Press "Enter" to skip to content

Category: Fun Stuff

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.

19030497_1373507029363993_1488597365181878587_n

(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.

Comments closed

Campfire Chess is Social!

Contrary to what you might have heard about chess players, I am a (mostly) social guy! Campfire Chess is not my full time job, so everything I do here and on social media is a hobby (for now). But that does not mean that I half-ass my efforts with the site! There are social media pages for Campfire Chess on just about every relevant platform out there! Some of these pages contain exclusive updates and stories that are not found here on the main blog. If you are a social type, then check out Campfire Chess on its myriad of other broadcast mediums!

If the links above don’t work, try these:

Comments closed

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!

Comments closed

Five Beautiful (and expensive) Chess Sets

Chess sets offer artists and other creatives with almost endless possibilities to design custom and unique pieces. I came across some beautiful albeit pricey sets on the web the other night and decided to share them here for your viewing (or possible purchasing) pleasure. These sets are in no particular order:

chess01

RawStudio Leather and Steel Chess Set ($507 USD)

RawStudio’s chess set is inspired by industrial design and those little puzzles you can find at Toys-R-Us or various mall kiosks. It looks very beautiful and designed for portability, but I cannot imagine being comfortable carrying my $500 chess set out and about.

chess02

The STACK Chess Board [Limited Edition] ($450)

This cool board is like Legos or an Erector Set for chess! The board itself combines from four separate pieces into a full-size board. The ability to break the board down makes it perfect for travelers and for convenient storage if $400 for a nondescript chess board is your thing.

chess03

Black Tower Dragon Set ($150)

Chess has long held a place in science fiction and fantasy lore. In the real world, companies have created countless sets based on dragons, fairies, aliens, and other characters from classic stories. This, however, is one of my personal favorites! The glass board is perched on a highly detailed tower and the gold/white creates a unique look for dragon-theme boards that are often depicted with darker purple and red colors.

chess04

Hand-Turned Rustic Log Chess Set ($220+)

This is one of those chess sets you will see repeatedly on Tumblr or Pinterest feeds and I have fallen victim to clicking it several times before seeing the price and running for the hills. $200+ might not seem like alot for a chess set, but the size of this one makes me cautious. However, the rustic artwork and craftsmanship of the set is certainly among the best out there. This seems like more of a collector’s item than an actual day-to-day game board.

chess05

King Arthur Fantasy Chess Set ($1,350)

Much like the dragon chess set above, sets involving castles and midieval themes like King Arthur are commonplace. However, this is one of the most detailed and beautiful sets that I have ever seen. For someone who loves chess, fine woodwork, and the legend of the Knights of the Roundtable, this thing is perfect! It is only when we get to the price that my heart stops and disappointment sets in.

Comments closed

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!

Image 2

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!

Image 2

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.

Comments closed

My “Battlefield” Problem

I realized last night that I have not played a single game of online chess this year! I have played a couple of OTB games with friends and spent some time reading Chess Life and other magazines, but it was not until the latest edition of ChessBase Magazine arrived in my mailbox last night that I realized how much time I have spent on other pursuits; namely my recent obsession with Battlefield 1.

battlefield1.jpg

If you are not into video games or do not keep up with technology news, then you might have only heard of Battlefield 1. It is the most recent installment of the highly popular Battlefield video game series published by Electronic Arts and DICE. It is notable for its incredibly immersive multiplayer and its unique setting; World War I. I picked the game up late last year shortly after it was released and was immediately hooked. It is a vision of sensory overload with immense maps, incredible weapons, and a wealth of knowledge that I never experienced from a video game before. In fact, I have learned more about World War I from this game than I have from any class in school or book.

battlefield2.jpg

Why write about this on Campfire Chess? Well, like I said, this game has taken up an immense amount of my time. So much that the looks my wife gives me have gone from mild disapproval to outright scorn and disdain. Perhaps the obsession aspect will wear off soon and I can get back to playing some chess on a somewhat regular basis. In the meantime, if you are an Xbox One gamer and like to play Battlefield 1, look me up: DasExorcist.

