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Month: December 2016

Merry Christmas To All!

Merry Christmas, campers! The Campfire Chess HQ is awash in the yuletide spirit even though we will not be blessed with snow-covered grounds this year. From our family to yours, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

> Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: “ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ” – Matthew 2:1-8 (ESV)

And finally, in the tradition of the festive spirit of the holiday I present you with proof that Santa is real. After all, he has a game in the database at Chessgames.com!

A huge thanks to everyone who supported Campfire Chess throughout 2016. I am looking forward to a bright and productive 2017! See you all next year!

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Product Review – ChessBase 14

Even numbered years are tough on the wallet because two of the largest software products I use typically release their major updates during those times. Now that Logos has taken my money for a major update, ChessBase has officially released the next major version of its popular database software. I’ve been using it for a while now and have seen enough in this update to explore those new features here on the blog.

Interface Updates

Interface and aesthetics used to be a developer’s afterthought in software design but that has radically changed over time thanks to Apple and other major corporations finding new ways to create cultural trends by integrating technology into everyday life through elegant design. ChessBase 13 did very little to modify the user interface despite some advances in the Windows Aero system. ChessBase 14 makes up for that by almost completely revamping the user experience to reflect interface changes on par with the latest version of Microsoft Office. The toolbar and ribbon has been fully updated and now integrates better with the rest of the operating system than previous versions.

Another excellent interface upgrade is the addition of highlighted variations on the main board window. For me, a major challenge of studying analyzed chess games has been the complexity of multiple variations, but ChessBase 14 fixes that with a cool new feature where the entirety of the current variation is highlighted in the notation pane! For me, this nifty little feature was worth the price of upgrade alone! Other minor refinements to the interface include deeper integration with ChessBase Account and some other upgrades that all serve to streamline the user experience.

Functional Updates

Of course no update would be worth the investment if it did not enhance the overall functional experience. ChessBase 14 still uses many of the same tools and resources as it’s predecessors but also adds some powerful analysis functions. The best of these, in my opinion, is the poorly named tactical analysis. This function brings the long-sought full game analysis of Fritz to the core ChessBase program. Users can now load a game in ChessBase 14 and perform a full analysis with the engine of their choosing without having to hop over to the Fritz, Houdini, Komodo, or similar GUI to complete the analysis. Online services like lichess.org and Chess.com, but I think that nothing beats letting Stockfish or a similar engine tear apart a game using local processing power and a predetermined amount of the user’s time. lichess.org can give me an analysis in a few seconds, but engines can go all night while I’m sleeping; allowing me to wake up to a full analysis of my most recent game.

The upgrades to ChessBase 14’s interface and deeper integration with ChessBase Account adds solid, useful functions to the program that definitely makes it worth the investment. The ability to upload games to the user cloud introduced in ChessBase 13 is still present with easy access to the user’s ChessBase Account added to the interface ribbon. One login allows the user access to the whole of their account and cloud databases as well as the powerful ChessBase LiveBook analysis tree. The ChessBase user cloud offers around 200MB to store PGN databases online, but most people are going to prefer alternative services like Dropbox or OneDrive which offer much more storage space with effective interface options for Windows.

The program also feels much more snappy and responsive than previous generations, which is pleasing given the increased portability of today’s computers. I use ChessBase on a Microsoft Surface so seeing some refinement in the program’s performance is welcome for those of us who consider themselves chess road warriors. Using the database itself on a portable device did not place a strain on the battery until activating an engine like Stockfish or Fritz, but that’s raw processing power for the engine; not ChessBase.

Final Thoughts and Overall Value

I skipped ChessBase 13 because most of its updates did not seem worth the investment, but ChessBase 14 is a solid update to an already powerful chess database system. There are several different packages available that include add-ons such as Mega Database 2017, which activates some immense reference abilities with over 6.5 million games. Both the software and the database are available as separate purchases but are a much better value combined together as a package.

Purchase Options

  • Base Software Download: Link.
  • Mega Database Download: Link.
  • ChessBase 14 with Mega Database 2017: Link.

Campfire Verdict: ♟♟♟♟♙

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2016 Christmas Wish List

Christmas is just around the corner and while most people have wrapped their gifts and are waiting on Santa to deliver the rest, this post is for those people that are looking for a last minute gift for the chess fan in their life.

1. US Chess Tournament Chess Set $8.95

What better gift for a chess fan than the game itself? There are countless varieties of chess sets out there, but the standard Staunton-style tournament sets from US Chess Federation Sales are among the best. Basic, non-weighted sets start at under $10 each with slight price increases for some of the heavier weighted sets. The $8.95 basic tournament set is the Campfire Chess go-to set for donations and tournaments. Campfire Chess donated several of these sets to San Antonio Military Medical Center earlier this year.

2. Bent Larsen’s Best Games $34.95

Bent Larsen is one of the greats and his book, which spans the length of his career, captures the essence of his fighting spirit. Known to some as The Fighting Dane, Larsen’s book is a striking look at some of his best works. The games themselves are challenging and are often illuminated with his personal commentary. The book is available in multiple formats including paperback and Kindle for the techno-savvy among us.

