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Month: September 2014

Phiona Mutesi – The Queen of Katwe

Chess is a universal passion. It unifies all people because the rules apply the same to every person regardless of their color, religion, national origin, etc. A Queen moves the same for an American player as it does for someone from the slums of Uganda, such as Phiona Mutesi, who rose to international prominence a few years ago as part of Uganda’s first national chess team. Before that, Uganda had been unable to field a team for a Chess Olympiad due to the country’s disastrous economy, ubiquitous civil war, and corrupt government. It was her ability to overcome the horrific conditions of her every day life in such a way that found her across-the-board from some of the world’s most amazing chess players.

Katwe in the city of Kampala, Uganda is one of those places where when you hear about it, it is almost impossible to erase from your memory. For the unfortunate people that call Katwe home, surviving from one day to the next is a remarkable achievement. The slums of Katwe is a tangled mesh of shacks housing multitudes of families. Many of the young ladies Born into this environment end up as sex slaves or become married at very early ages. In addition, as of 2011, approximately 50% of the teenage girls in that providence are mothers! I have to admit that until I read the book I was completely unaware of this place and the horrific conditions that its people endure every day. Phiona Mutesi comes from this region and not only has she managed to survive, but her discovery of the ancient game of kings has taken her out of its deadly clutches and into the plane halls of some of the worlds largest Chess Olympiads.

She learned to play chess and began to teach it to the other children in her province. As Kirsan was looking to bolster support for his FIDE reelection, he agreed to allow the Organization to fund a Ugandan National team. This was her golden opportunity to escape the slums and to visit another world. Simple things that we take for granted, such as concerts and sporting events were completely alien to her. Hearing her story and exploring the world through the eyes of someone who has yet to experience less than a quarter of the joys that most of us experience was incredibly eye-opening.

In 2012, author Tim Crothers wrote an amazing book called The Queen of Katwe in which he chronicled the conditions of the Katwe slum and the eventual Discovery of chess by Phiona. This is a fascinating read which I highly recommend for both chess players and people interested in the trials and triumphs of other cultures. While I am certain that her triumphs on the board certainly can never erase the tragedies of everyday life in Kampala, those victories speak to the greater influence of chess over culture across the globe. These days, Phiona speaks at events and conferences around the world promoting chess and human and women’s rights. Her struggle and ability to rise above the horrific conditions of her childhood home are a testament to the strength of the human spirit in overcoming the worst of conditions in life to find the best of conditions within ourselves. Fortunately, for those around the world that do not enjoy the pleasure of reading books, Walt Disney has optioned the rights to the book and is working on a movie adaptation to be released sometime around 2015.

The Games of Phiona Mutesi

Phiona still holds onto her dream of becoming a grand master one day and who knows, if I can manage to maintain a moderately successful chess blog, and maybe anything is possible? I found her story to be very inspiring and it is my hope that you will check out her games posted here on the blog, check out her book, and take time to learn and support the people of the struggling Kampala province.

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OMC Weekly (Volume 1, Issue 7)

What an exciting week it has been in the world of chess! The Sinquefield Cup is over, the contracts have been signed for the World Championship in November, and the world’s strongest players are making their way around the globe competing in some incredible high-profile tournaments. In addition to all of the professional chess going on around the world, things have been pretty busy here at Off My Chess as well. I am pleased to announce that the first edition of Off My Chess Quarterly was released this week. OMC-Q is a quarterly magazine published for free here on OffMyChess.com. The magazine’s intent is to highlight some of my most instructive games for low-ranked amateurs throughout the quarter. Additionally, it contains reprints of select articles posted on the blog throughout the last quarter. This quarter’s magazine features the Life of a King review as well as product reviews for Chessmate and Plycounter.

Life is still a challenge these days as the family and I continue to get settled in from our move. Much of my chess playing in the last week or so has been dozens of live blitz on Chess.com (as usual). My ELO spiked at 878 before resting again around 850-860. My goal is to break 900 this week, so I have been religiously studying my openings in Chessbase with high hopes for some improvement.

And last, but certainly not least…this game. It was a heartbreaking defeat and probably had more to do with my state of mind than my chess playing ability. I was terribly distracted when I played this game and could feel my mind drifting into other things as I moved the pieces.

I heard a comment this week where a chess player said that chess is the only sport in which it is considered acceptable to resign. I thank God for that in situations like the one above.

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Chess Apps and iOS 8

The big news in the technology world today is the release of iOS 8, the new operating system for Apple’s line of i-Products. Apple assures us that this is the biggest update of all time for the operating system and they were not lying about that. The download for my iPad weighed in at 1.3GB and required approximately 6GB to install properly. This meant that I had to wipe my iPad clean to get the new operating system to install. A process that has taken less than two hours in the past took approximately six hours from start to finish.

As with almost every operating system update, whether it be for a Windows, Apple, or Android machine, some applications will be broken. The world of chess apps is not exempt from this reality. In the case of iOS 8, I am pleased to report that most of the chess apps I use on a regular basis function properly. However, the biggest problem I have faced comes from the New In Chess app. The application loads and displays purchases, but errors out whenever I try to install a magazine.

If you live and die by the New In Chess app, please consider postponing your iOS 8 update until a fix is issued by NIC. When one is available in the App Store, I will update this post to reflect the changes.

Tested Apps

  • Chess.com
  • Chess24.com
  • Chessbase Online
  • PlayChess.com
  • Chess Score Pad

UPDATE: New in Chess released an updated app for iOS on September 19, 2014.

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OMC Weekly (Volume 1, Issue 6)

Welcome to the first edition of OMC Weekly written in the great state of Texas! This was an exciting week for me as my family and I wrapped up our move to San Antonio and began the long process of integrating ourselves into the community, finding our way to work, and setting up our new home. As for chess, thanks to the internet I have been fortunate enough to continue my studies and my games. My blitz ELO took a nose dive earlier this week and approached the 700 range again, but I managed to recover and get it closer to 900. That equals a 500 point increase in the last six months, which is wonderful!

The first game I want to show is an incredible draw that I managed against a player that had me in a completely losing position. Many of the moves at the end were purely impulsive as time trouble became an increasing problem for both of us.

There is a lot more chess on the horizon as I am currently enrolled in two workshops to help improve my game. One of them is an online workshop presented by Chess.com as part of their Chess.com University. It is a two-day Youth and Novice camp featuring grandmaster lectures and game analysis for beginning players. The second workshop, which I will offer a complete review of once it is completed, is called 21 Days to Supercharge Your Chess developed by The Chess World.com.

To finish out this week’s edition of OMC Weekly, here is an example of the devastating losses I was suffering during my ratings bomb.

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Making History in Saint Louis

Recently, I mentioned that I always seem to be on the road or in a place with limited internet access whenever a big chess event is going on. This year’s Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis was no exception. It was billed as the Strongest Chess Tournament in History and rightfully so. The list of participants was a veritable “who’s who” of the championship chess world.

2014 Sinquefield Cup Participants

World Rank Name Age Country Rating
1 Magnus Carlsen 23 Norway 2877
2 Levon Aronian 31 Armenia 2805
3 Fabio Caruana 22 Italy 2801
5 Hikaru Nakamura 26 U.S.A. 2787
8 Veselin Topalov 39 Bulgaria 2772
9 Maxime Vachier-Lagrave 23 France 2768

It goes without saying that most people expected World Champion Magnus Carlsen to show up and dominate, but destiny favored #3 Fabio Caruana who made chess history with an impressive seven wins in a row! Caruana found a way to channel his inner Fischer and was nearly flawless through those first seven games, which included a win against Magnus and gave the World Champion his second loss in as many months.

Caruana appeared calm and cool throughout the tournament.

I was surprised by watching Magnus Carlsen in this tournament. He was certainly not playing to top form and seemed somewhat disinterested in the entire experience. I know that he was battling some contract drama with FIDE during the tournament and that might have had an effect on his ability to concentrate, which might prove problematic for the upcoming World Championship in Sochi. Although Magnus is virally famous for his unusual facial expressions, he has started to look run down both on the board and in his personal appearance recently.

A frustrated Magnus Carlsen.

I hope that he is able to get some rest and relaxation time before the championship match in November, or else the world might be ushering in the era of a new World Champion.

Fabio Caruana Sinquefield Games

The television production and broadcast on Chess24 and Chessbase was first rate for this event! It is always wonderful to see my favorite female chess player and commentator, Jennifer Shahade breaking down the moves! Just don’t get me started on Hikaru Nakamura in this tournament…

Complete Game Archive

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A Day Remembered in Infamy

Politics is a subject that finds itself into the most neutral of places, such as on and off the chessboard, but I do my best to steer clear of discussing most controversial political topics here on Off My Chess. With that in mind, I feel that it is critical for me to take a moment to join my fellow countrymen and remember where I was during the horrific events of September 11, 2001. Remembering tragic historical events is critical since I recently discovered that my nieces were born after 9/11 and only know about it from history books and television!

What happened that day goes beyond the social, political, or religious beliefs of any person on this earth. The senseless murder of thousands and the destruction of the World Trade Center were cowardly acts that are, in some ways, still beyond our comprehension today. As a United States military service member, I spent September 11, 2001 at Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico where our F-16 fighters were dispatched to assist the FAA with grounding all aircraft after the towers were hit. Additionally, we provided close air support over then President George W. Bush’s home in Crawford, Texas. I am proud to have served as part of the national response to September 11th and to have assisted with the safety and security of my fellow Americans.

Without a doubt, September 11th shook all of us to the core. It was not because it was a terrorist attack on our own soil, but the real shock came out of the sheer brutality of it all. It did not give Al Qaeda or Osama Bin Laden a tactical advantage over the United States in a face-to-face military conflict, but instead it targeted civilians and induced fear by striking a blow at what Osama and his fanatical followers viewed as the ultimate symbol of American corruption: greed. Fortunately, the American spirit won over the fear and we persevered through some of the toughest challenges in our nation’s history. The American spirit is not embodied in the ways of a single political party, religion, or special interest group. It is an abstract idea which says that all men and women have a fundamental right to pursue their own destiny. In my opinion, the American dream is embodied on the 64 squares of the chessboard. The color of an opponent’s skin, their country of origin, or social class have nothing to do with the skills they can bring to the table.

The victims, families, and heroes of September 11th, 2001 live on in our hearts forever. God Bless You!

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Back to the Board!

Welcome back, friends! It is a pleasure to once again be sharing my journeys off and on the chess board as the chaos from our move to San Antonio begins to subside. I have not had the opportunity to visit the San Antonio Chess Club, but it is a high priority item over the next few days. In the meantime, there are some housekeeping items I need to address before pressing on into the next part of the year.

Website Changes

Perhaps the biggest change is this blog’s location both on the web and in the real world! I am proud to announce that Off My Chess now has its own domain name and will immediately begin transitioning all material to http://www.offmychess.com. The old addresses at http://chess.wesleysurber.com and http://www.omchess.com will continue to function for a limited amount of time, but will eventually be phased out in favor of the new domain name. This will help me to more effectively market the site and make it easier for regular readers to visit the site.

Publication Changes

I am also examining my options for a quarterly amateur chess publication. There are many great opportunities for amateur chess players to learn and expand their knowledge of the game and I am trying to find a way to effectively consolidate that information into a quarterly newsletter/PDF publication for easy reference. OMC Weekly will continue, with OMC Quarterly likely to come sometime around 1st quarter of 2015.

Location Changes

As I wrote earlier, one of the biggest changes is this blog’s location. Moving from Southwest Ohio to South Texas has been a culture shock on my entire family and it will take some time for that to rub off. With that being said, I look forward to the many challenges and adventures on and off the chessboard as we become integrated into the community and begin doing our best to bring the best of chess and life to those around us.

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