Posted on April 1, 2019 by Wesley Surber

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 on March 4, 2019 by Wesley Surber

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.

Posted on February 12, 2019 by Wesley Surber

San Antonio Chess Club Announces New Officers

A new year is fully underway and the San Antonio Chess Club has elected new officers for its executive board.

  • President: Rosalinda Romo
  • Vice President: Joel Salinas
  • Treasurer: Juan Carrizales
  • Director-At-Large: JP Hyltin
  • Webmaster: Martin Gordon

Founded in 1888, the San Antonio Chess Club is the oldest chess club in the state of Texas. They currently meet at the Lions Field Center on Broadway from 1730-2100 every Thursday (except holidays). They are also the official governing body for US Chess activities and tournaments in the greater San Antonio area.

The club is currently exploring ways to expand chess activities in scholastic and amateur arenas across the city. If you’re interest in joining or would like more information, check out their official website for details.

Posted on January 15, 2019 by Wesley Surber

Time for New Annotations?

This month’s edition of Chess Life has an interesting article advocating for changes to the way that we annotate chess games. The author, GM Andy Soltis, presents his argument on the basis that engines have changed the way games are analyzed in such a way that statements like White has a slight advantage are no longer relevant. I think that he raises some interesting points, but I am not sure that the changes to evaluations brought on by engine analysis warrant such a complete and drastic overhaul.

Humanity’s Slight Advantage

One of the key points in the discussion is the idea that in many situations, X color has a slight advantage can hinge on whether the player does not blunder. Therefore, the annotation is more realistic as X color has a slight advantage as long as they play perfectly according to this analysis. GM Soltis believes that the precision of chess engines allows us more accurately present lines as White wins with X move or Black wins in 37 moves with X.

This precision is compounded with the growing prevalence of tablebases. Recently, lichess.org has started offering an incredible seven (7) piece tablebase. Technological advancement only promises a future where we could surpass a ten (10) piece tablebase. That accuracy lends some credence to GM Soltis’s argument.

Despite these advances and despite my passion for technology, I believe that there are artistic and strategic elements in chess that computers might never understand or utilize. Stockfish can analyze millions of combinations in hindsight and state unequivocally that white can win in 37 moves without a blunder, but humans are not capable of that kind of analysis. With humanity, there is always a chance of blunder, mistake, or other factor that can affect a game’s outcome.

Room to Grow

GM Soltis makes some excellent suggestions with regards to these engine analysis comments, however. Specifically, using ~ versus !? because it more accurately reflects the nearly infinite possibilities presented in post-game analysis by a strong chess engine. Such a change might take some time to catch on, but it would make reading an in-depth analysis easier for newer generations that have grown up in the age of the hashtag, markdown format, and other digital mediums.

As a medical professional who spends his time pouring over spreadsheets and other electronic data, it would be nice to see more of the standard notations from large data sets and relational databases make their way into chess annotation because, curiously, it’s more in line with what is increasingly becoming a common language in the digital age.

Posted on April 6, 2017 by Wesley Surber

Registration Open for Rackspace Chess 2017!

Updated 0740 CST: Fixed incorrect tournament date in blog entry. Correct date is 29-Apr-2017.

What better place to host fanatics of chess than the home of fanatical support itself, Rackspace! Each year, Rackspace hosts a massive chess tournament at its Headquarters (known as The Castle) just off Interstate 35 (Google Map) in Windcrest. 

As a leader in the technology industry, Rackspace wants to build a culture around chess as a scholastic mind sport, so that our young adults enter the workforce with the technical thinking skills that matter to us. –Rackspace

The Rackspace Chess Tournament will take place on April 29th at The Castle, with registration details available on the official Rackspace Chess website. The tournament is heavily focused on children, so if your child is a scholastic chess player or someone who simply loves the game and wants to come be part of the growing chess movement in America, then visit the Rackspace Chess website and register them for the tournament! There are two sections to this tournament spanning a wide range of ages and playing ability:

Rated

  • K-12 Championship
  • K-8 Championship
  • K-5 Championship
  • K-3 Championship
  • K-12 U1000/UNR
  • K-8 U800/UNR
  • K-5 U600/UNR
  • K-3 U400/UNR
  • K-1 U400/UNR

Unrated

  • 4-12 Not Rated
  • 4-8 Not Rated
  • 4-5 Not Rated

The time control for all games is G/30 d5 (5-second delay). 

It is my hope that Campfire Chess will find the time that day to spend some time at Rackspace and provide coverage and some photos from the event. As with anything else, that depends on work and family.

Also, be sure to check out San Antonio legend NM Jesse James Lozano’s SAScholastic.com website for the most up-to-date information on scholastic chess tournaments being held in the city.

Posted on March 29, 2017 by Wesley Surber

US Chess Championships Begin Today!

