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Month: March 2016

The Agon Monopoly – The World Takes Notice

It took some time but the mainstream media has started to notice and report on the war between Agon and the rest of the chess world. A recent article on Bloomberg has raised interest in the company’s move to monopolize the 2016 Candidates Tournament broadcast and that of any subsequent tournaments connected to the World Chess Championship cycle. As many of us already know, the move has deepened the wedge between the World Chess Federation and countless fans across the globe. As explained in the article,

The company hired by the World Chess Federation to organize and broadcast the ongoing tournament in Russia announced earlier this month that other websites would not be allowed to offer live coverage, as many had done in the past.

This paragraph represents how the situation most likely appears to outsiders because it is how Agon/FIDE has worked to project its position in relation to live tournament broadcasts. Agon appears to be a legitimate company hired by FIDE to manage the championship tournament cycle because that is how the elaborate pyramid system involving FIDE and Agon is established and portrayed. It goes without saying that the boards of entire corporations have been put in prison in the United States for engaging in the same activities that have been undertaken by the leadership of the World Chess Federation and its phantom company. Let us take a moment to break down the history of Agon, its influence and relationship with the World Chess Federation.

  • Agon was founded in 2012 by Andrew Paulson, an American businessman for the sole purpose of managing and promoting chess tournaments and specifically, the World Chess Championship cycle. Because of missteps in management and controversy over the company’s ownership, Agon never organized a single chess event or sponsorship under Paulson and shortly after he became president of the English Chess Federation, Paulson sold the company to its current owner, Ilya Merenzon. Although it operates primarily out of the Russian Federation, Agon is registered as a private company based out of New Jersey.

  • As early as 2014, accusations arose that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the president of the World Chess Federation, was to be provided 51% in shares of Agon, which would have made him a majority shareholder and a de facto controller of the company and its assets. Conflict of interest is a term ill-suited to describe that kind of situation. Because of Ilyumzhinov’s reputation for deception and monopolistic control of the World Chess Federation, it is hard difficult to determine exactly where fiction ends and reality begins in the story of his relationship to Agon.

When Agon announced its intentions to limit the broadcast rights of chess websites around the world shortly before the start of the 2016 Candidates Tournament, the reaction was swift and furious. Campfire Chess joined in support of Chessdom, Chess24 and Chessbomb as they defied the company’s demands and continued broadcasting the live moves in protest throughout the tournament. I continue to stand by this position because everything that I am says that dissent in this case is the right thing to do. According to the official website, Agon has filed legal action in Moscow against Chess24, ChessGames.com, The Internet Chess Club, and Chess24 because of their defiance, but it will be curious to how the whole scenario plays out because Agon has no standing to pursue action against these sites, as has been demonstrated in case law and in settlements as recent as 2015 with Major League Baseball.

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Kent Brockman reporting… (Credit: Fox)

Naivety and Corporate Expectations

I am certainly not blind to the needs of companies to turn a profit from their products. Campfire Chess is a nonprofit organization funded entirely by me, but my long term dream is to monetize some kind of product. However, the rules of business are much more complicated than ordering other companies to cease their operations so that another company can turn a profit.

This is what Agon and FIDE leadership do not understand. If they want to build sponsorship and monetize chess tournaments, then they need to offer a product that is in higher demand than others. Chessbase, Chess24, Chessbomb and countless other sites in the online chess ecosystem offer live commentary, video lessons, and a sense of community that draws people in to their services. This is what Agon should be doing if it wants to compete. I am entirely open to watching tournaments on an exclusive tournament site if that site offers coverage and supplemental material that makes the experience worth it.

Until they figure that out, dissent will continue because chess is for the people.

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World Chess Championship: Now We Know

Makeup of a Championship

The 2016 Candidates Tournament, which has been mined in controversy, is finally over. In a triumphant return to the world chess stage, Sergey Karjakin of Russia has earned the right to challenge Magnus Carlsen for the World Chess Championship in New York City. Karjakin finished the tournament with a solid win over American GM Fabiano Caruana. After holding a relatively balanced position for most of the game, Caruana blundered a critical rook move:

Carlsen remains a clear favorite to retain his title, but Karjakin has an opportunity to snatch it away from Norway and bring it back to Mother Russia, whose state-funded system dominated world chess for almost a century. Congratulations and praise poured out from the community following the win.

