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Month: February 2017

Five Beautiful (and expensive) Chess Sets

Chess sets offer artists and other creatives with almost endless possibilities to design custom and unique pieces. I came across some beautiful albeit pricey sets on the web the other night and decided to share them here for your viewing (or possible purchasing) pleasure. These sets are in no particular order:

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RawStudio Leather and Steel Chess Set ($507 USD)

RawStudio’s chess set is inspired by industrial design and those little puzzles you can find at Toys-R-Us or various mall kiosks. It looks very beautiful and designed for portability, but I cannot imagine being comfortable carrying my $500 chess set out and about.

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The STACK Chess Board [Limited Edition] ($450)

This cool board is like Legos or an Erector Set for chess! The board itself combines from four separate pieces into a full-size board. The ability to break the board down makes it perfect for travelers and for convenient storage if $400 for a nondescript chess board is your thing.

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Black Tower Dragon Set ($150)

Chess has long held a place in science fiction and fantasy lore. In the real world, companies have created countless sets based on dragons, fairies, aliens, and other characters from classic stories. This, however, is one of my personal favorites! The glass board is perched on a highly detailed tower and the gold/white creates a unique look for dragon-theme boards that are often depicted with darker purple and red colors.

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Hand-Turned Rustic Log Chess Set ($220+)

This is one of those chess sets you will see repeatedly on Tumblr or Pinterest feeds and I have fallen victim to clicking it several times before seeing the price and running for the hills. $200+ might not seem like alot for a chess set, but the size of this one makes me cautious. However, the rustic artwork and craftsmanship of the set is certainly among the best out there. This seems like more of a collector’s item than an actual day-to-day game board.

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King Arthur Fantasy Chess Set ($1,350)

Much like the dragon chess set above, sets involving castles and midieval themes like King Arthur are commonplace. However, this is one of the most detailed and beautiful sets that I have ever seen. For someone who loves chess, fine woodwork, and the legend of the Knights of the Roundtable, this thing is perfect! It is only when we get to the price that my heart stops and disappointment sets in.

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Magnus Carlsen Takes on The Simpsons

The Simpsons is in its 28th season (premiered in 1989) and despite being written off by passing social fads like Family Guy has remained a staple of American culture for longer than many of its fans have been alive. Throughout its run, the show has hosted countless cultural crossovers including KISS, President Donald Trump, and many other celebrities that have brought the show a consistently refreshing take on the state of the world. This past Sunday, the show put chess at its center for the first time in its long history with an episode dedicated to exploring a complex and relatively unknown part of Homer Simpson’s backstory. To help him through the challenges of that backstory was the Norwegian World Champion himself: Magnus Carlsen!

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I will not spoil the entire episode in case you have not seen it, but suffice to say that it is worth taking the time to watch! There are the usual missteps like chess boards being set up incorrectly, but there is also a great deal of attention to detail in the episode such as real-life positions on the boards and enough club-level chess talk to please even the most discriminating chess geek!

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Moe’s Tavern taken by chess fever! (Image Credit: Fox)

For me, one of the best moments of the night came from the image above where Moe’s Tavern became the social hub dedicated to watching the episode’s final match. The creators truly captured the atmosphere of chess fans following the game in a way that was funny yet reverent in a way that only The Simpsons could achieve. If you have not seen the episode, you might qualify to watch it here depending on your cable provider.

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Game Analysis: Balance of Power

The balance of power in a chess game can change with a single blunder or amazing move. Although, in my case it is usually the former. This game was played last night on lichess and while it was heartbreaking, I found it to be a worthy educational experience.

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US Chess Sends Open Letter to FIDE

Earlier this week, the United States Chess Federation (US Chess) released an open letter from Gary Walters, the federation’s president. In the letter, which is addressed to Nigel Freeman of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), US Chess made official many of the concerns that the larger chess community has expressed for some time about the state of FIDE and the effect that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov’s seemingly endless tenure as FIDE president has had on the sport. The letter is very telling in that it shows the depths of leadership, communication, and organization problems that exist within FIDE; they are much worse than some had expected.

Gary’s letter addresses the hijab controversy at the 2017 Women’s World Chess Championship in Tehran (still ongoing) and problems surrounding Ilyumzhinov’s sanctions by the United States Government and the contradictions between FIDE’s statement that he would step down temporarily to address the sanctions. Instead, Ilyumzhinov has appeared regularly at major chess events in the capacity of FIDE president and has made no apparent effort to clear his name with the Department of the Treasury. This is all stuff that we know, but perhaps the most interesting moment comes when Gary addresses the 2016 World Chess Championship in New York City.

