August was a rough month for my chess studies and outcomes. I lost pretty much every game I played that month and documented those results more extensively here. Fortunately, the month of September has been much kinder to me.
Chess players of all skill levels experience winning and losing streaks. It might have something to do with the phases of the Moon, the tides, whether The Walking Dead is on its mid-season break, or any other of the countless variables that affect chess outcomes.
In the month of September I won 29 out of the 35 chess games I played in various modes on Chess.com and games not played online. By far, my favorite win of the month came in a slow-move game with a 24-hour time control against a player rated 1057. It was an excellent tactical battle throughout and at one point I thought I had been lured into a trap before I managed to avoid making a huge mistake on move 38. Here is the game:
In addition to this victory and the others, the losses I suffered were each a learning opportunity. Of course, every loss is an opportunity to learn something new, but many of the losses in August were simply beyond my ability to reason on and off the board. The game above was both fun and frustrating because I felt at times that I had it wrapped up and wanted my opponent to resign but then I would see another attacking line and the game would continue.
In addition to these games and the subsequent analysis I also started digging deep into the book Fighting Chess, which is a collection of GM Bent Larsen’s best games with his own annotations. Playing each of those games through on my travel board and reviewing them in Chessbase is a great way for me to learn about his opening methods, explore tactics, and create a comprehensive collection of games. This game, which is reviewed thoroughly in the book, is one of the best attacking games that I have ever seen. I hope to annotate it for a future post and/or Campfire Magazine:
I was also happy with the results of this month’s work largely because it concluded with the premier of Pawn Sacrifice. When I am losing badly at chess I have trouble concentrating even on chess movies and books so I was worried that a lapse in play advancement might ruin the movie experience. Fortunately this was not the case and going 29 out of 35 for the month was enough to maintain my confidence in learning and advancement. Here’s to moving on to October and starting a brand new month with brand new challenges both on and off the board.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of my favorite parts of running Campfire Chess is the fact that I get to choose what I write about. Sometimes I like to write about my own games and sometimes I like to write about tournaments, movies, or books. On occasion I have had the opportunity to participate in activities or have purchased a product that was a defining moment in my chess life and was able to write glowing reviews and provide publicity for those designers and manufacturers. Among those are my absolute obsession with my Chessmate Ultima and my Plycounter. Quite often I wish I had the chance to do more publicity for scholastic chess because it is without a doubt in my mind that I believe scholastics represent the future of chess in America. With the increasing prevalence of chess programs in American schools it is likely that some of the next American champions are being formed in libraries, on playgrounds, and in gymnasium tournaments across the country at this very moment.
Recently I received a bright yellow flyer in the mail advertising an organization called Chess America. Founded in 2007, Chess America is a family run business dedicated to teaching chess in schools, camps, libraries, and park districts. These classes are taught by chess professionals and it is this kind of instruction that is pivotal to the future of competitive American chess. Because I believe so strongly in scholastics and this organization (somehow) was able to reach out to me through old school USPS mail, I would like to present their request here for any readers who might be interested in helping them out.
Chess Teachers needed throughout Austin, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City
Chess America sponsors many after-school chess clubs. We are in need of teachers for these classes. Minimum pay is $40 per one hour class. Classes are starting in September 2015.
Visitors to the United States Chess Federation‘s website recently may have noticed the radical redesign of the site’s front page, logo, and the way that the federation refers to itself. Throughout its history, the USCF has been referred to by its four-letter designation, United States Chess Federation, US Chess Federation, US Chess, and the United States of America Chess Federation. USCF has been the most recent way to identify the organization, but now the federation has started a two-year process of rebranding and revitalizing its image. USCF is now officially US Chess and has a new look, new logo, and a new mission: to empower people through chess one move at a time.
