Posted on December 13, 2016 by Wesley Surber

2016 Christmas Wish List

Christmas is just around the corner and while most people have wrapped their gifts and are waiting on Santa to deliver the rest, this post is for those people that are looking for a last minute gift for the chess fan in their life.

1. US Chess Tournament Chess Set $8.95

What better gift for a chess fan than the game itself? There are countless varieties of chess sets out there, but the standard Staunton-style tournament sets from US Chess Federation Sales are among the best. Basic, non-weighted sets start at under $10 each with slight price increases for some of the heavier weighted sets. The $8.95 basic tournament set is the Campfire Chess go-to set for donations and tournaments. Campfire Chess donated several of these sets to San Antonio Military Medical Center earlier this year.

2. Bent Larsen’s Best Games $34.95

Bent Larsen is one of the greats and his book, which spans the length of his career, captures the essence of his fighting spirit. Known to some as The Fighting Dane, Larsen’s book is a striking look at some of his best works. The games themselves are challenging and are often illuminated with his personal commentary. The book is available in multiple formats including paperback and Kindle for the techno-savvy among us.

3. Voice Master Electronic Chess Set $49.95

I reviewed this product earlier this year because it is a good little chess set and also brought a sense of nostalgia for an electronic set my dad owned when I was a kid. There are several vendors that sell this set on Amazon.com. The going price ranges between $39-$49 and I advise not paying more than that for one of these sets. For the chess fan who loves the tactile sensations of the board but who might not have a partner readily available, the Voice Master Set makes a perfect addition to their collection.

4. ChessBase 14 €189.90 ($201.80)

I am still working on a review for the recently released update to ChessBase’s flagship product, but I will give you a sneak peek: go get it! ChessBase has made some significant improvements to the interface and functionality of the database system that keep it at the top of the chess information management world. ChessBase 14 comes in a variety of flavors including basic software with just the database system or in packages that include add-ons such as the latest editions of the Big Database and MegaBase. ChessBase is also available in multiple languages but only runs on Microsoft Windows.

5. Microsoft Surface $433.95

Friends and regular readers know that I am a die-hard Apple guy, but most of the good chess software is still made exclusively for Microsoft Windows. I’ve tried several Windows machines over the years including varieties of HP tablets and Asus convertibles, but the Microsoft Surface family is currently my go-to machine for chess analysis and database management. Like the iPad tablet family, the Surface product line comes in multiple styles and configurations. However, I currently use a Microsoft Surface 3 (non-pro) to run ChessBase 14, Fritz 14, ChessKing Silver, Stockfish, and a few other goodies. The ability to shift quickly between keyboard and touchpad into a full touchscreen tablet mode makes the Surface a versatile utility for the chess techno-warrior.

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 October 18, 2016 by Wesley Surber

The Agon Widget from Hell

Remember back in March when Agon, the FIDE puppet company responsible for organizing and managing the World Chess Championship cycle limited the live game broadcasts and infuriated pretty much everyone except their billionaire Russian investors and mafia henchmen? Well, run-on sentences aside, the Agon mafia has returned to show its ugly teeth in the run-up to the World Chess Championship in New York City this November with an announcement that broadcast of the games will be limited to a widget designed to be embedded into an external website to broadcast the games. Peter Doggers at Chess.com breaks the announcement down a little more. When you have finished reading his excellent report, behold the new widget:

Agon’s WCC broadcast widget. (Credit: Chess.com)

According to the official statement,

First, and most importantly, the live moves of the World Chess Championship match will be made available for free to responsible chess websites and other media organizations that take our official broadcast widget.

Although it is presented as the most important part of the broadcast announcement, the idea that the WCC moves should be free is buried in the typical Agon-FIDE hyperbole and legal threats to the chess community and its myriad of online portals. For example,

It is fair to say that the furor that followed divided the global chess community. We were asked, “Does Agon have the right to prohibit anyone from broadcasting the moves as they were made?” We believe that we do and that we have a strong legal position. We also have the full support of the World Chess Federation and many others within the game.

Agon acknowledges that its actions divided a deep and thriving community, but it still fails to see that the divide is between Agon-FIDE and everyone else, not a divide among the chess community. In fact, I don’t believe that I’ve ever witnessed an online community come together en masse like the chess community did when Agon announced its monopoly. With its restrictive broadcasting agreements and tactics aimed at subverting the established ecosystem, Agon has alienated itself from countless people who care about chess and want to see it grow. Furthermore, to assert that its position is legitimized by a FIDE endorsement is no different than saying that its okay to restrict the games because the Kremlin says so. In addition, those within the game that are often quoted by Agon-FIDE couldn’t care less about broadcast rights for chess. Their names are solidified in the annals of chess history and their view is always from the front row…at the board!