Vishy Anand, who challenged Carlsen in 2014 and looked poised to return to the championship at certain points in the tournament, showed an amazing depth of class by symbolically passing the torch on to Karjakin via Twitter.

Giri’s Drawing Streak

As if this tournament did not already have enough oddities and challenges associated with it, Anish Giri managed to draw every one of his games in the tournament, a staggering 14/14 drawn games! Family, friends, and fans watched as Giri went from a theoretical challenger to the world champion to the subject of memes and jokes spread across the blogosphere.

Nakamura’s Implosion

Perhaps nothing besides Agon’s coverage policy was as disappointing as Hikaru Nakamura’s performance in the tournament. The American GM, who was among the candidates high on the list to challenge Magnus Carlsen, literally imploded. He regained some ground in the later rounds, but it was not enough to catch Karjakin, Caruana, and Anand who had pulled well ahead of their competitors.

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GM Hikaru Nakamura will have to wait another cycle. (Image Credit: FIDE)


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Final Standings Crosstable (Image Credit: Chessbase)

Now the chess world turns its attention to Norway Chess as the next major tournament gets set to begin in just a few short months. Check out the entire collection of games from the 2016 Candidates Tournament below:

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Unimpressed with Apple’s Loop-In Event

So, you might be wondering what an article about Apple is doing on a chess website (or you may not). In addition to chess, a long time passion of mine has been technology and Apple products in particular. Growing up in the 80s led to great exposure for me and my classmates to Apple IIe computers and eventually to the Macintosh desktop. Since then, almost everything that I do, including the writing, design, and administration of Campfire Chess is accomplished using a Mac. That being said, I typically look forward to their keynotes to announce new products because there is always a chance that something new will catch my eye, but yesterdayís event was one of the worst presentations I have ever seen.

Chess.com app on iPhone 5 in 2014. (Image Credit: Campfire Chess)

$ize Does Matter

The old adage that size does not matter is a blatant lie, whether it speaks to cell phones or genitals. In this keynote, Apple introduced a series of new products that essentially downsized products that already existed in their inventory. A 4″ iPhone called the iPhone SE, which has a somewhat creepy Windows ME feel to it. After playing and watching chess on my beloved iPhone 6, I cannot image ever wanting to reduce the size of my phoneís screen.

The next entry was a series of bands for the Apple Watch. Yes, I own one of those as well, but I doubt that I will be in a hurry to run out and purchase one of the spiffy new woven nylon bands released during the keynote. It might just be me, but I cannot remember ever wearing my watch and thinking: I need something that absorbs the sweat on my wrist better than this plastic composite band.

Yuck. (Image Credit: Cult of Mac)

The final release of consequence was a smaller version of 2015’s 12″ iPad Pro. The smaller device, also dubbed iPad Pro, is a reduction in physical size, boost in specs, and addition of a feature called True Tone Display in which the color of the display changes based on the light temperature in the room.

Chess Connection?

As I stated earlier, I love Apple products but I gave up using an iPad as my primary work device several months ago in favor of a Microsoft Surface. Obviously, Chessbase runs exclusively on Windows, but Windows offers a much more efficient file management system on tablets than iPad. This makes managing large chess collections and improves my personal productivity.

I hope to finish a review of the Surface 3 in the coming months to show how I have used it both as a productivity tool and as a portable chess machine. Unfortuately, Apple continues to keep me at bay from returning to iOS for pure work productivity. The addition of the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard to the 10″ iPad is a nice start, but there is still a long way to go.

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Finding the Resiliency to Go On Despite the Outcome

As if there were not enough things going on in life to worry about, I have hit a slump. These things appear to come and go just like the seasons but that does nothing to lessen the sting. In my case, March has been a very busy chess month with playing in my first-ever OTB tournament and simul event. Each of those events have resulted in goose eggs, which was to be expected. However, it is the growing struggle online that has started to ruffle my feathers a bit.

Chess.com Player Statistics on March 01. (Credit: Campfire Chess)


At the beginning of March I was resting somewhat comfortably with an 1103 online ELO with some spikes higher in the 1150-1190 range, but unfortunately never managed to break my goal of 1200. In the past two weeks I have watched as my game as gone from OK to horrific as both my ELO has taken a sharp decline from holding around 1100-1150 to an abysmal low of 1020 the other night before resting currently at 1082.

