Posted on March 16, 2018 by Wesley Surber.

Rising from the Ruins

I’m typically the kind of guy who likes to keep to himself. I prefer to lead a normal life and spend my day causing as little trouble for people as I possibly can. I started playing chess regularly in 2014 as a way to reign in a serious lack of focus that eventually turned into a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in 2015. Chess is the thing that kept me grounded through serious turmoil.

As I wrote about in December I was faced with a significant illness that affected my ability to write here on Campfire Chess regularly. I took time off to work on some serious problems in my family situation. Unfortunately those problems were unresolvable and my wife left me in late January of this year.

To say that I was devastated would be an understatement. I was wholly traumatized by the loss of a person who I thought was my best friend and lifelong companion. I lost a home and what seemed like everything that was important to me. I put the website and all of its social media accounts up for sale for a short time before family and friends convinced me to do otherwise. There were many sleepless nights following that last blog entry of 2017 and there are some even today. Yet, I’m still here.

Today marks the first time since December 2017 that a new entry has been made on Campfire Chess and I’m here to tell you that the site will press on! I will continue to play, broadcast, study, and write about chess here on the blog in addition to the social media accounts and the Twitch channel.

The hurt is still very real and will most likely remain for years to come. However, getting back to things here will help me to get past this tragedy and move forward in a way that will ultimately help me and my two beautiful daughters.

Thank you to everyone who continues to support Campfire Chess by visiting the site and participating on the social media accounts. You are all my family and I love you dearly.

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 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 January 30, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

A Future for Campfire Chess?

Campfire Chess is coming up on its three-year anniversary later this year, which is excellent when you consider how quickly blogs come and go across the internet. It seems even better in the chess world where it seems like blogs pop up everywhere and die within months or sit idle for years. Since I started writing this blog in 2014, much has happened to promote the blog and to threaten its very existence. Before I go on, I thought it would be neat to break down some blog stats:

General Blog Statistics

  • Campfire Chess Age (today): 32 months.
  • Average “age” of Top 100 Technorati Blogs: 33.8 months
  • Median Figure: 28.8 months
  • Source: ProBlogger
  • Campfire Chess Posts: 249
  • Campfire Chess “unique” visitors: 22,500
  • Campfire Chess “unique” visitor countries: 27
  • Campfire Chess “top” post:
  • #1 – Downloads page
  • #2 – The Sad State of Chess on Mac

On an average, Campfire Chess receives about as many daily visits as a strip mall comic book store, which is pretty awesome and goes beyond anything I had in mind when I started writing here three years ago. So, where do we go now?

I had high hopes for 2017 but they were quickly destroyed by a series of unfortunate events. There is a high probability that my family and I will be relocating out of Texas in the coming months, which has put a significant strain on all of us. The subsequent stress and turmoil has reduced my chess playing from frequent (70-80% of my free time) to less than 10% of the time. In fact, my anxiety has peaked to a point where it is difficult to properly set up a board, let alone play a comprehensive game. That has caused me to consider putting Campfire Chess on hiatus for awhile until I am able to get myself together, so that is option one.

The second option is to modify the content of Campfire Chess slightly to use it as an outlet for dealing with my anxiety and document my attempts to get back into chess. When I started taking chess seriously in 2014 it was very relaxing and enjoyable. I still enjoy it and believe that it might be an effective means of coping with the stress of everyday life. So, that is option two.

In all honesty, it is likely that Campfire Chess will continue as it has been although with a reduced frequency in posting. I will post whenever I can but I am not going to be able to post as frequently about tournaments or other events as I would like until I am able to regain some of my grounding. That could happen tomorrow or it could happen next year. Suffice to say that regardless, Campfire Chess will soon be packing up its mobile device and a few chess boards as it relocates (temporarily) from the sand and sun of South Texas for the oasis of Seoul, South Korea.

Stay tuned, campers…

Posted on December 4, 2016 by Wesley Surber.