…this indecorous behavior is coupled with the conduct of a World Championship on U.S. soil without so much as a word in advance to the nominal “host” Federation, FIDE’s conduct becomes insulting.

Say what? Apparently, the announcement that the championship would be held in the United States in 2016 was never communicated to US Chess prior to the declaration. The United States was happy to host the event, but any professional governing body like FIDE owes the host nation’s federation a courtesy call and head’s up prior to announcing such a major event! Although, US Chess does have a recently unemployed resource that could help them gather intel without FIDE knowing…

Gary’s right in that this kind of behavior is insulting to US Chess and to chess in general, but I am inclined to believe that US Chess did not receive a phone call prior to the announcement because Ilyumzhinov made the decision on the fly and that the intention to host the event in the United States was a last minute gamble to generate publicity. In addition to the Championship problem, Gary also addresses every chess fan’s least favorite shadow company: AGON.

on several occasions AGON has failed to live up to its end of agreements with FIDE, with a predictable injurious effect on FIDE. The failure of AGON to make contractual payments has caused difficulties for some federations that would normally receive support from FIDE. President Vega states that he has informed FIDE in strong terms that it should cancel the agreement with AGON in light of its nonperformance.

Oh. My. God! Yes! Please, cancel this contract…but it will never happen unless Ilyumzhinov himself is relieved of his position because AGON is another one of his pet projects. AGON’s failure to follow through on its contractual obligations is hilariously hypocritical considering its incessant attempts to sue legitimate companies like Chess24 and Chessbomb for sharing moves during the Candidate Tournament and 2016 World Chess Championship. Unit the dirt is cleaned from the FIDE leadership ranks, this will continue to happen only to the detriment of chess around the world.

The motto of FIDE is Gens Una Sumus, which means We Are One People. As lovers of chess, we are one people but FIDE continues to act as though it is above the law and above the players and fans within its charge. Although I doubt that much will come of it, I am proud of my chess federation for speaking out against the destruction that FIDE is bringing to the sport. It is refreshing to know that US Chess remains committed to the truth of American ideals, which is obedience to law and standing up for what is right. I applaud Gary for his letter and for the board of US Chess for showing that they stand with the larger chess community as a body committed to fixing problems and promoting our game!

Here is the letter in its entirety. Plus, you can read the original post on the US Chess website here.

To: Mr. Nigel Freeman, Executive Director, World Chess Federation

Dear Mr. Freeman:

I write openly on behalf of the United States Chess Federation (“US Chess”) to express growing concerns that our Federation has with the World Chess Federation’s (“FIDE’s”) general casualness toward its own rules and statements, to FIDE’s lack of responsiveness to us as a member nation, to the questionable status of its president, and as well as to its economic health.

On October 6, 2016, I wrote to FIDE, care of yourself, to ask that any religious requirements for the Women’s World Championship in Iran be spelled out plainly respecting the obligatory wearing of hijabs, as well as for any other religious conduct requirements that might be imposed upon the participants. Without repeating my earlier letter, the text of the provisions at issue may be found in Section 1.2 of the FIDE Handbook, as well as set forth in Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter. At the time of my earlier letter, we found it peculiar that FIDE held itself to the world as being opposed to discriminatory treatment and as a guardian of equal rights, only to award the Women’s World Championship to a country that resides at the center of controversy concerning the fair and equal treatment of women. We continue to find FIDE’s actions peculiar.

I never heard from you on the above matter except in the briefest email by which you told me that my questions would be answered after FIDE conferred with the Iranian Chess Federation. That was months ago. Later, and without any of the promised answers being provided, you invited me to search out Mr. Makropoulos while he was in New York for the World Championship. For a world sporting organization, this lack of a formal response was troubling. When this indecorous behavior is coupled with the conduct of a World Championship on U.S. soil without so much as a word in advance to the nominal “host” Federation, FIDE’s conduct becomes insulting. Chess deserves better. So does US Chess.

