Posted on October 14, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

Today is National Chess Day!

Good morning, Campers! Today is National Chess Day in the United States! Established in 1976, the holiday recognizes the benefits of chess to mental and social development as well as it’s links to improved quality of life. Clubs and individuals across the country will be setting up their boards to play the royal game in celebration of its national recognition.

 

Here are just a few things you can do today to participate:

  • US Chess Events: A comprehensive list of all US Chess sponsored events throughout the nation.
  • In Dallas, the Dallas Chess Club is hosting its 2017 National Chess Day FIDE Weekend Open Tournament.
  • In Dayton, Ohio (my hometown), the Dayton Chess Club is hosting the 5th Annual Wright Brothers Open.

In addition to these events and the myriad of chess activities available on lichess.org, Chess.com and others, I have curated a small playlist of chess videos for you to enjoy on YouTube. Check out the Campfire Chess YouTube Channel for more information.

Posted on October 12, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

Caffeine, Psych Medications, and Chess

It seems common these days for the mainstream media to relentlessly scrutinize every facet of society in some desperate and misguided attempt to break news of the next big scandal. Unfortunately, chess has never been immune to scandal or to media witch hunts. A recent trend in professional chess discussions, in fake news mainstream media, and in recent years in online communities like Reddit has focused attention on chess game influence from stimulants like caffeine and medications like Adderall, which is an amphetamine used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

The Straw Man Setup

Mental Health suffers (no, really…it does) from unshakable stigmas brought on by media portrayal of psychological conditions in addition to the very real (and horrific) ways in which psychiatric patients were treated in the science’s early days. You do not have to look further than one of the world’s largest group of psychiatric patients, the Church of Scientology, and its Psychiatry: Museum of Death to see that the science of repairing and sustaining psychological wellbeing has experienced its share of dark days. Mass media tends to project this perception of Mental Health through books, movies, and video games set in dark psychiatric hospitals designed as gothic cathedrals (think: Outlast). The days of massive, cathedral-like psychiatric hospitals are mostly gone; replaced with advances in psychiatric medications and behavioral therapies. Yet, controversies have also followed recent advancements in psychiatric management via medication.

Psychiatric Medications as Performance Enhancers

The use of medications or therapy to restore a patient’s functional ability is often viewed as a means of returning that person to lifestyle levels on par with much of society. When a person experiences a debilitating psychiatric condition, the same philosophy is often used to restore that person to a normalized sense of function. In some instances, these people surpass their prior cognitive functions. Countless books and movies have been written about miracle mind drugs that unlock the other 90% of our brain function (think: Limitless). But what happens when the stigma and misconceptions surrounding medication-based psychiatric care give rise to the idea that these treatment methods are on par with performance enhancing drugs like steroids?

Longtime readers and friends know that I am just as obsessive about baseball as I am about chess. Unfortunately, my beloved sport was rocked a few years ago by a steroid scandal that tainted its image for the foreseeable future. Greats like Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds will likely never see their names in the Hall of Fame because of their association with the scandal. The drugs that they allegedly took were steroid cocktails designed to improve their physical performance on the field, not prescription medications for treating a debilitating illness. Steroids are prescribed for some patients, but those prescriptions are carefully controlled and no doctor in their right mind would prescribe them to help someone perform better on the baseball diamond. But what happens when someone takes a medication designed to affect mood, concentration, and memory?

Medication in the Ultimate Mind Sport

The subheading says it all: chess IS the ultimate mind sport. The only physical requirement is the ability of a player to move pieces around the board, but technology advances have even removed that barrier with voice-activated boards available for a variety of computers. Media focus is often on prodigies and eccentric personalities in chess, but anyone willing to put forth a little effort can be successful at playing the game.

ADHD and other psychiatric medications can have a significant effect on a person’s ability to concentrate for extended amounts of time. The misconceptions about these drugs are that they unlock or enhance the brain’s overall functioning and can raise a person’s intelligence level. There are no compelling studies that show Adderall or similar psych medications actually improve cognitive performance beyond focus and concentration. An person with ADHD without an interest in chess is not going to rise easily to Grandmaster levels of play.

A Personal Insight

This topic is of great personal interest to me because I suffer from ADHD and regularly take medications. Long before I was diagnosed with the disorder, I was adamantly opposed to the idea of ADHD and dismissed it as pseudoscientific propaganda. After being thoroughly evaluated by specialists and prescribed medication treatment a few years ago, I am a firm believer and advocate for treatment.

