Posted on March 4, 2019 by Wesley Surber

ChessNoteR Forges A Digital Pathway

Editor’s Note: Purchase your own ChessNoteR for a 10% discounted rate by using the code CAMPFIRECHESS when you checkout. This offer is good until 30 April 2019, so don’t wait!

One of the things I love about chess is how it leverages technology and even drives advancement of new hardware/software or repurposing of old hardware/software. Throughout history, engineers and developers have found ways to incorporate chess into their projects. When new supercomputers are designed, chess gameplay is often the first thing to be implemented as a way of demonstrating the new system’s intelligence. Programs like Deep Blue and Google’s AlphaZero are just a few examples of this push. But what about the everyday chess player sitting in a smokey club trying to decide which Sicilian Defense line to follow? Well, technological advances in the club have also modernized the game. Few people use manual clocks anymore in favor of digital clocks with increment controls and other unique features. And, for a growing number of players, paper scoresheets are being replaced by a growing field of electronic ones.

This brings me to today’s topic: electronic scoresheets and a dangerous new contender. My regular friends and readers know that I’ve used the Plycounter electronic scoresheet for years and even did a review several years ago. It’s a small touchscreen device that uses a stylus to move the pieces. It’s been an OK device that, honestly, hasn’t held up as well over the years as I had originally hoped. That’s why I’m pleased that I was fortunate enough to get my hands on an emerging device called the ChessNoteR.

Re-purposed Technology

DISCLAIMER: Black Mirror Studio graciously provided me with a ChessNoteR to test and review.

As you can see, the ChessNoteR (pictured above) looks a lot like a cell phone. Well, that’s because it is a re-purposed cell phone! The ChessNoteR I tested is a Motorola Nexus 6 cell phone running a custom flavor of Android OS called ChessNoteR OS. While the device still bears the mark of its previous life as a cell phone, it immediately boots into its custom OS that only runs the ChessNoteR app and its support services. I found the interface to be relatively easy to set up. Upon booting, it enters into a default setup wizard that enables a user to connect to WiFi and input their own user information. You can opt out of the WiFi settings, but you’ll lose some of the more interesting features if you do. On that note, WiFi access has been one of the biggest hurdles for electronic devices being certified by US Chess. Access to telecommunications services is forbidden during official tournaments, so that has squashed the hopes of many iPhone and Android apps of being certified for tournament play.

ChessNoteR is the first device to find a way around this. At its core, it’s an Android app, but it owns the device. So, you cannot run any additional apps and you cannot run the notation app with WiFi enabled. It’s this feature that gives ChessNoteR the leverage it needed to become certified. I’ll get into the software next, but I wanted to note that it comes with two different delivery methods. The first option is to buy a pre-configured device from the website. The second option is to buy your own used Motorola Nexus 6 and ship it to the company and they will load the software onto the phone and configure it for a much cheaper price.

Exploring the Software

The core of ChessNoteR is its software. As I said, you can buy a pre-configured device or ship your own to the company for configuration. So, what about the software? Well, I must say that I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen so far of the software. The interface is very clean and user friendly. You can tell that the designer has put a lot of work into it. There are options for inputting your rating and demographic information which auto populates on scoresheets and in the exportable PGN files (sweet).

Once you start a new game, the device disables it’s WiFi service and you cannot exit the game without ending the game. This prevents a user from exiting their game and using it to reference any other information that might be stored on the device during a tournament. You’ll also find that you can drag the pieces to any point on the board. This is an important part of certification through US Chess because restricting piece movement would be a form of electronic coaching. For example, you could actually play 1.e6 on the device and it would properly annotate the move.

The notation interface also enables you to change the board colors to better suit you if blue and white (the default scheme) are not your preferred colors. Typically I change the board colors to match my favorite color scheme which matches that of Chess.com’s default dark green scheme. However, I enjoyed the blue and white design of the ChessNoteR app, so I left it alone.

Next Generation Feature Set

Sure, it’s cool to have your games in electronic format on a hand held device, but what good is the device in the world of tournaments and real chess? Well, this device seems to have that covered as well. ChessNoteR enables a user to export games in multiple formats.

  • First, you can export the games in the traditional PGN format for use with Chessbase and other desktop (or mobile) database applications. Plycounter also does this, but it requires installation of a third party application. ChessNoteR takes advantage of built in hardware support through the Nexus device to export the game.
  • Second, you can export the games on a professionally designed scoresheet with signatures that are ready for submission to a TD. When a game is complete, the user and opponents sign their scoresheet using the touch screen. Those signatures are exported on the scoresheet in PDF format via WiFi transfer using integrated Dropbox functionality! So there’s no need to connect to a TD’s computer. Just connect to their WiFi and submit your game to be officially logged electronically.

I’m a big Chromecast and video streaming user, so I was pleased to see that ChessNoteR supports wireless video casting, which allows you to cast your game to a device using a device compatible with Android video casting. This is great for reviewing games with a coach or for those times when your chess study demands 4K high definition. ChessNoteR does not support Chromecast itself, but instead supports some built-in protocols in smart TVs from Samsung, LG, and others through standard Android OS protocols.

These are nice features that bring the convenience of digital scoresheets and notation to the tabletop chess world with a minimum amount of hassle. The controls and features are intuitive enough that anyone who uses a cell phone or tablet should have no problems using it.

Final Thoughts

I’ve been using my Plycounter for almost five years and it’s certainly taken a beating. The screen is showing significant signs of wear and overall the device feels much more cumbersome than it did when I first reviewed it. I was extremely excited to have an opportunity to test out the ChessNoteR and I am very pleased with it. The screen is much larger and more responsive than anything you’ll find on the market today.

The only thing that I don’t like is how the device comes stamped with the giant Nexus logo on the back. There’s a small label on the device with a QR code for certification data, but the logo bothers me for some reason. In no way does that affect the device operation. Instead, it effects my OCD tendencies more. This can be fixed with a simple skin or decal from a place like SkinIt or DecalGirl.

Bottom line? You won’t find a better device for the price for digitally tracking your tournament games. Check out the ChessNoteR on their official website. You can also find a large selection of videos on the ChessNoteR official YouTube Channel that demonstrate the various device features and how to use them.

RATING: ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟ ♟


ADDENDUM: I didn’t realize how out of it I’ve been lately. In researching this article and doing the review/evaluation of this device, I realized that Plycounter ceased operations in February 2018 and the Monroi Personal Chess Manager is not available for purchase on their website.

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 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 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