Posted January 20, 2022 in News, US Chess

US Chess Endorses Tornelo

US Chess announced on January 12, 2022 that the executive board is officially endorsing online tournament manager Tornelo.

It’s no secret that cheating is a big problem in online chess. One only need to glance at the monthy stats sent out by Chess.com to see how many player accounts (including titled players) are closed for fair play violations. It’s one reason that many chess federations are reluctant to fully embrace online tournaments.

In an odd twist of fate, online tournaments have gone “viral” in the past few years and more governing bodies are growing to accept them. The United States Chess Federation (USCF) has sanctioned online tournaments via Chess.com for several years now, but they recently took a step to improve the integrity of these events and to consolidate tournament management across the federation.

I have to admit that I’ve never heard of Tornelo, so I had to do a little bit of research to fully understand what this means for chess. In a nutshell, Tornelo is an online tournament managing system built for both in-person and online play. It has some robust anti-cheat elements embedded in their management system that will make it easier for players to report potential cheaters early in a tournament. This in turn will help to alleviate much of the headdache associated with redistributing points and voiding games when a cheater is identified later in a game.

Is this really going to change things? I honestly don’t know. I do appreciate US Chess‘s continued embrace of rated online activities and hope that this system proves valuable for TDs across the country.

You can read the original article on the official US Chess Website or view the letter from the US Chess Executive Board discussing the decision here.

Posted December 29, 2021 in Reviews

Book Look: How to Study Chess on Your Own

I’ve been playing chess regularly since 2014 and have made (in my opinion) minimal progress. Well, I guess you could say that I haven’t made the progress that I expected after devoting so much time to reading, studying, and playing. That’s one reason that I’m always on the lookout for new materials and new ideas to help me improve my game. That’s why I was very excited to read GM Davorin Kuljasevic’s new book How to Study Chess on Your Own. This is the honest review of a < 1200 ELO player. So, let’s begin…

I learned about this book from the Perpetual Chess podcast. Which, if you’ve never listened, you’re missing out! The title alone drew me to it because I tend to be an isolated chess player. I play correspondence games regularly, read and follow games in books/magazines, and play a lot against my DGT Centaur chess computer. I wanted something that might help me understand why my improvement was so stagnant. So, I put away all the other chess books and projects I was working on and focused solely on How to Study exclusively for the next few weeks.

The Study Advice

For the purposes of this review, I am going to divide the book into two sections: The Study Advice and The Games. The study advice offered by GM Kuljasevic throughout the book is interlaced with a variety of Grandmaster and student games that are used to illustrate the various principles explained in each chapter. The study options presented are very down-to-earth and application-driven. There’s very little “theory” involved in the advice he gives. Instead, he digs down and shows how the variety of tools at a chess player’s disposal these days can be used for a multitude of improvement opportunities.

Of particular interest to me was his advice for creating a study plan. This is a step that countless chess students (including myself) tend to ignore. I study and play chess a lot, but I realized that I didn’t have a solid plan of what I wanted to achieve and what steps I was going to take to achieve it. Not in the sense of “I want to be an IM in 5 years”. Instead, the advice is more practical and nuanced such as “I have 4 hours to study chess today, so 2 hours for openings, 1 hour for endgame, and 1 hour on tactics”.

Overall, I’d say that the advice in this book is a welcome addition to the growing library of chess improvement materials out there. It’s practical, sensible, and is flexible enough to where anyone from a lower-rated D-class player up to a Grandmaster could use it.

The Games

There are 71 annotated games and fragments scattered across How to Study Chess on Your Own. At first, I was following each of the games with my travel chess set at home and then using my iPad on my breaks at work. But I soon realized that despite the excellent study advice in the book, much of the game analysis was way over my head. There were principles explained that I understood but the application in many of these instances were still in the Grandmaster range. I felt like I wasn’t ready in my chess ability to get the most out of this analysis.