While the only part of the website that has really been updated is the homepage and the logo, I am very excited about this revitalized focus on branding and overall presentation of the organization. Having a modern logo, responsive website, and effective social media presence can do wonders for chess in the United States, especially at a time when Pawn Sacrifice is prepping to debut in theaters across the country, scholastic chess is as popular across the country as it has ever been, Saint Louis is growing as a megapower of chess influence, and worldwide chess is filled with some of the most powerful Grandmasters of all time.
Over time, the US Chess Federation plans to redesign every element of its website including the tragically outdated members only area and crosstable databases. Chess Life magazine has already undergone its modern makeover with a new logo and countless new advertisements and designs in the latest edition, which features Tobey Maguire on the cover as Bobby Fischer from Pawn Sacrifice.
It will be interesting to see what happens over time as the councils and staff at US Chess do to expand the brand and to build greater integration of chess operations across the country. To learn more about the federation’s longterm plans for the brand, check out this message.
In his recent Chess.com column, chess legend Bruce Pandolfini explores the phenomenon of cheating in chess and how technology has evolved over time to make it easier for cheating both online and in tournament games. The point of the article is to explore the community perspective of cheating in chess. Does it happen as often as we think it does? What is the community’s experience at large with such cheating? As I read through the article and perused the comments left by the Chess.com user community, I wondered how the world of professional chess has dealt with the rising prevalence of technology and its affect on tournament culture throughout the years.
WGM Mihaela Sandu: One of the more recent high profile cases was the accusations of cheating surrounding WGM Mihaela Sandu at the European Women’s Individual Championship. Her perfect 5.0/5 score led 32 people to submit a letter to FIDE claiming that she was receiving outside assistance for her games. WGM Sandu’s performance in the tournament suffered significantly after the accusations, which prompted some to believe was an indicator of her dishonesty, but the psychological difficulties with being accused by so many participants in a tournament like that would have devastated anyone person’s performance.
WGM Anna Rudolf, who is a huge chess crush of mine, was accused in 2008 of receiving hints in her game against GM Christian Bauer at the Vandoeuvre Open. She scored a WGM and IM norm during that tournament and drew the ire of three Latvian players: Oleg Krivonosov, Vladimir Lazarev and Ilmārs Starostīts. The Latvians accused her of receiving messages in her lip balm, which was confiscated during the tournament to satisfy the complainants. The fallout from the incident was well documented on Chessdom featuring interviews from GM Bauer and WGM Rudolf. There was no real evidence that Anna was cheating and few (if any) people believe that she was cheating even today, but it was just a precursor to other instances of cheating that would appear in the coming years as technology continued to advance. Here is the Bauer-Rudolf game from Round 2 of the 2007 Vandoeuvre Open in which WGM Rudolf was accused of receiving messages in her lip balm:
Dhruv Kakkar: Cheating is an audacious behavior anyway, but this case was particularly disturbing given the brazen methods employed to cheat. Dhruv Kakkar basically came to the game wired with two Android smartphones strategically placed on his body to help improve his moves. However, when he missed some basic opening lines and paused at unusual points in the game, it gave away the fact that he was receiving outside help. The phones were linked into a tiny speaker tucked away in Kakkar’s ear (pictured below…the speaker, not his ear).
GM Gaioz Nigalidze: For one final example: at the 2015 Dubai Open, GM Tigran Petrosian faced a Georgian GM who held a strong attraction to a particular bathroom stall. After some investigation by the tournament staff, it was discovered that GM Nigalidze was using an iPhone hidden away behind a bathroom trash can. Prior to being discovered in Dubai, Nigalidze had won the Georgian Championship in 2013 and 2014 despite being ranked #9 and also won the Al-Ain Open in 2014 which netted him an $11,000 prize. In the official record of Round 6 between Nigalidze and Petrosian, the game ends at 23.Rf4, but the screenshot from the cheating device shows the game proceeding beyond move 24. Nigalidze learned quickly that cheaters will be caught and that it will stop them dead in their tracks:
Unfortunately, cheating is alive and well in chess. Technology continues to advance at an incredible rate and with those advancements come temptations to skirt the rules to gain an advantage in tournament play. Anti-cheating measures can only go so far. The rest of the effort will always come down to the personal integrity of chess players to remain true to themselves and to the game that we have all come to love.