Daylight Gameplay and Suffering

I played the game above on lichess late last night. The site itself is quickly becoming my go-to place for online chess for many reasons I will cover in a separate post. What surprises me the most is that this was the second game in a row where I had a excellent tactic that brought a win. In this case, my 29…Qc1+ brutalized my opponent and snatched his Queen after the forced King move. Then, it was followed by this little gem earlier today…

I had an unbelievably easy winning position that I was unable to convert in two rapid games today that made my games from last night seem like complete enigmas. In fact, I was hard pressed to imagine myself actually playing those games from last night, but I did…which makes me wonder why there is such a dichotomy in the quality of my games played later at night versus those I play during the daytime.

This is the other game played at night and although there are some mistakes, the number of serious blunders are greatly reduced compared to the ones I played earlier in the day… Not sure where I’m going with this, but have to wonder if there is something that happens throughout the day where my concentration is off-centered and has to find balance. Too bad it tends to happen around 2200-2300 at night…

Posted on November 10, 2016 by Wesley Surber.

Recovering from the World Series

Obviously, this post is not about chess and it is much more heartfelt than a typical Campfire Chess post. Before chess was such an important part of my life, there was the Cleveland Indians and Major League Baseball, yes…in that order. As a longtime fan of the Tribe, I have lived on the razor’s edge with countless other fans watching a team move to the brink of victory only to watch that achievement slip away in the final moments. It happened in the 1997 World Series when the Indians lost to the Florida Marlins in an 11 inning Game 7, much like what happened last week in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series against the Chicago Cubs. Suffice to say that when the final out was recorded at Progressive Field on November 2nd, yours truly immediately switched off the television and sunk into a deep depression. Really? you might ask? Yes, my answer is yes…a depression.

A Deep Passion, a Passionate Love

Sports fans are generally maligned by much of society because sports are often seen as a waste of time, but there is much to be gained from cheering for a team or a sport that speaks to the essence of your being. Baseball has always spoken to me because there is a beautiful perfection in its obsession with numbers, stats, measurements, and finesse. What might seem slow and boring to some people is very powerful for me and for the many fans of the game I have met throughout the years. Just as it is with chess, it is the elegance and intricacies of the game that open up the true beauty and meaning for those of us who have committed our hearts to it. I committed my heart to the scruffy Tribe in their home on Lake Eerie many years ago and have endured countless heartbreaks, but nothing has come close to what I experienced on that November 2nd night when the Chicago Cubs celebrated their first World Series victory in 108 years on the grass at our home, Progressive Field.


Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians (Credit: MLB.com)

Anyone who has experienced a relationship loss or gone through hard times with a loved one knows that people react differently to these kinds of situations. Some people are able to cope with them much more effectively than others. Some shut down, and others never fully recover. For me, losing Game 7 was like having a close lover break some of the worst news imaginable to me, which caused me to shut down. I removed many of the baseball feeds from my Twitter and Facebook accounts while also limiting the news I read related to baseball in general. I was not angry with the Tribe, just incredibly disappointed. Yet, that feeling of disappointment was only part of the more complex picture. What did the Indians have to be ashamed of in this World Series? Absolutely nothing! Game 7 was one of the most incredible baseball games I have ever witnessed and it seems that both Indians and Cubs fans agree. After a day or so I realized that what I was dealing with is much like what happens when someone close to us hurts us and we are unsure of how to deal with it. I realized that my love for the Indians was as strong as ever, but they had hurt me and it would take time to recover, but I would recover. Both of us would recover.

Little Kisses from God

My wife taught me a phrase a few years ago: little kisses from God. It’s when things are going badly, but God puts people or situations into our lives that help to reinvigorate us or to remind us that he is still there. A day after the World Series ended, I received my Indians 2016 American League Championship t-shirt in the mail; that felt like a punch in the gut. Yet, a few days later I started receiving other memorabilia I ordered from the MLB Shop including a mixture of items with the World Series and American League Championship emblems on them. None of these spoke to me as much as my limited edition ALCS Championship photograph with a piece of a ball used in Game 1 at Progressive Field. I realized when that photo arrived that God was using these things to show me that there is much good in what happened despite the hurt.

