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Month: October 2015

Happy Halloween!

The witching hour is upon us! The sun is up in America and it is officially October 31…Halloween! This is my favorite holiday of the year and I look forward to Trick-or-Treating with my kiddos tonight and passing out candy to the neighborhood kids! If you are going out tonight San Antonians, be careful! The weather has not been nice to us lately and it adds an additional complication to an already precarious holiday. Shenanigans will be had, candy will be consumed, and scares will be delivered! There might even by time for a game of chess or two on the front lawn in the terrifying glow of the red and yellow accent lights. Stay scared, campers!

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The Texas Chess-Saw Massacre

When Bobby Fischer was king of the chess board it was hard for much of the world to imagine someone who could work harder or bring a greater sense of finesse to the game until the current world champion emerged. Magnus Carlsen has been called the Mozart of Chess and with his recent outburst that name seems fitting! He could be considered some kind of Chess-Saw intent on massacring any opponent that braves to stand in his way, but what is it that makes Carlsen so great? GM Daniel Naroditsky at Chess.com examines the phenomenon that is Magnus Carlsen and how the story of the great chess grinder is less of a horror movie and more of a real-life opera played out on the grandest stage for the world to see.

Read the full article on Chess.com.

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The Press Release Rant of the FIDE President

FIDE (the World Chess Federation) published a press release yesterday referencing the recent push for Kirsan Ilyumzhinov to take over as president of FIFA. Obviously Ilyumzhinov was flattered by people calling out for him to gain control over another international sports organization while most people outside the world of professional chess scratched their heads at the mention of his name or spent their time reading his Wikipedia entry to get some idea of what was going on at the World Chess Congress. After reading the convoluted press release it seems that Kirsan does not intend to run for the position of FIFA president. True to his idiosyncratic ways, the FIDE president has chosen to remain focused on chess and will work to leverage his 15 minutes of futbol fame to promote FIDE and its activities.

Read more from FIDE.com.

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Giri Plays 172 Move Nail-Biter

If I were Anish Giri I would want to find a cold scoop of ice cream and curl up in bed for the rest of the night. The recently married Grandmaster just finished a 172-move game against Ding Liren at the Bilbao Masters tournament. Giri missed several opportunities to capitalize against his opponent and was only able to manage a draw after six hours of play!

Check out more at Chess24.com.

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FIDE Bans Garry Kasparov for 2 Years

Greetings, campers! This is a post that I never expected to write. For as long as he dominated the professional chess world Garry Kasparov has been an outspoken and often controversial figure. He has a longstanding hatred of Vladimir Putin and tends to see himself as more of a political activist than a chess ambassador. Unfortunately the way that Russian politics tends to deal with its rivals is to ridicule (or outright kill) them. Kasparov gained notoriety in this sense with the hilarious flying penis incident that has probably appeared on every funniest video countdown show since then.

Kasparov launched a massive campaign in 2014 to oust longtime president of FIDE Kirsan Ilyumzhinov but was literally destroyed in the lopsided election. Kasparov accused Ilyumzhinov (a close personal friend of Vladimir Putin) of winning the election through dirty politics that included bribery, extortion, and even the unusual step of removing a chess federation entirely from the list of FIDE organization and replacing it with a pro-Ilyumzhinov federation. Suffice to say that 2014 was a very exciting year for chess fans because politics and Kasparov both draw a crowd so interest was high on whether the former World Champion would be able to remove Ilyumzhinov. Kasparov remained relatively low key after the loss and made an appearance at the 2015 Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis but now he returns to the headlines by receiving a 2-year ban from FIDE for bribery! Here is the exact determination from the FIDE Ethics Commission:

ETHICS COMMISSION JUDGEMENT

Upon due consideration by the Ethics Commission of the factors relevant to the sanction, including the gravity of the offence and the presence of aggravating and mitigating circumstances, the Ethics Commission imposes the following sanction:

Mr Kasparov and Mr Leong are both banned for a period of two (2) years from holding any office or position within FIDE, including its member federations, continental associations or any other affiliated international organisations, as well as participating in any FIDE meeting as delegate, proxy-holder or other representative of a FIDE member. This ban will be effective from the period 21 October 2015 until 20 October 2017.

