27 June 2009

Chess960 FAQ

Chessgames.com's page titled FISCHERANDOM CHESS: Random Position Generator is much more than what the title states. It's a discussion group (aka 'Kibitizer's Corner', aka 'Reader Commentary') that started in January 2003. Although the number of posts has declined in the last year or so, it is a valuable repository of ideas touching on all aspects of chess960.

While browsing through 6+ years of posts, I noticed several themes that repeated frequently. These make a good basis for a chess960 FAQ:-

  • Where can I play chess960?
  • How do you castle? (often with reference to a specific position)
  • Is chess960 really chess or is it some kind of chess-like variant?
  • Aren't some chess960 positions forced wins for White?
  • Why can't chess and chess960 co-exist?
  • Does Fischer deserve credit for the chess960 idea?
  • Isn't chess960 mainly for strong players who want to avoid opening theory?

Do you have another question that you think should be in a chess960 FAQ or a good answer (not necessarily original) to one of the questions?


Here's a FAQ-like answer from Chessgames.com itself: (Q) Why does CG.com spell 'Fischerandom' with one 'r'? (A) Because that's how Fischer spelled it. • This begs the question: when did Fischer ever spell it? He wasn't known for committing his thoughts to writing. • Here's another: (Q) Why does the CG.com 'Random Position Generator' use nonstandard numbering for the start positions? The (A) is mentioned many times in the discussion.

20 June 2009

Populating the Database

I executed the plan described in A Simple Chess960 Database for Tracking SPs by creating an entry for each SP that I've already discussed elsewhere. A few small design issues cropped up that will need a little more thought.

How should I handle twins? Some discussions compare and contrast the differences. I did nothing special to flag them, so I'll document them here:

How should I treat multiple posts on the same SP?

How much should I say about the traditional start position (and its twin)?

Before doing any extra work, I'll run for a while with what I have and see how useful it is (or isn't).

13 June 2009

First Move Advantage in Chess960

A recent article on Chessbase.com, Refined Chess - a new proposal to combat draws (26 April 2009), another viewpoint in an ongoing dialog about the draw problem in chess, mentioned chess960 in passing.
Random Start Position: This was Fischer's proposal, which enjoyed a modest success. The problem is, not all starting positions offer the same chances to both players. Some gives white a huge advantage, some are too drawish.

This is a common criticism of chess960, where, as here, the critics always present the argument as a fact known to everyone, so examples are not required. I raised the issue on the SchemingMind.com chess960 forum (see Problems with certain start positions), and asked

I'm a newcomer to chess960, have played only a handful of games, and haven't seen this problem of start positions where 'some give White a huge advantage, some are too drawish'. Are there any positions that are known to be problematic?

Here are some of the comments I received.

QuantumLoop: 'In my experience so far I have not found any case that I felt offered one side or the other an advantage let alone a HUGE advantage.'

ichabod801: 'I recently read Gene Milener's book on FRC. He presents some data in there that seems to show a white advantage in some positions. However, it's from one tournament (Mainz), so it's not like it's a big enough sample to really draw any conclusions.'

Austin: 'I think the best way to find an answer would be to organise a correspondence tournament and invite the top CC players of the day to participate under full ICCF conditions. Such a tournament should really expose the 'truth' in each of the positions played.'

heuschrecke: 'I annotated the first 100 starting positions of Chess960 here on SM and I am actually playing in the German Chess960 Championship. [...] There are some starting positions where the right to move first leads to a few forced moves: White threatens to win a pawn with his first move. Black has only one answer and White with his 2nd move threatens to win another pawn. That's it and there's no advantage due to the right to make the first move. A big advantage for White and drawish starting positions - I don't know any of them. • And you may run Rybka for the next 50 years to find out if White has in any of the starting positions a big advantage of if any of the starting positions is drawish from the first move on. The development of opening theory in one and only starting position (the standard one) took 100 years. Even taking into account the tremendous acceleration in hard- and software development - how long would it take to come to a satisfying assessment of any of the 959 starting positions of Chess960?