“Losing can be tough, but if I told you on February 12, 2016 that we would be playing Game 7 of the World Series at Progressive Field here in Cleveland, you would not have believed me.” – Tom Hamilton (Indians radio announcer)

The recovery process is ongoing and this entry is a big part of that recovery process. But, Spring Training is right around the corner and a rested Indians team will arrive ready to try again. The triumphs, pain, and sorrows of 2016 will be replaced with the blank scorecards of 2017 as all 30 MLB teams begin the quest to fulfill their dreams of being on the world’s biggest stage. I congratulate the Chicago Cubs, who had a lifelong devoted fan in my wife’s grandmother. Both teams fought incredibly hard and no loss or victory was unearned. There will be complete healing eventually, but this is the kind of heartbreak that leaves a scar. I only pray that it is a scar that allows me to cultivate gratitude for the good things that have happened and will happen in the future.

Posted on October 18, 2016 by Wesley Surber.

Settling Above 1100

The cycle of life ebbs and flows with some periods being more demanding than others. August to October of this year has been particularly demanding, which forced me to cut down on my chess writing and playing. Curiously, that break preceded a jump in my online game successes both in live challenges and on the damnable Chess.com Tactics Trainer. My online ELO currently sits at 1101, which is the first time it has surpassed that benchmark since March 13 of this year.

Pretty charts, but still a long way to go. (Credit: Chess.com/Campfire Chess)

Of course, some of my recent wins were clearly undeserved (abandoned by opponent, etc.) but I believe that many of them are starting to reflect my constant dedication to studying and learning about the game. For example,

Winning and losing in chess is like the tides, so I am trying to prepare myself mentally for the time when the wins don’t come and the only way ahead seems to be down, like this heartbreaking loss:

Until next time, keep the flame burning, campers!

Posted on March 22, 2016 by Wesley Surber.

Unimpressed with Apple’s Loop-In Event

So, you might be wondering what an article about Apple is doing on a chess website (or you may not). In addition to chess, a long time passion of mine has been technology and Apple products in particular. Growing up in the 80s led to great exposure for me and my classmates to Apple IIe computers and eventually to the Macintosh desktop. Since then, almost everything that I do, including the writing, design, and administration of Campfire Chess is accomplished using a Mac. That being said, I typically look forward to their keynotes to announce new products because there is always a chance that something new will catch my eye, but yesterdayís event was one of the worst presentations I have ever seen.

Chess.com app on iPhone 5 in 2014. (Image Credit: Campfire Chess)

$ize Does Matter

The old adage that size does not matter is a blatant lie, whether it speaks to cell phones or genitals. In this keynote, Apple introduced a series of new products that essentially downsized products that already existed in their inventory. A 4″ iPhone called the iPhone SE, which has a somewhat creepy Windows ME feel to it. After playing and watching chess on my beloved iPhone 6, I cannot image ever wanting to reduce the size of my phoneís screen.

The next entry was a series of bands for the Apple Watch. Yes, I own one of those as well, but I doubt that I will be in a hurry to run out and purchase one of the spiffy new woven nylon bands released during the keynote. It might just be me, but I cannot remember ever wearing my watch and thinking: I need something that absorbs the sweat on my wrist better than this plastic composite band.

Yuck. (Image Credit: Cult of Mac)

The final release of consequence was a smaller version of 2015’s 12″ iPad Pro. The smaller device, also dubbed iPad Pro, is a reduction in physical size, boost in specs, and addition of a feature called True Tone Display in which the color of the display changes based on the light temperature in the room.

Chess Connection?

As I stated earlier, I love Apple products but I gave up using an iPad as my primary work device several months ago in favor of a Microsoft Surface. Obviously, Chessbase runs exclusively on Windows, but Windows offers a much more efficient file management system on tablets than iPad. This makes managing large chess collections and improves my personal productivity.

I hope to finish a review of the Surface 3 in the coming months to show how I have used it both as a productivity tool and as a portable chess machine. Unfortuately, Apple continues to keep me at bay from returning to iOS for pure work productivity. The addition of the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard to the 10″ iPad is a nice start, but there is still a long way to go.

