17 June 2017

'The Essence and the Rules of Chess'

Seen on Facebook: From time to time, I receive requests for chess coaching... (facebook.com/andrey.deviatkin):-
From time to time, I receive requests for chess coaching. Let me be clear: while I somehow keep dealing with chess for several personal reasons, I am bored by the initial setup. Its engine-made opening theory as well as the resulting typical middlegame positions (also studied too thoroughly) make me very unenthusiastic and in general kill my motivation. So, even though I've had a number of successful students (and am still having a couple of students), most likely my answer will be no. It might have been different if chess960 were around.

I think the game invented (or rather discovered) by the great Bobby Fischer is in fact the real chess. Unlike bughouse, 10x10, atomic etc., it keeps unchanged the essence and the rules of chess, while encompassing the 'orthodox' starting position as #518 among its 960 ones. "Chess960 is the same chess but you get rid of the theory and create", Boris Spassky said. I do hope it will gain serious popularity later in 21st century, so that we will have the calendar of real-life events with significant prizes and long enough time controls such as 60 or 90 min/game.

Why do I think so? (More on the topic here: An interview with GM Andrey Deviatkin and GM Sergey Grigoriants, chess959.com). Because too many players as well as other chess-related persons support this opinion and say they like chess960 in private conversations. Besides, here and there I read, hear or watch similar views expressed, uncoordinatedly but quite frequently. The general passivity of chess players in expressing their views is well-known, unless something concerns them seriously and directly, such as losing to a cheater. But when asked, most of us can express opinions, and most do support Fischer chess this or that way! I clearly see that I'm absolutely not alone with my views. While most of the supporters agree that it's shouldn't be about the 'abolition' or 'replacement' of classical chess -- what is called for is the parallel calendar of events and the separate rating system.

Regrettably, nowadays one can play chess960 almost exclusively on the Web (lichess.org provides the best opportunity, while being an excellent chess portal in general btw) and with extremely short time controls. What's being lacked for something more serious is some uniting force with certain financial background. Preferrably, without Kirsan and FIDE, as the latter has alas become his pocket institution. Maybe sounds utopian, but -- by the way, this is also a real possibility to get rid of the seemingly unbeatable FIDE corruption, as the chess960 world federation can be started anew and certain people kept away from it.

True, there've been no serious progress with chess960 popularity for quite a long time. But even if the change might be invisible, the potential energy of Fischer chess has been growing. And the appearance of just one rich enthusiast or serious sponsoring company can become the last straw and cause the real breakthrough like the domino effect. The situation can change very quickly and drastically. Do you remember how, after the years of stagnation in computer chess, Rybka brought it to a whole new level suddenly, once and for all?

We've already seen GM Deviatkin on this blog on several occasions:-

  • Elite ICC Chess960 Players (November 2013) • '"It's Time to Try Out Something Else"; GM Andrei Deviatkin Decides to Quit His Chess Career (chess-news.ru)'
  • More from Moscow 2014 (March 2014) • 'I contacted GM Deviatkin and asked him about the organization of the tournament.'
  • SP864 BBQRKRNN - Other Opinions (November 2014) • 'A particularly difficult start position (SP), which seems to present Black with an immediate problem.'

Let's close with a cartoon from GM Deviatkin's Facebook 'photos'.

27 May 2017

Correspondence Chess and Chess960

It's been quite a while since I last discussed ICCF -- see Correspondence Chess Ratings and Chess960 (November 2012) for the previous post -- so let's have another look. That previous post was based on the 'ICCF Diamond Jubilee 1st Chess 960 World Cup', which finished in 2015, while the World Cup series is currently in its third cycle. Here are links to the final event in each cycle:-

There are plenty of games there for further analysis, but how valuable are correspondence games for understanding chess960? Many years ago I touched on this topic in More on Computer Assistance (October 2010). Although they were already strong at that time, chess engines have made even more advances since then. What can we learn from them?

The following chart shows the essential portion of the crosstable for the '2nd Chess 960 World Cup Final', which finished last year. For the full table, see the link above.


The rectangle in red shows that the top five players drew all of their games with each other. (The '1/2-1/2' result in red was the last game to finish and has nothing to do with the rectangle.) In other words, all of the points that determined the eventual winners were scored against the three bottom finishers.