We are also concerned about the ongoing role of the current FIDE president. FIDE’s communications regarding its President have created a confused state of affairs. FIDE issued a public statement more than a year ago, shortly after the time Mr. Ilyumzhinov was sanctioned by the U.S. Government, in which FIDE declared that Mr. Ilyumzhinov would have no further business, legal, or financial involvement with FIDE’s affairs. The ostensible purpose of his withdrawal from those affairs was so that he could “concentrate on clearing the situation with the US Department of the Treasury.” (See FIDE’s Statement of 12/16/15.) It is beyond time for FIDE to update the world of chess on that “situation.” The world’s greatest game suffers immeasurably under Mr. Ilyumzhinov’s persistent cloud. His own statements do nothing to benefit chess, but rather exacerbate the confusion, including an absurd demand that he be granted U.S citizenship. Moreover, despite that the December 2015 FIDE statement set forth that Mr. Makropoulos would exercise the powers of the president, we note that Mr. Ilyumzhinov has recently attended more than one international event appearing in ceremonies as the President of FIDE. If there has been a change in FIDE’s December 2015 statement, please announce the revisions.

Finally, we have received an open letter from the President of the Confederation for Chess of Americas (“CCA”), President Jorge Vega, in which he states that he finds FIDE’s financial situation “worrying.” As President Vega points out in his December 2016 letter, on several occasions AGON has failed to live up to its end of agreements with FIDE, with a predictable injurious effect on FIDE. The failure of AGON to make contractual payments has caused difficulties for some federations that would normally receive support from FIDE. President Vega states that he has informed FIDE in strong terms that it should cancel the agreement with AGON in light of its nonperformance. We echo President Vega’s concerns and recommendations.

US Chess will not standby and quietly watch as FIDE’s corporate and presidential conduct damages the game of chess. While we remain ever optimistic and continue to believe in Gens Una Sumus, we fervently hope that FIDE will improve its communications, sets its Presidential Board in full order, adhere faithfully to its rules and regulations, and forthrightly present and improve its financial health for the good of the game. Very Respectfully,

Gary L. Walters, President, US Chess
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New Campfire Goodies Available!

Yes, this is shameless self promotion but can you blame me? Campfire Chess is about to celebrate its 3-year anniversary and I am happy introduce a new line of goodies available in the official Campfire Chess Store

The two items above are just a small sample of what is available. Although I am biased, I will say that the coffee mug is one of the best coffee mugs I have ever owned. As a guy who spends a significant portion of his day sitting at a desk, coffee is a vital part of making it through the day without going off on someone. These mugs are great because they come with a small handle on the lid, which is convenient when your hands are full. They also keep your coffee warm for hours, although certainly not as long as a YETI or RTIC

The calendar prints are very nice as well. Two options are available including the USCF Tournament Set calendar print pictured above and a print of my beautiful African Padauk chess set from back when Campfire Chess was just getting started. 

I am pleased with the products offered in the store, but Cafepress is certainly not my first choice for products but it is the website with the most options and easiest access. My main problem with Cafepress is that their prices on some products is very high, which is a deterrent to higher markups on products. Therefore, the markup on most Campfire products is less than $2, but that money goes toward maintaining the website and developing programs to help spread chess news and awareness to others.

If you like the gear, head over to the shop and check out the new stuff!

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Iran Hosts Women’s Chess and Anti-American Chanting

Update (2017/02/13): And if it was not apparent that much of the screaming at Americans for not wanting to obey the Iranian modesty laws was not enough to demonstrate the incredible double-standard, check out this hypocrisy from Sweden.

Women from around the world sat down at chessboards in Tehran, Iran yesterday to begin the first round of the 2017 FIDE Women’s World Chess Championship. The venue was filled with local celebrities, dignitaries, and in true Iranian fashion, some of the world’s most controversial figures including FIDE’s own Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. As usual, Kirsan did not pass on an opportunity to give us more to laugh about thanks to the quick British wit of GM Nigel Short.

 

And as most people know, the decision to hold the Women’s Championship in Tehran caused a great deal of controversy with protests from American GM Nazi Paikidze and GM Mariya Muzychuk because of the compulsory hijab requirement. For Nazi Paikidze, the decision not to travel to Iran was also partially because of the significant Anti-American sentiment and warnings from the US Government about American citizen travel to Iran. Enough has already been written by countless news agencies and blogs to make it necessary to rehash the debate itself. Instead, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some events that occurred in Iran yesterday at the same time the championship was about to begin…

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Headline from Friday’s edition of The Independent. (Credit: The Independent UK)

Protestors took to the streets yesterday in Iran chanting the traditional Death to America and Death to Trump as the country celebrated the anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. What I found interesting is that this celebration coincided with the Women’s Chess Championship, which was touted as a representation of women’s rights advancements in the country. Yet, the Iranian Revolution itself marked a significant  turning point in women’s rights for the country. With the revolution came the restriction of women to their homes without male escort and loss of many other basic rights to the discretion of the country’s theocratic leadership.