Yet, after years of medication and therapy for my ADHD, my chess skills have not improved a sizeable amount beyond the time and attention that I have been willing to invest in the game. Even with ADHD support medications, sometimes chess (or writing about chess) is of no interest to me. It is my belief based on personal experience and correspondence with other ADHD sufferers that this is true for most people. It allows us to focus our attention more like a normal person and less like the mass of scattered noise we tend to be, but it does not increase our skills at chess or ability to read the minds of our opponents.

Final Thought

In my amateur opinion, professional chess doses not have the same problem with caffeine and stimulants that baseball has with steroids. The community should take time to educate itself on these disorders, treatment, and how that treatment affects (or does not affect) their study habits and game play.

Posted on by Wesley Surber.

lichess.org on iOS Is Mobile Chess At It’s Finest

Editor’s Note: This review focuses exclusively on the iOS (iPhone/iPad) version of lichess, but the Google Play version contains all of the same features as it’s Apple counterpart. Performance and compatibility will vary depending on the device used.

Not long ago you could find me singing praises of the Chess.com app on iOS. The app received a major update a few months before the site’s V3 design went live. But this entry is not about Chess.com or it’s mobile app. This is about an app that has emerged as a serious competitor to the largest chess website on the internet: lichess.org.

lichess.org is a 100% free and open source chess platform that offers many of the same features you would find on major competitors, but with some noteworthy differences.

  • Zero advertising! In an age where the internet seems more saturated with advertisements than meaningful content, lichess strips away the advertising model and relies on user donations to fund its operations. There are no premium or exclusive memberships although certain donation levels can get you a special identifier showing that you sup port the site.
  • Unlimited free access! In keeping with the earlier line about advertising, all of lichess’s puzzles and training aids are free to all users. This is definitely an attractive feature for players not wanting to pay for tactics and puzzles.

These are great features, but lichess really shines in its mobile offering, especially on iOS. The lichess iOS app is one of the most polished and useable chess apps out there!

The home screen displays a random Puzzle of the Day along with quick options to start a new game. Simply click the board to access the lichess puzzle repository and begin your training with access to thousands of free tactics.

Clicking the Create a Game button brings up a mobile version of the lichess game creation screen. Users can then link up with thousands of other lichess members and try their skills against more than a dozen different chess variations.

Bullet and Blitz seem to be very popular with many of lichess’ higher-rated players. Personally, I enjoy the 15+15 classical (rapid) time control because it has a nice balance of requiring chess experience while allowing for some time to conduct a deeper positional analysis. Regardless of your personal preference, the lichess app has nearly endless options for setting up the chess game of your dreams.

The lichess app also comes with an analysis board and local engine analysis for reviewing your games. I have also found this helpful for playing the game on the app with a person sitting next to me. Additionally, the Openings Explorer is a feature you will find on most chess websites, but I love how lichess’ version is almost seamlessly integrated into the analysis board. This way a user can easily switch back and forth between local Stockfish engine analysis and the Openings Explorer. This is an invaluable tool when conducting post-mortem game evaluations.

Final Verdict

These days it seems like the world of internet chess is growing faster and faster. New services crop up regularly and existing ones continue updating and refining their products. lichess is not new, but it is one of the more recent services to make a splash in the digital chess world. In my opinion, lichess is set apart from others in that it is a labor of love for its developer and those who maintain it.

Combine these small differences with the depth of features and the price (free), lichess’ mobile app is easily the gold standard for playing the royal game on the go.

Campfire Rating: ♟♟♟♟♟

Download the lichess mobile app from the App Store or Google Play.

Posted on October 3, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

Major Changes Underway at Chess Informant

Without a doubt, Chess Informant is my favorite regular chess publication and has been since I picked up my first issue several years ago. It has some of the most comprehensive game analysis and its databases are beyond reproach. Earlier today, Chess Informant’s CEO issued a heartfelt memorandum to its subscribers announcing his departure from the company after 11 years. Josip Asik is leaving to focus his creative efforts on American Chess Magazine. There is no word on an apparent successor or what this means for the future of Chess Informant itself, but I am confident that someone with a passion for maintaining the periodical’s legacy will press on.

Here is the letter in its entirety:

I want to reach out to all of you with the news that I will soon be stepping down from the position of CEO of Chess Informant. This will give me time to fully focus on the further development of the American Chess Magazine, which has just completed its first full year of production. It will also mean that these two publications will continue their presence in the chess market place entirely separately.