This observation indicates that the top players used more advanced hardware (and perhaps software) than the others. Their engine setups are all calculating roughly the same variations, so it's difficult to get an advantage over each other. The other three used less advanced setups that couldn't keep up with the top players.

In other words, correspondence chess has evolved to the point where the players have little to add to the chess content of the games. Their role is to pursue a more powerful environment for their engines. What can be learned about chess960 from this?

20 May 2017

Play Chess960, Not War

Seen on this blog in the Google Adsense space on the right navigation bar. The little triangle in the upper right corner of the image is for Google's AdChoices. The 'CHESS960 (FRC)' is the header for the list of recent comments. (The usual widget in the space, 'RESOURCES', was missing that day.)

Under the title 'PLAY CHESS NOT WAR', former President Obama of the USA plays chess (or chess960) with President Putin of Russia. The waitress is serving two cups of coffee while people play chess (or chess960) in the background. A zoom on the image reveals that the pieces to the side of the chessboard are military vehicles. The related link went to InstantChess.com, also known as Instant Chess, whose slogan is 'cup of coffee compatible'.

Why mention a Google ad for chess? Because it's the only chess ad I've seen in the Adsense space here. I thought it noteworthy that Google recognizes the relationship between chess and chess960. One small step for Fischer's greatest idea?

29 April 2017

Caruana's Discussion Points

I ended my previous post Caruana on Chess960, saying, 'There's much material for further discussion here'. To be more specific, I noted four discussion points, which I numbered.

1) Preparation plays a big role in classical chess, but in blitz and rapid it doesn’t play much of a role at all.

This was new to me. On the surface it makes some sense, but I'm not sure what the underlying reasons are. If it's true, does this mean that the traditional start position (SP518) is best played in fast games, and chess960 is for slow games?

2) Any player in the world -- even the best -- will immediately start making mistakes from the start.

I've discussed this before, in A Highbrow Dismissal of Chess960 (December 2010):-

The start of a game is two players following a known path for 'X' number of moves, after which they follow computer based preparation for 'Y' number of moves, after which they are on their own. At this point there are three possible outcomes: either they agree to a draw, or one of them blunders, or they continue playing as best they can.

In SP518, X+Y can take in 20 or 25 moves. In the other 959 chess960 positions, X+Y is a move or two. The sporting side of chess involves a player confronting the unknown, not repeating memorized moves. Is chess a sport or a rehearsed exhibition?

3) People will have a harder time following it because the position gets so chaotic early on.

People also have a hard time following a game starting with SP518, because they don't know when the players are following a known path and when they are on their own. It's easier to sacrifice a piece if you've analyzed it using an engine. Comparisons with professional wrestling -- which is not what it seems to be -- are appropriate.

4) Commentators have a hard time explaining what’s happening.

This is only true of the opening. Commentators can't use the same approach they use for SP518, because it requires experience with chess960. How many commentators have this experience?

In his recent match with GM Vachier-Lagrave, GM Caruana won the chess960 games +1-0=2, but lost the overall match. How would he have done if the match had been exclusively chess960?

22 April 2017

Caruana on Chess960

The cover story for this month's Chess Life is an eight page feature titled 'Caruana on the Move, But Here to Stay; The defending U.S. Champion plans to make St. Louis home'. The centerpiece of the story is an interview of GM Fabiano Caruana by Macauley Peterson. The centerpiece of the interview (for this blog, at least) is the following Q&A paragraph.
MP: What about Chess960? • FC: The thing is I don’t see the need for it. I guess it’s a fun alternative, but when -- maybe preparation plays a big role in classical chess, but in blitz and rapid it doesn’t play much of a role at all. If you’re playing Fischer Random at rapid time controls the position is just so unfamiliar and so complicated from the very beginning and the time is too little. Any player in the world -- even the best -- will immediately start making mistakes from the start, and I don’t see why that makes it more interesting. I think also people will have a harder time following it because the position gets so chaotic so early on. Commentators also probably have a hard time explaining what’s happening.

There's much material for further discussion here, but the bottom line is: chess is a hard game, but chess960 is even harder.

25 March 2017

A Straightforward Plan?