Posted on March 17, 2016 by Wesley Surber.

Finding the Resiliency to Go On Despite the Outcome

As if there were not enough things going on in life to worry about, I have hit a slump. These things appear to come and go just like the seasons but that does nothing to lessen the sting. In my case, March has been a very busy chess month with playing in my first-ever OTB tournament and simul event. Each of those events have resulted in goose eggs, which was to be expected. However, it is the growing struggle online that has started to ruffle my feathers a bit.

Chess.com Player Statistics on March 01. (Credit: Campfire Chess)


At the beginning of March I was resting somewhat comfortably with an 1103 online ELO with some spikes higher in the 1150-1190 range, but unfortunately never managed to break my goal of 1200. In the past two weeks I have watched as my game as gone from OK to horrific as both my ELO has taken a sharp decline from holding around 1100-1150 to an abysmal low of 1020 the other night before resting currently at 1082.

Chess.com Player Statistics on March 17. (Credit: Campfire Chess)


100 ELO points might not seem like much, but for someone who spends an inordinate amount of time studying, playing, and writing about chess…it is a big deal. Looking back, it is ironic that this month’s edition of Chess Life Magazine features an exceptional story of what its like to work incredibly hard at chess and only see minor to moderate (if you are lucky) returns. My guess is that if chess were some form of stock market investing that it would not last long. And no, that is not me on the cover of this month’s Chess Life, but it certainly could be. At least, it represents exactly how I feel at the moment.

As with all things, numbers only tell part of the story. It is easy to write about the frustrations of chess using ELO numbers, but what about the quality of the games themselves? Perhaps no other element of my current situation frustrates me more than this one, because my games lately have all been worthy of the losses I received. Simply put? I have seriously sucked at chess lately. For example, this game represents the worst of the worst:

If there had been a resign from chess button on the screen at the time I might have clicked it. The only excuse for playing a game like this is complacency and outright laziness on my part, but I felt like I was giving it everything that I had. So, what happened?

Honestly, I have no idea…

I am at a loss for words on what has happened recently. Basic principles of opening theory and tactics have seemingly gone out the window. Stamp this game under the category WTF:

What to do about it?

Part of this post is simply to have an outlet to vent. Rarely do family members of chess players understand the depths of passion and frustration that come with playing our game, so it is nearly impossible to find that kind of support in a time like this. In the past I have found solace in playing tactics trainers or reading books, but lately that feels just as frustrating as some of the games I have played recently. Then, there is the thought of a haitus from playing for a short time, but will that really help?

In searching the Campfire Chess archives I found several posts like this in the past at different times when I faced a losing streak:

  • Beat the Losing Streak – link
  • Reflections on Losing – link
  • The Decline Continues… – link
  • Coping with the Downfall – link

There are some wise words and stark reminders in those posts, but sometimes its hard to take our own advice. Perhaps it is time to simply re-focus and re-prioritize what I am studying about chess and how I play the game. If a haitus occurs, it will not be for long because, lets just be honest, the board is addicting…

What things have you done to beat a losing streak?

Posted on December 28, 2015 by Wesley Surber.

Ending on a High Note

This will be the last post of 2015 on this site. This has been a rollercoaster year for chess around the world and it has also been a wild ride for me as I continue to work on improving my game. 2014 concluded with my online ELO rating sitting at just around 900. This year I am excited to end on a high note sitting at 1100 with a peak rating of 1170 in early December! It is incredible how much work goes into just a few hundred ELO points but the reward of persevering through unnerving losing streaks and perilous blunders is well worth it.

2014finals

2014 was a hard year for me because it was a time of major transition. I moved from Ohio to Texas that year and was still very green when it came to learning the nuances of chess education.

2015finals

2015 was much more rewarding in that I managed to find a rhythm and method that works for studying, analyzing, and integrating my game experiences into future play. Here is the final game I am playing this year so that I can focus on my family during the New Year’s holiday. From the Campfire Chess family to yours, I wish you a very Happy New Year and much joy and chess success! See you in 2016!