Posted on December 10, 2018 by Wesley Surber.

We Will Be Back

Attention, Campers!

Campfire Chess has been dormant since the summer, but fear not! It is not dead. I am prepared to return to regular chess blogging shortly after the new year, so check back in January 2019 for updates!

In the meantime, congratulations to GM Magnus Carlsen for retaining his World Chess Champion title. I was rooting for Fabiano (USA, USA), but alas, we will get it next time!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!

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 February 21, 2017 by Wesley Surber.

Magnus Carlsen Takes on The Simpsons

The Simpsons is in its 28th season (premiered in 1989) and despite being written off by passing social fads like Family Guy has remained a staple of American culture for longer than many of its fans have been alive. Throughout its run, the show has hosted countless cultural crossovers including KISS, President Donald Trump, and many other celebrities that have brought the show a consistently refreshing take on the state of the world. This past Sunday, the show put chess at its center for the first time in its long history with an episode dedicated to exploring a complex and relatively unknown part of Homer Simpson’s backstory. To help him through the challenges of that backstory was the Norwegian World Champion himself: Magnus Carlsen!

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I will not spoil the entire episode in case you have not seen it, but suffice to say that it is worth taking the time to watch! There are the usual missteps like chess boards being set up incorrectly, but there is also a great deal of attention to detail in the episode such as real-life positions on the boards and enough club-level chess talk to please even the most discriminating chess geek!

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Moe’s Tavern taken by chess fever! (Image Credit: Fox)

For me, one of the best moments of the night came from the image above where Moe’s Tavern became the social hub dedicated to watching the episode’s final match. The creators truly captured the atmosphere of chess fans following the game in a way that was funny yet reverent in a way that only The Simpsons could achieve. If you have not seen the episode, you might qualify to watch it here depending on your cable provider.

Posted on December 1, 2016 by Wesley Surber.

Magnus Carlsen Retains World Chess Title

Magnus Carlsen put the final nail in the coffin for the 2016 World Chess Championship with a spectacular finish in the 25 | 10 rapid tiebreaker. Carlsen had been frustrated throughout the event and fell behind before managing to equalize the standings in Game 10. He went on to win the last two games of the rapid event, which finally put an end to his challengers efforts and solidified his place as World Chess Champion for the next two years. As the main portion of the event drew to its conclusion, many in the chess world began taking note of the precarious position Sergey Karjakin could find himself in against one of the strongest rapid and blitz players in the world.

The first two tiebreaker games were drawn with Karjakin narrowly escaping a loss in the second game but unable to stop the onslaught that ultimately allowed Carlsen to retain his title.

Carlsen’s incredible finish to the rapid tiebreaker event.

The position above is stunning and reaffirms why Magnus Carlsen is the best chess player in the world. With Qh6+, Magnus brought his opponent’s bid to become the next world champion to his stunning halt. There were moments throughout the event where it seemed that Sergey Karjakin was poised to overtake Carlsen, but never found a way to convert his opportunities into solid wins. Of course, there were moments throughout the event were Magnus seemed to struggle both with his chess abilities and his ability to keep his emotions in check (no pun intended). Magnus took a little bit of criticism on social media for his outburst following his loss in the classical round, but I have to say that him storming out of the press conference is the kind of stuff that chess needs if it wants to become a popular, respectable, and marketable activity in the United States.

Viewership Review

Agon, which has become a four letter word In the chess community has refused to release (at least for now) the exact number of people who purchased their premium package for viewing the event, but initial estimates project that less than 10,000 people paid for the premium streaming and commentary package. Personally, I was pleased to be able to follow the games as a premium member of Chessbase, on ChessBomb, and to watch the exceptional commentary and analysis from some of my favorite people over on chess24.com. Still, just a long way to go if it wants to build an American audience to the point where corporations like Pepsi, Red Bull, or other major corporations are willing to sponsor the events. As mentioned in an excellent news article published shortly after Carlsen’s victory, chess needs a series of dramatic stories in order to sell itself to the American people. Bobby Fischer made history as the lone genius who challenged the world’s greatest chess power, the Soviet Union, during the Cold War which allowed the American people to relate what was happening on the board to what was happening every day in their news. When professional chess can find a way to bring the drama and excitement of playing the game to people in a way that relates to their everyday struggles and experiences, then it will find itself at a buffet of sponsors and fans. Compelling drama and personal connection sells products, not frivolous litigation.

