Chess improvement can be a slow and grinding process. It has been a rollercoaster-like ride full of ups and downs (mostly downs) over the last few years. I am excited to be approaching the 1300 rating threshold after several setbacks over the past few months. Some of the losses this year have been brutal and some of the wins have been incredible, but learning to live with win and losses is one of the biggest challenges when learning the game.
This is a game I played last night that placed me within 2 points of the 1300 threshold. I have been too busy today to put my mind to another game, so I figured I would annotate this game and show some of the things I continue to learn on the long to road to chess mastery.
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…
“These entities expend no time, effort, or money of their own in organizing, producing, or hosting the chess events for the World Championship and instead reap economic benefit from free-riding on the work and effort of World Chess.” – Reuters
However, just as with their loss in Moscow, New York District Judge Victor Marrero ruled in favor of the defendants for most of the reasons that have been covered on this blog and in countless others in the chess community already. The most important of those? CHESS IS FOR THE MASSES!
Chess is a game that transcends all boundaries. (Credit: WikiMedia)
RIAA of the Chess World
Although they were readily handed defeat in two countries, Agon promises to continue pursuit of its business model despite widespread business and consumer disapproval. Despite obvious attempts to assist the company with its model, Agon refuses to acknowledge that its attempts to restrict access to tournament moves is misguided. As a direct result, it seeks to force consumers to engage its unreliable and third-rate content delivery system instead of offering a compelling service for fans of the game to watch and enjoy.
Agon has quickly turned itself from an obscure entity into the modern chess equivalent of the Recording Industry Association of America which successfully sued a multitude of families in the early 2000s for downloading mp3 files from Napster and other file-sharing services. By suing grandmothers and teenagers for untold millions of dollars, the RIAA quickly became synonymous with corporate greed, censorship, and created a gap between recording artists and their fans from which some artists never recovered.
Hope for an Agon awakening remains dim, but I am pleased to see that both the United States and Russia dealt a blow for freedom to its blatant attempts to monopolize public domain information.
Many chess players and learners have moved their games into the cloud via Chessbase, Chess.com‘s servers, or the myriad of other iOS and Android apps available for tracking and analyzing a player’s repertoire. For me, this often involves playing on Chess.com on my iPhone or using Stockfish to store and analyze games on the go when I am away from my laptop or ability to access my Chessbase database. Yet, the steady transition of chess players to cloud systems over the years has not entirely eliminated a nostalgic piece of chess history: the computer chess board.
An interesting memory of chess I have as a kid is playing against a computerized board that belonged to my dad. I remember that it had a small LCD display, some red LEDs along the side to indicate the current move, and came with an annoying voice assistant that was always ready to pounce on your emotions once it had destroyed your chess game. The hauntingly annoying words of that board are forever engrained into my psyche: “Hi, my name is Chester! How about a nice game of chess?”
The IQ Toys Voice Master electronic chess board.
As time progressed, many of these boards were relegated to discount bins at bargain stores or the miscellaneous aisles at Goodwill locations. However, I came across a computerized chess board for sale at a Toys-R-Us here in San Antonio a few weeks ago and the item piqued my interest. Was there still a market for these things? And, if there was…what kind of other boards were available out there? A quick Amazon search revealed a mixture of the same problems faced by manufacturers of other niche products: a collection of worthless products with 1-2 star ratings intermixed with legitimate boards.
I spent the next few days researching options and finally decided on a mid-range board from a company called IQ Toys. My Voice Master electronic chess set came a few days later and I thought that now was an appropriate time to write a review given that I have had about a week to play with it. So, here is what its like to use a classic digital chess board in the age of the chess cloud…
Voice Master pieces are of high-quality construction.
Construction and Presentation
Given the plethora of cheap chess sets out there, it is important for a product to present a pleasing aesthetic. This little board was well packaged and it was immediately apparent that it was of a high quality construction. The box included the board itself, a set of white pieces, a set of black pieces, and a complete set of disks for checkers. I could go off on another tangent about the constant bundling of chess and checkers pieces together, but I digress. I tossed the checkers disks into the garbage and unpacked the small, magnetic chess pieces. The board itself does not come with a way to plug it into the wall, so it requires 4 AA batteries. Fortunately, so do many other toys I have purchased for my kids, so after loading the batteries and setting up the pieces, I clicked on the power and set to starting my first digital chess board game since the traumatic days of Chester…
Voice Master size comparison to 12″ MacBook.
Game Play and Observations
It was very straight forward and easy to get a new game started. Without wanting to adjust the options such as game strength or piece odds, two clicks on the key pad and I was underway. I quickly realized that it was going to take some getting used to how the pieces interfaced with the board so that I would not be inundated with a particularly annoying buzzer when it encounters an error. The player gently presses the piece down on the board and follows the instructions on the LCD board. After a few times of having the buzzer scare my dog and receiving more than enough interesting looks from my wife, I muted the board sounds and continue on. As with most chess computers it did not take long for me to hang a piece and lose the first of many casual games against the device.
Voice Master vs. Stockfish 7 via ChessBase GUI on Microsoft Surface 3.
I have yet to beat this board, which is nothing new for me and is nothing that I did not expect. However, I was curious to get an idea of how strong the board is on a normal setting. I felt as though I was playing against a 1500-1600 ELO player and decided that the best way to compliment any kind of review of the product would be to put it into an engine match against Stockfish. I fired up my Fritz 14 GUI and launched a new game against Stockfish with White and me manually inputting moves for Black on behalf of the Voice Master board. Although there were some moves made by the Voice Master board that warranted a ?? or similar marking, I avoided annotations in the game unless the board itself provided some form of text alert.
As I expected, Stockfish made short work of the Voice Master board although I was shocked at some of the moves and warnings offered by the board as the game approached its brutal conclusion. Specifically, move 21.Rxg7+ was flagged by the board as requiring caution. When the board asked me if I was sure that I wanted to proceed with that move, Stockfish’s analysis of the move bringing it to within (#8) with 21…Kxg7 22.Qg4+… at this point was more than enough for me to chuckle at the device’s overconfidence. The same thing occurred two moves later after 23.Rh7!! with the board asking if I was sure I wanted to proceed. Needless to say that the board lost shortly thereafter.
One interesting point of the game above is that the board seemed to completely ignore Stockfish’s attach after 21.Rxg7+ and go its own way. Very little was done to counter the coming assault although the board continued to offer coaching advice and precautionary alerts despite Stockfish having it at a #4 disadvantage.
The construction, appearance, and usability of the Voice Master board is nice. It does not have the cheap appearance or feeling that comes with many electronic boards sold in stores or online today. Learning the proper level of pressure to apply to the pieces during gameplay can take some practice and I highly recommend turning off the board sounds until you have a firm grasp on that pressure. Otherwise, a player can expect to be inundated with the horrific error buzzer mentioned above.
As for playing strength, the board seems perfect for beginners to mid-range skill players. It offers a classical tactile chess experience without the need to hunt down a physical opponent. However, it might be too little of a reliable challenge for some players as demonstrated in the demo game where it ignored the final mating combination almost entirely. The board retails for $39.99 on Amazon.com (as opposed to $99.99 on sites like ChessUSA.com), which makes it a nice gift for your favorite chess lover or child looking to get started playing the game. At least it does not have the taunting voice of the dreaded Chester set I mentioned in the beginning.
I am not sure why I have struggled to finish this review, but hopefully this 4th draft will be the final version. This also turned out to be the first post of July 2016. Normally, I would already have posted several entries, but this is been a challenging month.
Alas, on to the review we go…
Like most chess players, there are certain games and moves that have left an unmistakable influence on my life. Of course, classic games like Morphy’s Opera Game and Fischer Game of the Century are highlights, but some classic games of Staunton, Casablanca have earned their way into my collection of PGN databases and FEN diagrams. So, imagine my excitement when I discovered a DVD on the growing Chessbase library that brings many of those games together in a single collection: GM Simon Williams’ Most Amazing Moves. Although the DVD itself was published in January 2015, I only recently managed to pick up a copy and go through it in its entirety.
