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 by Wesley Surber.

Soaking Up Some Much-Needed Sun

Blog posts here on Campfire Chess have been quite anemic the past few months due to some things in my personal life that have taken precedence over chess and blogging. I plan to write more about all of it in the future because I believe it will be beneficial to my readers as well as my family and friends. However, for now, I am on vacation with my family and have taken the opportunity to soak up as many rays as I possibly can given that much of my life is spent behind a computer terminal.

With that, I have grown a new addiction over the past few months that has taken up much of my time on this vacation: watching streams on Twitch. Whether its watching Mambo-B destroy the enemy with his skills on Battlefield 1 or Swag_Dracula hunting down campers as Jason Voorhees on Friday The 13th: The Video Game. Yet, these modern masterpieces hide another gem lurking on the Twitch platform: chess!

High definition professional photography of a hotel room TV running Chess.com on Twitch.TV. (Image Credit: Campfire Chess)

Although the amount of streamers on Twitch devoted to playing chess is relatively small, I have found that there are usually 1-2 people playing chess online and streaming the video on the network around 75% of the time. Here are some good streams that I have been watching regularly that you might enjoy:

  • Full Chess Directory on Twitch – Typing chess into the Twitch search box brings up all active broadcasts and accounts.

  • Chess.com – The web’s largest chess website streams all of its broadcast material through Twitch including some platform exclusive events.

  • Chess Brah – Very cool blitz games and some instructional content with GMs Eric Hansen, Robin van Kampen, and an eclectic mix of other chess personalities. The name comes from a more contemporary surfer-style way of saying bro…I think.

Campfire Chess has its own Twitch Channel, but it is empty at the moment. One day I hope to start a regular stream when my personal life has stopped fluctuating and returned to somewhat of a sense of normalcy. In the meantime, enjoy the streams above and maybe I will see you in the chatrooms! I am usually on as CampfireChessTV. See you there!

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 March 13, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

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:

Posted on March 06, 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 26, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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┬ástate 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 February 07, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

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.

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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.

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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.

Posted on January 11, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

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: