Posted on March 27, 2018 by Wesley Surber.

US vs. Norway in Chess Championship!

GM Fabiano Caruana, who is currently ranked #3 in the world, won the 2018 Candidates Tournament in Berlin against GM Alexander Grischuk in the 14th round. Caruana held the lead for most of the tournament but found himself fighting back against victories by GMs Sergey Karjakin and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Fortunately, the young American held off and emerged victorious in the final round. Caruana will go on to face GM Magnus Carlsen in November in London for the World Chess Championship title.

2018 Candidates Tournament Games

For your reference, this is the first time that an American has played in the World Chess Championship since Bobby Fischer beat Petrosian in 1971.

Posted on October 16, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

Rest in Peace, GM (Father) William Lombardy

Grandmaster William “Bill” Lombardy passed away from an apparent heart attack on Friday at a friend’s home in California. He made waves in the professional chess world for his 11-0 ravaging of his opponents in the 1957 World Junior Championship, but he is best-known for being Bobby Fischer’s second during the 1972 match in Reykjavik against Boris Spassky. Prior to that match, Lombardy spent part of his career as a Catholic Priest. Eventually, he became disillusioned with the Catholic Church because of its views of celebacy and decided to leave the priesthood. He spent most of his life in New York City where he was evicted from his home and spent time in rehabilitation from an assault.

He was portrayed in the movie Pawn Sacrifice by Peter Sarsgaard. A thorough reflection on his life and achievements is available on ChessBase. Some of his tournament games are also available on ChessBase or ChessGames.com.

 

Posted on October 14, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

Today is National Chess Day!

Good morning, Campers! Today is National Chess Day in the United States! Established in 1976, the holiday recognizes the benefits of chess to mental and social development as well as it’s links to improved quality of life. Clubs and individuals across the country will be setting up their boards to play the royal game in celebration of its national recognition.

 

Here are just a few things you can do today to participate:

  • US Chess Events: A comprehensive list of all US Chess sponsored events throughout the nation.
  • In Dallas, the Dallas Chess Club is hosting its 2017 National Chess Day FIDE Weekend Open Tournament.
  • In Dayton, Ohio (my hometown), the Dayton Chess Club is hosting the 5th Annual Wright Brothers Open.

In addition to these events and the myriad of chess activities available on lichess.org, Chess.com and others, I have curated a small playlist of chess videos for you to enjoy on YouTube. Check out the Campfire Chess YouTube Channel for more information.

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 October 3, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

Major Changes Underway at Chess Informant

Without a doubt, Chess Informant is my favorite regular chess publication and has been since I picked up my first issue several years ago. It has some of the most comprehensive game analysis and its databases are beyond reproach. Earlier today, Chess Informant’s CEO issued a heartfelt memorandum to its subscribers announcing his departure from the company after 11 years. Josip Asik is leaving to focus his creative efforts on American Chess Magazine. There is no word on an apparent successor or what this means for the future of Chess Informant itself, but I am confident that someone with a passion for maintaining the periodical’s legacy will press on.

Here is the letter in its entirety:

I want to reach out to all of you with the news that I will soon be stepping down from the position of CEO of Chess Informant. This will give me time to fully focus on the further development of the American Chess Magazine, which has just completed its first full year of production. It will also mean that these two publications will continue their presence in the chess market place entirely separately.

Over the last seven years I have been responsible for all Chess Informant activities. This covered the period in which Informants 109-133 were published. What I am mostly proud of here is the editorial work I carried out on all the magazine sections of Informants 110 to 130 and also, partly, 131 and 133. Moreover this included my introduction of English language articles and annotations.

Most of you I consider as true chess friends, even if we have never met in real life. This has come about as a direct result of starting a new subscription management in 2010 – after which, step by step, we have got to know every subscriber’s name. Together, we have become one big chess family and so now it’s quite an emotional moment for me to have to say goodbye to you all. I am so grateful for the support you have given to the new-style Informants which I initiated and indeed experimented with – always in the hope that it would be as successful as it in fact turned out to be.

At this moment in time I cannot predict what will be the style of future Informants, starting with 134. However, bearing in mind the venerability of this house, I have no doubt that Informant will continue to flourish as it carries on its long and bright journey through the world of chess publishing.

For my part, I would like to take this opportunity to invite you to check out and hopefully join the American Chess Magazine. Essentially, this new publication brings you all the good things you have been enjoying in the first half of Informant, only bigger, richer and colorful. The ambition of the ACM is to develop into a superb international chess magazine.

So thank you all once again and rather than bid you a final farewell, let me sign off instead with the words – “So long!”

With best regards,

Josip Asik

As a loyal Chess Informant reader, I wish Josip the best on his new endeavors with American Chess Magazine, which has proved immensely popular with chess readers since its debut! Godspeed, Josip!

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 March 6, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

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!

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 October 18, 2016 by Wesley Surber.

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.