The DVD Itself
Most Amazing Moves is a 4-hour collection of video commentary by GM Williams on a mixed collection of games featuring some of his own experiences intermixed with games from the greatest players in history. Combined with his unique brand of humor, Williams provides the viewer with an exciting overview of the games and exploration of how some seemingly small moves can change the course of a game or even the course of chess history. If British humor is not something you are accustomed to, and some of his comments could seem offputting. However, I found all of his commentary and insights into the games extremely refreshing.
The DVD itself begins with some relatively popular classical games, but it is the exploration of key moments in these games that separates this DVD apart from others. Personally, as a man who is fully aware of his chess deficiencies, I enjoyed Simon’s repeated jabs at the viewer further assumed inability to see the most amazing move and the meaning behind what makes it such an amazing move. Throughout the DVD, Simon begins by offering brief commentary on each game before moving on to a Chessbase quiz that allows the user to guess the next set of moves. There were moments in these quizzes where it seemed that no amount of calculation or guessing allowed me to determine the correct move. However, there were other times when I was able to guess the correct move, but only because it fit with a theme carried over from one or two games earlier. Or, I was able to determine the correct move but not immediately ascertain exactly why it was such an amazing move. Fortunately, Simon provides detailed explanation of the moves and even some witty comments on variations that can be selected by the user. Some of those variations come with honest and heartfelt chess instruction while others are met with a look of disdain and utter confusion and why the person would even consider trying to guess the moves. Here is an example of the gems that make up the bulk of the DVD:
While there are many examples of amazing tactics demonstrated throughout the DVD, Williams does not focus exclusively on tactics and also provides the user some opportunities to review great positional chess games as well. This variety as a unique flavor to the DVD which helps to diversify its target audience and simply add to the overall fun of watching some of the greatest chess games in history.
About the Author
GM Simon Williams is from Surrey, England and earned the title of Grandmaster in 2008 after finishing his third GM-norm at the Hastings International Chess Congress. While he continues to play in a variety of settings, Williams has recently transitioned from playing regularly in tournaments to focusing on chess commentary, tournament organization, and publishing. He runs his own website which is published a series of instructional DVDs and he is well-known for his commentary on Chessbase and Chess24. His sense of humor and depth of chess knowledge add a unique flavor to his instruction and commentary that, in my opinion, is much needed in the world of professional chess.
It is apparent throughout the DVD that Williams had a blast organizing, researching, and filming this product. There are many examples in the DVD from his own games and he is not shy about acknowledging the perception that can come with focusing on himself in a DVD titled Most Amazing Moves, but there are no instances throughout the four hours of DVD commentary and instruction where I felt that a game or move had been represented that was not amazing in itself.
As I write this review, Most Amazing Moves is available in the Chessbase Shop for €29.90 and is available on physical media or via download option. For that price, which is consistent of most of Chessbase’s DVDs, it is an exceptional bargain for such an amazing collection of games. Both beginners, intermediate, and advanced players will appreciate the nuances of these amazing moves. If you do not have a copy of Chessbase, the DVD itself comes with a copy of Chessbase Reader or you can download the free Chessbase Reader from here. I give it 4.5 pawns out of 5.
I love discovering new chess apps and web services! Recently as I was looking for new (and useful) apps to install on my Apple Watch I came across a cool little app called Watch Chess (Facebook | Twitter | iTunes). Mainly searching for an app to display chess games or maybe even lucky enough to play a chess game on my watch, I was blown away by the functionality of this little gem and knew that I had to offer it a short review!
The app’s home page is simple and intuitive with a colorful list of available broadcasts. Clicking on the tournament image brings up a list of rounds for that tournament that include dates and easy select for kibitzing the game of your choice. The interface is mirrored on the Apple Watch with the only difference being the absence of the colorful tournament buttons. Each board is clear and easy to read on the Apple Watch just as it is on the iPhone. Although some people might be turned off by the lack of an engine interface, that is no reason to stop most users from enjoying the app’s presentation of high-level chess.