So, what did they do? In 2014 when Kasparov was running for the FIDE Presidency he made a deal with Ignatius Leong so that he would switch his federation’s vote from Ilyumzhinov to Kasparov in exchange for monetary contributions. Having worked in government service I have come to learn that appearance is everything and intentions are seldom taken into account. Kasparov’s camp argued that the $500,000 contribution for Leong providing 10 votes for the presidential campaign was to create an offshoot of the Kasparov Chess Foundation in Asia. Unfortunately the truth in the situation does not matter. Kasparov made a political blunder in that he did not see how his opponents would be able to manipulate the selling of votes. In some ways its almost as though he walked into a fool’s mate because his entire campaign was run on the premise of removing Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and ridding FIDE of its corrupt government once and for all. Yet it was a sneaky move that cost him 2 years of membership in FIDE or participation in its activities. Kasparov had this to say in response to the commission’s original findings:

“Back in Russia I got used to being falsely accused by puppet courts and this one has as little value and credibility as those. Being accused of corruption by Ilyumzhinov is like being accused of foreign aggression by Putin!

“My mission has always been to promote chess and to build the future of the game. I once hoped that could happen with FIDE, but it is clearer than ever this work will continue despite FIDE, which continues to take resources out of the sport and to drive away those who love it.”

This is the kind of stuff that makes it difficult to take Kasparov and his activities seriously. He never wishes to admit that he made a mistake or something that went wrong might actually be his fault. Surely at some point in his life he had to have stepped away from the chessboard and realized that he was making errors in his games. How else could he have learned and become one of the greatest players in history? Failure is an opportunity to try again but Kasparov never seems willing to admit that he can fail of his own doing. Unfortunately that seems to be something ingrained into Russian politics and Kasparov has proven himself to be the true son of his motherland: a devious Russian politician.

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Does Chess Need an Audience?

Recently I came across an article asking whether chess has the power to draw in the audiences enjoyed by sports like golf or even…reality shows. Understanding that journalists are paid to ask these kinds of questions and to present a limited scope answer to justify their personal perspective on the topic, I was drawn to the article because of the increased focus on high stakes tournament chess in recent years. The crux of the article is the Millionaire Chess Open that just wrapped up at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. The high-stakes event is the brainchild of GM Maurice Ashley and promoter Amy Lee and it features a $1 million prize fund with $100,000 in payout going to the tournament’s overall winner. American GM Hikaru Nakamura won this year’s tournament in what some chess journalists have described as an anti-climactic experience.

In the article IM John Bartholomew provides an insightful analysis of the author’s interest in a future where high-stakes chess tournaments are a staple of ESPN programming. In essence, Bartholomew explains that poker on television reveals all of the cards to the audience and removes much of the deception and guesswork necessary to win the game. In chess it is not possible to display what a grandmaster is thinking with a television screen focused on a board. Without the benefit of some insight that can appeal to both players and non-players chess is going to struggle to find the same kind of audience that poker, golf, and cooking enjoys. Even if professional chess were able to find a way to present the thoughts and strategy of the players it still leaves one question to be asked:

Does chess need an audience?

If applied to poker and chess as a spectator sport then it is safe to say that neither activity needs an audience to survive. Poker in its current form has been around since the early 19th century and chess has been around much longer. Both of them have managed to survive and to provide countless hours of entertainment and life fulfillment for players and fans alike. Any assumption that chess will disappear from the earth if it cannot find corporate sponsors or a way to effectively market itself to the ESPN generation misses the point of the game entirely. Chess is a brain game in which the stakes are the same for players on both sides of the board. In sports such as baseball or football there are factors such as weather, genetics, or even social privilege. Chess players come from all walks of life and are not limited by social upbringing or even physical and mental disability. A blind person can play chess just as effectively as a chess player that can see.

When it comes to sports such as baseball and basketball there is a delicate balance that organizations maintain between love and business of the game. Teams know that fans love the game and players love participating in the game but a profit must be made for the business elements of the game to be successful. Professional chess players already face similar challenges because they become entrenched in the business aspect of the game through corporate sponsorships and obligations to international chess organizations like FIDE. Take Magnus Carlsen as a prime example. He was opposed to holding the 2014 World Chess Championship in Sochi, Russia but the power of FIDE and sponsors that had poured funds into the event in Sochi were no match for the reigning World Champion.

Events like the Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis and the Millionaire Chess Open have added a new vitality to chess and marketed it as a high-stakes tournament game and a spectator sport. These are new concepts because even though Bobby Fischer brought chess to the forefront of American drama even the defeat of the Soviet chess machine on the world stage was not enough to engrain chess into the fabric of American televised competition. Even an event like the Millionaire Chess Open does not really need an audience because entry fees, corporate sponsorships, and the intellectual effects of chess will continue to sustain it and other events for the foreseeable future.