Chess.com Player Statistics on March 17. (Credit: Campfire Chess)


100 ELO points might not seem like much, but for someone who spends an inordinate amount of time studying, playing, and writing about chess…it is a big deal. Looking back, it is ironic that this month’s edition of Chess Life Magazine features an exceptional story of what its like to work incredibly hard at chess and only see minor to moderate (if you are lucky) returns. My guess is that if chess were some form of stock market investing that it would not last long. And no, that is not me on the cover of this month’s Chess Life, but it certainly could be. At least, it represents exactly how I feel at the moment.

As with all things, numbers only tell part of the story. It is easy to write about the frustrations of chess using ELO numbers, but what about the quality of the games themselves? Perhaps no other element of my current situation frustrates me more than this one, because my games lately have all been worthy of the losses I received. Simply put? I have seriously sucked at chess lately. For example, this game represents the worst of the worst:

If there had been a resign from chess button on the screen at the time I might have clicked it. The only excuse for playing a game like this is complacency and outright laziness on my part, but I felt like I was giving it everything that I had. So, what happened?

Honestly, I have no idea…

I am at a loss for words on what has happened recently. Basic principles of opening theory and tactics have seemingly gone out the window. Stamp this game under the category WTF:

What to do about it?

Part of this post is simply to have an outlet to vent. Rarely do family members of chess players understand the depths of passion and frustration that come with playing our game, so it is nearly impossible to find that kind of support in a time like this. In the past I have found solace in playing tactics trainers or reading books, but lately that feels just as frustrating as some of the games I have played recently. Then, there is the thought of a haitus from playing for a short time, but will that really help?

In searching the Campfire Chess archives I found several posts like this in the past at different times when I faced a losing streak:

  • Beat the Losing Streak – link
  • Reflections on Losing – link
  • The Decline Continues… – link
  • Coping with the Downfall – link

There are some wise words and stark reminders in those posts, but sometimes its hard to take our own advice. Perhaps it is time to simply re-focus and re-prioritize what I am studying about chess and how I play the game. If a haitus occurs, it will not be for long because, lets just be honest, the board is addicting…

What things have you done to beat a losing streak?

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Hou Yifan is Women’s World Chess Champion

My guess is that an objective chess journalist would be expected not to pick sides or have favorites in tournament matches, but that is the beauty of running my own site and never claiming to be an objective chess journalist! Back in April of 2015, GM Mariya Muzychuk of the Ukraine shocked the professional chess world by knocking out favored GM Koneru Humpy of India and winning the Women’s World Chess Championship title through the somewhat maligned knockout system.

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GM Mariya Muzychuk crowned Women’s Champion in April 2015. Image Credit: FIDE)

Unfortunately, the same politics that has cast a dark cloud on the 2016 Candidates Tournament has also overshadowed a fight to the finish as former champion GM Hou Yifan has outplayed Mariya to officially reclaim her position as Women’s World Chess Champion in Lviv, Ukraine. I emphasized the word officially because it is clear from the way that many in the professional chess community treated Mariya during her time as champion were not entirely convinced that she was worthy of the honor. Personally, I am sad to see her go because I felt that she brought a special energy to women’s chess. Hou Yifan earns excellent reviews for her friendliness and even more praise for her dominating chess, but it feels as though the professional chess world never really moved on from her as the World Champion when Mariya was awarded the honor in 2015.

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Despite the fact that Hou was the clear favorite to win the match, Mariya made it apparent early on that she was not going to make it easy. After dropping games 2 and 6, Mariya found herself in an early hole but that was all she surrendered to the dominating Chinese player before Hou reclaimed the title in point increments from drawn games.

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GM Hou Yifan. Image Credit: New York Times)

Congratulations to the new Women’s World Chess Champion, GM Hou Yifan of China! An exceptional performance in Lviv caps her return to the highest position in women’s chess. Play through all of the games from the match below:


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Digesting My First-Ever GM Simul Game

March has been an incredibly groundbreaking month for me in chess. I started playing in my first ever OTB tournament and had a rare opportunity to participate in a simul (multi-game) event at a local high school this past weekend against Grandmaster Boris Avrukh, who was the U19 Champion in the United States in 1990 and has worked with some of the world’s greatest players.

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Some refused to go quietly. (Credit: Campfire Chess)

Additionally, he is the author of several books on 1.d4 and the Gruenfeld Defense. Boris played a simul against 15 people at Saint Anthony Catholic High School in San Antonio over the weekend as part of a public lecture and simul series. After the conclusion of the simul, the Grandmaster stayed behind to talk with the players and present three instructive games from the event and one historical game to illustrate the concept of prophylactic thinking.