When Nazi Paikidze announced her intention to boycott the event, she faced the typical media backlash that claimed her protest would damage the plight of women’s movements in Iran. Just as the first players began moving pieces the country was showing its true colors to the rest of the world by burning American flags, hanging an effigy of President Trump, and chanting for the death of the United States. Still, the calls from the media and from major political activists were deafly silent, which underscores the true hypocrisy of the Iranian government, FIDE, and the multitudes who tried to silence Nazi and others like her. It is okay to protest selected events, groups, or governments, but those protests must be sanctioned by the media and by the special interest groups that claim a monopoly on human morality.

We all knew that the event would go on in Tehran regardless of protests by players because Iran’s regime represents the kind of government and leadership style preferred by FIDE’s dear leader. But I for one am proud of those women who refused to give in to social and political pressure to play in the tournament. If the Iranian government is truly as open and accepting as it claimed to be in response to the protests, then Nazi, Mariya, and others would have been able to voice their protest without receiving the significant backlash they faced. Yet, that is not the reality we live in.

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A Plug for the Club!

Chess often gets portrayed in film and media as a solitary activity, but there is a huge social component to the game that is rarely seen by the world at large. While millions take to places like lichess.org and Chess.com to get their fix, there are still countless others who play over-the-board (OTB) chess in clubs, restaurants, bars, homes, and an endless list of other places around the world. I admit that media had shaped some of my ideas of chess players and clubs, but I was pleased to see most of those ideas shattered when I gathered up the nerve to visit my local club for the first time in 2016. They were very welcoming and shared just as much of a passion for the game as I did. I found that being around such great players who were committed to the game and its principles was inspiring; it made me want to get better although I felt like I was only getting worse.

sachess.jpg Wednesday night chess at Methodist Hospital (Credit: Campfire Chess)

Since then, I have been blessed to play with some amazing players in and around the San Antonio area including chances to play in simultaneous exhibition games against GM Boris Avrukh and IM Paz Medina.

With that in mind, there are many exciting ways for players in the South Texas area to get involved in local clubs as well as ways to find players who are willing to play and coach. NM Jesse Lozano is a local chess celebrity who is the reigning city champion. He runs the San Antonio Scholastic Chess website and regularly hosts tournaments at Trinity University and other places throughout the city. In addition, Rackspace hosts chess tournaments at its Headquarters (known as The Castle) just off of Interstate 35 near SAMMC. The next Rackspace event is scheduled for April 1st.

If you live in the area and are looking for a good place to play, check out the club’s official Facebook page. The group is regularly filled with lively discussions, brilliant chess, and information on the latest events in the city along with registration information. 

The San Antonio Chess Club’s official website is currently down for maintenance but will (hopefully) be available for access at www.sanantoniochess.com.

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My “Battlefield” Problem

I realized last night that I have not played a single game of online chess this year! I have played a couple of OTB games with friends and spent some time reading Chess Life and other magazines, but it was not until the latest edition of ChessBase Magazine arrived in my mailbox last night that I realized how much time I have spent on other pursuits; namely my recent obsession with Battlefield 1.

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If you are not into video games or do not keep up with technology news, then you might have only heard of Battlefield 1. It is the most recent installment of the highly popular Battlefield video game series published by Electronic Arts and DICE. It is notable for its incredibly immersive multiplayer and its unique setting; World War I. I picked the game up late last year shortly after it was released and was immediately hooked. It is a vision of sensory overload with immense maps, incredible weapons, and a wealth of knowledge that I never experienced from a video game before. In fact, I have learned more about World War I from this game than I have from any class in school or book.

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Why write about this on Campfire Chess? Well, like I said, this game has taken up an immense amount of my time. So much that the looks my wife gives me have gone from mild disapproval to outright scorn and disdain. Perhaps the obsession aspect will wear off soon and I can get back to playing some chess on a somewhat regular basis. In the meantime, if you are an Xbox One gamer and like to play Battlefield 1, look me up: DasExorcist.

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