Watch Chess is one of the few apps out there that offer full support for the Apple Watch. While some people still consider it to be a novelty, the Apple Watch is growing as a tool to supplement people who use iPhone or other Apple products. The app works as well as any other Apple Watch app with custom notifications and the ability to use the digital crown to scroll through archived games. Unfortunately, this means that the app also suffers from some of the watch’s setbacks including some slow load times for games. Apple has promised to fix these problems by moving more of the operating system on to the device itself with the coming release of watchOS 3 this fall.
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:
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?
May 24 will mark the second anniversary of my dedicated attempts to improve at chess, but I noticed over the holiday season that I have yet to participate in a time-honored tradition enjoyed by countless chess enthusiasts around the world: a tournament. I have passed on several opportunities to play in local tournaments with the San Antonio Chess Club and playing with that group is the closest I have come to developing a 2016 New Year’s Resolution. Earlier this week I was about to play a 15-minute slow game on Chess.com when I noticed that a tournament for the same time control was starting within 10 minutes. I joined the tournament and spent the next 2 and 1/2 hours playing in my first chess tournament! I was skeptical of the online tournament format but was pleasantly surprised by the energy of the players and the fierceness of the competition. I finished 2nd overall with a 4/5 score. The loss was disappointing but it strengthened my resolve to play through.
I was thrilled to see that many of the games played in this little tournament were exceptional. Games where White or Black was winning with an enormous amount of material and excellent positional play were turned upside down with smart tactics and devastating blunders. It was during the first round as I watched a game in progress where Black was steamrolling his opponent until the chess gods intervened…
Suffice to say that all of the kibitzers in the room were excited about this game and I felt a little nervous knowing that a player like tg-13 was in the mix and able to turn the tables on a dime. I copied down the ID number for the game and stored it in a text file called Never Say Die so that I could come back post-tournament and write this entry. Unfortunately the psychological effect of that game caused more harm than good as I faced tg-13 in the second round and was lured into an early trap, lost my Queen, and the game soon afterwards. The next exceptional game came in the second round.
Black was in control of the game but missing a simple tactic cost him bigtime. It was fun to watch magab001 in his other games because he played some very complicated and nailbiting positions. I had planned not to annotate any of my own games from the tournament but the next game was too good to pass up.
I chose to annotate that game mostly because of 26.Nb6 because it was a high-stakes gamble that paid off in dividends. This was in the third round immediately following my earlier defeat so it helped to boost my confidence and carry me on to the end. The final game I want to show was played near the end of the tournament around the time that my eyelids were growing heavy and the fight for the top three positions had come down to the wire. It features magab001 from the one of the earlier annotated games.
So, what’s the verdict on this tournament and the whole of chess tournaments on the site? I found the Chess.com tournament experience to be much more pleasant than I had expected. The kibitzing with other participants was a lot of fun and it took a lot of the emphasis away from ELOs and put all emphasis on individual performance. A 900 ELO player could defeat a 1200 ELO player and vice versa, so tournaments on Chess.com are an excellent way to wade into the world of competitive chess. Besides, it is free to enter these tournaments and there are even some cool trophies to display on your Chess.com profile page.
On Thursday as the Bilbao Masters tournament resumed play into Round 4 nobody expected that former World Champion Viswanathan Anand would be offering up such a scathing criticism of his own game. Anand fought back hard and tournament commentators believed that he had a fighting chance to win the game but lost on time. Anand had this to say about his loss:
Today was perhaps the worst game of my life. I’ve never made so many ridiculous moves.
For a man of Vishy’s chess playing caliber it is hard to imagine such a devastating loss occurring in high-level chess, but it does happen! Just when I or others think that the 5-minute blitz game that was bombed at 2AM on Chess.com was the worst game of our lives…there are things worse than that. Judge for yourself by replaying Vishy’s Round 4 game against Anish Giri in its entirety:
Read more on the match between Anand and Giri on Chess24.com.