As I mentioned in my post from earlier this week, I am more than happy to see August become a distant memory. As if my 9 wins during the month wasn’t bad enough, the stress of other things caused me to stop writing my recaps for the Sinquefield Cup mid-tournament. Fortunately, only six days into September and my record is already showing signs of recovery. So far, September has blessed me with 5 wins out of 7 games including an excellent victory last night that I will probably have to annotate for a future edition of Campfire Magazine since it put me back over the 1000 ELO mark for the first time since middle of the Summer.
I am also anxiously awaiting the worldwide release of Pawn Sacrifice in a couple of weeks and remaining hopeful that it will arrive at one of the many theaters here in San Antonio. If not, it might be worth driving to a nearby city to see it.
August was a month of anticipation. Several major projects at work were due at the end of August and they created a great deal of stress and anxiety for me and for my family. Additionally, the Sinquefield Cup began at the end of the month and was a source of anticipation throughout the month. I went into following the tournament with the intention of publishing daily tournament recaps but life’s demands eventually took priority and I was unable to publish the final recaps leading up to Levon Aronian’s victory.
Now that September is here and August is a distant memory, reflecting on it has really shown me what an incredible roller coaster ride it was. The life challenges, victories, and losses were physically, emotionally and psychologically exhausting. Unfortunately, this is reflected prevalently in the quality of my chess games and the results of my online play throughout the month. Throughout the month of August I played 27 games on Chess.com and only won 9 of them. The other 18 losses were incredibly frustrating because they were not hard fought victories like some of my previous games. Instead, these were games that suffered from basic tactical blunders and obviously reflect the fact that something was distracting me during gameplay.
The game above is a perfect example of the struggles I have experienced on the board this month. I knew that 5…Nxf3+?? was a terrible move and after the Knight was captured by 6.Qxf3!, my reactionary move 6…e5?? was made almost immediately. If I had taken a moment to consider the position and identify the absurdly simple defense 6…e6!, there is no promise that I would have won the game, but could have definitely given myself a better chance than losing in an 8-move checkmate.
In this game, 8.Qxf7+! is the move that caused me the most pain. As with the previous example, I once again find myself guilty of ignoring basic tactical principles and reacting to my opponent’s moves before developing and executing a clear plan of my own. The response is a forced move, but 12.Qxe5 is not. Yet, I became so frustrated with the quick loss of material and decided to give up. As August entered into its 3rd week especially, right before the Sinquefield Cup, I struggled the most. Games like this became the norm and it became increasingly difficult to play games or to focus on my regular studies. But alas, not all was lost…
After working through the month’s many challenges I started to see results like the one above. This particular game was a lot of fun to play and I will probably annotate it at length in Campfire Magazine or in a separate post in the future. Those basic tactical principles that were seemingly lost on me in the previous examples seemed to come roaring back as the pressures of the month subsided.
Time to Change Focus?
One thing I have been considering is my recent focus on tournaments and tournament results. It is always nice to follow tournaments because the expertise of the great players is inspirational for me and countless other chess players. However, Campfire Chess is primarily concerned with learning about chess and experiencing the chess culture through more of an educational lens. So I am going to try to focus more in the coming months on my studies and sharing some of the harder lessons learned as I work to improve my skill set.
As a final example, this was a fun one that ended suddenly for reasons I still don’t know. It could have been that his dinner was ready and he needed to go set the table, but I might never know. In any case, it was a welcome victory that helped me to springboard back to a balanced win-loss ratio heading into the Fall and Winter months.
In addition to the articles and product review features, Campfire Chess Magazine features interactive chess boards with game commentary and PGN collections for three of the last major tournaments including: