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Month: March 2015

Jon Stewart Chess Update

Jon Stewart is not someone who comes to mind when I think about chess, but a recent episode of The Daily Show poked fun at the game and the international chess community. Much has been said recently about Wesley So and his decision to switch to the United States Chess Federation along with some unconfirmed reports that the United States might also be pursuing Fabiano Caruana. The video hits all the right spots to show how chess has always operated in the shadow of international politics, but has had monumental influence. Check it out:

“What’s the only thing Russians love more than filming their own car accidents? Chess.” — Trevor Noah

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The Perfect Chess Machine for Mac Users

Not too long ago I wrote an entry on how chess is in such disarray on the Mac platform. Sure, there are options such as HiARCS and Shredder, but nothing beats the power and utility of ChessBase. Unfortunately, ChessBase remains exclusively a Windows-based system and there is no indication that the company plans to port its database software to Apple hardware anytime soon. This sucks for chess players on Mac because it requires us to maintain some kind of Windows installation whether it is on a virtual machine such as Parallels Desktop and VirtualBox or have a separate computer to exclusively run Windows and ChessBase.

As I wrote in my previous article, I had found that running ChessBase under Microsoft Windows using VirtualBox os OS X was a sufficient workaround that enabled me to conduct my Mac-specific work while maintaining access to my chess library. I eventually found that there were some problems related to Windows Media Player and VirtualBox that corrupted much of the playback for videos in the ChessBase DVDs and ChessBase Magazine, so I decided to go with the external system approach. In December my wife got me a dedicated chess laptop, an HP Stream 14 which I immediately set to use as my primary chess study machine.

Suffice to say that the excursions with the HP Stream 14 did not last long. The laptop turned out to be much too slow and unresponsive to get any serious chess work done, so I began looking for yet another option. That is where I found something interesting: the HP Stream 7.

No, the HP Stream 7 (herein referred to as HP7) is not a 7-inch laptop. Instead, it is the 7-inch version of Hewlett-Packard’s Windows 8.1 tablet line. In the past I have tried using a Dell Venue Pro 8 with Windows 8.1 and had less than stellar results, but I purchased the HP7 with the sole intention of migrating my chess library from the standalone laptop to the new tablet. It only took a few minutes with this beauty to realize that it is a true blessing in disguise:

Setup was straightforward as Microsoft has eliminated much of the Frankenstein-like features of Windows 8 in its updates and restored desktop functionality. With a 7-inch tablet, the desktop is small, but definitely functional. After taking a few minutes to load ChessBase and Deep Fritz 14 on the system, I simply transferred my SD card from my laptop to the HP7’s SD-card slot, which is hidden under the back cover, and presto! Due to faults of my own, it took some time to get ChessBase 12 and all of my FritzTrainer applications properly activated, but once they were up and running, it became apparent that the HP7 ChessBase tablet was the idea that I had been looking for.

So, you might be wondering why I would recommend buying ANOTHER machine simply to run ChessBase. It is true that for most people it might seem kind of silly to do such a thing, but I think that most chess lovers will understand the thought process behind the purchase. You see, the HP7 comes in the Microsoft Signature Edition on Amazon.com, which eliminates all of the 3rd-party crapware from the device before shipping, for only $91! The SSD included with the tablet is only 32GB, but that should be more than enough for most people to install core applications and to utilize external SD-Card storage for data. In my case, I simply transferred my Windows Documents location to the SD-Card and ChessBase took care of the rest. Now, any updates are made to the SD-Card and I am left with about 15 GB of free space on the SSD for other applications. For the price, the HP7 makes an exceptional ChessBase tablet that allows me to carry the database software, the MegaBase 2015, and countless DVDs and training products in one small package.

Unusual Drawbacks

As with anything, there are some drawbacks to using ChessBase on the HP7. Some people may not prefer the small size of the screen. In these instances, HP also offers an 8″ version of the tablet with the same features, although it is a little pricer at $149. However, the screen size is certainly not a show-stopper for most people. I have found it to be almost perfect for keeping next to a book or magazine when reading through a chess game and exploring line variations.

Another strange drawback seems to be limited to the ChessBase software on touch hardware: right click does not work. I am uncertain if this problem is limited to the HP7, but it was impossible for me to activate a right click within ChessBase 12, ChessBase Reader, or Deep Fritz on the HP7 running Windows 8.1. However, there is a workaround available by connecting a Bluetooth mouse to the tablet. Once connected, a traditional mouse pointer becomes available and right click works like normal. I used this option briefly to set some configuration options and to prepare my copy of ChessBase for first use. Since then, most (if not all) tasks have been accessible to me through the toolbar and other options.

In my opinion, this is nothing more than a minor annoyance. It really does nothing to inhibit the function of the tablet as a reliable chess computer. In all, the HP Stream 7, especially the Microsoft Signature Edition is an exceptional little piece of technology that makes ChessBase portable in its purest form.

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Fawning Over The Chess.com App

Several months ago I wrote an article where I examined some of the best that iOS has to offer in the way of chess apps. One of those was the official app for Chess.com, where I spend much of my time reading and learning as much as I can about chess. At the time of that article, the Android app had spent quite a long time ahead of its iOS counterpart. Now, Apple users can rejoice because after months of beta testing, the official app has been updated to reflect changes that have been in the works for Chess.com for the past year.

The User Interface

First and foremost, the app’s user interface has been updated to take advantage of Apple’s gorgeous retina displays and includes some beautifully crisp themes to spice things up. The individual themes and the ability for the user to mix and match elements of each theme has been a major selling point for the Chess.com V3 project since it was announced over a year ago. Standards these days for presentation are quite high on mobile devices and it is apparent that Chess.com has taken this into account when implementing the user interface. When a user installs the new update, the default theme is used which is the traditional gray background and green/tan or brown/tan chessboard. I am partial to the default colors, so the opportunity to change the themes seems like something that I would rarely use.

In the previous app version, there were only a few navigation options available whether you were a free or a premium member of the site. These options were essentially limited to live chess, correspondence (online) chess, and video lessons. In this update, most of the functions available on the main website are now available to mobile users. This is a huge benefit for iOS users since the limitations of the app effectively eliminated many of the site’s premium features. Now, the app is set up to feature the same feature and navigation elements of the homecoming site redesign.

The navigation setup is very straightforward and makes accessing the massive database of features on Chess.com much more intuitive. All of the app features are stored on the left navigation bar. After selecting the desired function, the user is directed to a new screen where additional functions are available depending on the user’s subscription level and the function of the feature. Overall, the revamped user interface makes the official Chess.com app the most comprehensive and aesthetically pleasing chess apps on the App Store.

The Content

Content is one of the features that has made Chess.com once of the best and most popular chess sites on the web. Sure, the site boasts a census of eleven million members, but while many of those accounts are most likely zombie or abandoned accounts, something other than a place to play chess has to draw in the crowd. With the new app, these content elements are all made accessible to native iOS users. Video lessons by some of the world’s top Grandmasters are regularly posted as well as written lessons and weekly articles. The articles and puzzles are free while the video lessons are benefits of site membership.

When users first open the app they are greeted with a home screen that enables them to complete the daily puzzle and to engage in training lessons that represent their skill range. With a few short clicks, the user can access live or correspondence (online) chess. As games are completed, the site maintains an exceptional record of those games that can be converted into detailed statistical analysis reports for premium members.

The Chess

The chess interface on the new app is its most beautiful and fulfilling feature. AfteAfter all, playing chess is the whole reason that the app (and this blog) exists. In the redesigned app, the live chess board takes on the visual and auditory characteristics of whatever theme the user has selected in settings. For screenshot examples on this review, I decided to include shots of the default dark theme and the beautiful nature theme.

Chess can be played against the site’s online engine or live against players from all around the world. I prefer playing against human opponents since it is better practice for tournament play and also because the online engine has made some incredibly unrealistic moves and seems rather worthless at times. The app algorithm will select an opponent of comparable strength based on variables the can be customized by the user. Once a match is made, the user is taken to the main chess screen and the game begins. This is another area that Chess.com excels in general over other chess sites. The average time to obtain a suitable match for a game is extremely short compared to other chess websites. On sites like Playchess I have had to wait up to 2-3 minutes for the server to obtain an appropriate opponent, but rarely do I wait more than a few sections for one on Chess.com either using the web-based interface or the app itself.

In short, playing chess on the new Chess.com app is a wonderful experience. The new themes add long overdue customizable options to the program and allow users to take greater control over the aesthetics of their chess experience.

Not All Moonlight and Roses

Unfortunately, not everything about the Chess.com app on iOS is as elegant and worthwhile as the live chess and articles. As with any software package there are some inherent flaws that make the experience unpleasant and sometimes completely useless. In the case of the new app, the only area that I found to be essentially worthless were the chess video lectures when used on a retina iPad or iPad Mini. Although Chess.com has updated the app to take advantage of retina display technology, the videos are still rendered in low-resolution and are immensely blurry, which makes them almost impossible to follow during the lectures. Perhaps the designers could have alleviated some of these problems by creating a display page similar to what is used on the main Chess.com web interface to encapsulate the videos and reduce their size. The full-sized, low-resolution videos are downright horrible and take away significantly from the learning experience.

The bottom line with the new app is that Chess.com has done an excellent job of finally bringing its iOS mobile software product in line with its Android app and upcoming site redesign. The app itself is free to download and requires a Chess.com account, which is also free. I am definitely looking forward to more innovation as Chess.com’s designers design and implement new features in the future.

More screenshots…

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Register Now for the 2015 USCF Election

Attention USCF Members: Don’t forget to register as a voting member at the following link: secure2.uschess.org/voter-registration.php so you can vote in this year’s Executive Board election. You can also register to vote by contacting the USCF office (see below). There is no registration fee.

Voting Members elect the Executive Board. USCF members (except those with memberships of less than one year in duration, ie, 2 month memberships) can register as a voting member. Voting members must be age 16 or over as of June 30 of the election year.

Eligible members who are not already registered as Voting Members must register by May 1st to be eligible to vote in that year’s regular election. All members who are selected as USCF Delegates, Alternate Delegates or Executive Board members are automatically registered as Voting Members.

Once registered, a member’s status as a Voting Member continues as long as he or she remains a USCF member. However, when someone’s USCF membership lapses for at least 4 weeks, Voting Member status ceases and the member must, after rejoining, again register by May 1st to be eligible to vote in that year’s regular election.

In order to vote in a regular election, registered Voting Members must also be USCF members on May 5th of the election year, for the entire day (US Central Time).

To contact the USCF office to register to vote, contact Cheryle Bruce, cbruce@uschess.org, or call 1-800-903-8723, extension #147. From outside of the USA, call 931-787-1234, extension #147. Be sure to give your name, USCF ID, birthdate and mailing address to confirm your identity.

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Wiped Across the Board

For some reason the European Individual Chess Championship in Jerusalem has been one of the most boring chess tournaments I have watched in quite a while. In fact, I have avoided some of the rounds completely because there is just something about the tournament that causes me to drift into dreamland. Perhaps it is good that this tournament came about when it did because so much came to a head in the last few weeks that has keep me relentlessly tied down to commitments away from the chessboard and this blog. Fortunately over the past few days I have found time and energy to restart my chess work and to begin working on new content, but I was shocked to see the devastation I faced on the board.

The first example comes from a Chess.com live chess game in which I played with a blitz rating of 851, but looked more like someone who had just discovered his dad’s chessboard hidden in a dusty closet. The moves in this game are atrocious and show that there is still much work to do.

This one hurt badly:

Things have not been all doom and gloom, however. The chess gods eventually took pity on me these last few weeks and delivered some gems like this one:

I was shocked to see what a short amount of time away from the board could do to my concentration and psychological chess development. In addition, this personal stumbling block and the lack of engaging international tournaments during this time probably contributed to the reduced posting here on Campfire Chess. The only thing I can say is that it looks like there is still an incredibly long way to go.

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Campfire Chess Magazine Now Available!

I am pleased to announce that Volume 2, Issue 1 (March 2015) of Campfire Chess Magazine (CCM) is now available for free download in the publications section of the site. CCM began in September 2014 as a publication of the old OffMyChess.com and was called OffMyChess.com Quarterly Review. The magazine contains some of the same features found in the old publication including annotated games and product reviews, but this year I have worked to incorporate reports and analysis from at least one major tournament per issue. Campfire Chess Magazine is chess from the ultimate amateur’s point of view. Check out the special features in this issue:

  • Product Review – Kasparov: How His Predecessors Misled Him About Chess
  • The Big Deal About Berlin: An Analysis of the Ruy Lopez Berlin Defense
  • The 2014 FIDE World Chess Championship
    • Compiled engine analysis of all eleven games from the tournament.
    • A collection of endgame positions from the tournament.
  • Two of my blitz games from 2014 and early 2015 with move-by-move annotation.

As always, Campfire Chess is committed to sharing the world of chess from an amateur perspective for all people. Campfire Chess Magazine is another tool that can be used and shared with friends, students, and chess enthusiasts to see how the shared love of chess can unite the world.

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