Posted on March 27, 2018 by Wesley Surber.

US vs. Norway in Chess Championship!

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

2018 Candidates Tournament Games

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

Posted on October 19, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

TCEC Season 10 Underway

The Top Chess Engine Championship (TCEC) Season 10 started on October 14 to determine which engine has the skill to claim bragging rights for being the best out there. According to Chessdom, Season 10’s participants are among the highest rated engines to ever participate in the event.

List of Participants

  • Andscacs
  • Arasan
  • Bobcat
  • Booot
  • Chiron
  • Fire
  • Fizbo
  • Fruit
  • Gaviota
  • Ginkgo
  • Gull
  • Hakkapeliitta
  • Hannibal
  • Houdini
  • Jonny
  • Komodo
  • Laser
  • Nemorino
  • Nirvana
  • Rybka
  • Stockfish
  • Texel
  • Vajolet2
  • Wasp

Click here for more information about the Season 10 Tournament.

Click here to view the TCEC live games interface with analysis.

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 August 19, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

SATX Summer Scrimmage Tournament Reflections

Last weekend around 60 players from across the San Antonio area gathered at the Wonderland of the Americas Mall to take part in the San Antonio Summer Scrimmage sponsored by the River City Chess Club and the San Antonio Chess Club (SACC). Yours truly decided to jump into the pool and register for the tournament when it was first advertised back in June/July. Although my game results were much less than desirable, the SACC TD, Edgar Munoz along with support from members of both clubs put on an exceptionally well-run tournament.

The Tournament

Approximately 60 players packed into the Wonderland Events Center near the mall’s food court to try their luck at a cash prize and the glory of chess tournament victory. The tournament started an hour late due to the overwhelming response from players! Normally I would be bothered by such a late start, but it was nice to see the TD and team giving so many people an opportunity register and pay at the last minute. Notably, the start delay was the only real hiccup that the event seemed to experience. The tournament went very smooth for most players once play began.

Perhaps one of the most notable events occurred during the end of Round 01. The end of the round came down to the wire with one game remaining between a young girl and one of SACC’s regulars. The ensuing drama found our SACC regular eventually pinned down by some brilliant last-minute exchanges.

All eyes on the last game of Round 1! #SanAntonioChess

A post shared by Campfire Chess (@campfirechess) on

It was a thrilling experience and the only time in the tournament where the room erupted in applause. The above Instagram photo captures that game as it entered into its final 10 minutes. More photos of that game and the tournament itself are available at the bottom of the page just past my game analysis.

My Games

I think that I am in the running for setting a new chess record of having the lowest ELO rating out there. Fortunately, the US Chess database reminds me that I am not the lowest, but I am damned close. Part of that comes from playing in a city where most of the regular players are 1500+ ELO. It is good for the learning experience, but not so good for the W-L record. The three games I played in this tournament (got 1 bye in Round 3) were painful, but educational and somewhat surprising. I learned quite a bit throughout the tournament about where I need to shift my study habits in addition to conquering some anxieties I had about playing in OTB tournaments with so many good players.

Round 1: Game #1

Game #1 was against a 1300 ELO player who was very friendly and played a nice game. We laughed a few times because of some arguments happening next to us between two kids playing their game, but overall the game was enjoyable. This game was not as good or educational as the other two, but it did remind me to stick to my opening preparation instead of trying to play so much off-the-cuff in games.

Round 2: Game #2

As you will see in the game commentary, this game made me very nervous. It was against a 1900 ELO player which was enough to challenge my psychological ability to sit at the board. In the end, this game turned out to be one of the best games I have played in a long time, even with a loss. I think that I also got Stockfish to give me my first ever (!) annotation on a move I agreed with.

Round 4: Game #3

Game 3 came in Round 4 after quite a break through Round 3. My opponent was rated around 1100 ELO and slammed pieces down harder than anyone I believe I have ever met. Another loss, but it was very educational and fun to play. In the end, my impatience got the best of me an earned me my first-ever loss by checkmate.

Here are some more photos of the event and the venue:

Final Thoughts

The San Antonio Chess Club is in the midst of a revival. Its President, Mitch Vergara, is one hell of a chess player and his passion for the game is reflected in the ways he has networked with River City Chess, Rackspace, and others to promote the game throughout the Alamo City. The 2017 Summer Scrimmage was a fun event for all ages that really brought the best minds of San Antonio together to play the Royal Game. It is my hope that this is just a taste of things to come from River City and San Antonio Chess.

Until next time! -ws

Posted on July 11, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

Analyzing My First OTB Win

Longtime readers know that I have struggled to secure any hint of a victory when playing against players over-the-board (OTB). I have won (and lost) my share of online blitz and standard games on Chess.com and lichess, but capturing that first victory at a real tournament was elusive. This might not seem like much to a seasoned chess player, but not being able to obtain even a slight advantage in so many games was frustrating. See here, here, and here. However, that frustration came to a close recently with my first OTB victory!

Because it has been awhile since I posted anything of significant here on Campfire Chess, I thought it would be a good idea to share this game with my readers to help celebrate my victory. My opponent was very challenging, but errors were made that turned things in my favor.

Posted on June 8, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

Chess at Trader’s Village

I am always on the lookout for new and interesting chess shops, stories, and personalities throughout the day and I came across a really cool place south of downtown San Antonio that definitely raised my curiosity. Trader’s Village is a massive flea market and entertainment venue located on Interstate 410 just south of JBSA-Lackland in San Antonio. Aside from rides, food, games, and countless shopping opportunities, I found a neat little space where chess is king!

Nate is the proprietor of AllPerfectGifts4U located in booth #1049 and much of his wares are chess sets and boards of varying styles. I was impressed to find a unique US Air Force themed set for a respectable $49, but the set I wanted had already been sold via the online store. I guess I might have wandered to the wrong shelf looking for goodies.

In addition to selling and promoting chess, Nate also organizes a monthly chess tournament in the Trader’s Village central plaza. There is a big sign on one of the overhangs (see this post’s featured image), which advertises the monthly tournaments and can help lost chess enthusiasts find their way.

According to Nate, the tournament games are 15 | 10 time controlled  with modest participation and several regular players including one or two personalities that definitely seem to add a unique flavor to this hidden chess gem. The winner of each monthly tournament receives a professional tournament chess set to add to their collection! 

I have reached out to Nate for some clarifications and will update this article as I receive additional information. If you are interested in signing up for one of these tournaments, visit the tournament’s official website.

Posted on April 6, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

Registration Open for Rackspace Chess 2017!

Updated 0740 CST: Fixed incorrect tournament date in blog entry. Correct date is 29-Apr-2017.

What better place to host fanatics of chess than the home of fanatical support itself, Rackspace! Each year, Rackspace hosts a massive chess tournament at its Headquarters (known as The Castle) just off Interstate 35 (Google Map) in Windcrest. 

As a leader in the technology industry, Rackspace wants to build a culture around chess as a scholastic mind sport, so that our young adults enter the workforce with the technical thinking skills that matter to us. –Rackspace

The Rackspace Chess Tournament will take place on April 29th at The Castle, with registration details available on the official Rackspace Chess website. The tournament is heavily focused on children, so if your child is a scholastic chess player or someone who simply loves the game and wants to come be part of the growing chess movement in America, then visit the Rackspace Chess website and register them for the tournament! There are two sections to this tournament spanning a wide range of ages and playing ability:

Rated

  • K-12 Championship
  • K-8 Championship
  • K-5 Championship
  • K-3 Championship
  • K-12 U1000/UNR
  • K-8 U800/UNR
  • K-5 U600/UNR
  • K-3 U400/UNR
  • K-1 U400/UNR

Unrated

  • 4-12 Not Rated
  • 4-8 Not Rated
  • 4-5 Not Rated

The time control for all games is G/30 d5 (5-second delay). 

It is my hope that Campfire Chess will find the time that day to spend some time at Rackspace and provide coverage and some photos from the event. As with anything else, that depends on work and family.

Also, be sure to check out San Antonio legend NM Jesse James Lozano’s SAScholastic.com website for the most up-to-date information on scholastic chess tournaments being held in the city.

Posted on March 22, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

US Chess Championship Set for March 29

Grab your popcorn and laptops, campers, because the United States Chess Championship is set to begin in just over two weeks time! The tournament will be hosted by the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis for the eighth year and it promises to be another exciting tournament for chess players and fans alike!

This year, newly nationalized American Champion Fabiano Caruana and America’s sweetheart Nazi Paikidze-Barnes will defend their titles against the top talents from US Chess. The prize fund this year is $194,000 with players arriving on March 27-28, Opening Ceremonies on March 28, and Round 1 beginning on March 28. As usual there are plenty of places to catch the action. Fans can view the matches live on ChessBomb, ChessBase, Chess24, and Chess.com.

Posted on March 13, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

Singapore GM Shadow-Banned from Asian Zonals

I cannot lie and say that I was familiar with GM Zhang Zhong of Singapore and his wife, WIM Li Roufan, until the two of them became embroiled in a controversy with the Singapore Chess Federation. Apparently, both of them were excluded from playing in the Asian Zonals, which the Singapore Federation stated was due to the fact that they were simply not selected to play in the tournament. GM Zhang Zhong recently responded via ChessBase stating that Singapore’s actions amounted to a ban from the tournament and that the Federation itself was playing a semantics game.

This betrays from the start a willful ignorance of the meaning of the word “ban.” According to all standard dictionaries, the definition of the word “ban” is to “prohibit, especially by legal means”. The organisers of the Zonals Championship published an open invitation to all federations. It stated that all players were welcome to join. The only requirement was that the respective chess federations were responsible for registration. – GM Zhang Zhong (via ChessBase)

GM Zhang Zhong breaks down correspondence between himself and the Singapore Chess Federation in much the same way I would break it down. It is definitely worth the read if you get a chance to check it out. In essence, Singapore needed to register the two players for them to participate in the Asian Zonals, but did not. By refusing to register two of their best players, the Federation essentially banned them from playing in the tournament. 

GM Zhang Zhong and WIM Li Roufan (credit: Singapore Chess Federation)

The politics of chess are not much different from the everyday politics of government. There are shadowy agencies like Agon and FIDE that use incredible resources to undermine chess, and then there are amateuresque creeps like Singapore’s Chess Federation that prefer to put their personal agendas above the cause of furthering chess for its players and fans.

Read the full report: ChessBase News