Posted on March 14, 2019 by Wesley Surber

Nigel Short Hosts Simul in Atlanta

It’s refreshing to see FIDE officials playing chess. After many years of gutless politicians holding the organization hostage in a reign of terror, recently elected FIDE Vice President visited the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Atlanta to host a simul pitting GM Nigel Short against 25 players. The center is run by GM Ben Finegold, who spent many years as the GM-in-residence at the Saint Louis Chess Club (formerly the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis).

Atlanta Chess Players (Credit: Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Atlanta)

Nigel’s willingness to visit so many different chess federations around the world and engage in simuls with players is a welcome change to past FIDE leaders. For more details, check out the Atlanta Chess Club’s Facebook page.

Posted on March 12, 2019 by Wesley Surber

Five Recommended Chess Streamers

Streaming movies, music, video games, and other forms of entertainment is nothing new. Chess, on the other hand, has been relatively slow to catch up to the digital craze until recently with a growing number of channels on Twitch and YouTube showcasing the game. At almost any time throughout the day you can find chess being one of the most viewed activities on Twitch! To me, that’s an impressive feat when the centuries old game is competing for attention with ADHD-generation specific offerings like Fortnite and Apex Legends. So, given that I’ve spent an ever increasing amount of time watching these streamers, I thought I would share five of my favorites.

Grandmaster Benjamin Finegold

Once you know Ben Finegold, it’s impossible to forget Ben Finegold. No matter  how hard you try. He was the GM-in-residence at the Saint Louis Chess Club until 2012. Now he lives in Atlanta, Georgia and runs the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Atlanta. He streams most nights and is incredibly interactive with his audience. Be warned, fair reader! His streams are chess-centered, but they’re peppered with off-the-wall pop culture references and jokes; it’s that special flair that makes his stream one of my personal favorites. Also be prepared to learn a variety of new songs explaining why you should never play Bishop f3 or similar chess references. Check out his Twitch channel here.

Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura

Hikaru Nakamura doesn’t really need an introduction, but I’ll give him one anyway. He’s a four-time US Chess Champion and is one of the most dominant blitz players in history. He does a lot of work with Chess.com, so you’ll often see him playing in blitz tournaments on the site or contributing in various ways to the different streams on ChessTV. Nakamura is a mostly calm and collected player when he’s online. He sings a lot, which adds a nice flair to the broadcast. You’ll also find him taking a break from chess every now and then to play other games, which can liven up the interaction and show the non-chess side that many are not used to. Check out his Twitch channel here.

Grandmaster Eric Hansen (The Chess Brahs)

I have to admit: it was the Chess Brahs who convinced me that chess streaming had finally arrived in full force. The stream is run primarily by Eric Hansen, who is an astonishingly good blitz player along with Grandmasters Robin van Kampen and Aman Hambleton. It was one of the first streams I started watching regularly. Soaked in techno and flashy hair, the Chess Brahs are a highly interactive group stream that alternate between streaming competitions in the Chess Arena as well as game challenges with other streamers like Hikaru Nakamura. One of the things I like the most about Chess Brahs is the moments when Eric Hansen struggles with his games. He can be a very ungraceful loser, which I relate to 100%! I’ve lost a keyboard or two due to losing a game at the last minute, so it’s nice to see the touch of reality and human element in the game. Check out the Chess Brah Twitch channel here.

US Chess Expert Frank Johnson

Chess Coach Frank Johnson is a regular chess streamer who runs the website Chess-Coach.net. Known simply as “Coach” to his viewers and fans, he regularly plays games with his streamers and offers realtime commentary on the games to help his viewers make improvements. He typically has good tunes and a very chilled-out vibe to his stream. You’ll hear catchy phrases like Losing is Learning and True Story that resonate well with someone who is looking to improve their skills at one of the most difficult games ever created. Frank is a warm and entertaining streamer who welcomes newbies and challengers of all skill levels. Every loss is a chance to do better…true story! Check out his Twitch channel here.

Women’s FIDE Master Alexandra Botez

Alexandra Botez is a regular chess streamer who typically plays a mix of her viewers and challenges with other streamers. It was actually a recent stream against International Master Levy Rozman (aka. Gotham Chess) where he played blindfolded against her. The match came down to a single game where Rozman pulled out a last minute victory. I was impressed by the chess along with the interaction with the audience and the fact that she streams regularly with my ultimate chess crush, Anna Rudolf. She plays regularly with her subscribers on Twitch on Sundays. Check out her Twitch channel here.


Honorable Mentions: I wish I had the time or mental energy to keep listing streamers because there are many more out there that are worth checking out. Here are a few that you shouldn’t pass up:

  • IM Anna Rudolf – My chess crush and frequest host/commentator for professional chess.
  • Helmsknight – Canadian player who dominates in bughouse and streamer vs. streamer content.
  • Sara Herman – Colorado-based player who often streams bullet, blitz, and some game analysis.
Posted on January 29, 2019 by Wesley Surber

The Awesomeness of lichess.org Studies

Chess has a reputation for being a game of intellgience both on and off the board. In recent years, this has manifested heavily in the realm of information technology development. Chess engines continue to get stronger by the day and programmers of all skills are constantly developing new tools to help players analyze, sort, annotate, and improve their games. One such recent development is a growing feature on the popular lichess.org website called studies.

The study system on lichess is, at its core, a highly advanced PGN creator and annotator. It allows a user to create a new study that can be public or private. New moves, annotations, and other elements are automatically synced with the lichess server and between all of the users with access to the study. This makes studies an excellent utility for chess teachers and exhibitions since users can see, follow, and even provide collaborative comment on a game or position. To use the study utility, simply select study from the Learn menu on the lichess website. A list of available public studies will appear for you to choose from.

If these public studies do not suit your tastes, there are options on the side of the page to create your own studies. This is where I found the study function to be most useful for me.

Using the study tool, I am able to create a private study where I can create an individual chapter for each part of a video series I am following or game I am studying. This way I am able to make annotations, draw arrows or circles, and then share those studies with a highly limited audience if I want. Additionally, the study tool provides the user with an option to download each chapter as an individual PGN file in the format of an annotated game. Or, you can download the entire study as a PGN database to be opened in most chess database programs.

For me, the best part of this system is the collaborative elements. It opens up a world of possibilities for digital interaction between teachers, students, and general chess enthusiasts in an intuitive and easy-to-use way. If you have not tried it out, visit lichess.org and check it out.

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 October 16, 2017 by Wesley Surber

Rest in Peace, GM (Father) William Lombardy

Grandmaster William “Bill” Lombardy passed away from an apparent heart attack on Friday at a friend’s home in California. He made waves in the professional chess world for his 11-0 ravaging of his opponents in the 1957 World Junior Championship, but he is best-known for being Bobby Fischer’s second during the 1972 match in Reykjavik against Boris Spassky. Prior to that match, Lombardy spent part of his career as a Catholic Priest. Eventually, he became disillusioned with the Catholic Church because of its views of celebacy and decided to leave the priesthood. He spent most of his life in New York City where he was evicted from his home and spent time in rehabilitation from an assault.

He was portrayed in the movie Pawn Sacrifice by Peter Sarsgaard. A thorough reflection on his life and achievements is available on ChessBase. Some of his tournament games are also available on ChessBase or ChessGames.com.

 

Posted on October 14, 2017 by Wesley Surber

Today is National Chess Day!

Good morning, Campers! Today is National Chess Day in the United States! Established in 1976, the holiday recognizes the benefits of chess to mental and social development as well as it’s links to improved quality of life. Clubs and individuals across the country will be setting up their boards to play the royal game in celebration of its national recognition.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFHy2D30avc]

 

Here are just a few things you can do today to participate:

  • US Chess Events: A comprehensive list of all US Chess sponsored events throughout the nation.
  • In Dallas, the Dallas Chess Club is hosting its 2017 National Chess Day FIDE Weekend Open Tournament.
  • In Dayton, Ohio (my hometown), the Dayton Chess Club is hosting the 5th Annual Wright Brothers Open.

In addition to these events and the myriad of chess activities available on lichess.org, Chess.com and others, I have curated a small playlist of chess videos for you to enjoy on YouTube. Check out the Campfire Chess YouTube Channel for more information.

Posted on October 12, 2017 by Wesley Surber

Caffeine, Psych Medications, and Chess

It seems common these days for the mainstream media to relentlessly scrutinize every facet of society in some desperate and misguided attempt to break news of the next big scandal. Unfortunately, chess has never been immune to scandal or to media witch hunts. A recent trend in professional chess discussions, in fake news mainstream media, and in recent years in online communities like Reddit has focused attention on chess game influence from stimulants like caffeine and medications like Adderall, which is an amphetamine used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

The Straw Man Setup

Mental Health suffers (no, really…it does) from unshakable stigmas brought on by media portrayal of psychological conditions in addition to the very real (and horrific) ways in which psychiatric patients were treated in the science’s early days. You do not have to look further than one of the world’s largest group of psychiatric patients, the Church of Scientology, and its Psychiatry: Museum of Death to see that the science of repairing and sustaining psychological wellbeing has experienced its share of dark days. Mass media tends to project this perception of Mental Health through books, movies, and video games set in dark psychiatric hospitals designed as gothic cathedrals (think: Outlast). The days of massive, cathedral-like psychiatric hospitals are mostly gone; replaced with advances in psychiatric medications and behavioral therapies. Yet, controversies have also followed recent advancements in psychiatric management via medication.