Over the last seven years I have been responsible for all Chess Informant activities. This covered the period in which Informants 109-133 were published. What I am mostly proud of here is the editorial work I carried out on all the magazine sections of Informants 110 to 130 and also, partly, 131 and 133. Moreover this included my introduction of English language articles and annotations.

Most of you I consider as true chess friends, even if we have never met in real life. This has come about as a direct result of starting a new subscription management in 2010 – after which, step by step, we have got to know every subscriber’s name. Together, we have become one big chess family and so now it’s quite an emotional moment for me to have to say goodbye to you all. I am so grateful for the support you have given to the new-style Informants which I initiated and indeed experimented with – always in the hope that it would be as successful as it in fact turned out to be.

At this moment in time I cannot predict what will be the style of future Informants, starting with 134. However, bearing in mind the venerability of this house, I have no doubt that Informant will continue to flourish as it carries on its long and bright journey through the world of chess publishing.

For my part, I would like to take this opportunity to invite you to check out and hopefully join the American Chess Magazine. Essentially, this new publication brings you all the good things you have been enjoying in the first half of Informant, only bigger, richer and colorful. The ambition of the ACM is to develop into a superb international chess magazine.

So thank you all once again and rather than bid you a final farewell, let me sign off instead with the words – “So long!”

With best regards,

Josip Asik

As a loyal Chess Informant reader, I wish Josip the best on his new endeavors with American Chess Magazine, which has proved immensely popular with chess readers since its debut! Godspeed, Josip!

Posted on September 14, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

Looking ahead…

Greetings, Campers!

Campfire Chess will be 4 years old in a few months and it has certainly gone through many changes in that time. From the website’s basic design to the brief run of Campfire Chess Magazine, the project has been a great way for me to explore my creative passions while promoting chess. Some of my regular readers might have noticed a significant drop in regular posts over the last couple of months and might have wondered if the site was reaching the end of its life.

While the thought itself is not unreasonable, I currently have no plans to terminate Campfire Chess. Instead, some major life changes in the past few months have led to deep introspection and a decision to change the website’s future direction…at least for now.

The Why

In short, I am very sick and my illness has taken a significant amount of time away from my chess playing and my writing. I have struggled to maintain the balance between life, family, chess and posting quality creative material here on the blog. Without going into too much detail, my recovery will require devoting much of my time to other tasks, which leaves less time for in-depth chess analysis or reporting. Campfire Chess is nowhere near finished, but its format and focus is about to change slightly.

New Media Formats

Although several projects have taken away focus from the blog in the past such as Campfire Chess Magazine, the blog will continue to remain one of the central points of this project. However, because writing is the element currently being affected the most by my illness, I am transitioning into some new media formats to augment the information I post here. Here is a breakdown of what to expect:

  • Twitch: I have recently started broadcasting games on Twitch for those who are interested in watching streaming games and interactive content!
  • YouTube: The new YouTube channel is designed for sharing clips of Twitch broadcast moments, game analysis, and other exclusive content. It is my belief that the YouTube channel will become one of the predominant methods of content creation and sharing outside of our current Facebook and Instagram pages.

Final Thoughts

Thank you to everyone that continues to support me and to support Campfire Chess as I embark on a new journey!

Posted on September 8, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

Realigning My Social Media Presence

I am working on a separate entry that will address the recent lack of updates here on the blog, but for now I thought I would take a moment to speak about upcoming realignments to the Campfire Chess social media presence. After careful thought and much soul-searching, I have decided to cease updating the Campfire Chess Twitter account. The platform itself has become incredibly toxic, which leads me to believe that it is in the best interest of this site to part ways with it. I will not close the account itself, but there will be no updates or posts on the account in the foreseeable future.

In addition, the Tumblr account will be closed this weekend because I simply do not use it. The remaining social media accounts will remain active for now.

Posted on September 6, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

Campfire Chess Game of the Week

Looking for something different? Things have been quiet here on the Campfire Chess blog lately, but head over to our brand new YouTube channel to watch our new content! I hope to add new game recaps weekly and other exclusive video content as I am able.

Posted on August 19, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

SATX Summer Scrimmage Tournament Reflections

Last weekend around 60 players from across the San Antonio area gathered at the Wonderland of the Americas Mall to take part in the San Antonio Summer Scrimmage sponsored by the River City Chess Club and the San Antonio Chess Club (SACC). Yours truly decided to jump into the pool and register for the tournament when it was first advertised back in June/July. Although my game results were much less than desirable, the SACC TD, Edgar Munoz along with support from members of both clubs put on an exceptionally well-run tournament.

The Tournament

Approximately 60 players packed into the Wonderland Events Center near the mall’s food court to try their luck at a cash prize and the glory of chess tournament victory. The tournament started an hour late due to the overwhelming response from players! Normally I would be bothered by such a late start, but it was nice to see the TD and team giving so many people an opportunity register and pay at the last minute. Notably, the start delay was the only real hiccup that the event seemed to experience. The tournament went very smooth for most players once play began.

Perhaps one of the most notable events occurred during the end of Round 01. The end of the round came down to the wire with one game remaining between a young girl and one of SACC’s regulars. The ensuing drama found our SACC regular eventually pinned down by some brilliant last-minute exchanges.

All eyes on the last game of Round 1! #SanAntonioChess

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It was a thrilling experience and the only time in the tournament where the room erupted in applause. The above Instagram photo captures that game as it entered into its final 10 minutes. More photos of that game and the tournament itself are available at the bottom of the page just past my game analysis.

My Games

I think that I am in the running for setting a new chess record of having the lowest ELO rating out there. Fortunately, the US Chess database reminds me that I am not the lowest, but I am damned close. Part of that comes from playing in a city where most of the regular players are 1500+ ELO. It is good for the learning experience, but not so good for the W-L record. The three games I played in this tournament (got 1 bye in Round 3) were painful, but educational and somewhat surprising. I learned quite a bit throughout the tournament about where I need to shift my study habits in addition to conquering some anxieties I had about playing in OTB tournaments with so many good players.

Round 1: Game #1

Game #1 was against a 1300 ELO player who was very friendly and played a nice game. We laughed a few times because of some arguments happening next to us between two kids playing their game, but overall the game was enjoyable. This game was not as good or educational as the other two, but it did remind me to stick to my opening preparation instead of trying to play so much off-the-cuff in games.

Round 2: Game #2

As you will see in the game commentary, this game made me very nervous. It was against a 1900 ELO player which was enough to challenge my psychological ability to sit at the board. In the end, this game turned out to be one of the best games I have played in a long time, even with a loss. I think that I also got Stockfish to give me my first ever (!) annotation on a move I agreed with.

Round 4: Game #3

Game 3 came in Round 4 after quite a break through Round 3. My opponent was rated around 1100 ELO and slammed pieces down harder than anyone I believe I have ever met. Another loss, but it was very educational and fun to play. In the end, my impatience got the best of me an earned me my first-ever loss by checkmate.

Here are some more photos of the event and the venue:

Final Thoughts

The San Antonio Chess Club is in the midst of a revival. Its President, Mitch Vergara, is one hell of a chess player and his passion for the game is reflected in the ways he has networked with River City Chess, Rackspace, and others to promote the game throughout the Alamo City. The 2017 Summer Scrimmage was a fun event for all ages that really brought the best minds of San Antonio together to play the Royal Game. It is my hope that this is just a taste of things to come from River City and San Antonio Chess.

Until next time! -ws

Posted on July 29, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

Approaching the 1300 Threshold

Chess improvement can be a slow and grinding process. It has been a rollercoaster-like ride full of ups and downs (mostly downs) over the last few years. I am excited to be approaching the 1300 rating threshold after several setbacks over the past few months. Some of the losses this year have been brutal and some of the wins have been incredible, but learning to live with win and losses is one of the biggest challenges when learning the game.

This is a game I played last night that placed me within 2 points of the 1300 threshold. I have been too busy today to put my mind to another game, so I figured I would annotate this game and show some of the things I continue to learn on the long to road to chess mastery.

Posted on by Wesley Surber.

Cleaning Up My Soviet Travel Set

I love old Soviet chess sets and one of my personal favorites is a travel set I got from Etsy a few years ago, but it took quite a beating before I ever purchased it. So, I decided to take some time tonight to clean it up and try to restore as much of its original shine as I could. This is the same set I posted on Instagram earlier this week:

Time for some rest, relaxation, and study time! #CampfireLife

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Here are some before and after images spliced together haphazardly using my iPad:

And here are some nice shots of the finished product:

Not too bad for about 20 minutes worth of work. In fact, it took longer to compile these photos into a blog post. 😁