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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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Campfire Chess is Social!

Contrary to what you might have heard about chess players, I am a (mostly) social guy! Campfire Chess is not my full time job, so everything I do here and on social media is a hobby (for now). But that does not mean that I half-ass my efforts with the site! There are social media pages for Campfire Chess on just about every relevant platform out there! Some of these pages contain exclusive updates and stories that are not found here on the main blog. If you are a social type, then check out Campfire Chess on its myriad of other broadcast mediums!

If the links above don’t work, try these:

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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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A Future for Campfire Chess?

Campfire Chess is coming up on its three-year anniversary later this year, which is excellent when you consider how quickly blogs come and go across the internet. It seems even better in the chess world where it seems like blogs pop up everywhere and die within months or sit idle for years. Since I started writing this blog in 2014, much has happened to promote the blog and to threaten its very existence. Before I go on, I thought it would be neat to break down some blog stats:

General Blog Statistics

  • Campfire Chess Age (today): 32 months.
  • Average “age” of Top 100 Technorati Blogs: 33.8 months
  • Median Figure: 28.8 months
  • Source: ProBlogger
  • Campfire Chess Posts: 249
  • Campfire Chess “unique” visitors: 22,500
  • Campfire Chess “unique” visitor countries: 27
  • Campfire Chess “top” post:
  • #1 – Downloads page
  • #2 – The Sad State of Chess on Mac

On an average, Campfire Chess receives about as many daily visits as a strip mall comic book store, which is pretty awesome and goes beyond anything I had in mind when I started writing here three years ago. So, where do we go now?

I had high hopes for 2017 but they were quickly destroyed by a series of unfortunate events. There is a high probability that my family and I will be relocating out of Texas in the coming months, which has put a significant strain on all of us. The subsequent stress and turmoil has reduced my chess playing from frequent (70-80% of my free time) to less than 10% of the time. In fact, my anxiety has peaked to a point where it is difficult to properly set up a board, let alone play a comprehensive game. That has caused me to consider putting Campfire Chess on hiatus for awhile until I am able to get myself together, so that is option one.

The second option is to modify the content of Campfire Chess slightly to use it as an outlet for dealing with my anxiety and document my attempts to get back into chess. When I started taking chess seriously in 2014 it was very relaxing and enjoyable. I still enjoy it and believe that it might be an effective means of coping with the stress of everyday life. So, that is option two.

In all honesty, it is likely that Campfire Chess will continue as it has been although with a reduced frequency in posting. I will post whenever I can but I am not going to be able to post as frequently about tournaments or other events as I would like until I am able to regain some of my grounding. That could happen tomorrow or it could happen next year. Suffice to say that regardless, Campfire Chess will soon be packing up its mobile device and a few chess boards as it relocates (temporarily) from the sand and sun of South Texas for the oasis of Seoul, South Korea.

Stay tuned, campers…

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America Shows Agon How an Open Market Works

Just prior to the start of the 2016 World Chess Championship (WCC) in New York City, Agon Limited filed suit in United States Federal Court against Chess24, Chessbomb, and ChessGames.com to prevent them from broadcasting the moves just as they did (and lost) in Moscow earlier this year.

“These entities expend no time, effort, or money of their own in organizing, producing, or hosting the chess events for the World Championship and instead reap economic benefit from free-riding on the work and effort of World Chess.” – Reuters

However, just as with their loss in Moscow, New York District Judge Victor Marrero ruled in favor of the defendants for most of the reasons that have been covered on this blog and in countless others in the chess community already. The most important of those? CHESS IS FOR THE MASSES!


Chess is a game that transcends all boundaries. (Credit: WikiMedia)

RIAA of the Chess World

Although they were readily handed defeat in two countries, Agon promises to continue pursuit of its business model despite widespread business and consumer disapproval. Despite obvious attempts to assist the company with its model, Agon refuses to acknowledge that its attempts to restrict access to tournament moves is misguided. As a direct result, it seeks to force consumers to engage its unreliable and third-rate content delivery system instead of offering a compelling service for fans of the game to watch and enjoy.

Agon has quickly turned itself from an obscure entity into the modern chess equivalent of the Recording Industry Association of America which successfully sued a multitude of families in the early 2000s for downloading mp3 files from Napster and other file-sharing services. By suing grandmothers and teenagers for untold millions of dollars, the RIAA quickly became synonymous with corporate greed, censorship, and created a gap between recording artists and their fans from which some artists never recovered.

Hope for an Agon awakening remains dim, but I am pleased to see that both the United States and Russia dealt a blow for freedom to its blatant attempts to monopolize public domain information.

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How to Watch the World Championship

Updated November 09, 2016: Added additional viewing details and options. Campfire Chess will offer periodic reflection and post-game analysis throughout the event.