I ended my previous post, GM Blitz Battle PGN, with an action:-
While assembling the file, I learned that all of the matches in the same round used the same start position at each time control. For example, the first chess960 games of the first round, with 5 minutes for each player (plus one second per move), used SP768 BBQRKNRN. Given that the players had advance notice of that start position, it might be instructive to examine their opening moves.

Of the eight players who started the knockout, three are veterans of the Mainz tournaments and have featured in previous posts on this blog:-

SP768 is shown in the following diagram.

This is a start position (SP) that offers a relatively straightforward plan for the first moves of both players: play b3/c4 (b6/c5) to open the diagonals for the adjacent Bishops, develop the Knights to e3 & g3 (e6 & g6), castle O-O, then study the resulting position and make a new plan. Three of the games followed this basic plan:-

[White "Grischuk"] [Black "LevonAronian"]
1.c4 b6 2.b3 c5 3.Nhg3 Nhg6 4.Ne3 Ne6 5.Nd5 Nef4 6.Nxf4 Nxf4 7.Bxh7 Rh8 8.Qc2 Kf8 9.O-O-O d5 10.e3 Ne6

[White "FabianoCaruana"] [Black "LyonBeast"]
1.c4 c5 2.Nhg3 b6 3.b3 Nhg6 4.Ne3 e6 5.O-O Nf4 6.d4 N8g6 7.d5 O-O 8.Bc3 Rfe8 9.Qb2 exd5 10.Nxd5 Nxd5

[White "MagnusCarlsen"] [Black "TigranLPetrosyan"]
1.c4 c5 2.b3 b6 3.Nhg3 Nhg6 4.Ne3 Be5 5.Bxe5 Nxe5 6.O-O Nc6 7.Nef5 d6 8.d4 e6 9.d5 exf5 10.Bxf5 Qc7

GM Nakamura took a different route:-

[White "Hikaru"] [Black "GMharikrishna"]
1.d4 b5 2.c3 Nhg6 3.Nhg3 d5 4.Bd3 a6 5.a4 bxa4 6.Qc2 Bc6 7.e4 Nf4 8.exd5 Nxd3+ 9.Rxd3 Bxd5 10.c4 Bb7

I've commented on his unorthodox approach in previous posts, for example Nakamura's Chess960 Openings (August 2014) plus two follow-up posts: Nakamura's 1.g4/b4 and Nakamura's 1.h4/a4. In this latest example, he appears to have recognized the obvious plan, then found an alternate plan starting 1.d4, with different initial objectives. The move also interferes with Black's basic plan by rendering 1...c5 problematic. Is this just an example of 'Dare to be different' or is there a deeper opening principle here?

18 March 2017

GM Blitz Battle PGN

In my previous post, Chess.com's GM Blitz Battle (February 2017), I wrote,
Seven matches times three chess960 games per match gives 21 chess960 games played by the world's top grandmasters. I didn't see an easy way to collect those games, but a little perseverance should pay off.

Indeed it did. After signing into Chess.com, I accessed the game archive and selected 'Others' games'. The subsequent procedure was:-

  • Search on games between both players,
  • Open relevant game,
  • Share, and
  • Download [with or without thinking times]

To search on games, you need to know the players' names on Chess.com. These are all available from the 'Blitz Battle' post via the reports on the individual matches. Here they are for the matches from the first round, the winner given first.

  • Grischuk vs. LevonAronian
  • Hikaru vs. GMharikrishna
  • LyonBeast vs. FabianoCaruana
  • MagnusCarlsen vs. TigranLPetrosyan

These four matches plus the other matches are shown in the same chart used in that previous post.

Revisiting the Chess.com report on the final match, Carlsen Beats Nakamura To Win GM Blitz Battle Championship (October 2016), we learn,

Just like the quarterfinals and the semifinals, all three time disciplines opened with a chess960 game, but for the finals, a twist. The players did not get advance notice of the starting positions. Nakamura would go on to take 2.5/3 in the three iterations of chess960, one of the few bright spots for him on the day.