3. Voice Master Electronic Chess Set $49.95

I reviewed this product earlier this year because it is a good little chess set and also brought a sense of nostalgia for an electronic set my dad owned when I was a kid. There are several vendors that sell this set on Amazon.com. The going price ranges between $39-$49 and I advise not paying more than that for one of these sets. For the chess fan who loves the tactile sensations of the board but who might not have a partner readily available, the Voice Master Set makes a perfect addition to their collection.

4. ChessBase 14 €189.90 ($201.80)

I am still working on a review for the recently released update to ChessBase’s flagship product, but I will give you a sneak peek: go get it! ChessBase has made some significant improvements to the interface and functionality of the database system that keep it at the top of the chess information management world. ChessBase 14 comes in a variety of flavors including basic software with just the database system or in packages that include add-ons such as the latest editions of the Big Database and MegaBase. ChessBase is also available in multiple languages but only runs on Microsoft Windows.

5. Microsoft Surface $433.95

Friends and regular readers know that I am a die-hard Apple guy, but most of the good chess software is still made exclusively for Microsoft Windows. I’ve tried several Windows machines over the years including varieties of HP tablets and Asus convertibles, but the Microsoft Surface family is currently my go-to machine for chess analysis and database management. Like the iPad tablet family, the Surface product line comes in multiple styles and configurations. However, I currently use a Microsoft Surface 3 (non-pro) to run ChessBase 14, Fritz 14, ChessKing Silver, Stockfish, and a few other goodies. The ability to shift quickly between keyboard and touchpad into a full touchscreen tablet mode makes the Surface a versatile utility for the chess techno-warrior.

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Daylight Gameplay and Suffering

I played the game above on lichess late last night. The site itself is quickly becoming my go-to place for online chess for many reasons I will cover in a separate post. What surprises me the most is that this was the second game in a row where I had a excellent tactic that brought a win. In this case, my 29…Qc1+ brutalized my opponent and snatched his Queen after the forced King move. Then, it was followed by this little gem earlier today…

I had an unbelievably easy winning position that I was unable to convert in two rapid games today that made my games from last night seem like complete enigmas. In fact, I was hard pressed to imagine myself actually playing those games from last night, but I did…which makes me wonder why there is such a dichotomy in the quality of my games played later at night versus those I play during the daytime.

This is the other game played at night and although there are some mistakes, the number of serious blunders are greatly reduced compared to the ones I played earlier in the day… Not sure where I’m going with this, but have to wonder if there is something that happens throughout the day where my concentration is off-centered and has to find balance. Too bad it tends to happen around 2200-2300 at night…

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Magnus Carlsen Retains World Chess Title

Magnus Carlsen put the final nail in the coffin for the 2016 World Chess Championship with a spectacular finish in the 25 | 10 rapid tiebreaker. Carlsen had been frustrated throughout the event and fell behind before managing to equalize the standings in Game 10. He went on to win the last two games of the rapid event, which finally put an end to his challengers efforts and solidified his place as World Chess Champion for the next two years. As the main portion of the event drew to its conclusion, many in the chess world began taking note of the precarious position Sergey Karjakin could find himself in against one of the strongest rapid and blitz players in the world.

The first two tiebreaker games were drawn with Karjakin narrowly escaping a loss in the second game but unable to stop the onslaught that ultimately allowed Carlsen to retain his title.

Carlsen’s incredible finish to the rapid tiebreaker event.

The position above is stunning and reaffirms why Magnus Carlsen is the best chess player in the world. With Qh6+, Magnus brought his opponent’s bid to become the next world champion to his stunning halt. There were moments throughout the event where it seemed that Sergey Karjakin was poised to overtake Carlsen, but never found a way to convert his opportunities into solid wins. Of course, there were moments throughout the event were Magnus seemed to struggle both with his chess abilities and his ability to keep his emotions in check (no pun intended). Magnus took a little bit of criticism on social media for his outburst following his loss in the classical round, but I have to say that him storming out of the press conference is the kind of stuff that chess needs if it wants to become a popular, respectable, and marketable activity in the United States.

Viewership Review

Agon, which has become a four letter word In the chess community has refused to release (at least for now) the exact number of people who purchased their premium package for viewing the event, but initial estimates project that less than 10,000 people paid for the premium streaming and commentary package. Personally, I was pleased to be able to follow the games as a premium member of Chessbase, on ChessBomb, and to watch the exceptional commentary and analysis from some of my favorite people over on chess24.com. Still, just a long way to go if it wants to build an American audience to the point where corporations like Pepsi, Red Bull, or other major corporations are willing to sponsor the events. As mentioned in an excellent news article published shortly after Carlsen’s victory, chess needs a series of dramatic stories in order to sell itself to the American people. Bobby Fischer made history as the lone genius who challenged the world’s greatest chess power, the Soviet Union, during the Cold War which allowed the American people to relate what was happening on the board to what was happening every day in their news. When professional chess can find a way to bring the drama and excitement of playing the game to people in a way that relates to their everyday struggles and experiences, then it will find itself at a buffet of sponsors and fans. Compelling drama and personal connection sells products, not frivolous litigation.

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