Month: June 2016

Watch Chess App Brings Grandmasters to Your Wrist

I love discovering new chess apps and web services! Recently as I was looking for new (and useful) apps to install on my Apple Watch I came across a cool little app called Watch Chess (FacebookTwitter | iTunes). Mainly searching for an app to display chess games or maybe even lucky enough to play a chess game on my watch, I was blown away by the functionality of this little gem and knew that I had to offer it a short review!

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The app’s home page is simple and intuitive with a colorful list of available broadcasts. Clicking on the tournament image brings up a list of rounds for that tournament that include dates and easy select for kibitzing the game of your choice. The interface is mirrored on the Apple Watch with the only difference being the absence of the colorful tournament buttons. Each board is clear and easy to read on the Apple Watch just as it is on the iPhone. Although some people might be turned off by the lack of an engine interface, that is no reason to stop most users from enjoying the app’s presentation of high-level chess.

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Watch Chess is one of the few apps out there that offer full support for the Apple Watch. While some people still consider it to be a novelty, the Apple Watch is growing as a tool to supplement people who use iPhone or other Apple products. The app works as well as any other Apple Watch app with custom notifications and the ability to use the digital crown to scroll through archived games. Unfortunately, this means that the app also suffers from some of the watch’s setbacks including some slow load times for games. Apple has promised to fix these problems by moving more of the operating system on to the device itself with the coming release of watchOS 3 this fall.

Chess Defies All Stereotypes 

There is no shortage of stories where chess teachers have used the game as a metaphor for the challenges of life and the importance of thinking about the consequences of a move before making it. Some of these stories, which have been dramatized in movies and books, are fictional but there are many real-life examples to show how chess has broken barriers and united some incredibly unlikely groups of people. Seattle Deputy Denise “Cookie” Bouldin is no exception. Once convinced by her peers that she was not smart enough to play chess, the veteran police officer has used chess to transform the lives of the people in her neighborhood through regular classes and through running her own chess club.

Ten years ago, Bouldin was teaching her anti-violence course to fourth- and fifth-grade students and wanted to come up with a fun activity she could do with the kids. She suggested a basketball game between the students and police. The kids fired back with the suggestion of a chess tournament. Bouldin, who had never played chess, was initially skeptical but agreed. She brought in people to teach the kids the game and she eventually learned it herself, three years after starting the club.

Chess continues to grow around the world and the United States is no exception. The World Chess Championship will be held in November in New York City and Saint Louis continues to grow as the Chess Capital of the USA. I hope that as chess continues this growth that we will continue to see more stories like Deputy Bouldin’s.

Read the full story here.

Hou Yifan’s Withdrawal Shows Need for Reform

Women’s World Chess Champion Hou Yifan shocked the chess community when she announced last month that she had withdrawn from the Women’s World Championship Cycle, citing disagreements with FIDE over how it conducts the tournament process. Chessbase published transcripts from a recent telephone interview with Yifan and Frederic Friedel where she expressed disappointment in FIDE leadership’s continued support of the current tournament format. As it stands, the Women’s World Chess Champion (hereafter annotated as WCC) is often chosen through knockout tournaments where the winner earns the title despite the possibility that they might possess an ELO rating 100-200 points below Yifan, who is currently the highest rated female chess player in the world.

Trouble with the Knockouts

You can read the article yourself via the link above, but the main point of her argument is that the WCC is often selected via a 64-player knockout tournament format. This format places Hou and her counterparts on equal footing and gives an unfair advantage to players who might not qualify to challenge her in any other setting. If the highest rated player in the tournament has a bad game and is eliminated by a lower player, it creates an opportunity for a player to assume the title of WCC without possessing the qualifications. For her, a knockout tournament is not necessarily a bad thing. However, she views it as an unreasonable format for choosing the WCC. I agree wholeheartedly. Can you imagine if Magnus Carlsen’s title was on the line in some 64-player invitational where a single bad day could send the title into the hands of another player?

I cannot see the men allowing such a method to be used by FIDE to determine the champion, and the women of the professional chess world should refuse to stand for it as well.

Hou’s Plan and FIDE’s Silent Stand

Glass ceilings and gender barriers are coming down all over the world, but FIDE remains trapped in its antiquated ways. Hou’s plan for changing the tournament format is, as Frederic mentions in his article, amazingly simple. She proposes that the same format used to select the World Chess Championship title currently held by Magnus Carlsen be used for the WCC. A series of qualification tournaments would send certain players to a Candidates tournament where the winner would advance to challenge the reigning World Champion. As a compromise, Hou has suggested that the winner of the knockout tournament be declared the challenger to the reigning champion, not the champion themselves. The plan sounds simple enough, but according to Chessbase, FIDE has retained the 64-player knockout format because it is popular among the female chess players.

It is not difficult to imagine why the format is so popular…it reduces much of the legacy of the WCC to a lottery.


Hou Yifan has big dreams for reforming women’s chess.

It is easy to place the blame on FIDE, which is an organization that has a sorted history of cronyism, manipulation, and disregard for what is best for promoting international professional chess. Countless recommendations for improving tournament cycles and gameplay have been provided by some of the world’s greatest chess minds. Yet, those recommendations and ideas have been met with the standard fare that Hou has received for her comments: to be discussed at the next board meeting. As someone who has spent a considerable amount of time in government service, I can tell you that it will probably be discussed at the meeting, but the world stands a better chance of Kirsan’s aliens invading than the board agreeing to change the WCC cycle format. Yet, it is this comment in Frederic’s interview that reveals another troubling element to the situation:

FF: Sounds perfectly logical. However FIDE has said that the current Women’s system is very popular amongst the girls since they get to play a lot of interesting events …

What is going on here? FIDE is, potentially, holding on to a format because it is popular, among the women on the circuit. It might be popular, but is it right for the future of women’s professional chess? Unfortunately, one does not have to look far in cyberspace to see the back and forth with people who believe that women cannot play beautiful chess or do not deserve the respect of their male counterparts. The chess audience on Twitter is notorious for this kind of banter, but does the general consensus of the women’s professional chess world about the 64-player knockout championship actually hurt perception of their ability? I would argue that it does! If the women players are arguing for more recognition and appreciation for their art in one breath, but supporting a tournament format that undermines the legitimacy of the highest female chess achievement, then the fight for equal respect of female chess players is what ultimately suffers. That, along with the countless other young girls who are hunched over their chessboards this morning with dreams and aspirations of being a GM or a WCC.

What to do?

Bureaucracies have a notorious history of taking simple ideas and transforming them into disastrous monstrosities. The fundamental elements that make bureaucracies like FIDE so inefficient are probably what will enable the WCC cycle to retain its imbalanced format (for now). Hou Yifan’s withdrawal from the cycle and her recommendations for changing how the WCC is selected should be a wakeup call for the leaders of the professional chess world, but it will most likely fall on deaf ears. In the meantime, the world will continue to watch as its great chess players are increasingly isolated and ostracized by the organization whose mission is to grow and promote our game.

Gens Una Sumus, without clear direction or a promising future.

Queen of Katwe Trailer Released

I did a small exposé in September of 2014 on Phiona Mutesi and her incredible rise in the professional chess world. At the time, it was rumored that Disney had acquired the rights to Tim Crothers’ book The Queen of Katwe, which is based on Phiona’s life in Kampala, Uganda and her rise to play in the 2010 and 2014 Chess Olympiads. Now, Disney has released the official trailer for The Queen of Katwe and has set its release date for September 23, 2016.

Initial reaction to the trailer has been positive and it looks like Disney has managed to capture the essence of Phiona’s story, which is triumph over the worst of life’s circumstances. Fortunately, this is a theme that Disney has great experience with. Hopefully the film will get screen time here in San Antonio so I can deliver a proper review at its time of release. Until then, enjoy the trailer above, check out the article on, and visit the official Facebook page for the film.

Performing a Hard Reset

I have learned over the years that it is not uncommon for me to take on more than I am capable of handling. This is one of the reasons that I selected chess in 2014 as a focus of my blogging and hobby interest. Yet, even in the confines of the chess world I came to realize over the past few months that Campfire Chess has slowly evolved into a monster that was difficult to maintain and had certain content areas in which updates were almost two years overdue. Additionally, the sense of personal commitment to chess and documentation of my game had also changed. Some of this was largely due to a series of setbacks that damaged my confidence in playing and writing about the game.

In an attempt to counteract that problem I decided to essentially hit the reset button here on the blog. The first part of that reset was to eliminate outdated and unnecessary elements of the site. The Reading List and Links were the first victims of the purge. If my memory serves me correctly, I believe that I updated the Reading List once in the entire 2015 calendar year, which goes to show that it was nothing more than a novelty page (content fodder) designed to take up space on the menu bar. The Links were cumbersome to manage and, in my opinion, provided no value added to the site because they are most likely bookmarked and easily accessible to people who need or use them on a regular basis. A few other noticeable changes are in effect as well:

  • Social Media: The Facebook page has been closed due to low engagement. Twitter has been much more successful in reaching the chess community. The Instagram page remains open, but will not be updated regularly and is no longer linked from the main blog.
  • Main Blog: The thumbnail advertisements have been removed, although they might return in the future if I can find a way to make them integrate seamlessly with the new background color. Additionally, the navigation bar contains a refined menu that allows easy access to key topics, such as Downloads and Product Reviews. Finally, the experiment with the customized ChessBase PGN viewer is over. I have opted to continue using the traditional embedded chessboard to improve the site’s load time and to eliminate reliance on external sources for rendering chessboards. To demonstrate, here the famous Paul Morphy Opera Game.

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