What we are doing has never been attempted before in the chess world. It is a revolutionary approach and I am sure we will probably make some mistakes in its implementation before we are finished.

Really? It hasn’t? Do they mean that nobody has ever created a chess widget before to cover broadcasted games? How interesting because Chessbase has one and Chessbomb has one that regularly broadcasts live tournament games. This kind of drivel expounds on how little Agon-FIDE really knows about the depths of ingenuity, innovation, and connectedness that exist in the online chess world.

Suspicious Widget

As a veteran of nearly thirty years of computer and network development, I can say that most competent webmasters are reluctant to arbitrarily add external widgets to their platforms. Companies often gain the trust and respect of their customers by demonstrating commitment to that platform’s service before said platform allows their widget or code to be embedded within their framework. For me, I trust Chessbase and Chessbomb because they have earned trust and respect as reputable companies with a legitimate interest in furthering the game of chess. Agon has done nothing but drive a wedge between the chess community and the organization that is supposed to be championing our game.

Would you trust a Soviet JavaScript or PHP widget on your network or content platform? I sure as hell wouldn’t. Call me paranoid, but the truth is always buried in fine print and revealed in data breaches or midnight special forces raids.

Posted on October 13, 2016 by Wesley Surber

Nazi Paikidze and Hijab Hubbub

Editor’s Note: I try to keep away from writing about politics, but sometimes the world of chess becomes intimately entangled in the affairs of the world. The battles on the board begin to mimic those of the world around us and something has to be said.

US Women’s Chess Champion Nazi Paikidze rocketed into mainstream fame recently with her vocal protest of Iran hosting the 2017 Women’s World Chess Championship due to the country’s strict laws regarding female dress codes and specifically, compulsory wear of the Muslim hijab. Given that Nazi (pronounced na-SEE) is an immigrant to the United States herself and with the foundation of our country being that of individual liberty, one would expect rousing support for the champion. Yet, that is not the case in a world gone mad.

Social Justice Warriors Weenies, who seem to insert themselves anywhere they can criticize, ridicule, or otherwise remind others of their professional victim status, have lashed out at Nazi for her protest because she is too white to make a difference… As a man who has served with people of all races, genders, nationalities, and sexual orientations, I have reached my wit’s end with the incessant blame game on race, inequality, or random social condition flavor of the week used to marginalize the voices of people trying to make a legitimate difference for others. The voices on Twitter and on television crying racism, sexism, or whatever-ism simply do not represent the truth in much of our country.

One need not look too far to see that Nazi is not alone. Chess champions Garry Kasparov, Nigel Short, and lesser entities like Campfire Chess along with thousands of others have voiced their support for the protest because silently accepting the Iranian venue demonstrates a remarkable contempt for women’s rights around the world. You can sign her protest petition here.

Chess is a game that empowers men and women of all races and all backgrounds to break down the walls that typically restrict them. That is why I am proud of Nazi and her resolve. She represents the best of what our nation was founded on.

Posted on October 8, 2016 by Wesley Surber

Celebrating National Chess Day!

Today is National Chess Day in the United States. In my opinion, that’s not too shabby for a country only recently moving back into the chess spotlight. There are chess events happening all around the country and yours truly will be taking plenty of time today to indulge in our game. What are you doing to celebrate today?

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 September 3, 2016 by Wesley Surber

Baku Chess Olympiad is Underway!

It seems like such a short time ago when chess headlines were adorned with stories of the Tromsø Chess Olympiad in 2014 where visa challenges, bathrooms, and high food prices were among the hottest topics leading up to China’s triumphant victory in the event. But here we are looking down the barrels of the 2016 Chess Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan, the home country of former World Champion Garry Kasparov.

After a breathtaking opening ceremony on Thursday, main tournament play began Friday with my beloved United States team winning all 4 of their first matches against players from Andorra. Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So, Sam Shankland, and Ray Robson each scored well-earned victory against their opponents to launch the team off to a powerful start in the Olympiad.

US Champion Fabiano Caruana is leading the US Olympiad Team

In the second round, Sam Shankland was the only member of the United States team to not earn a win in the round against Scotland. Caruana, Nakamura, and Robson all earned wins and although it is still early in the event, I would say that the United States team is going to be a team to watch throughout the tournament!

The National Gymnastics Arena – the Baku Olympiad venue.

This year’s Olympiad is being held in the National Gymnastics Arena in Baku, Azerbaijan. The country has increasingly positioned itself throughout the past few years as a place of intense international sport and competition. Known to the chess community as the birth home of Garry Kasparov, the 42d Chess Olympiad’s host nation continues to impress both players and fans alike.

Watch the Baku Chess Olympiad live on Chessbomb, Chess.com, and Chess24.

Posted on August 28, 2016 by Wesley Surber

Austin Wins Annual Shootout

Each year the cities of Austin and San Antonio send their best and brightest chess players to compete in an annual shootout to determine which city is the best of South Texas. As with everything else in Texas, this shootout is quite a big deal. Preparations begin early each year and culminate with the penultimate event in August. This year, San Antonio lost to Austin 26-24 points, which means that San Antonio only lost by a one-game outcome!

After the first round, San Antonio faced an incredible 7.5-17.5 point standing with three draws and two losses on the top five boards. However, the lopsided round results were not enough to keep the San Antonio team from bowing out early. The Alamo City came roaring back in the second round to bring itself within 2 points of its northern neighbor, but it was not enough to overcome the earlier deficit and bring the victory home.

Maybe next year…

Some noteworthy moments:

  • Jose Silva (SA) went 2-0 through the match.
  • The highest rated player was IM Miguel Paz (2465).
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.

Posted on August 4, 2016 by Wesley Surber

Jesse James is 3-time San Antonio Champion 

Chess players from around the San Antonio area converged on Methodist Hospital this past weekend to see who would earn the distinction of San Antonio City Chess Champion. Approximately 82 players registered for the 5-round event which saw participation from players in the 900 ELO to 2263 ELO range! NM Jesse James Lozano quickly emerged as the man to beat as he sought to defend his championship title and earn the distinction of being the 3-time city champion.

Entering into the 4th round of the event on Sunday Lozano led the tournament with a score of 3-0, although Alexander Wlezien, who commanded a 2206 ELO prior to the event remained neck-in-neck with him. The final standings had both Lozano and Wlezien earning no losses across all five rounds. In the end, Jesse James claimed his third title and walked away with an impressive 2267 ELO. Congratulations to Jesse on his win!

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
 Pair | Player Name                     |Total|Round|Round|Round|Round|Round| 
 Num  | USCF ID / Rtg (Pre->Post)       | Pts |  1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  | 
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
    1 | JESSE JAMES LOZANO              |4.5  |X  34|W  47|W  51|W   7|D   3|
   TX |          / R: 2263   ->2267     |     |B    |W    |B    |W    |B    |
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
    2 | ALEXANDER WLEZIEN               |4.5  |W  49|W  13|D   9|W   6|W  15|
   TX |          / R: 2206   ->2209     |     |W    |B    |W    |B    |W    |
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
    3 | GREGG STANLEY                   |4.0  |W  26|W   8|W  52|D  15|D   1|
   TX |          / R: 2189   ->2190     |     |B    |W    |B    |W    |W    |
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
    4 | ERNESTO L MALAZARTE             |4.0  |W  50|L   7|W  20|W  35|W  21|
   TX |          / R: 2166   ->2161     |     |W    |B    |W    |B    |W    |
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
    5 | DUY MINH NGUYEN                 |4.0  |H    |W  48|W  56|W  10|D   9|
   TX |          / R: 2095   ->2102     |     |     |B    |W    |B    |W    |
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
    6 | DANG MINH NGUYEN                |4.0  |W  62|W  24|W  38|L   2|W  25|
   TX |          / R: 1970   ->1984     |     |B    |W    |B    |W    |B    |
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
    7 | ROHIT CHOUDARY BANDI            |4.0  |W  27|W   4|W  28|L   1|W  32|
   TX |          / R: 1916   ->1954     |     |B    |W    |W    |B    |W    |
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
    8 | DONALD W FLOURNOY               |4.0  |W  35|L   3|W  39|W  52|W  24|
   TX |          / R: 1919   ->1936     |     |W    |B    |W    |B    |W    |
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
    9 | SREENEVASH RAMESH               |4.0  |W  44|W  33|D   2|W  16|D   5|
   TX |          / R: 1652   ->1768     |     |B    |W    |B    |W    |B    |
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
   10 | JAMES DOUGLAS HUDDLESTON        |3.5  |W  25|D  16|W  23|L   5|W  28|
   TX |          / R: 2112   ->2104     |     |B    |W    |B    |W    |B    |
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Table data courtesy of US Chess.

A small sample…

The annual city championship is a small sample of the larger San Antonio chess community that thrives throughout the year. The San Antonio Chess Club meets every Thursday night at the Lions Field Center on Broadway St for blitz and a subset of the club meets each Wednesday at Methodist Hospital for a monthly rapid tournament (G 90|5). Many of these events include highly skilled club players in the 1600+ ELO range, but Jesse Lozano offers opportunities for kids and lower rated players in scholastic play throughout the region on his website, www.sascholastic.com.