Comments closed

Red Bull Advert Features Chess

A new advertisement by Red Bull energy drinks features a man playing chess against a very Cylon-esq robot. Touting its technological superiority, the robot tells the man that he is capable of forecasting his game by 90 trillion moves. Undeterred, the man gulps down a Red Bull which causes the robot to succumb to the man’s psychological warfare tactics by repeating simply, not fair…not fair…not fair. While Red Bull will most likely not allow you to beat such a robot, it is cool to see the company embracing the game in addition to its sponsorship of GM Hikaru Nakamura.

Here’s the full video:

Comments closed

2016 Christmas Wish List

Christmas is just around the corner and while most people have wrapped their gifts and are waiting on Santa to deliver the rest, this post is for those people that are looking for a last minute gift for the chess fan in their life.

1. US Chess Tournament Chess Set $8.95

What better gift for a chess fan than the game itself? There are countless varieties of chess sets out there, but the standard Staunton-style tournament sets from US Chess Federation Sales are among the best. Basic, non-weighted sets start at under $10 each with slight price increases for some of the heavier weighted sets. The $8.95 basic tournament set is the Campfire Chess go-to set for donations and tournaments. Campfire Chess donated several of these sets to San Antonio Military Medical Center earlier this year.

2. Bent Larsen’s Best Games $34.95

Bent Larsen is one of the greats and his book, which spans the length of his career, captures the essence of his fighting spirit. Known to some as The Fighting Dane, Larsen’s book is a striking look at some of his best works. The games themselves are challenging and are often illuminated with his personal commentary. The book is available in multiple formats including paperback and Kindle for the techno-savvy among us.

3. Voice Master Electronic Chess Set $49.95

I reviewed this product earlier this year because it is a good little chess set and also brought a sense of nostalgia for an electronic set my dad owned when I was a kid. There are several vendors that sell this set on Amazon.com. The going price ranges between $39-$49 and I advise not paying more than that for one of these sets. For the chess fan who loves the tactile sensations of the board but who might not have a partner readily available, the Voice Master Set makes a perfect addition to their collection.

4. ChessBase 14 €189.90 ($201.80)

I am still working on a review for the recently released update to ChessBase’s flagship product, but I will give you a sneak peek: go get it! ChessBase has made some significant improvements to the interface and functionality of the database system that keep it at the top of the chess information management world. ChessBase 14 comes in a variety of flavors including basic software with just the database system or in packages that include add-ons such as the latest editions of the Big Database and MegaBase. ChessBase is also available in multiple languages but only runs on Microsoft Windows.

5. Microsoft Surface $433.95

Friends and regular readers know that I am a die-hard Apple guy, but most of the good chess software is still made exclusively for Microsoft Windows. I’ve tried several Windows machines over the years including varieties of HP tablets and Asus convertibles, but the Microsoft Surface family is currently my go-to machine for chess analysis and database management. Like the iPad tablet family, the Surface product line comes in multiple styles and configurations. However, I currently use a Microsoft Surface 3 (non-pro) to run ChessBase 14, Fritz 14, ChessKing Silver, Stockfish, and a few other goodies. The ability to shift quickly between keyboard and touchpad into a full touchscreen tablet mode makes the Surface a versatile utility for the chess techno-warrior.

Comments closed

Digesting My First-Ever GM Simul Game

March has been an incredibly groundbreaking month for me in chess. I started playing in my first ever OTB tournament and had a rare opportunity to participate in a simul (multi-game) event at a local high school this past weekend against Grandmaster Boris Avrukh, who was the U19 Champion in the United States in 1990 and has worked with some of the world’s greatest players.

simul01

Some refused to go quietly. (Credit: Campfire Chess)

Additionally, he is the author of several books on 1.d4 and the Gruenfeld Defense. Boris played a simul against 15 people at Saint Anthony Catholic High School in San Antonio over the weekend as part of a public lecture and simul series. After the conclusion of the simul, the Grandmaster stayed behind to talk with the players and present three instructive games from the event and one historical game to illustrate the concept of prophylactic thinking.

simul01

Think like a Grandmaster. (Credit: Campfire Chess)

I attended the simul fueled on the adrenaline and excitement of getting to play against a true chess master in a real life simul! These are the events I have dreamed about for years and to have it finally come true was an amazing treat. There is much in my game for me to explore, but here is the initial analysis with Deep Fritz 14 and my own analysis/commentary.

