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.


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.


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!


Posted on December 9, 2015 by Wesley Surber

Examining a Devastating Queen Assault

AmishHacker (1111) – Internet Opponent (1141) [C41]

Live Chess, 08.12.2015

This game tied my stomach up in knots. Even though I won, the blunder that allowed that victory was harsh. 1.e4 Inspired by my hero Bobby Fischer, this move makes up 99.9% of my first moves. 1…e5 Black moves in to block the e4 pawn from advancing. The battle in the center takes shape early. 2.Nf3 The Knight advances to engage the e5 pawn. 2…d6 Black advances his d-pawn to protect the e5 pawn and prevent the Knight from advancing. 3.Bc4 Lately I have been hesitant to play Bb5 as to avoid provoking a retaliatory pawn move. 3…Bg4 Black engages the Knight and pins it to defense of the Queen.

C41: Philidor Defense

4.0-0 Castling to safety as soon as possible so fewer active resources are devoted to King defense. 4…a6 Black advances on the a-file to prevent me from reinforcing on the Queenside. 5.d3 Reinforcing my position on e4 and providing backend support for the c4 Bishop. 5…h6!! An excellent move! My Knight is further trapped by defense of the g5 square and the pin to the Queen. Black is playing semi-passively to cut off my maneuverability and slowly choke my position to death. 6.Nc3 Trying to balance out the attack by prepping the Knight to engage on the Queenside. 6…b5 Black advances to stop my Queenside engagement and forces the Bishop to retreat or advance to d5. After some thought, Bd5 continues the attack on f7 and the a8 Rook. 7.Bd5 The Bishop is a fragile outpost! It threatens the a8 Rook and continues to attack the a2-g8 diagonal, but Black has good counter play if he wants to force a retreat.

Position after 7.Bd5

7…c6 Black engages the Bishop to force it into retreat. Taking the pawn is perilous and I want to maintain my control of the diagonal. 8.Bb3?! The best option which maintains an attack across the a2-g8 diagonal. Notice that I am trying hard to maintain control of the f7 square. My hope is to bring in a surprise attack at a later time, but the g4 Bishop will need to be cleared first. 8…a5 Black’s advances on the a-file threaten the position of the Knight and Bishop. Its cause for concern, but not for retreat at the moment. In any case, the Bishop is under the most duress as an attack by the a-pawn will claim it. 9.d4 This move was purely to break through the suffocating pawn structure. If Black takes the pawn a Queen re-capture would help to open my position. 9…Bxf3?? The f3 Knight is history but Black has committed a serious mistake by forcing an exchange on f3. Based on my planned response, Black has only 1-2 moves that can save him from #/1.

Position after 9…Bxf3??

10.Qxf3 Completing the exchange with my Queen now focuses a dual attack of the Bishop on b3 and the Queen on f3. With the obvious nature of the attack, I expected black to play a variation. 10…exd4?? Black misses his chance to defend against the surprise attack. 11.Qxf7# This is a devastating blow. I have been on the receiving end of this attack before and it took me days to stop kicking myself for making the blunder. 1-0

Posted on December 2, 2015 by Wesley Surber

The Blessing of the November Sessions

December is here and that means Christmas is just around the corner! It is hard for me to believe that so much time has gone by! Campfire Chess will celebrate its 2-year anniversary in May and we’ve averaged around 50 visitors a day since August of this year! If the internet could be imagined as a city then Campfire Chess is like a novelty comic book shop in a strip mall. Even Best Buy and some of the most successful businesses in the world started out small, so we are on our way! November was a lot of fun for me because my chess activities were up-and-down as usual but ended on a very high note. I closed out the month of November 2015 with a win that gave me my highest online ELO ever: 1073! I am very excited with the level of improvement I have gained in the last 2 years of tracking my chess studies. My online ELO was around 650 in May 2014 when I opened Campfire Chess as Off My Chess. 1073 represents almost a 100% improvement which is not too shabby for a guy who is going to university full time, raising two kids, working full time, and supporting a family. In addition, my chess studies and improvement are without the assistance of an OTB coach although I am utilizing the Tactics Trainer and Chess Mentor over at

In reflecting on this milestone I would like to share two of my favorite annotated games from November. The first game is an 9 move game that could be described as an assasination…

I am attending a school in Philly, so the next game was annotated on an American Airlines 737 from Dallas to Philadelphia earlier this week. This game was a lot of fun and had me on the edge of my seat several times throughout.

I anticipate completing my Masters of Divinity in March so I hope to devote more attention to the rest of the blog. I recently began reworking the reading list this week and plan to add the movie list which has been in production since July 2014. Chess is growing around the world and 2016 looks to be even better than this year! Stay tuned!

Posted on October 11, 2015 by Wesley Surber

A Tactical Exposé

Recently I have been working with the Peshk@ training tool from ChessOK. Aside from studying opening theory I have also tried brushing up on my tactical abilities. It was not until recently that I was able to identify some of those tactics in games that I have been playing online. One game in particular struck me as an exceptional tactical win and it was played on the Live Chess server at I have annotated it here:

Internet Opponent vs. AmishHacker | Live Chess | October 08, 2015

1.e4 A standard and powerful opening move. White is vying for control of the center.

1…d5 Immediately challenging White’s push for the center. Most of my online opponents take the exchange as my opponent in this game did.

2.exd5 White accepts the exchange. 2…Qxd5 The exchange is complete but I have to be careful bringing my Queen out so early in the game. In this position she is vulnerable to attack on several fronts.

3.Nc3 White immediately engages my Queen. 3…Qd8 Moving my Queen back to safety to continue developing my pieces.

4.d4 b6 Preparing a clear space for my Bishop to develop. 5.Bb5+ White obviously wants to show that he is in an aggressive mood. This also delays my Bishop’s development and forces a response rather than expansion of my attack forces. 5…Bd7 A direct challenge to the attack. I am also in a mood to fight.

6.Qg4 White doubles up his attack on the d7 Bishop. Much of the attack is counterbalanced but there is danger here if I do not play with precision.

6…e6 7.Bg5 f6 8.Qxe6+ A strong move since the d7 Bishop is pinned by the b5 Bishop. The attack on my position was well coordinated and there were several opportunities for Black to exploit weakness. 8…Be7 [8…Ne7 9.Bxf6 gxf6 10.Qxf6 And White is comfortably winning.] 9.Qxd7+?? Was played in the game. A tragic error that cost White his Queen and the game. It seems that he failed to notice the b8 Knight defending the d7 square.

[9.Bxd7+ Qxd7 does nothing.]9…Nxd7!! The only reasoanble response to White’s blunder. 10.Bf4 Obviously blindsided by the devastating blunder, White retreats his Bishop in an attempt to regroup and recover with a new strategy. 10…g5 11.Bg3 Bd6 12.0-0-0 Ne7 13.Re1 A nice pin, but I am still able to castle to safety. 13…0-0 14.Bc4+ This attack seems only designed to force my King from its safety net. 14…Kh8 15.Nf3 c6!? This move made me nervous because it isolated my d6 Bishop and almost handed White the initiative. However, my opponent did not see the move and chose a different path. 16.d5?? The second major blunder of the game missing Bxd6!! 16…Bc5 17.dxc6 Nxc6 18.Nd5 Re8 19.Nc7 Rxe1+ A tactical sacrifice designed merely to delay White’s capture of the Rook. 20.Nxe1?? My opponent suprrised me again with this move. Normally the response would be Rxe1! but the choice to go with the Knight prevents the Rook from developing and leaves White handicapped.

[Much better was: 20.Rxe1 g4 21.Nd2] 20…Rc8 21.Ne6 Qe7 22.Nd3 Nd4 23.Re1 Nxe6 24.Rxe6 Qf7 25.Rc6?! My opponent struck back with a poorly planned tactic. He threatens to take my c8 Rook and believes that I will place such a high value on it that I would miss his Bishop threatening my Queen. However, the Bishop capture was much more valuable. 25…Qxc4 26.Rxc8+ Kg7 27.a3 Qd4 Moving out of the way in preparatiion for b3. 28.Rd8 Bxa3!! I debated this one for awhile, but recent tactics studies boosted my confidence in this sacrifice. 29.bxa3 Qa1+!! This was a turning point in the game as White took the bait and my Queen began to systematically ravage his forces through forced moves. 30.Kd2 Qd4 31.c3 Qd5 32.f3 Qa2+ 33.Ke3 Qxa3 34.Rxd7+ I got nervous here because now I was down to only a Queen and 3 pawns while my opponent still had several minor pieces to work with. 34…Kg6 35.c4 Qf8 36.Rxa7 Qe8+ 37.Kf2 Qc6 38.Rc7 This demonstrates the power of a well-placed Bishop. Although I had confidence in a positive outcome for me, White’s Bishop on g3 was devastating to my attack plans. 38…Qa4 39.c5 Qc2+ 40.Ke3 bxc5 41.Rxc5 Qxg2 42.Rc6 Qg1+ 43.Ke2 Kf5 With few pieces left it was time to bring my King into the action. Instead of running from the Rook, my King now became an active part of my assault on White’s position. 44.f4 Qg2+!! A tactical and psychologically devastating attack! White’s Rook is lost and I continue to pick off his pieces one-by-one.