QuantumLoop: 'World Champion Bobby Fischer,chess genius and originator, spent the years after his brilliant conception playing only Chess960. Bobby was a deeply honest man. If there were something unfair with his conception I am certain he would not of promoted it. If this World Champion, one of the greatest chess players in history, thought Chess960 superior to position 518 [the traditional start position] alone, enough so as to abandon playing "the old chess" surely this must be the strongest testimonial you will ever hear!

Along with those perceptive comments was a link to an older forum thread on the same subject -- Advantageous positions -- where Chess Tiger wrote,

The Chess Tigers offer a reward of Euro 5.000,- to anybody finding a forced lost starting position. You naturally have to bring the evidence!

I asked Chess Tiger if the offer was still valid. He replied,

Yes, it is! But I guess you will agree that we are not really in danger to pay this out.

By introducing chess960, the author of the Chessbase article on 'Refined Chess' was relying on a straw man defense to make his case about drawn games. The purpose of chess960 is to eliminate the impact of opening theory in chess, not to reduce the number of draws. If it does both, that's fine, but draw reduction is not its primary selling point.


Wikipedia has an excellent article on First-move advantage in chess. Many of its points -- winning percentages for both sides, drawn with best play, symmetrical openings -- are also relevant to chess960, even if the variant is not (yet) cited.

06 June 2009

Small Opening Moves Can Have Big Consequences

I advanced from the first round of the 2009 Chess960 Dropout Tournament (see Pyramids and Dropouts for an explanation of how the format works) by winning both games. I discussed the start of one game in my post on Chess960 Twins, while the other game started with the position shown in the diagram.

Start Position 482

The line-up of the h-side pieces is the same as in the traditional start position (SP518). The initial moves were 1.c4 c5 2.b3 b6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3. The first observation to make is the symmetry of the position. Chess960 games often start with symmetrical moves or transpose into symmetrical positions, more often than from SP518. There are several reasons why this happens, and I'll discuss them in a future post.

At this point in the game I judged that multiple piece exchanges on f3/f6 were inevitable, making the development of the h-side Bishop a key decision. Instead of continuing 4...Nc6, maintaining the symmetry, I decided to give my opponent the chance to break the symmetry, thereby going astray. I chose to capture toward the center by playing 4...e6 followed by a later ...gxf6. My opponent chose 5.g3, capturing away from the center with a later e2xf3. These decisions had a major impact on the evolution of the game.

After the inevitable exchanges, I had a mass of central Pawns, partly unopposed. I worked these into a steamroller, gained a big advantage in space that let me maneuver on both sides of the board, and eventually won the game. You can see how the idea worked by playing through the full game, PGN courtesy of SchemingMind.com:

[Event "2009 Chess960 Dropout Tournament, Round 1"]
[Site "SchemingMind.com"]
[Date "2008.12.16"]
[Round "1"]
[White "Chessic"]
[Black "bemweeks"]
[Result "0-1"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "bqrnkbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/BQRNKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"]

1.c4 c5 2.b3 b6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 e6 5.g3 Nc6 6.Bg2 Nd4 7.O-O Nxf3+ 8.Bxf3 Bxf3 9.exf3 Be7 10.Ne4 O-O 11.Nxf6+ Bxf6 12.Bxf6 gxf6 13.Qe4 Qd6 14.Rcd1 f5 15.Qh4 Qd4 16.Qxd4 cxd4 17.f4 f6 18.Rfe1 Kf7 19.Rc1 d6 20.d3 Rfe8 21.f3 Re7 22.Re2 e5 23.Rce1 Ke6 24.fxe5 dxe5 25.f4 Kd6 26.Kf2 Rce8 27.Kf3 Kc5 28.a3 e4+ 29.Kf2 a5 30.Kf1 h5 31.Kf2 h4 32.gxh4 Kd6 33.b4 axb4 34.axb4 e3+ 35.Kf1 Rh7 36.Kg2 Rxh4 37.Kg3 Reh8 38.Kf3 Rh3+ 0-1

Just as in traditional chess, opening ideas can easily carry into later phases of a chess960 game.