So, after playing through Game 15, I stopped reading/playing the games and focused on the meat of the book and its study recommendations. This is not to say that the analysis in the book isn’t excellent, because it is! There’s so much knowledge shared in these games that it was overwhelming for someone of my level. I know that I can’t speak for everyone, but I would assume that many lower rated players would have similar problems understanding the application of some of the more advanced concepts. I guess you can consider it a word of caution before digging into the variations and ideas that the games themselves present.

A New Library of Games

As I read through the book, I took note of the Grandmaster games and decided to put them together into a Chess.com library. I also played through the student games and fragments in the book for this collection. That library is free for access and download here and will eventually be added to the downloads section here on Campfire Chess.

Final Thoughts

It’s impossible to truly unpack the depth of knowledge and expertise presented in How to Study Chess on Your Own. GM Davorin Kuljasevic obviously produced this as a labor of love. You can sense the passion he has for chess and the drive to help others improve their game. Of the chess books I’ve read recently, it’s most definitely one of my favorites. I only hope that over time I can improve in my game enough to go back through many of the annotated games and unlock their secrets!

Posted December 10, 2021 in Campfire Digest

Campfire Digest – December 10, 2021

Good Morning, campers! Welcome to Campfire Chess Digest for Friday, December 10, 2021! The World Chess Championship 2021 is still underway and it has certainly had a share of ups and downs, breathtaking and disappointing moments. There’s still much more chess to come before the year is done!

Here’s some of the best chess action we’ve seen this week:

Magnus Carlsen is…once again…World Chess Champion

https://www.chess.com/news/view/fide-world-chess-championship-2021-game-11
Magnus Carlsen cruised to defend his World Championship title for the fifth time this week against Ian Nepomniachtchi. It was one of the most lopsided and unusual championships I can recall. Ian just couldn’t capitalize on several opportunities presented to him by Magnus. And for another two years, Norway is king of world chess.

A World Record at the World Chess Championship

https://en.chessbase.com/post/world-championship-2021-g6
Magnus Carlsen came out on top of an incredible 136 move game that set a world record for the longest chess game played in a world championship. The previous title was held by Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi in the 1978 World Chess Championship.

A Century of Chess: Karlsbad 1907

https://www.chess.com/blog/kahns/a-century-of-chess-karlsbad-1907
Long before the Soviet Empire dominated the professional chess world, the German Empire’s elite held firmly to the title of the world’s best chess players. This exceptional article from Chess.com (a rarity these days) explores Akiba Rubinstine’s rise to prominence in the early part of the twentieth century.

World Rapid and Blitz Coming to Warsaw

https://en.chessbase.com/post/the-world-rapid-and-blitz-championships-will-take-place-in-warsaw
The FIDE World Rapid and Blitz tournament will soon be making its way to Warsaw beginning on Christmas Day and running through December 31st.

Posted December 3, 2021 in Campfire Digest

Campfire Digest – December 3, 2021

Good Morning, campers! Welcome to Campfire Chess Digest for Friday, December 3, 2021! As you read this, the 2021 World Chess Championship rages (if you can call it that) in Dubai between Magnus Carlsen and Ian Nepomniachtchi. There’s no clear leader at this point but Nepo certainly put Magnus on the ropes a few times going into Thursday’s rest day.

Here’s some of the best chess action we’ve seen this week:

Anish Giri Annotates WCC 2021 Game 5

https://en.chessbase.com/post/world-championship-2021-g5-expert-annotations
After the sleeper draw that was Game 5 of the World Chess Championship, GM Anish Giri published a very nice annotated game outlining some of the missed opportunities for both players.

Hikaru Nakamura Departs the FIDE World Ranking List

https://en.chessbase.com/post/the-new-fide-world-ranking-list-december-2021
GM Hikaru Nakamura was nowhere to be found on the newly published FIDE World Ranking List because he has not been active in international tournament play for quite some time. He’s mostly traded those commitments for a life on Twitch these days.

Chess.com Remains Undisputed Clickbait Article Champion

https://www.chess.com/article/view/chess-coms-holiday-gift-buying-guide
Ten ways to mate your opponent in five moves… Ten streamers you wouldn’t want to play blitz with… and the list goes on and on. Maybe we could start making a list of Chess.com’s most click-baity articles. In any case, this year’s “Buying Guide” for the holidays is no better than the website’s recent forays into Bitcoin, PogChamps, and other nonsensical stuff.