Psychiatric Medications as Performance Enhancers

The use of medications or therapy to restore a patient’s functional ability is often viewed as a means of returning that person to lifestyle levels on par with much of society. When a person experiences a debilitating psychiatric condition, the same philosophy is often used to restore that person to a normalized sense of function. In some instances, these people surpass their prior cognitive functions. Countless books and movies have been written about miracle mind drugs that unlock the other 90% of our brain function (think: Limitless). But what happens when the stigma and misconceptions surrounding medication-based psychiatric care give rise to the idea that these treatment methods are on par with performance enhancing drugs like steroids?

Longtime readers and friends know that I am just as obsessive about baseball as I am about chess. Unfortunately, my beloved sport was rocked a few years ago by a steroid scandal that tainted its image for the foreseeable future. Greats like Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds will likely never see their names in the Hall of Fame because of their association with the scandal. The drugs that they allegedly took were steroid cocktails designed to improve their physical performance on the field, not prescription medications for treating a debilitating illness. Steroids are prescribed for some patients, but those prescriptions are carefully controlled and no doctor in their right mind would prescribe them to help someone perform better on the baseball diamond. But what happens when someone takes a medication designed to affect mood, concentration, and memory?

Medication in the Ultimate Mind Sport

The subheading says it all: chess IS the ultimate mind sport. The only physical requirement is the ability of a player to move pieces around the board, but technology advances have even removed that barrier with voice-activated boards available for a variety of computers. Media focus is often on prodigies and eccentric personalities in chess, but anyone willing to put forth a little effort can be successful at playing the game.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Eh6LicTLUw?ecver=2]

ADHD and other psychiatric medications can have a significant effect on a person’s ability to concentrate for extended amounts of time. The misconceptions about these drugs are that they unlock or enhance the brain’s overall functioning and can raise a person’s intelligence level. There are no compelling studies that show Adderall or similar psych medications actually improve cognitive performance beyond focus and concentration. An person with ADHD without an interest in chess is not going to rise easily to Grandmaster levels of play.

A Personal Insight

This topic is of great personal interest to me because I suffer from ADHD and regularly take medications. Long before I was diagnosed with the disorder, I was adamantly opposed to the idea of ADHD and dismissed it as pseudoscientific propaganda. After being thoroughly evaluated by specialists and prescribed medication treatment a few years ago, I am a firm believer and advocate for treatment.

Yet, after years of medication and therapy for my ADHD, my chess skills have not improved a sizeable amount beyond the time and attention that I have been willing to invest in the game. Even with ADHD support medications, sometimes chess (or writing about chess) is of no interest to me. It is my belief based on personal experience and correspondence with other ADHD sufferers that this is true for most people. It allows us to focus our attention more like a normal person and less like the mass of scattered noise we tend to be, but it does not increase our skills at chess or ability to read the minds of our opponents.

Final Thought

In my amateur opinion, professional chess doses not have the same problem with caffeine and stimulants that baseball has with steroids. The community should take time to educate itself on these disorders, treatment, and how that treatment affects (or does not affect) their study habits and game play.

Posted on October 3, 2017 by Wesley Surber

Major Changes Underway at Chess Informant

Without a doubt, Chess Informant is my favorite regular chess publication and has been since I picked up my first issue several years ago. It has some of the most comprehensive game analysis and its databases are beyond reproach. Earlier today, Chess Informant’s CEO issued a heartfelt memorandum to its subscribers announcing his departure from the company after 11 years. Josip Asik is leaving to focus his creative efforts on American Chess Magazine. There is no word on an apparent successor or what this means for the future of Chess Informant itself, but I am confident that someone with a passion for maintaining the periodical’s legacy will press on.

Here is the letter in its entirety:

I want to reach out to all of you with the news that I will soon be stepping down from the position of CEO of Chess Informant. This will give me time to fully focus on the further development of the American Chess Magazine, which has just completed its first full year of production. It will also mean that these two publications will continue their presence in the chess market place entirely separately.