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Think like a Grandmaster. (Credit: Campfire Chess)

I attended the simul fueled on the adrenaline and excitement of getting to play against a true chess master in a real life simul! These are the events I have dreamed about for years and to have it finally come true was an amazing treat. There is much in my game for me to explore, but here is the initial analysis with Deep Fritz 14 and my own analysis/commentary.

Overall I am happy with the result. I never had an expectation of winning. The pure experience of the moment was what I was going for and it certainly paid off. Looking forward to the next time!

Thanks to Grandmaster Boris Avrukh for taking time to stop by the Alamo City and play chess with fans and for sharing your deep insight into the game with us!


-w.s.

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WorldChess.com DDoS Claims Most Likely Untrue

Those who were tuned in to the 2016 Candidates Tournament in Moscow and took note of the anger that is seething in the social media world regarding the recent attempts to censor the live game broadcasts of the tournament, may have noticed a tweet from the official account stating that the official website responsible for broadcasting the match was the victim of a Dedicated Denial of Service (DDOS) attack. The tweet was sent from the account at 0449 EST:

It is intriguing that whoever posted the tweet was specific in expressing their opinion that this was an clear attempt to stop broadcast of the Candidates Tournament. For anyone who knows anything about subversion and the attempts by shady and underhanded organizations to manipulate these kind of events knows that this is a propaganda ploy. Because, why would the chess community as a whole have any reason to bring down the single website available to broadcast the moves of one of the most important tournaments of the year?

For those of us with extensive backgrounds in information technology, we understand that it is more likely that the world chess Federation underestimated (like it usually does) the demands that would be placed on a broadcast server. If you are running one server to broadcast a series of games and it is the only place in the world where chess fans are told that they can legally obtained the moves from the event, then countless attempts to contact and connect to the server is not a DDOS! In an attempt to further their efforts to manipulate the chest broadcasting system in future tournaments, claiming that it was a dedicated denial of service attack enables them to deflect the blame from their own services and failings.

Fortunately, the chess community is brilliant and few (if any) actually believed the claims although there are some websites that have repeated the story, but almost none of them have approached it from a purely serious standpoint and are quick to note the sarcastic response from most of the chess community on social media.

As my readers know, I am very passionate about this situation, which is why I offered my $0.02 above. However, I tip my hat to this tweet, which sums up everything I believe that people have come to think about professional international chess under Kirsan Ilyumzhinov:

Will we see more craziness like this in the coming days? Probably so, but I can tell you that the backlash has had an effect on how the tournament and organizers are conducting business. Today, the tournament organizer, AGON, rescinded its to our release rule for the PGN file and will be releasing them immediately after the conclusion of each game in the match.

Small moves.

-w.s.

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Support the Broadcast of #BootlegChess!

Because I grew up in the United States of America and believe in freedom from oppression and disobedience to illegitimate authority, I would like to take this opportunity to voice my support for the growing number of chess websites that are lining up to disobey the illegal order of Agon and the World Chess Federation to block the broadcast of moves from the Candidates 2016 tournament.

Chess24 sent out a link earlier via Twitter with a video broadcast feed for the event on LiveStream

Chessbomb, which is one of my personal favorite sites for following tournament games, has posted instructions on its blog so that fans can help the site broadcast the games. I encourage you, if you have the time and resources available, to check out the instructions and support Chessbomb and other websites in broadcasting these moves around the world! Do not let corporate greed silence the chess community!

Here is the full text of the instructions from Chessbomb:

As explained in this post, ChessBomb will not use the official site of the FIDE Candidates Tournament 2016 because we don’t accept or agree to their Terms and Conditions. This means we have to obtain the moves from other sources. First and foremost, we rely on volunteers to anonymously submit the moves to us. Here is how you can do that:

  1. Download and install the Tor Browser.
  2. Using the Tor Browser, visit this link: http://cbomb73x6akxqm6r.onion/
  3. Select a game, and send us any missing moves!
  4. Click Back, repeat step 3.
  5. By using a Tor Hidden Service, we protect the anonymity of the volunteers. We don’t know their IP addresses or locations, so we can’t be compelled to reveal them.

Your support means everything to us. Thank you!

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