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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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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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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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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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Celebrating National Chess Day!

Today is National Chess Day in the United States. In my opinion, that’s not too shabby for a country only recently moving back into the chess spotlight. There are chess events happening all around the country and yours truly will be taking plenty of time today to indulge in our game. What are you doing to celebrate today?

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Trinity University Chess Tournament on May 1

Attention, South Texas chess players! Trinity University in San Antonio is preparing to host its first chess tournament on May 1st at 1300 CST. This tournament is the first in what Tournament Directors Bob Le and Jesse Lozano hope will become a regular event hosted at the university to unite students, faculty, staff, and chess players from around the city to play our game.

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An unrated section will be free for all students, faculty, and staff at Trinity or other colleges across the San Antonio area.

A rated section will be open to US Chess Federation members for $25 with guaranteed cash prizes. Both sections consist of 15-minute games with a 5-second delayed time control.

For more information, visit http://www.sascholastic.com/ or contact the TD’s listed on the leaflet above.

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2016 Campfire Chess Holiday Buying Guide

Christmas is right around the corner and its time for the obligatory holiday buying guide for the chess fanatic in your family. Campfire Chess is proud to present our top items that will make great stocking stuffers or gifts for your favorite chess player.

1. Stonkraft 10″ Travel Chess Set ($24.99/Amazon.com)

There is no shortage of travel chess sets out there, but this little set from StonKraft International has become my favorite go-to set over the past year. It comes in multiple sizes and I have found the 10″ board to be the perfect balance between portability and usability. The pieces are magnetic which is great for reviewing *Chess Life* or *Chess Informant* on the couch. It makes a great backpack set for analysis as well as friendly OTB competition at work, school, or home.

2. Asus Transformer Book T100HA ($322/Amazon.com)

Not long ago I did a review of the HP Stream 7 Microsoft Windows template as an alternative for Apple users wanting a portable way to run Chessbase. It’s been a few months since that review and I have to say that my opinion has changed somewhat dramatically. I am now convinced that this laptop/tablet hybrid from ASUS is a much better solution although it does cost about $200 more than the Stream.I have been using this device for the past few weeks and have loved every moment of it. It is extremely portable, adequately powerful enough to run the database program and perform most basic Windows tasks. Its touchscreen is far superior to the HP Stream and it has an exceptional battery power reserve and has lasted me longer than 12 hours during certain tasks. Look for an expanded review with photos and examples of use in the coming weeks.

3. Chessbase 13 Starter Package ($170/Chessbase.com)

Chessbase is the granddaddy of all modern chess programs and is used almost universally in the professional chess world. The larger database comes with approximately 6 million games with many annotations by some of the worlds greatest players. Chessbase 13 was released earlier this year and although it is a minor upgrade, I highly recommend it for its performance improvements alone. The starter package should be enough for the casual chess player looking to dive into the world chess databases.

4. Bent Larsen’s Best Games ($15.49/AmazonKindle)

Bent Larsen is one of the greatest fighting chess players in history and this book is a collection of his best games throughout the course of his chess career. I have this book on Kindle and have been enjoying it a lot! If you’re looking for a new Kindle book for your favorite chess player or looking for a paperback as stocking stuffers, this book is an excellent choice.

5. Yellow Mountain Travel Chess Set ($6.55/Amazon.com)

Now, I know that there are a lot of travel chess sets out there and I’ve already put one on the list. However, the quality and size of this little set is almost unbeatable. It folds up thinner than an iPhone and unfolds into a clear and beautiful black and white board. The pieces are very clear and easy to maneuver, so it makes for a great analysis board or pocket set.

This is just a small sampling of the many chess gifts that are available online. If these are gifts that you are not interested in, I hope that it has sparked an idea where you can reach out and find the gift that will please your favorite chess player this holiday season. May the many blessings of God pour down on you and your family this holiday season.

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What is Your Chess Personality?

Personality quizzes are typically the last thing that I do while surfing Facebook. It was fun at first to see what Zodiac sign I really belonged to or which Walking Dead character I am most like. However, it seems these days that there are personality quizzes on Facebook for just about anything. It was only a matter of time before somebody created a chess personality quiz and we have the hive mind over at Chess.com to thank for this one. According to the quiz my personality is Chess Champion and my wife is a Chess Prodigy although I know of no prodigies out there that start their games with 1.a3??. Yet, I love her still.

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Give the Gift of Chess 2015

As the leaves start to change color and Summer gives way to Fall the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) has kicked into high gear. If you are not familiar with CFC it is the United States Government’s yearly drive to raise money for charities and nonprofit organizations around the country. CFC’s intention is to provide an easy way for employees and families of the multitude of federal agencies to contribute funds in support of their favorite causes in a fast, easy, and safe way. Last year I wrote about CFC and advertised my support for the US Chess Trust. This year I want to expand on that offering by not only emphasizing chess organizations that are open through CFC but also some of the nonprofits around the country that you can help to bring chess to people around the nation!

Combined Federal Campaign

  • United States Chess Trust: In some ways the US Chess Trust could be seen as a hybrid of US Chess and Chess in the Schools. The mission of the US Chess Trust is to promote scholastic chess activities and to support charity activities conducted by US Chess and other organizations. Like the US Chess Federation, the US Chess Trust is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and can receive donations through CFC using code 10212 or by clicking here to make a non-CFC contribution..

Other Organizations

  • US Chess Federation: Recently the US Chess Federation (formerly USCF) completed its application process and transition to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. US Chess is the official governing body for chess in the United States. By supporting US Chess benefactors enable it to provide oversight, tournaments, and growth opportunities in life through chess across the United States. For donation information click here.
  • Chess in the Schools: There are many scholastic chess programs around the country, but Chess in the Schools is one of the largest and most influential. Operating largely within the inner city schools of New York Chess in the Schools has almost single-handedly produced a new generation of chess players from a rich and diverse cultural and national background. For donation information click here.

Honorable Mention

  • The Week in Chess: This is one of those things that does not fall into the realm of charitable organization but its influence and effect has such a positive impact on the world of digital chess and information sharing that I think it is worth mentioning. Most online chess fans know of Mark Crowther and the long-running website The Week in Chess. Until a couple of years ago Mark’s work was supported by the a major chess organization out of the UK. However, that partnership has ended and the site now runs purely on donations. For information on how you can help contribute to its operations and receive a copy of Mark’s Chessbase archive with every TWIC issue click here.

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