Over the last seven years I have been responsible for all Chess Informant activities. This covered the period in which Informants 109-133 were published. What I am mostly proud of here is the editorial work I carried out on all the magazine sections of Informants 110 to 130 and also, partly, 131 and 133. Moreover this included my introduction of English language articles and annotations.

Most of you I consider as true chess friends, even if we have never met in real life. This has come about as a direct result of starting a new subscription management in 2010 – after which, step by step, we have got to know every subscriber’s name. Together, we have become one big chess family and so now it’s quite an emotional moment for me to have to say goodbye to you all. I am so grateful for the support you have given to the new-style Informants which I initiated and indeed experimented with – always in the hope that it would be as successful as it in fact turned out to be.

At this moment in time I cannot predict what will be the style of future Informants, starting with 134. However, bearing in mind the venerability of this house, I have no doubt that Informant will continue to flourish as it carries on its long and bright journey through the world of chess publishing.

For my part, I would like to take this opportunity to invite you to check out and hopefully join the American Chess Magazine. Essentially, this new publication brings you all the good things you have been enjoying in the first half of Informant, only bigger, richer and colorful. The ambition of the ACM is to develop into a superb international chess magazine.

So thank you all once again and rather than bid you a final farewell, let me sign off instead with the words – “So long!”

With best regards,

Josip Asik

As a loyal Chess Informant reader, I wish Josip the best on his new endeavors with American Chess Magazine, which has proved immensely popular with chess readers since its debut! Godspeed, Josip!

Posted on June 15, 2017 by Wesley Surber

20 Years Later, Garry Kasparov Loves the Machine

Just over 20 years ago last month, former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov played a dramatic six-game match against an IBM supercomputer called Deep Blue, the second of two matches the grandmaster played against the technological behemoth. Up until that point, computers were very strong in their chess abilities but had yet to beat some of the game’s greatest players. Kasparov was determined to prove that machines lacked the beauty of truly deep chess thinking and simply could not beat him. Kasparov’s subsequent crushing defeat was merely a harbinger of things to come. The rise of the machines (chess and others) would come much swifter than almost anyone could have predicted.

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(Credit: FOX)

Recently, Kasparov gave an incredible TED talk about the rise of intelligent machines and the need for humanity to embrace, not fear them. Obviously, he took the time to assure the audience that his defeat by Deep Blue overshadows the fact that he won the first match. Kasparov’s talk is deeply inspiring for those who can appreciate the beauty of chess and technology; its definitely worth watching if you are a fan of TED talks in general, technology, chess, or just curious how one of the world’s greatest minds sees the future under the influence of intelligent machines.

As technology leaps forward, the world’s greatest game has regularly been there to help it shine. If you need proof, then check out the recent fiasco with the Chess.com iOS app in which the 32-bit version stopped working because the site’s 2.1 billion games exceeded the necessary math. Chess has always been a key component of technological evolution (and revolution) and Kasparov obviously sees that there is no reason to fear the rise of the machines.

Comprehensive coverage and review of the TED talk is available on Chessbase.

Posted on June 8, 2017 by Wesley Surber

Chess at Trader’s Village

I am always on the lookout for new and interesting chess shops, stories, and personalities throughout the day and I came across a really cool place south of downtown San Antonio that definitely raised my curiosity. Trader’s Village is a massive flea market and entertainment venue located on Interstate 410 just south of JBSA-Lackland in San Antonio. Aside from rides, food, games, and countless shopping opportunities, I found a neat little space where chess is king!

Nate is the proprietor of AllPerfectGifts4U located in booth #1049 and much of his wares are chess sets and boards of varying styles. I was impressed to find a unique US Air Force themed set for a respectable $49, but the set I wanted had already been sold via the online store. I guess I might have wandered to the wrong shelf looking for goodies.

In addition to selling and promoting chess, Nate also organizes a monthly chess tournament in the Trader’s Village central plaza. There is a big sign on one of the overhangs (see this post’s featured image), which advertises the monthly tournaments and can help lost chess enthusiasts find their way.

According to Nate, the tournament games are 15 | 10 time controlled  with modest participation and several regular players including one or two personalities that definitely seem to add a unique flavor to this hidden chess gem. The winner of each monthly tournament receives a professional tournament chess set to add to their collection! 

I have reached out to Nate for some clarifications and will update this article as I receive additional information. If you are interested in signing up for one of these tournaments, visit the tournament’s official website.