Few chess fans will be as lucky as those living in New York City when the World Chess Championship kicks off later this week, but that doesn’t mean we are entirely removed from following the match and taking in some expert commentary from Grandmasters and fans around the world. The recent victory in Russia over Agon has probably lessened some of the push for more subversive broadcasts and the web will be teeming with opportunities for chess players and fans to follow and comment on the event.

So, how can you view the match?

  • Chess.com will be hosting the official Agon widget on its site with access to chat functions with full video breakdowns scheduled after each round.
  • Chess24.com continues to establish itself as a bold new powerhouse in chess broadcasting and will cover the event with several big name commentators.
  • Playchess is the online chess play and broadcast service of Chessbase.
  • Agon/FIDE, who is currently like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in terms of its behavior against modern chess, also has an official website where users can view the moves for free, but pay a premium fee for additional analysis and special commentary.

The live match itself will happen in the historic Seaport District with tickets available via Ticketfly.

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Agon Loses in Moscow Court

As the world prepares for the coming showdown between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin in New York City, a Moscow court dealt a serious blow to Agon/FIDE’s attempts to limit the broadcast of moves from the event. The court ruled that Agon’s claim to the moves as trade secrets was not accurate and even ruled that its claims against Chess24 were invalid because Chess24 is outside of Agon’s legal jurisdiction.

English translation of the ruling. (Credit: Chess24.com)

The ruling is re-printed in English above from Chess24’s article with a full explanation of the ruling and its implications for Agon’s ongoing war against chess freedom located on the same page.

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The Agon Widget from Hell

Remember back in March when Agon, the FIDE puppet company responsible for organizing and managing the World Chess Championship cycle limited the live game broadcasts and infuriated pretty much everyone except their billionaire Russian investors and mafia henchmen? Well, run-on sentences aside, the Agon mafia has returned to show its ugly teeth in the run-up to the World Chess Championship in New York City this November with an announcement that broadcast of the games will be limited to a widget designed to be embedded into an external website to broadcast the games. Peter Doggers at Chess.com breaks the announcement down a little more. When you have finished reading his excellent report, behold the new widget:

Agon’s WCC broadcast widget. (Credit: Chess.com)

According to the official statement,

First, and most importantly, the live moves of the World Chess Championship match will be made available for free to responsible chess websites and other media organizations that take our official broadcast widget.

Although it is presented as the most important part of the broadcast announcement, the idea that the WCC moves should be free is buried in the typical Agon-FIDE hyperbole and legal threats to the chess community and its myriad of online portals. For example,

It is fair to say that the furor that followed divided the global chess community. We were asked, “Does Agon have the right to prohibit anyone from broadcasting the moves as they were made?” We believe that we do and that we have a strong legal position. We also have the full support of the World Chess Federation and many others within the game.

Agon acknowledges that its actions divided a deep and thriving community, but it still fails to see that the divide is between Agon-FIDE and everyone else, not a divide among the chess community. In fact, I don’t believe that I’ve ever witnessed an online community come together en masse like the chess community did when Agon announced its monopoly. With its restrictive broadcasting agreements and tactics aimed at subverting the established ecosystem, Agon has alienated itself from countless people who care about chess and want to see it grow. Furthermore, to assert that its position is legitimized by a FIDE endorsement is no different than saying that its okay to restrict the games because the Kremlin says so. In addition, those within the game that are often quoted by Agon-FIDE couldn’t care less about broadcast rights for chess. Their names are solidified in the annals of chess history and their view is always from the front row…at the board!

What we are doing has never been attempted before in the chess world. It is a revolutionary approach and I am sure we will probably make some mistakes in its implementation before we are finished.

Really? It hasn’t? Do they mean that nobody has ever created a chess widget before to cover broadcasted games? How interesting because Chessbase has one and Chessbomb has one that regularly broadcasts live tournament games. This kind of drivel expounds on how little Agon-FIDE really knows about the depths of ingenuity, innovation, and connectedness that exist in the online chess world.

Suspicious Widget

As a veteran of nearly thirty years of computer and network development, I can say that most competent webmasters are reluctant to arbitrarily add external widgets to their platforms. Companies often gain the trust and respect of their customers by demonstrating commitment to that platform’s service before said platform allows their widget or code to be embedded within their framework. For me, I trust Chessbase and Chessbomb because they have earned trust and respect as reputable companies with a legitimate interest in furthering the game of chess. Agon has done nothing but drive a wedge between the chess community and the organization that is supposed to be championing our game.

Would you trust a Soviet JavaScript or PHP widget on your network or content platform? I sure as hell wouldn’t. Call me paranoid, but the truth is always buried in fine print and revealed in data breaches or midnight special forces raids.

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