment on a game or position. To use the study utility, simply select study from the Learn menu on the lichess website. A list of available public studies will appear for you to choose from.

If these public studies do not suit your tastes, there are options on the side of the page to create your own studies. This is where I found the study function to be most useful for me.

Using the study tool, I am able to create a private study where I can create an individual chapter for each part of a video series I am following or game I am studying. This way I am able to make annotations, draw arrows or circles, and then share those studies with a highly limited audience if I want. Additionally, the study tool provides the user with an option to download each chapter as an individual PGN file in the format of an annotated game. Or, you can download the entire study as a PGN database to be opened in most chess database programs.

For me, the best part of this system is the collaborative elements. It opens up a world of possibilities for digital interaction between teachers, students, and general chess enthusiasts in an intuitive and easy-to-use way. If you have not tried it out, visit lichess.org and check it out.

Posted on January 25, 2019 by Wesley Surber

Victory and Destruction in Blitz

The following games were blitz games played on lichess.org in the past few weeks. I decided to annotate and share them because they show some of my continued progress (and regression) over the past few weeks. I continue to read, study, and play as much as possible, so I hope that these games reflect some improvement in my overall play style.

The first game is a very nice win with some cool tactical elements. There were moments where I felt like I just got lucky, but others where I felt like concrete principles were starting to sink in for me.

This next game is a devastating loss. It is no good for a chess player to only share his/her winning games. As Chess Coach likes to say: losing is learning. Well, this is a painful loss, so check it out:

Posted on January 15, 2019 by Wesley Surber

Cleaning Out the Dust!

Whew! This place is dusty! There are spider webs all over the place and it is obvious that the power went out at some point on this website because there is a funky green mold growing in… Oh, nevermind. Greetings, Campers! Welcome back to Campfire Chess, an amateur chess blog that has seen better days. Seriously.

So, today you might have noticed (or not) the first official blog post since May 2018 and the first significant visual upgrades since 2017. Well, I decided to re-open the site’s core this morning and I was shocked to see how neglected it had become. At one point, Campfire Chess was my crowning (pun intended) achievement! It was heartbreaking to see how much the challenges of the past year had allowed it to decay.

Fear not, however! I have cleaned out the dirt, busted the spider webs, and made some minor upgrades to the site’s visuals and operational elements. It is my hope over the next few months to get back to regular chess blogging. Before I do that, I have to get back to regular chess playing, which is something sorely lacking for me these days.

I am working on that! I promise! In the meantime, continue to check back here for new content or follow Campfire Chess on any of its social media platforms using the navigation menu above.

See you on the board!

Posted on by Wesley Surber

Time for New Annotations?

This month’s edition of Chess Life has an interesting article advocating for changes to the way that we annotate chess games. The author, GM Andy Soltis, presents his argument on the basis that engines have changed the way games are analyzed in such a way that statements like White has a slight advantage are no longer relevant. I think that he raises some interesting points, but I am not sure that the changes to evaluations brought on by engine analysis warrant such a complete and drastic overhaul.

Humanity’s Slight Advantage

One of the key points in the discussion is the idea that in many situations, X color has a slight advantage can hinge on whether the player does not blunder. Therefore, the annotation is more realistic as X color has a slight advantage as long as they play perfectly according to this analysis. GM Soltis believes that the precision of chess engines allows us more accurately present lines as White wins with X move or Black wins in 37 moves with X.

This precision is compounded with the growing prevalence of tablebases. Recently, lichess.org has started offering an incredible seven (7) piece tablebase. Technological advancement only promises a future where we could surpass a ten (10) piece tablebase. That accuracy lends some credence to GM Soltis’s argument.

Despite these advances and despite my passion for technology, I believe that there are artistic and strategic elements in chess that computers might never understand or utilize. Stockfish can analyze millions of combinations in hindsight and state unequivocally that white can win in 37 moves without a blunder, but humans are not capable of that kind of analysis. With humanity, there is always a chance of blunder, mistake, or other factor that can affect a game’s outcome.

Room to Grow

GM Soltis makes some excellent suggestions with regards to these engine analysis comments, however. Specifically, using ~ versus !? because it more accurately reflects the nearly infinite possibilities presented in post-game analysis by a strong chess engine. Such a change might take some time to catch on, but it would make reading an in-depth analysis easier for newer generations that have grown up in the age of the hashtag, markdown format, and other digital mediums.

As a medical professional who spends his time pouring over spreadsheets and other electronic data, it would be nice to see more of the standard notations from large data sets and relational databases make their way into chess annotation because, curiously, it’s more in line with what is increasingly becoming a common language in the digital age.

Posted on December 10, 2018 by Wesley Surber

We Will Be Back

Attention, Campers!

Campfire Chess has been dormant since the summer, but fear not! It is not dead. I am prepared to return to regular chess blogging shortly after the new year, so check back in January 2019 for updates!

In the meantime, congratulations to GM Magnus Carlsen for retaining his World Chess Champion title. I was rooting for Fabiano (USA, USA), but alas, we will get it next time!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!