Grab your laptop, tablet, and your favorite chess app, program, or board and get ready to follow the exciting showdown in Saint Louis: the 2017 US Chess Championships!

Reigning Champions GM Fabiano Caruana and Nazi Paikidze-Barnes will be fighting to retain their titles against the best that the country has to offer on the board. All games are played at 1300 CDT (GMT -5) and will be broadcast on Chess24, ChessBomb, and ChessBase.

Also, I recommend trying out the Watch Chess app available on iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. I wrote a review about it awhile back and it has been a great companion for watching chess when stuck in a meeting or in another place where its not practical to bring up a browser-based website.

Tournament Breakdown

  • March 29 – April 2: Rounds 1-5 (1300 CDT)
  • April 3: Rest Day
  • April 4 – April 9: Rounds 6-11 (1300 CDT)
  • April 10 – Playoff (if necessary) (1300 CDT)
  • April 10 – Closing Ceremony (1830 CDT)

Read more on the official website and follow all of the late breaking information on the US Chess Federation website.

Posted on March 28, 2017 by Wesley Surber

Waters Muddy as Kirsan Ilyumzhinov Resigns, but Didn’t…

It is hard to find supporters for FIDE‘s Dear Leader Kirsan Ilyumzhinov outside of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and those loyal to the oppressive regimes of Iran and Syria. Yet, the man manages to get re-elected to the post every cycle since 1995! Several attempts to oust him including a poorly run campaign by former World Champion Garry Kasparov have failed. 

The FIDE website and some chess news outlets reported yesterday that Kirsan had resigned as FIDE President following a special board meeting in Athens, Greece. Before cities around the world started the fireworks show, Kirsan himself released a statement via the Russian Chess Federation stating that he had not resigned from FIDE. Moreover, he claimed that the announcement was made because he is the victim of a plot by the United States to overthrow him. 

Kirsan’s dealings with dictators like Muammar Gaddafi (pictured above) has damaged chess’ international reputation and set back FIDE’s efforts to have chess recognized by the Olympic Committee. He was sanctioned by the U.S. Government in November 2015 for providing support to the Syrian government and stepped down temporarily until he could clear up the sanctions. However, he has remained a key figure in some of FIDE’s biggest events, which has led to some confusion in the professional chess community. 

Kirsan continues to assert that he has not resigned, but things seem to be more unclear now than ever before. According to the FIDE website through official statement, AGON (evil), and the professional chess community outside of the Russian Federation, Kirsan has been officially removed because he stated in the 26-Mar-2017 meeting that he had resigned.

Read comprehensive coverage:

Posted on March 22, 2017 by Wesley Surber

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.

Posted on February 16, 2017 by Wesley Surber

US Chess Sends Open Letter to FIDE

Earlier this week, the United States Chess Federation (US Chess) released an open letter from Gary Walters, the federation’s president. In the letter, which is addressed to Nigel Freeman of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), US Chess made official many of the concerns that the larger chess community has expressed for some time about the state of FIDE and the effect that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov’s seemingly endless tenure as FIDE president has had on the sport. The letter is very telling in that it shows the depths of leadership, communication, and organization problems that exist within FIDE; they are much worse than some had expected.

Gary’s letter addresses the hijab controversy at the 2017 Women’s World Chess Championship in Tehran (still ongoing) and problems surrounding Ilyumzhinov’s sanctions by the United States Government and the contradictions between FIDE’s statement that he would step down temporarily to address the sanctions. Instead, Ilyumzhinov has appeared regularly at major chess events in the capacity of FIDE president and has made no apparent effort to clear his name with the Department of the Treasury. This is all stuff that we know, but perhaps the most interesting moment comes when Gary addresses the 2016 World Chess Championship in New York City.

…this indecorous behavior is coupled with the conduct of a World Championship on U.S. soil without so much as a word in advance to the nominal “host” Federation, FIDE’s conduct becomes insulting.

Say what? Apparently, the announcement that the championship would be held in the United States in 2016 was never communicated to US Chess prior to the declaration. The United States was happy to host the event, but any professional governing body like FIDE owes the host nation’s federation a courtesy call and head’s up prior to announcing such a major event! Although, US Chess does have a recently unemployed resource that could help them gather intel without FIDE knowing…

Gary’s right in that this kind of behavior is insulting to US Chess and to chess in general, but I am inclined to believe that US Chess did not receive a phone call prior to the announcement because Ilyumzhinov made the decision on the fly and that the intention to host the event in the United States was a last minute gamble to generate publicity. In addition to the Championship problem, Gary also addresses every chess fan’s least favorite shadow company: AGON.

on several occasions AGON has failed to live up to its end of agreements with FIDE, with a predictable injurious effect on FIDE. The failure of AGON to make contractual payments has caused difficulties for some federations that would normally receive support from FIDE. President Vega states that he has informed FIDE in strong terms that it should cancel the agreement with AGON in light of its nonperformance.

