Posted on July 13, 2016 by Wesley Surber

MHCC July 2016 Round 1: The Stuff of Nightmares

Although you’ll be hard-pressed to find many pastors (or people) out there who would admit that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is their favorite film of all time, I am not your typical pastor nor do I like to think of myself as your typical person. When it comes to chess, there is much evidence to support the position that I might be the world’s worst chess player. I have become accustomed to losing just in some of the most interesting and depressing ways over the past few years and I thought I have learned to deal with the trauma that can arise from such an experience, but last Wednesday’s tournament OTB game reminded me of how devastating it can be to make a mistake in a game where I put so much time, effort, energy, and focus. In essence, Wednesday night was an opportunity for me to experience my own Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

As many of you know, I have been playing in my first series of OTB tournaments a few months back, but had to take a break to finish some school and other personal projects. These projects also contributed to the lack of posts here on Campfire Chess, but I digress. Playing in the July edition of this tournament was a last-minute decision, so there was a little bit of hesitation on my part for returning. However, I know that the best way to improve is to continue to play. Unfortunately, my return to OTB play was the stuff of nightmares. Rarely do I go into these situations expecting a win because very few of the players involved in these tournaments are rated anywhere near where I perform. Most of them are the master level or higher including a resident International Master and occasional visits from Grandmasters, which I have written about in the past. However, I can say that I never expected what happened this past Wednesday night. To say that it was traumatic betrays the depth of the experience.

I lost a game in eight moves although I played through to 12 moves for a combined total board time of around 14 minutes. Looking back on things, I realized that it was a simple mistake that ended the game so quickly whether it was rushing or simply not surveying the more properly. It has taken me a few days to get over it, but I have written some commentary on this atrocious game and decided to share it with my Campfire Chess audience. Now, for your viewing pleasure I present to you around one of MHCC July 2016.

Unfortunately, my desire to try again this week has been postponed because of a sick child. As always, family comes first. Therefore, I will have to wait until next week for an opportunity to redeem myself with a reasonable loss.

Posted on June 22, 2016 by Wesley Surber

Watch Chess App Brings Grandmasters to Your Wrist

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 (FacebookTwitter | 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!

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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.

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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.

Posted on June 5, 2016 by Wesley Surber

Hou Yifan’s Withdrawal Shows Need for Reform

Women’s World Chess Champion Hou Yifan shocked the chess community when she announced last month that she had withdrawn from the Women’s World Championship Cycle, citing disagreements with FIDE over how it conducts the tournament process. Chessbase published transcripts from a recent telephone interview with Yifan and Frederic Friedel where she expressed disappointment in FIDE leadership’s continued support of the current tournament format. As it stands, the Women’s World Chess Champion (hereafter annotated as WCC) is often chosen through knockout tournaments where the winner earns the title despite the possibility that they might possess an ELO rating 100-200 points below Yifan, who is currently the highest rated female chess player in the world.

Trouble with the Knockouts

You can read the article yourself via the link above, but the main point of her argument is that the WCC is often selected via a 64-player knockout tournament format. This format places Hou and her counterparts on equal footing and gives an unfair advantage to players who might not qualify to challenge her in any other setting. If the highest rated player in the tournament has a bad game and is eliminated by a lower player, it creates an opportunity for a player to assume the title of WCC without possessing the qualifications. For her, a knockout tournament is not necessarily a bad thing. However, she views it as an unreasonable format for choosing the WCC. I agree wholeheartedly. Can you imagine if Magnus Carlsen’s title was on the line in some 64-player invitational where a single bad day could send the title into the hands of another player?

I cannot see the men allowing such a method to be used by FIDE to determine the champion, and the women of the professional chess world should refuse to stand for it as well.

Hou’s Plan and FIDE’s Silent Stand

Glass ceilings and gender barriers are coming down all over the world, but FIDE remains trapped in its antiquated ways. Hou’s plan for changing the tournament format is, as Frederic mentions in his article, amazingly simple. She proposes that the same format used to select the World Chess Championship title currently held by Magnus Carlsen be used for the WCC. A series of qualification tournaments would send certain players to a Candidates tournament where the winner would advance to challenge the reigning World Champion. As a compromise, Hou has suggested that the winner of the knockout tournament be declared the challenger to the reigning champion, not the champion themselves. The plan sounds simple enough, but according to Chessbase, FIDE has retained the 64-player knockout format because it is popular among the female chess players.

It is not difficult to imagine why the format is so popular…it reduces much of the legacy of the WCC to a lottery.

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Hou Yifan has big dreams for reforming women’s chess.

It is easy to place the blame on FIDE, which is an organization that has a sorted history of cronyism, manipulation, and disregard for what is best for promoting international professional chess. Countless recommendations for improving tournament cycles and gameplay have been provided by some of the world’s greatest chess minds. Yet, those recommendations and ideas have been met with the standard fare that Hou has received for her comments: to be discussed at the next board meeting. As someone who has spent a considerable amount of time in government service, I can tell you that it will probably be discussed at the meeting, but the world stands a better chance of Kirsan’s aliens invading than the board agreeing to change the WCC cycle format. Yet, it is this comment in Frederic’s interview that reveals another troubling element to the situation:

FF: Sounds perfectly logical. However FIDE has said that the current Women’s system is very popular amongst the girls since they get to play a lot of interesting events …

What is going on here? FIDE is, potentially, holding on to a format because it is popular, among the women on the circuit. It might be popular, but is it right for the future of women’s professional chess? Unfortunately, one does not have to look far in cyberspace to see the back and forth with people who believe that women cannot play beautiful chess or do not deserve the respect of their male counterparts. The chess audience on Twitter is notorious for this kind of banter, but does the general consensus of the women’s professional chess world about the 64-player knockout championship actually hurt perception of their ability? I would argue that it does! If the women players are arguing for more recognition and appreciation for their art in one breath, but supporting a tournament format that undermines the legitimacy of the highest female chess achievement, then the fight for equal respect of female chess players is what ultimately suffers. That, along with the countless other young girls who are hunched over their chessboards this morning with dreams and aspirations of being a GM or a WCC.

