26 March 2011

NR****Q* & *Q****RN

One of my first games on Chesscube (see How I Spent My Free Day) began with the setup shown in the diagram (SP362 NRKRBBQN). I had the Black pieces and my opponent opened 1.f4, attacking the Pawn on a7 with the Queen.

It's not obvious how to defend the a-Pawn. The move 1...Nb6 cedes the center after 2.e4. This might be playable, but the rapid time control left no time to work out the nuances. The move 1...a6 has the same defect as the move 1...Nb6, without doing anything for Black's development. Ditto for 1...b6 with the additional disadvantage of blocking the best square for the Knight on a8.


After 1.f2-f4

I decided to sacrifice the a-Pawn with 1...d5. It's not an important Pawn and if White captures it, Black gets some initiative with 2.Qxa7 Nb6 3.Qa3 Ra8, which is what happened in the game. After 4.Qb3, we continued 4...e6 5.a3 Bd6 6.Bf2 Nc4 7.e3 Na5 8.Qc3 Ng6 9.Nb3 Nxb3+ 10.Qxb3 Ba4 11.Qc3 f6 12.d3 Qf7. Although Black hasn't recovered the Pawn, the initiative and better development still offer some compensation. Now White made a mistake with 13.Rd2, giving up the option of castling O-O. After 13...O-O, I was happy with my game and eventually won.

Getting back to the sacrifice of the a-Pawn, I had already seen the tactical trick involving the Queen vs. the Rook & Knight in another game, but couldn't remember where. I wondered how many such positions there are in chess960, queried my database of start positions to find out, and discovered that there are 18 positions with the N, R, and Q on the a-, b-, and g-files. Since each of those positions has a corresponding twin (N, R, and Q on the h-, g-, and b-files), there are exactly 36 positions with a similar tactic, or 3.75% of all positions.

An analysis like I did in Introduction to Chess960 Geometry, would tell me why there are 18 positions of the type NR****Q*, but I'll leave that for another time. Right now I'd rather know the best way for White to play after the sacrifice of the a-Pawn in the game, and I'd like to know if 1...Nb6 is playable.


Later: In fact, it's not difficult to derive that there are 18 positions of type NR****Q*. Of the five unassigned squares, one Bishop can be placed on three of them and the other Bishop on two. That leaves three squares to place the second Knight. The King and second Rook must then be placed according to the rules of chess960: King between the Rooks. The arithmetic is then 3 x 2 x 3 =18.

19 March 2011

Chess960 Short Cuts

Posting only once a week on chess960 means a lot of good topics fall through the sieve. Here are a few points that are worth mentioning and that might provide useful material for future posts.

LSS: The Lechenicher SchachServer, Lss.chess-server.net, listed to the right under 'Correspondence (Turnbased)' online play sites and better known as LSS, has offered chess960 since June 2009. I've played traditional chess there for several years, but haven't tried the chess960 play because the unusual c960 time controls aren't compatible with a busy schedule. I'm sure I'll try it one of these days. The site recently released its first PGN archive of chess960 game scores. Since the file includes the players' ratings they should be a good source of games between strong players.

Scheming Mind: Another 'Correspondence' online play site is Schemingmind.com, where I've been playing chess960 since I first took it up. Thanks to an invitation from one of the team captains, I just found out that they have leagues and team play. This in itself wouldn't be worth mentioning, except that the matches feature two concurrent games between each pair of players, both games using the same start position with colors switched. This should allow some useful comparisons and contrasts about how good players tackle start positions. The current season marks the fifth year for the league.

Chess960 Jungle: HarryO, who has been commenting on this blog since last summer, has started his own blog called Chess960 Jungle, also linked on the right sidebar. He has a different angle on things than I do, so I'm sure our two blogs will be complementary.

The Google Lottery: As the following image attests, both this blog and my main blog, Chess for All Ages (CFAA), appeared in the top-5 links on a chess960 search. Appearing at 3rd & 5th on the list probably says more about the lack of good chess960 sites than it does about my skills as a blogger, but I was still pleased to see it.

Since then, this blog has fallen back to its usual place around 9th-10th, and CFAA has disappeared off the radar. Oh, well! Glad I took the snapshot of the screen for my scrapbook.

12 March 2011

Chess960 Online Play Sites

To keep track of chess960 online play sites, I added two new widgets to the right sidebar:-
  • Crossboard (Live) Chess960
  • Correspondence (Turnbased) Chess960

I haven't played on all of the sites and I'm not sure whether the list is complete, but it's a start. If you know of another chess960 online play site, add a comment to this post or send me an email using the address listed in my profile.

05 March 2011

How I Spent My Free Day

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, in No Place for Chess960, 'I've been posting about chess960 twice a week since end-August 2009, which makes exactly a year and a half. I'm going to ease off the pedal a bit and return to posting once a week.' Since I post once a day on one of my three blogs, following a fixed weekly schedule, the upshot of that decision was that I had a few hours to do something else. Here's what I considered doing:-
  • (A) Repairing & painting the kitchen wall where we removed a radiator
  • (B) Cleaning the back patio
  • (C) Posting on one of my other blogs
  • (D) Playing live chess960 on Chesscube.com
  • (E) Nothing at all

After a little thought, I eliminated three options: Choice (B) is best done when winter is officially over; (C) just shifts the burden of writing elsewhere, something I can always do in the future; and (E) doesn't really appeal to me. That left (A) and (D). My wife would have been happy with (A) -- and that's what I should have done -- but I finally settled on (D). It's been over two years since I first considered playing on Chesscube (see Chess960 on Chesscube.com) making it the oldest open action on my 'Chess960 TODO' list.

After developing an interest in chess960, I've played close to 50 games on Schemingmind.com and Chess.com, two sites that offer only correspondence chess960. My experience from those game is that, before making the first move, it takes some time to understand the peculiarities of whatever start position has been dictated by the server. I typically spend at least 30 minutes, sometimes double that, studying the position before I make my first move in a chess960 game. How to reconcile that with the fast time controls used in live chess?

After poking around Chesscube for a while, getting a feel for its layout and offerings, I decided to play at the relatively slow control of 15 minutes per player per game with no increment per move. The site assigned me an initial rating of 1500, and I accepted the default range offering opponents rated within 300 points of my own rating.

I've played traditional chess on a lot of different online sites and my experience is that established players don't like playing unrated players. Among other issues, the provisional rating is too inaccurate. Tagged as a newbie and wanting a slow game, would I be able to find opponents on Chesscube? As it happened, there was absolutely nothing to worry about. Within 30 seconds of creating my SEEK, I was playing White in my first live game of chess960. I played 1.f4, my opponent answered 1...g5, and we were off. It was, in a word, exhilarating. Already on the third move I was faced with tactical and strategical problems that I had never seen before, unlike a traditional chess game where these challenges usually start about ten moves later. I won the first game, played two more which I also won, and ended up with a rating around 1600.

Although I started to work out the contours of a routine to evaluate a new start position quickly, it's too soon to share it. Before playing live chess960 the next time, I'll warm up with the Random Position Generator on Chessgames.com, deciding what my first move would be as White in a half-dozen or so random positions. It would be nice to have the same sort of facility from Black's point of view -- seeing a random position with White's first move already made -- but that would require some software development.

It would also be useful to have the possibility of playing an online chess960 game against a computer. I wouldn't want to play a complete game, just the first few moves to practice coordinated development and to exercise the tactical eye. Unlike human opponents, computers never complain when you hit the RESET button to start a new game. Maybe I should just dig out the engines I've collected that understand chess960. I haven't used them in ages, but they should be somewhere on my hard drive.