Oh. My. God! Yes! Please, cancel this contract…but it will never happen unless Ilyumzhinov himself is relieved of his position because AGON is another one of his pet projects. AGON’s failure to follow through on its contractual obligations is hilariously hypocritical considering its incessant attempts to sue legitimate companies like Chess24 and Chessbomb for sharing moves during the Candidate Tournament and 2016 World Chess Championship. Unit the dirt is cleaned from the FIDE leadership ranks, this will continue to happen only to the detriment of chess around the world.

The motto of FIDE is Gens Una Sumus, which means We Are One People. As lovers of chess, we are one people but FIDE continues to act as though it is above the law and above the players and fans within its charge. Although I doubt that much will come of it, I am proud of my chess federation for speaking out against the destruction that FIDE is bringing to the sport. It is refreshing to know that US Chess remains committed to the truth of American ideals, which is obedience to law and standing up for what is right. I applaud Gary for his letter and for the board of US Chess for showing that they stand with the larger chess community as a body committed to fixing problems and promoting our game!

Here is the letter in its entirety. Plus, you can read the original post on the US Chess website here.

To: Mr. Nigel Freeman, Executive Director, World Chess Federation

Dear Mr. Freeman:

I write openly on behalf of the United States Chess Federation (“US Chess”) to express growing concerns that our Federation has with the World Chess Federation’s (“FIDE’s”) general casualness toward its own rules and statements, to FIDE’s lack of responsiveness to us as a member nation, to the questionable status of its president, and as well as to its economic health.

On October 6, 2016, I wrote to FIDE, care of yourself, to ask that any religious requirements for the Women’s World Championship in Iran be spelled out plainly respecting the obligatory wearing of hijabs, as well as for any other religious conduct requirements that might be imposed upon the participants. Without repeating my earlier letter, the text of the provisions at issue may be found in Section 1.2 of the FIDE Handbook, as well as set forth in Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter. At the time of my earlier letter, we found it peculiar that FIDE held itself to the world as being opposed to discriminatory treatment and as a guardian of equal rights, only to award the Women’s World Championship to a country that resides at the center of controversy concerning the fair and equal treatment of women. We continue to find FIDE’s actions peculiar.

I never heard from you on the above matter except in the briefest email by which you told me that my questions would be answered after FIDE conferred with the Iranian Chess Federation. That was months ago. Later, and without any of the promised answers being provided, you invited me to search out Mr. Makropoulos while he was in New York for the World Championship. For a world sporting organization, this lack of a formal response was troubling. When this indecorous behavior is coupled with the conduct of a World Championship on U.S. soil without so much as a word in advance to the nominal “host” Federation, FIDE’s conduct becomes insulting. Chess deserves better. So does US Chess.

We are also concerned about the ongoing role of the current FIDE president. FIDE’s communications regarding its President have created a confused state of affairs. FIDE issued a public statement more than a year ago, shortly after the time Mr. Ilyumzhinov was sanctioned by the U.S. Government, in which FIDE declared that Mr. Ilyumzhinov would have no further business, legal, or financial involvement with FIDE’s affairs. The ostensible purpose of his withdrawal from those affairs was so that he could “concentrate on clearing the situation with the US Department of the Treasury.” (See FIDE’s Statement of 12/16/15.) It is beyond time for FIDE to update the world of chess on that “situation.” The world’s greatest game suffers immeasurably under Mr. Ilyumzhinov’s persistent cloud. His own statements do nothing to benefit chess, but rather exacerbate the confusion, including an absurd demand that he be granted U.S citizenship. Moreover, despite that the December 2015 FIDE statement set forth that Mr. Makropoulos would exercise the powers of the president, we note that Mr. Ilyumzhinov has recently attended more than one international event appearing in ceremonies as the President of FIDE. If there has been a change in FIDE’s December 2015 statement, please announce the revisions.

Finally, we have received an open letter from the President of the Confederation for Chess of Americas (“CCA”), President Jorge Vega, in which he states that he finds FIDE’s financial situation “worrying.” As President Vega points out in his December 2016 letter, on several occasions AGON has failed to live up to its end of agreements with FIDE, with a predictable injurious effect on FIDE. The failure of AGON to make contractual payments has caused difficulties for some federations that would normally receive support from FIDE. President Vega states that he has informed FIDE in strong terms that it should cancel the agreement with AGON in light of its nonperformance. We echo President Vega’s concerns and recommendations.

US Chess will not standby and quietly watch as FIDE’s corporate and presidential conduct damages the game of chess. While we remain ever optimistic and continue to believe in Gens Una Sumus, we fervently hope that FIDE will improve its communications, sets its Presidential Board in full order, adhere faithfully to its rules and regulations, and forthrightly present and improve its financial health for the good of the game. Very Respectfully,

Gary L. Walters, President, US Chess