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Tag: Chess

20 Years Later, Garry Kasparov Loves the Machine

Just over 20 years ago last month, former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov played a dramatic six-game match against an IBM supercomputer called Deep Blue, the second of two matches the grandmaster played against the technological behemoth. Up until that point, computers were very strong in their chess abilities but had yet to beat some of the game’s greatest players. Kasparov was determined to prove that machines lacked the beauty of truly deep chess thinking and simply could not beat him. Kasparov’s subsequent crushing defeat was merely a harbinger of things to come. The rise of the machines (chess and others) would come much swifter than almost anyone could have predicted.

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(Credit: FOX)

Recently, Kasparov gave an incredible TED talk about the rise of intelligent machines and the need for humanity to embrace, not fear them. Obviously, he took the time to assure the audience that his defeat by Deep Blue overshadows the fact that he won the first match. Kasparov’s talk is deeply inspiring for those who can appreciate the beauty of chess and technology; its definitely worth watching if you are a fan of TED talks in general, technology, chess, or just curious how one of the world’s greatest minds sees the future under the influence of intelligent machines.

As technology leaps forward, the world’s greatest game has regularly been there to help it shine. If you need proof, then check out the recent fiasco with the Chess.com iOS app in which the 32-bit version stopped working because the site’s 2.1 billion games exceeded the necessary math. Chess has always been a key component of technological evolution (and revolution) and Kasparov obviously sees that there is no reason to fear the rise of the machines.

Comprehensive coverage and review of the TED talk is available on Chessbase.

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Chess at Trader’s Village

I am always on the lookout for new and interesting chess shops, stories, and personalities throughout the day and I came across a really cool place south of downtown San Antonio that definitely raised my curiosity. Trader’s Village is a massive flea market and entertainment venue located on Interstate 410 just south of JBSA-Lackland in San Antonio. Aside from rides, food, games, and countless shopping opportunities, I found a neat little space where chess is king!

Nate is the proprietor of AllPerfectGifts4U located in booth #1049 and much of his wares are chess sets and boards of varying styles. I was impressed to find a unique US Air Force themed set for a respectable $49, but the set I wanted had already been sold via the online store. I guess I might have wandered to the wrong shelf looking for goodies.

In addition to selling and promoting chess, Nate also organizes a monthly chess tournament in the Trader’s Village central plaza. There is a big sign on one of the overhangs (see this post’s featured image), which advertises the monthly tournaments and can help lost chess enthusiasts find their way.

According to Nate, the tournament games are 15 | 10 time controlled  with modest participation and several regular players including one or two personalities that definitely seem to add a unique flavor to this hidden chess gem. The winner of each monthly tournament receives a professional tournament chess set to add to their collection! 

I have reached out to Nate for some clarifications and will update this article as I receive additional information. If you are interested in signing up for one of these tournaments, visit the tournament’s official website.

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Celebrating 3 Years Around the Campfire

Campfire Chess started as a small side project following the end of six years running my astronomy blog and non-profit called nightShifted Astronomy. In the high days of nightShifted I would never have expected it to end, but that all came to fruition in 2014 when I closed the site permanently to focus on other areas of interest. Name, chess! I started Off My Chess as a blog covering my attempt to get better at the game and eventually evolved it into Campfire Chess covering news, views, and general insights about the game’s fascinating world of celebrity, hard work, psychosis, and political intrigue.

Today, Campfire Chess celebrates its three year anniversary! To mark the occasion, here are ten of my favorite posts from the last three years.

  1. Product Review – Chessmate Ultima Pocket Chess Set
    • Published: 31 May 2014
  2. God and Chess
    • Published: 07 June 2014
  3. Finding the Right Notation Tool
    • Published: 25 July 2014
  4. Robin Williams and the Way of Things
    • Published: 14 August 2014
  5. The Sad State of Chess on the Mac
    • Published: 11 January 2015
  6. The Big Deal About Berlin
    • Published: 10 February 2015
  7. The Sad Reality of Cheating in Chess
    • Published: 06 September 2015
  8. Does Chess Need an Audience?
    • Published: 18 October 2015
  9. US Chess Sends Open Letter to FIDE
    • Published: 16 February 2017
  10. Iran Hosts Women’s Chess and Anti-American Chanting
    • Published: 11 February 2017

Here’s to many more years for Campfire Chess and our game!

Sincerely,

Wesley Surber

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US Chess Championship Set for March 29

Grab your popcorn and laptops, campers, because the United States Chess Championship is set to begin in just over two weeks time! The tournament will be hosted by the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis for the eighth year and it promises to be another exciting tournament for chess players and fans alike!

This year, newly nationalized American Champion Fabiano Caruana and America’s sweetheart Nazi Paikidze-Barnes will defend their titles against the top talents from US Chess. The prize fund this year is $194,000 with players arriving on March 27-28, Opening Ceremonies on March 28, and Round 1 beginning on March 28. As usual there are plenty of places to catch the action. Fans can view the matches live on ChessBomb, ChessBase, Chess24, and Chess.com.