What to do?

Bureaucracies have a notorious history of taking simple ideas and transforming them into disastrous monstrosities. The fundamental elements that make bureaucracies like FIDE so inefficient are probably what will enable the WCC cycle to retain its imbalanced format (for now). Hou Yifan’s withdrawal from the cycle and her recommendations for changing how the WCC is selected should be a wakeup call for the leaders of the professional chess world, but it will most likely fall on deaf ears. In the meantime, the world will continue to watch as its great chess players are increasingly isolated and ostracized by the organization whose mission is to grow and promote our game.

Gens Una Sumus, without clear direction or a promising future.

Posted on March 13, 2016 by Wesley Surber

Digesting My First-Ever GM Simul Game

March has been an incredibly groundbreaking month for me in chess. I started playing in my first ever OTB tournament and had a rare opportunity to participate in a simul (multi-game) event at a local high school this past weekend against Grandmaster Boris Avrukh, who was the U19 Champion in the United States in 1990 and has worked with some of the world’s greatest players.

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Some refused to go quietly. (Credit: Campfire Chess)

Additionally, he is the author of several books on 1.d4 and the Gruenfeld Defense. Boris played a simul against 15 people at Saint Anthony Catholic High School in San Antonio over the weekend as part of a public lecture and simul series. After the conclusion of the simul, the Grandmaster stayed behind to talk with the players and present three instructive games from the event and one historical game to illustrate the concept of prophylactic thinking.

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Think like a Grandmaster. (Credit: Campfire Chess)

I attended the simul fueled on the adrenaline and excitement of getting to play against a true chess master in a real life simul! These are the events I have dreamed about for years and to have it finally come true was an amazing treat. There is much in my game for me to explore, but here is the initial analysis with Deep Fritz 14 and my own analysis/commentary.

Overall I am happy with the result. I never had an expectation of winning. The pure experience of the moment was what I was going for and it certainly paid off. Looking forward to the next time!

Thanks to Grandmaster Boris Avrukh for taking time to stop by the Alamo City and play chess with fans and for sharing your deep insight into the game with us!


-w.s.

Posted on March 9, 2016 by Wesley Surber

Happy Birthday, GM Robert James Fischer!

He was obsessive, explosive, rude, and some believe that he was a dangerous psychotic. Yet, countless people both inside and outside of the chess world adore the late Bobby Fischer. Today is his birthday, he would have been 72 today and we take a moment today to honor the man who inspired countless people to take up chess around the world! In recognition of his birthday, here is the so-called Game of the Century played in 1956 against Donald Byrne.

Posted on February 28, 2016 by Wesley Surber

Will the Real Irina Krush Please Stand Up?

The February 24th edition of the Steve Harvey Show featured a fantastic game called Two Lies and a Truth in which Steve and his guest, career criminal Secretary Hillary Clinton asked questions of three young women to find out which one of them is the real US Women’s Chess Champion, GM Irina Krush.

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Most of these women are liars. (Credit: YouTUBE/The Steve Harvey Show)

Each of the women in the game were obviously well-studied in Krush’s life and chess experiences as the not-Krushes gave excellent responses to Steve and Hillary’s questions in which they detailed Krush’s immigration from the USSR as a child to her upcoming shot at winning the US Women’s Chess Championship for the eighth time. The current record holder is Gisela Kahn Gresser who has held the title nine times in 1944, 1948, 1955, 1957, and 1965-1970.

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The Real GM Irina Krush. (Credit: YouTUBE/The Steve Harvey Show)

Of course, for chess aficionados, it was obvious from the beginning who the real Irina Krush was, but it was refreshing to see Steve and Hillary guess correctly and send the audience home with a nice gift. Congrats to Irina for continuing to be a trailblazer in the chess world and good luck to her in the upcoming championship. Here is the clip in its entirety:

Having problems? View the full clip on YouTUBE.

-w.s.

Posted on November 2, 2015 by Wesley Surber

Wesley So Victorious in Bilbao

American Grandmaster Wesley So achieved victory through a blitz tiebreaker against GM Anish Giri 1.5-0.5. Giri made headlines earlier this week for destroying Vishy Anand in Round 4 and for playing a mammoth 172 move draw against Ding Liren. Unfortunately the recently married GM from the Netherlands was unable to keep up the pace and was outmaneuvered in the tiebreaker by So. Wesley was the only player to win a game in the first half of the tournament and quickly became an early favorite to take the lead or at least find himself in a deathmatch with Giri. Like his American counterpart GM Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So is also a deadly blitz master:

Check out a complete recap with photos and commentary on Chessbase.