Levon Aronian Joins the US Chess Federation

https://chess24.com/en/read/news/levon-aronian-completes-transfer-to-usa
The United States continues to build an impressive roster of players with the recent addition of GM Levon Aronian. He joins the ranks of recent additions such as GMs Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana.

The World Chess Championship 2021 continues today in Dubai live via Chess24’s YouTube channel. Chess.com has a stream with GMs Hess and Caruana, but I recommend the Chess24 stream as its less headache-inducing.

Posted October 20, 2021 in Game Analysis

Game Analysis – An Interesting Collapse

It’s been a while since I annotated one of my games. Part of that is IRL stuff that’s been getting in the way and part of it is that I haven’t played any games that intrigued me enough recently to annotate. This game is a little bit of an exception. Let’s go…

Posted April 2, 2019 in Reviews

Review: Chess Studio for iOS

Apple likes to tout its iPad Pro and similar devices as laptop replacements. A few years ago I wouldn’t have entertained such a notion, but these days I’m doing more and more of my work and play on my iPad. In fact, my Macbook has been in a box for sale on Ebay for the past few months. My lower-budget Windows laptops tend to compliment my iPad device just as well. While Chessbase remains a staple of my chess database management, a new program has readily taken over much of my annotation and chess management work on the go: Chess Studio.

Full-Featured Chess Manager

Chess Studio proclaims itself to be the first program for iPhone and iPad to effectively manage portable game notation (PGN) files and I wholeheartedly agree. I’ve been using it for years and it’s hard for me to believe that I haven’t taken the time to write a review. So, here we go…

Replaying a game in Chess Studio. (Credit: Campfire Chess)

Chess Studio is obviously the brainchild of someone who loves chess and is equally as frustrated as I am with the lack of effective chess utilities on mobile devices. Once a PGN file is imported, it can be sorted, appended, and edited in an almost endless variety of ways. For me, this makes it an ideal application to use as a companion for reading electronic publications like Chess Life or the growing library of chess books available on Amazon’s Kindle.

Reading Chess Life alongside Chess Studio (Credit: US Chess/Campfire Chess)

As you can see from the image above, it works extremely well for playing through PGN games while reading the annotated publication. The ability to quickly add new variations, delete variations, add annotations, and make comments to games puts Chess Studio light years ahead of anything else currently available. The board is well designed with several color scheme options and chess fonts. There’s also an extensive settings panel that lets you show/hide coordinates, change some of the board’s basic behavior such as legal moves, and font size.

Adding annotations in Chess Studio. (Credit: Campfire Chess)

Note: My #1 issue with Chess Studio is the yellow background on the move list. I sent the developer a request to let users change that option and he assured me in a response that the option to change that color is coming in the future.

Capitalizing on New Tech

As I’ve mentioned in reviews for several new products including ChessNoteR, I love that chess tends to drive advancements in technology or unique utilizations of existing tech. Chess Studio is a nice program, but what really makes it a powerful utility is its integration with the rest of the Apple iOS ecosystem.

Accessing a PGN file from another app. (Credit: Campfire Chess)

The image above shows how Chess Studio integrates itself into the shared items menu throughout iOS. PGN files detected by the operating system are provided an option to copy themselves directly into the program. That’s how I access files from The Week in Chess and Chess Life. This makes it nearly effortless to import files into Chess Studio.

Final Verdict

Chess Studio is an excellent program for chess players and enthusiasts on the go. It’s well-supported and under continued development, unlike many of the programs rotting away on the Apple Store and Google Play. Well worth the purchase!

Posted April 1, 2019 in Famous Players, Tournaments, US Chess

Nakamura and Yu are US Champions!

Another US Chess Championship has come and gone with GM Hikaru Nakamura claiming his 5th national championship title! There was a last minute push by former champion GM Fabiano Caruana, but he was unable to hold off a draw with GM Sam Shankland. Going into the tournament final, Nakamura and Caruana were tied with Leinier Dominguez for first place, but Nakamura was able to pound out a fine win to reclaim the title.

I was impressed with Nakamura’s performance considering that he also streamed regularly on his Twitch channel during the competition!

Just two days prior, 17-year old Jennifer Yu improved over her 2018 6.5/11 result to claim the title of 2019 US Women’s Chess Champion. Yu’s play was as solid as anything we’ve ever seen from her; solidifying her place among the great modern female chess players.

Congratulations to both players for a job well done! Read more on the official press releases (Nakamura)(Yu) on the official US Chess website.

Posted March 14, 2019 in Community, FIDE, News

Nigel Short Hosts Simul in Atlanta

It’s refreshing to see FIDE officials playing chess. After many years of gutless politicians holding the organization hostage in a reign of terror, recently elected FIDE Vice President visited the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Atlanta to host a simul pitting GM Nigel Short against 25 players. The center is run by GM Ben Finegold, who spent many years as the GM-in-residence at the Saint Louis Chess Club (formerly the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis).

Atlanta Chess Players (Credit: Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Atlanta)

Nigel’s willingness to visit so many different chess federations around the world and engage in simuls with players is a welcome change to past FIDE leaders. For more details, check out the Atlanta Chess Club’s Facebook page.

Posted March 12, 2019 in Community, Fun Stuff

Five Recommended Chess Streamers

Streaming movies, music, video games, and other forms of entertainment is nothing new. Chess, on the other hand, has been relatively slow to catch up to the digital craze until recently with a growing number of channels on Twitch and YouTube showcasing the game. At almost any time throughout the day you can find chess being one of the most viewed activities on Twitch! To me, that’s an impressive feat when the centuries old game is competing for attention with ADHD-generation specific offerings like Fortnite and Apex Legends. So, given that I’ve spent an ever increasing amount of time watching these streamers, I thought I would share five of my favorites.

Grandmaster Benjamin Finegold

Once you know Ben Finegold, it’s impossible to forget Ben Finegold. No matter  how hard you try. He was the GM-in-residence at the Saint Louis Chess Club until 2012. Now he lives in Atlanta, Georgia and runs the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Atlanta. He streams most nights and is incredibly interactive with his audience. Be warned, fair reader! His streams are chess-centered, but they’re peppered with off-the-wall pop culture references and jokes; it’s that special flair that makes his stream one of my personal favorites. Also be prepared to learn a variety of new songs explaining why you should never play Bishop f3 or similar chess references. Check out his Twitch channel here.

Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura

Hikaru Nakamura doesn’t really need an introduction, but I’ll give him one anyway. He’s a four-time US Chess Champion and is one of the most dominant blitz players in history. He does a lot of work with Chess.com, so you’ll often see him playing in blitz tournaments on the site or contributing in various ways to the different streams on ChessTV. Nakamura is a mostly calm and collected player when he’s online. He sings a lot, which adds a nice flair to the broadcast. You’ll also find him taking a break from chess every now and then to play other games, which can liven up the interaction and show the non-chess side that many are not used to. Check out his Twitch channel here.

Grandmaster Eric Hansen (The Chess Brahs)

I have to admit: it was the Chess Brahs who convinced me that chess streaming had finally arrived in full force. The stream is run primarily by Eric Hansen, who is an astonishingly good blitz player along with Grandmasters Robin van Kampen and Aman Hambleton. It was one of the first streams I started watching regularly. Soaked in techno and flashy hair, the Chess Brahs are a highly interactive group stream that alternate between streaming competitions in the Chess Arena as well as game challenges with other streamers like Hikaru Nakamura. One of the things I like the most about Chess Brahs is the moments when Eric Hansen struggles with his games. He can be a very ungraceful loser, which I relate to 100%! I’ve lost a keyboard or two due to losing a game at the last minute, so it’s nice to see the touch of reality and human element in the game. Check out the Chess Brah Twitch channel here.