45.Nf2 Qxc6 46.Ke3 gxf4+ 47.Bxf4 Qc1+!! Another piece falls to tactics! White cannot save the Bishop and suddenly he finds himself in a perilous position. 48.Kf3 Qxf4+ 49.Kg2 h5 50.h3 h4 51.Kf1 Qg3 52.Ke2 Qg2 53.Ke3 Kg5 54.Ne4+! A decent move to keep my King from chasing the h3 pawn. 54…Kf5!! An even better move to force White to consider the future of his Knight. 55.Kd4?? My opponent missed several opportunities in this game and I think this was simply a result of indecision. The Knight is lost since the King will defend any attack.

55…Qxe4+ 56.Kc3 Qe3+ 57.Kc2 Qxh3 The last of my opponent’s pieces are gone. The rest is self-explanatory. 58.Kd2 Qg3 59.Ke2 h3 60.Kf1 h2 61.Ke2 h1Q 62.Kd2 Qhh2+ 63.Kd1 Qgg1# AmishHacker won by checkmate 0-1

Posted on September 4, 2015 by Wesley Surber

August, A Rollercoaster Month

August was a month of anticipation. Several major projects at work were due at the end of August and they created a great deal of stress and anxiety for me and for my family. Additionally, the Sinquefield Cup began at the end of the month and was a source of anticipation throughout the month. I went into following the tournament with the intention of publishing daily tournament recaps but life’s demands eventually took priority and I was unable to publish the final recaps leading up to Levon Aronian’s victory.

Now that September is here and August is a distant memory, reflecting on it has really shown me what an incredible roller coaster ride it was. The life challenges, victories, and losses were physically, emotionally and psychologically exhausting. Unfortunately, this is reflected prevalently in the quality of my chess games and the results of my online play throughout the month. Throughout the month of August I played 27 games on and only won 9 of them. The other 18 losses were incredibly frustrating because they were not hard fought victories like some of my previous games. Instead, these were games that suffered from basic tactical blunders and obviously reflect the fact that something was distracting me during gameplay.

The game above is a perfect example of the struggles I have experienced on the board this month. I knew that 5…Nxf3+?? was a terrible move and after the Knight was captured by 6.Qxf3!, my reactionary move 6…e5?? was made almost immediately. If I had taken a moment to consider the position and identify the absurdly simple defense 6…e6!, there is no promise that I would have won the game, but could have definitely given myself a better chance than losing in an 8-move checkmate.

In this game, 8.Qxf7+! is the move that caused me the most pain. As with the previous example, I once again find myself guilty of ignoring basic tactical principles and reacting to my opponent’s moves before developing and executing a clear plan of my own. The response is a forced move, but 12.Qxe5 is not. Yet, I became so frustrated with the quick loss of material and decided to give up. As August entered into its 3rd week especially, right before the Sinquefield Cup, I struggled the most. Games like this became the norm and it became increasingly difficult to play games or to focus on my regular studies. But alas, not all was lost…

After working through the month’s many challenges I started to see results like the one above. This particular game was a lot of fun to play and I will probably annotate it at length in Campfire Magazine or in a separate post in the future. Those basic tactical principles that were seemingly lost on me in the previous examples seemed to come roaring back as the pressures of the month subsided.

Time to Change Focus?

One thing I have been considering is my recent focus on tournaments and tournament results. It is always nice to follow tournaments because the expertise of the great players is inspirational for me and countless other chess players. However, Campfire Chess is primarily concerned with learning about chess and experiencing the chess culture through more of an educational lens. So I am going to try to focus more in the coming months on my studies and sharing some of the harder lessons learned as I work to improve my skill set.

As a final example, this was a fun one that ended suddenly for reasons I still don’t know. It could have been that his dinner was ready and he needed to go set the table, but I might never know. In any case, it was a welcome victory that helped me to springboard back to a balanced win-loss ratio heading into the Fall and Winter months.