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Singapore GM Shadow-Banned from Asian Zonals

I cannot lie and say that I was familiar with GM Zhang Zhong of Singapore and his wife, WIM Li Roufan, until the two of them became embroiled in a controversy with the Singapore Chess Federation. Apparently, both of them were excluded from playing in the Asian Zonals, which the Singapore Federation stated was due to the fact that they were simply not selected to play in the tournament. GM Zhang Zhong recently responded via ChessBase stating that Singapore’s actions amounted to a ban from the tournament and that the Federation itself was playing a semantics game.

This betrays from the start a willful ignorance of the meaning of the word “ban.” According to all standard dictionaries, the definition of the word “ban” is to “prohibit, especially by legal means”. The organisers of the Zonals Championship published an open invitation to all federations. It stated that all players were welcome to join. The only requirement was that the respective chess federations were responsible for registration. – GM Zhang Zhong (via ChessBase)

GM Zhang Zhong breaks down correspondence between himself and the Singapore Chess Federation in much the same way I would break it down. It is definitely worth the read if you get a chance to check it out. In essence, Singapore needed to register the two players for them to participate in the Asian Zonals, but did not. By refusing to register two of their best players, the Federation essentially banned them from playing in the tournament. 

GM Zhang Zhong and WIM Li Roufan (credit: Singapore Chess Federation)

The politics of chess are not much different from the everyday politics of government. There are shadowy agencies like Agon and FIDE that use incredible resources to undermine chess, and then there are amateuresque creeps like Singapore’s Chess Federation that prefer to put their personal agendas above the cause of furthering chess for its players and fans.

Read the full report: ChessBase News

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What is Your Favorite Piece?

Do you have a favorite chess piece? Are you partial to the Queen and her awesome power to be the decisive factor in a game? Or maybe you prefer the Knight and picture yourself as a warrior riding into battle as you move the pieces? I have been asked several times what my favorite piece is and it has certainly not changed since I started playing chess many years ago. Without a doubt, the pawn is my favorite piece, but this is not a post just to tell you that. Instead, I was intrigued by how a person’s favorite chess piece can significantly reflect nuances of their personality. This came about because I was recently asked about my favorite piece and the response from the questioner was that it did not surprise them. This was because the person recognized the importance of the pawn as a key to victory. 

An Overlooked Behemoth

In my opinion, the pawn is often an undervalued and critical part of any chess strategy. Even in pop culture references to chess, the idea of being a pawn often relegates a person to a mere participant without any significant positive contribution to the effort. Yet, a chess game is lost right out of the gate without a pawn protecting the King! When I look at the chess board, it is easy to see the elegance of the Knights, Bishops, Rooks, King and Queen. The pawn is often nondescript, but it is an overlooked and under appreciated behemoth (Battlefield 1 reference FTW). 

I think that there is no better representation of this importance than Ted Danson’s explanation of the pawn from the movie Knights of the South Bronx. In the film, his character is explaining to the kids about each piece and how valuable they are. In the YouTube clip below, the relevant part starts at 3:35.

Initially he downplays the importance of the pawn but reverses course when he recognizes that many of the underprivileged kids he is teaching relate more to the pawn than any other piece. They are quickly disillusioned by his explanation because it seems to reinforce the sense of hopelessness they feel in life. Yet, he changes directions and tells them of how important the piece is to the success of the game. The reversal is not a lie, but merely a different way of looking at the importance of the piece. Without the pawn, the King’s army is defenseless.

Echoes of Modern Leadership

The pawn relationship in chess is a perfect allegory for experiences in modern leadership. Chess mirrors life in countless ways, including the distinct roles that each person plays in the fulfillment of life’s greater purpose. Sure, most people want to be King or Queen, but those who wear badges of royalty or distinction cannot sustain themselves without the people who choose to be Bishops, Knights, Rooks, or pawns. It is this leadership reflection that makes the pawn my favorite piece. 

I have felt like an undervalued pawn by my work, my family, and my friends at many points throughout my life. I have even found myself in the midst of a pawn sacrifice from time to time, which led me to a strong personal conviction to ensure that when entrusted with the care of pawns that I would do my best to protect them and utilize them to the best of their ability. Furthermore, I pledged to myself that I would do my best to show them that they have intrinsic values that are far greater than the 1 point awarded on the board. 

This same person who asked about the pawns later presented me with a going away gift from a work center I recently departed. On the plaque I received was an engraved pawn along with a huge ceramic pawn to add to my collection! It was an incredibly touching gesture that reinforced my thoughts and feelings about the pawn and its importance as a chess piece and as an allegory of life.

What is your favorite chess piece and why? Share your story on our Facebook page or Twitter feed!

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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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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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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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