US Chess Expert Frank Johnson

Chess Coach Frank Johnson is a regular chess streamer who runs the website Chess-Coach.net. Known simply as “Coach” to his viewers and fans, he regularly plays games with his streamers and offers realtime commentary on the games to help his viewers make improvements. He typically has good tunes and a very chilled-out vibe to his stream. You’ll hear catchy phrases like Losing is Learning and True Story that resonate well with someone who is looking to improve their skills at one of the most difficult games ever created. Frank is a warm and entertaining streamer who welcomes newbies and challengers of all skill levels. Every loss is a chance to do better…true story! Check out his Twitch channel here.

Women’s FIDE Master Alexandra Botez

Alexandra Botez is a regular chess streamer who typically plays a mix of her viewers and challenges with other streamers. It was actually a recent stream against International Master Levy Rozman (aka. Gotham Chess) where he played blindfolded against her. The match came down to a single game where Rozman pulled out a last minute victory. I was impressed by the chess along with the interaction with the audience and the fact that she streams regularly with my ultimate chess crush, Anna Rudolf. She plays regularly with her subscribers on Twitch on Sundays. Check out her Twitch channel here.


Honorable Mentions: I wish I had the time or mental energy to keep listing streamers because there are many more out there that are worth checking out. Here are a few that you shouldn’t pass up:

  • IM Anna Rudolf – My chess crush and frequest host/commentator for professional chess.
  • Helmsknight – Canadian player who dominates in bughouse and streamer vs. streamer content.
  • Sara Herman – Colorado-based player who often streams bullet, blitz, and some game analysis.
Posted March 4, 2019 in Reviews

ChessNoteR Forges A Digital Pathway

Editor’s Note: Purchase your own ChessNoteR for a 10% discounted rate by using the code CAMPFIRECHESS when you checkout. This offer is good until 30 April 2019, so don’t wait!

One of the things I love about chess is how it leverages technology and even drives advancement of new hardware/software or repurposing of old hardware/software. Throughout history, engineers and developers have found ways to incorporate chess into their projects. When new supercomputers are designed, chess gameplay is often the first thing to be implemented as a way of demonstrating the new system’s intelligence. Programs like Deep Blue and Google’s AlphaZero are just a few examples of this push. But what about the everyday chess player sitting in a smokey club trying to decide which Sicilian Defense line to follow? Well, technological advances in the club have also modernized the game. Few people use manual clocks anymore in favor of digital clocks with increment controls and other unique features. And, for a growing number of players, paper scoresheets are being replaced by a growing field of electronic ones.

This brings me to today’s topic: electronic scoresheets and a dangerous new contender. My regular friends and readers know that I’ve used the Plycounter electronic scoresheet for years and even did a review several years ago. It’s a small touchscreen device that uses a stylus to move the pieces. It’s been an OK device that, honestly, hasn’t held up as well over the years as I had originally hoped. That’s why I’m pleased that I was fortunate enough to get my hands on an emerging device called the ChessNoteR.

Re-purposed Technology

DISCLAIMER: Black Mirror Studio graciously provided me with a ChessNoteR to test and review.

As you can see, the ChessNoteR (pictured above) looks a lot like a cell phone. Well, that’s because it is a re-purposed cell phone! The ChessNoteR I tested is a Motorola Nexus 6 cell phone running a custom flavor of Android OS called ChessNoteR OS. While the device still bears the mark of its previous life as a cell phone, it immediately boots into its custom OS that only runs the ChessNoteR app and its support services. I found the interface to be relatively easy to set up. Upon booting, it enters into a default setup wizard that enables a user to connect to WiFi and input their own user information. You can opt out of the WiFi settings, but you’ll lose some of the more interesting features if you do. On that note, WiFi access has been one of the biggest hurdles for electronic devices being certified by US Chess. Access to telecommunications services is forbidden during official tournaments, so that has squashed the hopes of many iPhone and Android apps of being certified for tournament play.

ChessNoteR is the first device to find a way around this. At its core, it’s an Android app, but it owns the device. So, you cannot run any additional apps and you cannot run the notation app with WiFi enabled. It’s this feature that gives ChessNoteR the leverage it needed to become certified. I’ll get into the software next, but I wanted to note that it comes with two different delivery methods. The first option is to buy a pre-configured device from the website. The second option is to buy your own used Motorola Nexus 6 and ship it to the company and they will load the software onto the phone and configure it for a much cheaper price.

Exploring the Software

The core of ChessNoteR is its software. As I said, you can buy a pre-configured device or ship your own to the company for configuration. So, what about the software? Well, I must say that I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen so far of the software. The interface is very clean and user friendly. You can tell that the designer has put a lot of work into it. There are options for inputting your rating and demographic information which auto populates on scoresheets and in the exportable PGN files (sweet).

Once you start a new game, the device disables it’s WiFi service and you cannot exit the game without ending the game. This prevents a user from exiting their game and using it to reference any other information that might be stored on the device during a tournament. You’ll also find that you can drag the pieces to any point on the board. This is an important part of certification through US Chess because restricting piece movement would be a form of electronic coaching. For example, you could actually play 1.e6 on the device and it would properly annotate the move.

The notation interface also enables you to change the board colors to better suit you if blue and white (the default scheme) are not your preferred colors. Typically I change the board colors to match my favorite color scheme which matches that of Chess.com’s default dark green scheme. However, I enjoyed the blue and white design of the ChessNoteR app, so I left it alone.

Next Generation Feature Set

Sure, it’s cool to have your games in electronic format on a hand held device, but what good is the device in the world of tournaments and real chess? Well, this device seems to have that covered as well. ChessNoteR enables a user to export games in multiple formats.

  • First, you can export the games in the traditional PGN format for use with Chessbase and other desktop (or mobile) database applications. Plycounter also does this, but it requires installation of a third party application. ChessNoteR takes advantage of built in hardware support through the Nexus device to export the game.
  • Second, you can export the games on a professionally designed scoresheet with signatures that are ready for submission to a TD. When a game is complete, the user and opponents sign their scoresheet using the touch screen. Those signatures are exported on the scoresheet in PDF format via WiFi transfer using integrated Dropbox functionality! So there’s no need to connect to a TD’s computer. Just connect to their WiFi and submit your game to be officially logged electronically.

I’m a big Chromecast and video streaming user, so I was pleased to see that ChessNoteR supports wireless video casting, which allows you to cast your game to a device using a device compatible with Android video casting. This is great for reviewing games with a coach or for those times when your chess study demands 4K high definition. ChessNoteR does not support Chromecast itself, but instead supports some built-in protocols in smart TVs from Samsung, LG, and others through standard Android OS protocols.

These are nice features that bring the convenience of digital scoresheets and notation to the tabletop chess world with a minimum amount of hassle. The controls and features are intuitive enough that anyone who uses a cell phone or tablet should have no problems using it.

Final Thoughts

I’ve been using my Plycounter for almost five years and it’s certainly taken a beating. The screen is showing significant signs of wear and overall the device feels much more cumbersome than it did when I first reviewed it. I was extremely excited to have an opportunity to test out the ChessNoteR and I am very pleased with it. The screen is much larger and more responsive than anything you’ll find on the market today.

The only thing that I don’t like is how the device comes stamped with the giant Nexus logo on the back. There’s a small label on the device with a QR code for certification data, but the logo bothers me for some reason. In no way does that affect the device operation. Instead, it effects my OCD tendencies more. This can be fixed with a simple skin or decal from a place like SkinIt or DecalGirl.

Bottom line? You won’t find a better device for the price for digitally tracking your tournament games. Check out the ChessNoteR on their official website. You can also find a large selection of videos on the ChessNoteR official YouTube Channel that demonstrate the various device features and how to use them.

RATING: ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟


ADDENDUM: I didn’t realize how out of it I’ve been lately. In researching this article and doing the review/evaluation of this device, I realized that Plycounter ceased operations in February 2018 and the Monroi Personal Chess Manager is not available for purchase on their website.