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Chess History from the Motherland

There is something special about Russia and its chess history. Whether they were really as vile and deceptive in their efforts to maintain the World Championship title throughout the Cold War there is no arguing that some of the greatest chess minds in history have come from our on/off-again friends in the east. Recently I was browsing and came across an opportunity to buy two editions of a Russian chess magazine called The Chess Herald. One of them is a standard tournament coverage fare and the other is a dedicated issue to the rematch between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky in 1992. I was pleased to see that they are in great condition and even contain some games and beautiful photos of chess powerhouse Judit Polgar! There is so much chess in these two books and I might translate/annotate games here if I can, but I wanted to share some photos first:





I am curious though about the cover art for the Bobby Fischer issue because the character inside the wreath has his mouth open and an expression on his face that seems to indicate madness. Its apparent to me that the illustrator was trying to convey the sense of insanity that had engulfed Fischer for so long at this point.

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A Tactical Exposé

Recently I have been working with the Peshk@ training tool from ChessOK. Aside from studying opening theory I have also tried brushing up on my tactical abilities. It was not until recently that I was able to identify some of those tactics in games that I have been playing online. One game in particular struck me as an exceptional tactical win and it was played on the Live Chess server at Chess.com. I have annotated it here:

Internet Opponent vs. AmishHacker

Chess.com | Live Chess | October 08, 2015

1.e4 A standard and powerful opening move. White is vying for control of the center.

1…d5 Immediately challenging White’s push for the center. Most of my online opponents take the exchange as my opponent in this game did.

2.exd5 White accepts the exchange. 2…Qxd5 The exchange is complete but I have to be careful bringing my Queen out so early in the game. In this position she is vulnerable to attack on several fronts.

3.Nc3 White immediately engages my Queen. 3…Qd8 Moving my Queen back to safety to continue developing my pieces.

4.d4 b6 Preparing a clear space for my Bishop to develop. 5.Bb5+ White obviously wants to show that he is in an aggressive mood. This also delays my Bishop’s development and forces a response rather than expansion of my attack forces. 5…Bd7 A direct challenge to the attack. I am also in a mood to fight.

6.Qg4 White doubles up his attack on the d7 Bishop. Much of the attack is counterbalanced but there is danger here if I do not play with precision.

6…e6 7.Bg5 f6 8.Qxe6+ A strong move since the d7 Bishop is pinned by the b5 Bishop. The attack on my position was well coordinated and there were several opportunities for Black to exploit weakness. 8…Be7 [8…Ne7 9.Bxf6 gxf6 10.Qxf6 And White is comfortably winning.] 9.Qxd7+?? Was played in the game. A tragic error that cost White his Queen and the game. It seems that he failed to notice the b8 Knight defending the d7 square.

[9.Bxd7+ Qxd7 does nothing.]9…Nxd7!! The only reasoanble response to White’s blunder. 10.Bf4 Obviously blindsided by the devastating blunder, White retreats his Bishop in an attempt to regroup and recover with a new strategy. 10…g5 11.Bg3 Bd6 12.0-0-0 Ne7 13.Re1 A nice pin, but I am still able to castle to safety. 13…0-0 14.Bc4+ This attack seems only designed to force my King from its safety net. 14…Kh8 15.Nf3 c6!? This move made me nervous because it isolated my d6 Bishop and almost handed White the initiative. However, my opponent did not see the move and chose a different path. 16.d5?? The second major blunder of the game missing Bxd6!! 16…Bc5 17.dxc6 Nxc6 18.Nd5 Re8 19.Nc7 Rxe1+ A tactical sacrifice designed merely to delay White’s capture of the Rook. 20.Nxe1?? My opponent suprrised me again with this move. Normally the response would be Rxe1! but the choice to go with the Knight prevents the Rook from developing and leaves White handicapped.

[Much better was: 20.Rxe1 g4 21.Nd2] 20…Rc8 21.Ne6 Qe7 22.Nd3 Nd4 23.Re1 Nxe6 24.Rxe6 Qf7 25.Rc6?! My opponent struck back with a poorly planned tactic. He threatens to take my c8 Rook and believes that I will place such a high value on it that I would miss his Bishop threatening my Queen. However, the Bishop capture was much more valuable. 25…Qxc4 26.Rxc8+ Kg7 27.a3 Qd4 Moving out of the way in preparatiion for b3. 28.Rd8 Bxa3!! I debated this one for awhile, but recent tactics studies boosted my confidence in this sacrifice. 29.bxa3 Qa1+!! This was a turning point in the game as White took the bait and my Queen began to systematically ravage his forces through forced moves. 30.Kd2 Qd4 31.c3 Qd5 32.f3 Qa2+ 33.Ke3 Qxa3 34.Rxd7+ I got nervous here because now I was down to only a Queen and 3 pawns while my opponent still had several minor pieces to work with. 34…Kg6 35.c4 Qf8 36.Rxa7 Qe8+ 37.Kf2 Qc6 38.Rc7 This demonstrates the power of a well-placed Bishop. Although I had confidence in a positive outcome for me, White’s Bishop on g3 was devastating to my attack plans. 38…Qa4 39.c5 Qc2+ 40.Ke3 bxc5 41.Rxc5 Qxg2 42.Rc6 Qg1+ 43.Ke2 Kf5 With few pieces left it was time to bring my King into the action. Instead of running from the Rook, my King now became an active part of my assault on White’s position. 44.f4 Qg2+!! A tactical and psychologically devastating attack! White’s Rook is lost and I continue to pick off his pieces one-by-one.