Overall I am happy with the result. I never had an expectation of winning. The pure experience of the moment was what I was going for and it certainly paid off. Looking forward to the next time!

Thanks to Grandmaster Boris Avrukh for taking time to stop by the Alamo City and play chess with fans and for sharing your deep insight into the game with us!


-w.s.

Comments closed

February 29th? What is THIS Madness?

Life has been so busy lately that it was almost lost to me that 2016 is a leap year! For many people that only means another day to wait for their paycheck or one more day of putting their nose to the grind at the work to finish a big project. For me, it enabled me to squeeze out one more day at the gym before my physical fitness test. My job requires that I maintain a high level of physical fitness which is tested regularly throughout the year. To make this one special, I decided that I would take it on leap day. And, since this is a chess blog and chess players (typically) enjoy odd facts and history, I thought it would be nice to look into the origins of February 29th. Plus, it gave me a reason to post today…

An Imperfect Path Around the Sun

There have been many calendars throughout history including the Lunar, Julian, and the Gregorian Calendars. Most of us learn very early in school that the Earth orbits the Sun in a semi-perfect circle. Typically we celebrate a new year around the world every 365 days, but scientists observed that during the use of the old Lunar Calendar that seasons would shift drastically over time. This indicated that the calendar’s basic system for tracking the length of time it took for the Earth to orbit the Sun was inaccurate. Can you imagine having a snowstorm in Texas in July? If we still used the Julian Calendar, it is highly likely.

It takes the Earth on average, approximately 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 45 seconds long (365.242189 days) to complete one full orbit around the Sun.1 To compensate for this seasonal shift, it was determined that an extra day was needed every so often to balance out the inaccuracy of the calendar. Julius Caesar’s Julian Calendar introduced the concept of the leap year, but its calculations were still not enough to compensate for the full effect of the uneven orbit. This was because the only rule used to calculate the need for a leap year was that the year had to be evenly divisible by four.

Here are some interesting facts about the error rates in our common, Western calendars:

  • 365-day Calendar (with no leap years calculated).
    • Length: 365 Days
    • Error Value: 6 hours/year (1 day in 4 years).
  • Julian Calendar
    • Length: 365.25 Days
    • Error Value: 11 min/year (1 day in 128 years).
  • Gregorian Calendar
    • Length: 365.2425 Days
    • Error Value: 27 sec/year (1 day in 3236 years).
  • Mayan Calendar <– not saying it was aliens, but…
    • Length: 365.242036 Days
    • Error Value: 13 sec/year (1 day in 6500 years).

memealiens

Did the Mayans know something we don’t? As some ancient astronaut theorists believe…
(hope you read that in the guy’s voice)

The Vatican Steps In

Pope Gregory XIII realized the problems with the Julian Calendar and comissioned a new calendar to be created that would fix the leap year issues. The result was a calendar adopted in 1582 in Italy, Poland, Portugal, and Spain known as the Gregorian Calendar. It is the most widely used calendar in the world today. Here are some specifics:

  • The Gregorian Calendar is a 365-day, solar calendar divided into 12 months of irregular lengths.
  • 11 of the months have 30 or 31 days, while February has only 28 days during a common year.
  • Nearly every four years is a leap year where one extra day is added to February (which is today), making the calendar 366 days long.
  • The formula for calculating leap days is much more complex than the old Julian Calendar, which makes the Gregorian Calendar far more accurate.
    1. The year is evenly divisble by 4.
    2. If the year can be evenly divided by 100, it is NOT a leap year, unless (see third rule)
    3. The year is also evenly divisible by 400.

gregorianexample

An Early Example of the Gregorian Calendar (Credit: ScienceSource)

So, campers! Enjoy this extra day because it only comes around so often! Kiss your girl (or guy), phone a friend, play some chess, and enjoy it because you can bet that summer will be arriving at the same time it did last year thanks to the hard work of the people who watched the skies throughout history and helped us create one of the most essential tools in existence: our calendar.

-w.s.


  1. “Julian Calendar,” Time and Date.com, accessed February 28, 2016, http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/julian-calendar.html

Comments closed