Posted on February 12, 2016 by Wesley Surber

Claudia Munoz is 9 Queens Player of the Year

If you follow chess for any length of time online then you have probably run across the name, read the Twitter feed or visited the awesome website of Women’s Candidate Master Claudia Munoz. Claudia is a rising star in professional chess and will join the Texas Tech Red Raiders Chess Team later this year.

A testament to her skills on the board in addition to her charm and personality has established her as a trailblazer in the world of chess on social media. You may recall back in November of 2015 when an article circulated the web that cast the negative spotlight on chess social media with the title, Chess Players Lose at Social Media. Claudia is often mentioned in these kinds of articles as an enigma, but I think that she is much more than that. It is not only apparent that Claudia has a passion for the art of chess, but also for people in general. Always friendly and willing to show a human side of chess players that is often lost in the (losing) world of chess social media, Claudia is an absolute breath of fresh air in the chess-o-sphere.

New Accolades

Now, Claudia is adding another feather to her cap by being named the 9 Queens Player of the Year for 2015. 9 Queens is an organize that was founded by WGM Jennifer Shahade, the editor of Chess Life Online as a way to empower people through chess.

claudiamunoz

Not all scores in Texas are settled with guns. (Credit: Claudia Munoz)

Claudia will be traveling to Tucson, Arizona in April of this year to receive her well-deserved award and also to serve as the special guest for 9 Queens’ Chess Fest 2016. My very best wishes and loads of congratulations go out to Claudia for this achievement!

From the 9 Queens announcement:

9 Queens is excited to announce our Special Guest for Chess Fest 2016 and recipient of the 2016 9 Queens Player of the Year Award – Women’s Candidate Master Claudia Munoz!

At just 18 years old, Claudia is an accomplished chess player, earning many accolades such as: • 2014 United States U-20 Girls Junior Champion at the University of New Hampshire. • 2014 Tied for 1st place at the National Girls Invitational Tournament in Florida. • 2013 Champion of the All Girls National Championship U-16 in Chicago, Illinois. • Winning the gold medal for the United States in the 2007 North American Youth Chess Championship U-10 in Aguascalientes, Mexico earning the Woman Candidate Master title from FIDE.

On top of those accomplishments, Claudia is a stellar student and social media powerhouse, with over 2.7 million visits to her bilingual website www.claudiamunoz.com, and over 7,000 Facebook followers! (https://www.facebook.com/ChessCampeona)

Claudia has this to say about empowerment through chess: “How a person is outside of a chess board is how they are on the chess board, correct them on the board and you changed their lives forever.”

We are so excited to welcome WCM Claudia Munoz to Tucson and look forward to having her as our Special Guest at Chess Fest!

Posted on December 12, 2015 by Wesley Surber

The Carlsen Disappointment Train

The internet can be a tough place to exist for anyone, especially a celebrity. It is undisputed that Magnus Carlsen is currently the best chess player in the world. However, it is also true that 2015 has been a forgettable year for the World Champion. He has not dominated his opponents like we are used to seeing and that has some people in the chess blogosphere worried. The headlines on Chess.com and other sites are glaring: Chess.comWhat’s Wrong with Carlsen?, UK TelegraphCarlsen’s Ratings Crash, and Norway News in EnglishFrustrated Carlsen Logged Shocking Loss. The most recent article, which triggered this post, was a video posted on Chess.com from ChessCentral titled Something’s Not Right with Magnus Carlsen. Some have speculated that Carlsen is not playing his best chess because he is bored, distracted, has found love, or is not as good as we thought he was. The reality is that this all stems from the notion that heroes are infallible and invincible. Even Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was not immune to having a bad 2015 with sanctions against him and having to step down temporarily as FIDE president. Bobby Fischer was an exceptional chess player but his persona and the mythology around him has eclipsed his chess play throughout the years. Some people will talk about Bobby as though he was an invincible force who never lost and never had days where he was just off. Bobby had some terrible losses during his ascension to chess stardom. The Chess.com forum has an excellent post that asks this very question and users have submitted some particularly brutal games from Fischer’s early days. This one is especially devastating and it comes from a 1964 simul in San Francisco:

I have games in my personal archives from Chess.com that are better than this game, but a loss like this is not indicative of Bobby’s character as a whole just as a streak of poor results are not indicative of Magnus Carlsen’s personality or his chess ability. Is there something wrong with Magnus Carlsen? Probably. Is he playing poorly because he is bored? Probably. What else is there in chess when you are the World Champion? He has reached the pinnacle of chess and is still incredibly young, so how much higher can he go? I, for one, hope that he has found a girl who melts his heart and is distracting him from the board for a little while. That is partially because I am biased and want Nakamura to have a shot at the title in 2016, but also because Magnus needs that kind of balance in his life to maintain his health and sanity. Even if there is something wrong with him, it only goes to prove that he is human, he is fallible, and that there is nothing wrong with that.

Posted on November 3, 2015 by Wesley Surber

The Bobby Fischer We Never Knew

Bobby Fischer was one of those personalities that defies definition. Some have called him a maniac while others have called him a genius. His chess was as beautiful as a Da Vinci painting but his off-the-board antics were the stuff of a public relations manager’s worst nightmare. In his later years Bobby was remembered less for his works of art on the chessboard and more for his often incoherent rants and incessant anti-Semitism. By the time that he passed away in January of 2008 he was living an isolated life in Reykjavik, Iceland where he brought down the Soviet Chess Machine in 1972.

Gardar Sverrison is considered to be the only real friend that Bobby had during the final period of his life. Now, Gardar has published a book in Iceland (English edition coming in 2016) that opens up a new window into the world of Bobby Fischer. Instead of focusing on the same tales we have seen in Bobby Fischer Against the World and Pawn Sacrifice, Sverrison dives headfirst into the deep intellectual and emotional motivations that made Bobby Fischer who he was. The rants and unusual behavior was something that the world will always remember but the underlying reasons for why Bobby acted the way he did have always been the stuff of societal conjecture and armchair psychology. Now, readers around the world will have unparalleled access to the psyche of the man who single-handedly changed the face of chess forever.

Back on with Bobby Fischer is available for purchase in Icelandic language here. English edition is due out in 2016.

Read more about the book, its author and subject on Chessbase.

Posted on November 2, 2015 by Wesley Surber

Wesley So Victorious in Bilbao

American Grandmaster Wesley So achieved victory through a blitz tiebreaker against GM Anish Giri 1.5-0.5. Giri made headlines earlier this week for destroying Vishy Anand in Round 4 and for playing a mammoth 172 move draw against Ding Liren. Unfortunately the recently married GM from the Netherlands was unable to keep up the pace and was outmaneuvered in the tiebreaker by So. Wesley was the only player to win a game in the first half of the tournament and quickly became an early favorite to take the lead or at least find himself in a deathmatch with Giri. Like his American counterpart GM Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So is also a deadly blitz master:

Check out a complete recap with photos and commentary on Chessbase.

Posted on November 1, 2015 by Wesley Surber

Anand’s Worst Game…Ever?

On Thursday as the Bilbao Masters tournament resumed play into Round 4 nobody expected that former World Champion Viswanathan Anand would be offering up such a scathing criticism of his own game. Anand fought back hard and tournament commentators believed that he had a fighting chance to win the game but lost on time. Anand had this to say about his loss:

Today was perhaps the worst game of my life. I’ve never made so many ridiculous moves.

For a man of Vishy’s chess playing caliber it is hard to imagine such a devastating loss occurring in high-level chess, but it does happen! Just when I or others think that the 5-minute blitz game that was bombed at 2AM on Chess.com was the worst game of our lives…there are things worse than that. Judge for yourself by replaying Vishy’s Round 4 game against Anish Giri in its entirety:

Read more on the match between Anand and Giri on Chess24.com.

Posted on October 30, 2015 by Wesley Surber

The Texas Chess-Saw Massacre

When Bobby Fischer was king of the chess board it was hard for much of the world to imagine someone who could work harder or bring a greater sense of finesse to the game until the current world champion emerged. Magnus Carlsen has been called the Mozart of Chess and with his recent outburst that name seems fitting! He could be considered some kind of Chess-Saw intent on massacring any opponent that braves to stand in his way, but what is it that makes Carlsen so great? GM Daniel Naroditsky at Chess.com examines the phenomenon that is Magnus Carlsen and how the story of the great chess grinder is less of a horror movie and more of a real-life opera played out on the grandest stage for the world to see.

Read the full article on Chess.com.

Posted on October 29, 2015 by Wesley Surber

Giri Plays 172 Move Nail-Biter

If I were Anish Giri I would want to find a cold scoop of ice cream and curl up in bed for the rest of the night. The recently married Grandmaster just finished a 172-move game against Ding Liren at the Bilbao Masters tournament. Giri missed several opportunities to capitalize against his opponent and was only able to manage a draw after six hours of play!

Check out more at Chess24.com.

Posted on October 23, 2015 by Wesley Surber

FIDE Bans Garry Kasparov for 2 Years

Greetings, campers! This is a post that I never expected to write. For as long as he dominated the professional chess world Garry Kasparov has been an outspoken and often controversial figure. He has a longstanding hatred of Vladimir Putin and tends to see himself as more of a political activist than a chess ambassador. Unfortunately the way that Russian politics tends to deal with its rivals is to ridicule (or outright kill) them. Kasparov gained notoriety in this sense with the hilarious flying penis incident that has probably appeared on every funniest video countdown show since then.

Kasparov launched a massive campaign in 2014 to oust longtime president of FIDE Kirsan Ilyumzhinov but was literally destroyed in the lopsided election. Kasparov accused Ilyumzhinov (a close personal friend of Vladimir Putin) of winning the election through dirty politics that included bribery, extortion, and even the unusual step of removing a chess federation entirely from the list of FIDE organization and replacing it with a pro-Ilyumzhinov federation. Suffice to say that 2014 was a very exciting year for chess fans because politics and Kasparov both draw a crowd so interest was high on whether the former World Champion would be able to remove Ilyumzhinov. Kasparov remained relatively low key after the loss and made an appearance at the 2015 Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis but now he returns to the headlines by receiving a 2-year ban from FIDE for bribery! Here is the exact determination from the FIDE Ethics Commission:

ETHICS COMMISSION JUDGEMENT

Upon due consideration by the Ethics Commission of the factors relevant to the sanction, including the gravity of the offence and the presence of aggravating and mitigating circumstances, the Ethics Commission imposes the following sanction:

Mr Kasparov and Mr Leong are both banned for a period of two (2) years from holding any office or position within FIDE, including its member federations, continental associations or any other affiliated international organisations, as well as participating in any FIDE meeting as delegate, proxy-holder or other representative of a FIDE member. This ban will be effective from the period 21 October 2015 until 20 October 2017.

So, what did they do? In 2014 when Kasparov was running for the FIDE Presidency he made a deal with Ignatius Leong so that he would switch his federation’s vote from Ilyumzhinov to Kasparov in exchange for monetary contributions. Having worked in government service I have come to learn that appearance is everything and intentions are seldom taken into account. Kasparov’s camp argued that the $500,000 contribution for Leong providing 10 votes for the presidential campaign was to create an offshoot of the Kasparov Chess Foundation in Asia. Unfortunately the truth in the situation does not matter. Kasparov made a political blunder in that he did not see how his opponents would be able to manipulate the selling of votes. In some ways its almost as though he walked into a fool’s mate because his entire campaign was run on the premise of removing Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and ridding FIDE of its corrupt government once and for all. Yet it was a sneaky move that cost him 2 years of membership in FIDE or participation in its activities. Kasparov had this to say in response to the commission’s original findings:

“Back in Russia I got used to being falsely accused by puppet courts and this one has as little value and credibility as those. Being accused of corruption by Ilyumzhinov is like being accused of foreign aggression by Putin!

“My mission has always been to promote chess and to build the future of the game. I once hoped that could happen with FIDE, but it is clearer than ever this work will continue despite FIDE, which continues to take resources out of the sport and to drive away those who love it.”

This is the kind of stuff that makes it difficult to take Kasparov and his activities seriously. He never wishes to admit that he made a mistake or something that went wrong might actually be his fault. Surely at some point in his life he had to have stepped away from the chessboard and realized that he was making errors in his games. How else could he have learned and become one of the greatest players in history? Failure is an opportunity to try again but Kasparov never seems willing to admit that he can fail of his own doing. Unfortunately that seems to be something ingrained into Russian politics and Kasparov has proven himself to be the true son of his motherland: a devious Russian politician.