Posted on November 29, 2016 by Wesley Surber.

WCC2016 Tie Breaker on Wednesday

The World Chess Championship ended its standard round series yesterday with a whimper as Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin drew the final game after a mere 30 moves.

So, what happens now? As Magnus celebrates his birthday on Wednesday, he will face Karjakin in a series of rapid and blitz games to determine who will be the overall champion. For those games, the will be four rapid games at 25 | 10 with blitz games scheduled if the rapid games end in a tie. In the unlikely event that all of those games are tied then there will be a 5 minute for white, 4 minute for black game where the winner will take all.

Posted on November 27, 2016 by Wesley Surber.

WCC2016 Tied Entering Final Round

The 2016 World Chess Championship in New York City has been nothing short of a nail biter and will at least come down to determination in the final round scheduled to be played Monday at 1400 EST. Games 7 and 8 offered some tense moments in which Magnus missed opportunities to turn the tide of the tournament against his opponent. However, his over aggressiveness prevented him from capitalizing on these positions as he would normally be able to.

But everything changed in Game 8 when that over aggressiveness finally backfired and awarded a powerful win to challenger Sergey Karjakin.

Some believed that Magnus would be unable to recover from the loss but managed to pull out a win shortly thereafter in Game 10 to even things up.

The tournament remains tied and goes into Monday’s final round with the very real possibility of a rapid or blitz playoff being needed to decide the overall winner.

Posted on November 17, 2016 by Wesley Surber.

WCC2016: Too Early to Draw Any Conclusions

All eyes are on New York City as Magnus Carlsen defends his World Chess Champion title against Russian challenger Sergey Karjakin. Carlsen is the heavy favorite to win the tournament but if the first few games are any indication of what to expect from the whole tournament, we might be in for a long ride. As the name of the post suggests, its too early to draw any conclusions from these games, but there are many conclusions in these games that end in draws

Game 3: Bending Space and Time

Hopes were high after the first two games that there would be some dramatics appearing in the third game and they came…in a sense. Reminding players, commentators, and fans alike that chess requires mental and physical resilience, the players battled it out in a 7-hour, 78-move nightmare that ended…you guessed it..in a draw.

Game 4: Drawing Up A New Strategy?

After the marathon of Game 3, I was very impressed that the players were able to squeeze out the next game, which went 94 moves before ending in another draw. It was apparent in this game, however, that Magnus was becoming frustrated with Karjakin and that a draw was certainly not on his list of game ideas for the day.

Game 5: Drawn of the Dead

Game 5 was played earlier today and felt like a blitz game at times. The moves were fast in some areas deep into the position with Magnus finding himself in trouble against his challenger for the first time in the match. There were certain moments in the game when Karjakin had clear advantage on the board, but Magnus was able to bring these situations back into balance and force a draw on move 51.

Posted on November 12, 2016 by Wesley Surber.

Carlsen-Karjakin Tied After Second Round

The showdown for the title of World Chess Champion between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin is tied at 1 point each after rounds one and two ended in a draw. Carlsen drew white for Game One and opened with a homage to recently elected President of the United States Donald Trump with a combination called the Trompowsky Attack, which some have re-branded as the Trumpowsky Attack (1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5). An unusual opening at this level of play, the response from Karjakin neutralized the attack and led to a draw between the two.

Game One also had its share of American celebrities on hand as Actor Woody Harrelson made the ceremonial first move to begin the match.


Woody Harrelson makes the first move in Game One! (Credit: FIDE)

Game Two had some interesting twists and turns throughout, with Chess24 demonstrating throughout why it is a revolutionary medium for watching high-level games. Guest commentary by various Grandmasters and assertions that Game Two was boring led to some interesting and entertaining social media exchanges.

Game Three will be held at 1400 EST on Monday.

Posted on September 26, 2016 by Wesley Surber.

Susan Polgar, the Times, and Hired Help

As I wrote a few days ago, the United States claimed victory in a Chess Olympiad for the first time since 1976. Shortly thereafter, World Champion Magnus Carlsen posted a sarcastic tweet in which he openly wondered if Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana were still for sale. Because I am a huge baseball fan and have often wondered about the merits of a free agency system in professional chess, I took the tweet at face value and dismissed it as nothing more than a sarcastic way of Magnus congratulating the US team. Unfortunately, in most cases, in chess not everything is as it seems.

Grandmaster Susan Polgar took exception with claims of “hired help” on the United States Chess Team.

I commend Susan for addressing the claims because although she took some subsequent heat on Twitter for her comment, the assertions about hired help were not limited to Magnus Carlsen. The New York Times, which seems to pride itself on being at the forefront of racial and social divides in America, boldly proclaimed that the United States team won with the help of imported talent.

The New York Times preferred to emphasize imported talent over national victory.

What is lost on me is the almost relentless focus by the media on the ethic origins of the players on this team and participants in countless other activities including books, music, and movies for that matter. Does it make a difference that Wesley So and Fabiano Caruana are recent additions to the United States Chess Federation dossier? The article mentions that it is unusual for players to change federations, but is it any more unusual for a person to change their citizenship? Wesley So trained under Susan Polgar at Webster University and was integral to their team before dropping out of school to pursue chess full-time. Fabiano Caruana has played for the Italian Chess Federation for years, but is actually an American citizen who was born and raised in Florida.

A Nation of Immigrants

What gets lost in these arguments and what I think really got Susan Polgar’s blood boiling seems to be that the media forgets that 99.9% of the people who live in the United States of America are the product of immigration. My family is of German descent, but does that disqualify me from representing the United States in an official capacity? Of course not, just as switching from the Philippines to US Chess does not disqualify Wesley So from representing the United States at the Baku Olympiad.

Ultimately, these are the things that make America such a unique place. America is a country where people from all backgrounds, of every ethnicity, and of all life experiences can stand on a podium and wear a gold medal as a representative of their country. These men were not hired help or imported talent. Instead, they represent the very core of what America stands for. Asserting anything else devalues that.

Posted on August 17, 2016 by Wesley Surber.

2016 Sinquefield Cup: So Wins It All 

The Sinquefield Cup is always an amazing event and has come to solidify its place as one of the most prestigious chess tournaments in the world. Every year, the best chess players from around the world converge on the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis to compete in the round robin tournament. The Sinquefield Cup is also memorable for Fabiano Caruana’s incredible run in 2014, which I built a commemorative wall piece to celebrate the tournament. After some scheduling changes due to the upcoming Baku Olympian, this year’s event included Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Veselin Topalov, Levon Aronian, Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, Anish Giri, Vishy Anand, Peter Svidler, and wildcard Ding Liren.

World Champion Magnus Carlsen opted out of this year’s event so that he could focus on the upcoming World Chess Championship in New York.

After some thrilling games between the world’s elite players it was Wesley So, the former Webster University prodigy, who took a commanding lead early in the tournament and cruised to a solid victory with 5.5/9 pts. The Sinquefield Cup is part of the second Grand Chess Tour, which aims to promote professional chess around the world. The Grandmasters featured in the Sinquefield Cup are regular participants in the tour. For details and photos from the Sinquefield Cup, check out the detailed analysis on Chessbase.