45.Nf2 Qxc6 46.Ke3 gxf4+ 47.Bxf4 Qc1+!! Another piece falls to tactics! White cannot save the Bishop and suddenly he finds himself in a perilous position. 48.Kf3 Qxf4+ 49.Kg2 h5 50.h3 h4 51.Kf1 Qg3 52.Ke2 Qg2 53.Ke3 Kg5 54.Ne4+! A decent move to keep my King from chasing the h3 pawn. 54…Kf5!! An even better move to force White to consider the future of his Knight. 55.Kd4?? My opponent missed several opportunities in this game and I think this was simply a result of indecision. The Knight is lost since the King will defend any attack.

55…Qxe4+ 56.Kc3 Qe3+ 57.Kc2 Qxh3 The last of my opponent’s pieces are gone. The rest is self-explanatory. 58.Kd2 Qg3 59.Ke2 h3 60.Kf1 h2 61.Ke2 h1Q 62.Kd2 Qhh2+ 63.Kd1 Qgg1# AmishHacker won by checkmate 0-1

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Saying Farewell to Campfire Magazine

Back in 2014 when I started this blog I decided to start compiling some of my favorite and most popular posts into a PDF publication called *Off My Chess Quarterly*. Eventually that publication evolved into *Campfire Chess Magazine*. Recently I retooled the publication to eliminate the PDF publication and move to a an interactive format combination of JavaScript and HTML5. However, maintaining the blog and a publication like *Campfire Chess Magazine* creates too much demand for productivity in various directions. In turn quality suffers on both ends, so I have decided to cease publication of *Campfire Chess Magazine* to devote more time to focusing on the blog and other elements of the site.

Instead, I invite you to check out Campfire Chess on Facebook, Twitter, and now a curated magazine on Flipboard.

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Give the Gift of Chess 2015

As the leaves start to change color and Summer gives way to Fall the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) has kicked into high gear. If you are not familiar with CFC it is the United States Government’s yearly drive to raise money for charities and nonprofit organizations around the country. CFC’s intention is to provide an easy way for employees and families of the multitude of federal agencies to contribute funds in support of their favorite causes in a fast, easy, and safe way. Last year I wrote about CFC and advertised my support for the US Chess Trust. This year I want to expand on that offering by not only emphasizing chess organizations that are open through CFC but also some of the nonprofits around the country that you can help to bring chess to people around the nation!

Combined Federal Campaign

  • United States Chess Trust: In some ways the US Chess Trust could be seen as a hybrid of US Chess and Chess in the Schools. The mission of the US Chess Trust is to promote scholastic chess activities and to support charity activities conducted by US Chess and other organizations. Like the US Chess Federation, the US Chess Trust is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and can receive donations through CFC using code 10212 or by clicking here to make a non-CFC contribution..

Other Organizations

  • US Chess Federation: Recently the US Chess Federation (formerly USCF) completed its application process and transition to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. US Chess is the official governing body for chess in the United States. By supporting US Chess benefactors enable it to provide oversight, tournaments, and growth opportunities in life through chess across the United States. For donation information click here.
  • Chess in the Schools: There are many scholastic chess programs around the country, but Chess in the Schools is one of the largest and most influential. Operating largely within the inner city schools of New York Chess in the Schools has almost single-handedly produced a new generation of chess players from a rich and diverse cultural and national background. For donation information click here.

Honorable Mention

  • The Week in Chess: This is one of those things that does not fall into the realm of charitable organization but its influence and effect has such a positive impact on the world of digital chess and information sharing that I think it is worth mentioning. Most online chess fans know of Mark Crowther and the long-running website The Week in Chess. Until a couple of years ago Mark’s work was supported by the a major chess organization out of the UK. However, that partnership has ended and the site now runs purely on donations. For information on how you can help contribute to its operations and receive a copy of Mark’s Chessbase archive with every TWIC issue click here.

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