Posted on September 29, 2015 by Wesley Surber

Pawn Sacrifice – A Movie Review

The Bobby Fischer biopic Pawn Sacrifice debuted this week in theaters across the United States. The film stars Tobey Maguire as the venerable chess prodigy Bobby Fischer and Liev Schreiber as the pillar of Soviet Cold War chess dominance Boris Spassky. A couple of years ago when I heard that Zwick, Maguire, and Schreiber were working on a film based on Bobby and the 1972 World Chess Championship I was very excited to see chess returning to the silver screen. Although I had high hopes for the film I was skeptical that it could usurp my favorite chess movie of all time: Searching for Bobby Fischer. The story of Pawn Sacrifice‘s production is almost as dramatic as the story it tells. For the entire production and a long time after its conclusion there were only two promotional photos made available online to promote the film. When it was completed, there was a time when the film rode into festivals without a major distributor. However, Bleecker Street Media picked up the film and distributed it to audiences around the United States starting on September 24th of this year following a special presentation in Saint Louis after the conclusion of the Sinquefield Cup.


The Story

Robert James Fischer was one of the most electrifying personalities in 20th century chess. He taught himself to play chess when his mother left him alone for hours on end in their Brooklyn apartment overlooking Ebbets Field. At age 15 he became the youngest grandmaster in the history of the game and the youngest candidate to ever emerge for the World Chess Championship. The young boy from Brooklyn quickly took the chess world by storm and soon started winning the hearts of people outside the chess world for the way that he not only destroyed his opponents on the board, but also for the psychological damages he often caused. Bobby Fischer played chess at a time when the Soviet Union poured a significant amount of its national budget and effort into producing some of the world’s top grandmasters. Chess was seen as proof of Soviet intellectual superiority over the United States and its allies and the results of countless Chess Olympiads and World Championships seemed to validate that claim. However, Bobby’s emergence brought to light what had been known in secret for many years: the Soviet Union had been intentionally drawing games to stack the deck against players from other countries. The result was that key Soviet grandmasters were virtually assured a shot at the FIDE World Championship title, which was often played against another Soviet grandmaster. The player who had the most favor with the state at the time was allowed to win the title and hold it as long as it was beneficial for the sake of the Soviet system.

Bobby’s distate for the Soviet chess machine was put on prominent display in his now famous Sports Illustrated article in 1962, The Russians Have Fixed World Chess. If he was not a target of the red chess machine and the KGB, this article propelled him into the international spotlight and aired the dirty secrets of Soviet chess for the entire world. The rest of the story is pretty well known. Bobby went on to defeat some of the most powerful grandmasters of the day and win a chance to challenge Russian World Champion Boris Spassky in the 1972 championship in Reykjavik, Iceland. Yet, throughout the tournament and in the years leading up to it Bobby was plagued by a growing sense of paranoia and mania. He was obsessed with the Russians and convinced that they were tracking his every move. While its true that the KGB was keeping close tabs on Bobby, the fear and paranoia he was experiencing grew out of control and damaged practically every relationship he had. When the match was over Bobby emerged victorious over Spassky and the Soviet chess machine. After that he disappeared and was largely unheard from until his 1992 rematch with Spassky in Yugoslavia.

Pawn Sacrifice covers much of Bobby’s life from his adolescence through some of his prominent chess appearances up to the 1972 World Championship match. For much of the film the chess takes a backstage to Bobby’s growing paranoia and personal struggles. When it begins, the World Championship match in Reykjavik is a powerful backdrop for what is often seen as Bobby’s final battle to maintain his own sanity. Tobey Maguire’s portrayal of Bobby as the self-confident Da Vinci of modern chess is a perfect recreation of the man that many watched throughout the years on television and in tournaments around the world. In contrast Liev Schreiber is a silent, towering man who more closely resembles a football star than a chess champion. There is a heavy sense of Bobby’s personal desire to beat Spassky than of Spassky’s desire to beat Bobby. At least, until Bobby fails to show for the 2nd game of the match and risks losing the championship to Spassky by forfeit. Spassky agrees to play Bobby in the back room away from the audience because winning the match by forfeit would rob him of a true victory against Bobby. The film’s climax comes in game 6, which is widely known as the best game of the match and one of the greatest chess games ever played.

The Good

There is a lot to love about Pawn Sacrifice for chess and non-chess fans alike. For the non-chess fan, the acting in the film is superb and the way in which it portrays Bobby’s descent into paranoia is well done. Some have complained that Bobby spent much of his time in the film yelling at people around him and this is certainly not what is portrayed in much of the archival footage of him. However, this is consistent with the testimonies of his friends and family. Bobby Fischer drove away pretty much everyone that ever stepped forward to care for him. The paranoia, which was grounded in truth, simply became too much for him to handle. Even the greatest chess player in history had a breaking point.


Although the chess itself takes a backseat to the story of Bobby and his struggles again himself and the Soviet chess machine, I was deeply impressed by the quality of the chess presentation. The producers painstakingly recreated the 1972 World Chess Championship with precision right down to the design of the Reykjavik chess set used in the match. In addition, the film does a great job of creating an authentic look and feel of the late 1960s and early 1970s without overdoing it with excessive hippies and peace symbols.

The Bad

Just as there is a lot to love, there is a lot to dismiss, loathe, or simply forgive and forget about the film. Obviously I have already discussed the use of incorrect notation in an earlier post. In addition to this, there was the general choppiness in the first half of the film as the producers struggled to fit so much of the story into such a little block of time. Given the depth of material I think that the producers did a decent job providing the audience with enough information to follow the nuances of the story without becoming overwhelmed by minutia. However, there were some elements that were unusual and seemed out of place given the pace and direction of the film narrative. The biggest example I can think of is Bobby’s brief obsession with the Worldwide Church of God in which he listened to countless recorded sermons prophesying the end of the world. Bobby became disillusioned with the church and it was a major portion of his life, but the focus of Pawn Sacrifice made Bobby’s brief time spent listening to the sermons seem out of place. There was never a noticeable change in his behavior, whether verbal or nonverbal, that would have enabled the hint of his religiosity to benefit the story.


I also could not help but notice that Michael Stuhlbarg who played Bobby’s friend Paul Marshall in the film was wearing a standard issue US Air Force blue overcoat during much of the movie.

Finally, I could not help but laugh when my wife poked me in the side at the end of the film as Bobby rode away in his car from the tournament at Reykjavik. When he has cleared the crowd of people he reaches into his pocket and unzips a pocket chess set. And, this is not just any chess set…its a Chessmate Wallet! My wife recognized it because its from the same company that makes the Chessmate Ultima that I reviewed back when I first started this site.

The Final Verdict

Pawn Sacrifice is a solid psychological drama and a great historical pic about one of the greatest moments in chess history. Despite its few flaws and creative liberties taken by its creators, it stands on its own as a powerful representation of the tormented world of Robert James Fischer who, despite having his ELO eclipsed by other chess players, remains the greatest and most influential chess player in history.

Posted on September 24, 2015 by Wesley Surber

World Cup Down to the Wire

The big news in the chess world today was that GM Hikaru Nakamura was eliminated from the 2015 FIDE World Cup with a draw against GM Pavel Eljanov from the Ukraine. The American battled the Ukrainian through the English Opening with 2…e6 for Black’s primary counter-play. The game was very well played and it was apparent that both players came to the board with the best that they had to offer. Winning and advancing to the semi-final round was a big dream of Nakamura’s as he had mentioned in some previous interviews during the tournament and immediately after his previous loss to Eljanov.

Now that Nakamura has been eliminated from the tournament, I am closely watching GMs Anish Giri of the Netherlands and Sergey Karjakin of Russia. I have not seen much of Karjakin this year with some of the other major players like Giri and Caruana mainly because he has been participating in some far east tournaments, but he is still a substantial chess force to be reckoned with. So far, Karjakin’s games against GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan have been an amazing display of the power struggle going on between them. Both games have ended in draws with the first game lasting an agonizing 88 moves. It was apparent in the second game that the two challengers were exhausted and the game was drawn on move 14 with a considerable amount of chess left to play.

At this point, Chess World Cup victory is anybody’s game. Personally, I am cheering for Karjakin because I think he is an exceptional chess player and would like to see him advance someday to the World Championship stage. That is nothing against Anish Giri, who is a great player in his own right. Yet, just like playing a game of chess: there can only be one champion.