Posted on November 6, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

Campfire Chess Marketplace Now Open

Do you have an old chess set, clock, book, or trinket lying around that you want to get rid of? Amazon and eBay offer great ways to buy and sell, but Facebook’s Marketplace has recently been offering ways for communities to be built around buying and selling goods. Personally, I have had much success with these groups trading old VHS tapes and memorabilia, so I am pleased to announce the opening of The Isolated Pawn: A Chess Marketplace by Campfire Chess!

Membership is open to anyone interested in buying, selling, or trading chess goods. Membership requires a review to prevent spam accounts from joining, but I promise to review and approve membership requests as soon as possible.

Posted on October 16, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

The Curious Case of Claude Bloodgood

Greetings, Campers!

Halloween is right around the corner so I thought it would be a good time to dig into some of the darker and more mysterious mythology that haunts our game. Perhaps no other story has confused or amused chess players and fans more than the story of the notorious Claude Bloodgood.

Robbery, Murder, and Life Behind Bars

claudebloodgoodClaude Frizzel Bloodgood, whose name alone conjures images of the great villains from classic horror films, was convicted of burglary in the 1960s and served his prison time in Delaware. Shortly after being released, he murdered his mother, Margaret Bloodgood, in 1969 and was subsequently sentenced to death in 1970.

Not content to sit behind bars and wait on his execution, Claude stayed active playing chess and appealing his sentence along with several attempts to get released from custody altogether.

  • Unsuccessfully filed two petitions for habeas corpus alleging that his death sentence was prejudiced by the fact that he was a repeat offender.
  • Unsuccessfully argued that he was not provided a defense attorney during his trial as required by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Gideon v. Wainwright.
  • Unsuccessfully argued to state and prison officials that he had been born in 1924 in an apparent attempt to be released due to his age.

As if things were not strange enough, Claude also claimed to have been a Nazi spy. Curious since he would have been around the age of 10 years old at the time of World War II if his claims of being born in 1924 were true (they were not).

Prison Chess and Ratings Manipulation

I think that few people would argue against the idea that Claude was a good chess player, but his claimed rating and the mythology surrounding his chess career are remain a topic of considerable debate and scorn. He organized countless prison tournaments during his life, most of which were filled with new US Chess Federation members that were dominated by the seasoned Bloodgood.

This has led to accusations of ratings manipulation due to Bloodgood’s control and influence over the closed group of participants in his prison tournaments. In a sense, it is the same as walking down the street and getting every person I met to sign up for a US Chess membership just so I could beat the ones with little to no chess knowledge. Although they would have no rating or a low provisional rating, I would still see an increase in my own rating. Curiously, fragments of his games are scattered across the web with Chessgames.com offering the only collection that appears to have some coherence to it.

In addition to spending much of his jail time reading about and playing chess, Bloodgood also took the time to write chess books and work on his own opening, most notably his book on The Tactical GrobMore of a curiosity than a solid opening, The Grob has been the subject of much debate throughout the years and is available in several formats including free downloads across the internet (including Campfire Chess) and a print version available on Amazon.com.

Claude Bloodgood is one of those characters that adds to the colorful mythology that often surrounds chess and its players. Eccentricity has been a hallmark of chess personalities for centuries from enigmatic kings playing chess during the destruction of their fortresses to Paul Morphy’s final days and descent into madness and on to the famous disappearance and return of Bobby Fischer following his famous 1972 match. Claude Bloodgood might be one of the biggest con artists in chess history after Wolfgang von Kempelen and his famous Turk chess automaton. Or, it might be that he really was a good chess player and not as much of a con artist as many believe he was. We may never know.

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 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 June 15, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

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.

Posted on June 8, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

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.

Posted on May 25, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

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

Posted on March 13, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

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:

Posted on February 21, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

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.

Posted on January 30, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

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…