Posted on January 29, 2019 by Wesley Surber

The Awesomeness of lichess.org Studies

Chess has a reputation for being a game of intellgience both on and off the board. In recent years, this has manifested heavily in the realm of information technology development. Chess engines continue to get stronger by the day and programmers of all skills are constantly developing new tools to help players analyze, sort, annotate, and improve their games. One such recent development is a growing feature on the popular lichess.org website called studies.

The study system on lichess is, at its core, a highly advanced PGN creator and annotator. It allows a user to create a new study that can be public or private. New moves, annotations, and other elements are automatically synced with the lichess server and between all of the users with access to the study. This makes studies an excellent utility for chess teachers and exhibitions since users can see, follow, and even provide collaborative comment on a game or position. To use the study utility, simply select study from the Learn menu on the lichess website. A list of available public studies will appear for you to choose from.

If these public studies do not suit your tastes, there are options on the side of the page to create your own studies. This is where I found the study function to be most useful for me.

Using the study tool, I am able to create a private study where I can create an individual chapter for each part of a video series I am following or game I am studying. This way I am able to make annotations, draw arrows or circles, and then share those studies with a highly limited audience if I want. Additionally, the study tool provides the user with an option to download each chapter as an individual PGN file in the format of an annotated game. Or, you can download the entire study as a PGN database to be opened in most chess database programs.

For me, the best part of this system is the collaborative elements. It opens up a world of possibilities for digital interaction between teachers, students, and general chess enthusiasts in an intuitive and easy-to-use way. If you have not tried it out, visit lichess.org and check it out.

Posted on January 25, 2019 by Wesley Surber

Victory and Destruction in Blitz

The following games were blitz games played on lichess.org in the past few weeks. I decided to annotate and share them because they show some of my continued progress (and regression) over the past few weeks. I continue to read, study, and play as much as possible, so I hope that these games reflect some improvement in my overall play style.

The first game is a very nice win with some cool tactical elements. There were moments where I felt like I just got lucky, but others where I felt like concrete principles were starting to sink in for me.

This next game is a devastating loss. It is no good for a chess player to only share his/her winning games. As Chess Coach likes to say: losing is learning. Well, this is a painful loss, so check it out:

Posted on January 15, 2019 by Wesley Surber

Cleaning Out the Dust!

Whew! This place is dusty! There are spider webs all over the place and it is obvious that the power went out at some point on this website because there is a funky green mold growing in… Oh, nevermind. Greetings, Campers! Welcome back to Campfire Chess, an amateur chess blog that has seen better days. Seriously.

So, today you might have noticed (or not) the first official blog post since May 2018 and the first significant visual upgrades since 2017. Well, I decided to re-open the site’s core this morning and I was shocked to see how neglected it had become. At one point, Campfire Chess was my crowning (pun intended) achievement! It was heartbreaking to see how much the challenges of the past year had allowed it to decay.

Fear not, however! I have cleaned out the dirt, busted the spider webs, and made some minor upgrades to the site’s visuals and operational elements. It is my hope over the next few months to get back to regular chess blogging. Before I do that, I have to get back to regular chess playing, which is something sorely lacking for me these days.

I am working on that! I promise! In the meantime, continue to check back here for new content or follow Campfire Chess on any of its social media platforms using the navigation menu above.

See you on the board!

Posted on by Wesley Surber

Time for New Annotations?

This month’s edition of Chess Life has an interesting article advocating for changes to the way that we annotate chess games. The author, GM Andy Soltis, presents his argument on the basis that engines have changed the way games are analyzed in such a way that statements like White has a slight advantage are no longer relevant. I think that he raises some interesting points, but I am not sure that the changes to evaluations brought on by engine analysis warrant such a complete and drastic overhaul.

Humanity’s Slight Advantage

One of the key points in the discussion is the idea that in many situations, X color has a slight advantage can hinge on whether the player does not blunder. Therefore, the annotation is more realistic as X color has a slight advantage as long as they play perfectly according to this analysis. GM Soltis believes that the precision of chess engines allows us more accurately present lines as White wins with X move or Black wins in 37 moves with X.

This precision is compounded with the growing prevalence of tablebases. Recently, lichess.org has started offering an incredible seven (7) piece tablebase. Technological advancement only promises a future where we could surpass a ten (10) piece tablebase. That accuracy lends some credence to GM Soltis’s argument.

Despite these advances and despite my passion for technology, I believe that there are artistic and strategic elements in chess that computers might never understand or utilize. Stockfish can analyze millions of combinations in hindsight and state unequivocally that white can win in 37 moves without a blunder, but humans are not capable of that kind of analysis. With humanity, there is always a chance of blunder, mistake, or other factor that can affect a game’s outcome.

Room to Grow

GM Soltis makes some excellent suggestions with regards to these engine analysis comments, however. Specifically, using ~ versus !? because it more accurately reflects the nearly infinite possibilities presented in post-game analysis by a strong chess engine. Such a change might take some time to catch on, but it would make reading an in-depth analysis easier for newer generations that have grown up in the age of the hashtag, markdown format, and other digital mediums.

As a medical professional who spends his time pouring over spreadsheets and other electronic data, it would be nice to see more of the standard notations from large data sets and relational databases make their way into chess annotation because, curiously, it’s more in line with what is increasingly becoming a common language in the digital age.