The file containing the chess960 games is here:-

GM Blitz Battle PGN : 21 games

While assembling the file, I learned that all of the matches in the same round used the same start position at each time control. For example, the first chess960 games of the first round, with 5 minutes for each player (plus one second per move), used SP768 BBQRKNRN. Given that the players had advance notice of that start position, it might be instructive to examine their opening moves.

25 February 2017

Chess.com's GM Blitz Battle

I ended the previous post, Rare Birds 2015-16, with an action:-
2016-10-27: Carlsen Beats Nakamura To Win GM Blitz Battle Championship (chess.com) • 'Just like the quarterfinals and the semifinals, all three time disciplines opened with a chess960 game' • That last event merits a deeper look.

Skipping ahead, a chart from the event's final report gives an overview of the entire tournament.

The event was announced in January 2016:-

  • 2016-01-19: The $40,000 GM Blitz Battle Championship (chess.com; ditto for all links given below) • 'Here are the details of the event:
    All matches, starting from the quarterfinal rounds through the finals will follow this format:
    - Three hours of blitz and bullet chess
    - First time control: 5|2 for 90 minutes, then 3|2 for 60 minutes, then 1|1 for the final 30 minutes
    - First game of each time control will be Chess960
    - Total match score will determine who moves onto the next round'

Seven of the eight players were all members of the world's chess elite. A preliminary, qualifying event selected the eighth player.

The individual match reports were all written by three of Chess.com's best journalists: Sam Copeland, Peter Doggers, and Mike Klein. Here are the reports on the four quarterfinal matches:-

And here are the reports on the two semifinal matches:-

And here are two reports on the final match:-

Some highlights from the final match:-

'Today GM Magnus Carlsen [...] defeated GM Hikaru Nakamura in the finals by an overall score of 14.5-10.5.' • 'On the whole, Carlsen played faster early and his consistent time advantage helped him open with a 5.5-3.5 win in the five-minute portion.' • 'The world champion then extended his lead to five games by taking the three-minute by the larger margin of 5.0-2.0.' • 'Nakamura attempted a comeback in the bullet, but the lead proved insurmountable. He mostly traded wins in the one-minute, winning the segment by a single game, 5.0-4.0.'

'Nakamura won easily in chess960. Just like the quarterfinals and the semifinals, all three time disciplines opened with a chess960 game, but for the finals, a twist. The players did not get advance notice of the starting positions.' • 'Nakamura would go on to take 2.5/3 in the three iterations of chess960, one of the few bright spots for him on the day.'

Seven matches times three chess960 games per match gives 21 chess960 games played by the world's top grandmasters. I didn't see an easy way to collect those games, but a little perseverance should pay off.

18 February 2017

Rare Birds 2015-16

On this blog 'Rare Birds' are crossboard (OTB) chess960 tournaments, as in Rare Birds 2014 (August 2014). In this post I'll add three that are definitely worth a mention, although there are undoubtedly more. I might come back to one or more of these in a future post.

The Chess960 Jungle reported on another significant event from 2015.

When chess960 is played by the elite, it usually has little more than exhibition status in a traditional (SP518) chess event.

That last event merits a deeper look.

28 January 2017

Fischer and Deep Blue

After reopening this chess960 blog in last week's post, 'Everyone I Know Plays Chess960', I'd like to continue with another long quote. This one popped up a few weeks ago while I was researching Hans Berliner (1929-2017) on my main blog. It's from an April 1999 thread in rec.games.chess (RGC), Fischer interviews -- does he say anything relevant?
I've listened (unfortunately, at least in what I have heard) to a couple of the Fischer [radio] interviews. I was wondering if he has anything relevant to say? If so, I would appreciate knowing which interview, since I haven't heard it yet! Does he talk about chess? His legacy to the game? (Which these interviews, I would imagine, aren't helping him any.) Does he say anything positive?

A list of all(?) Fischer interviews can be found at Bobby Fischer Live Radio Interviews (tripod.com). Many of them exhibit Fischer at his worst and I didn't listen to any of them while preparing this current post. The RGC question received a long answer. It started,

Fifth interview concerns Botvinnik and Deep Blue:

• His rating adjusted for inflation would be "at least 2900" according to a Spanish magazine article in about 1992. He got his rating honestly and has "never even prearranged a draw". And concerning Kasparov's rating... he achieved it by prearranging games with Karpov and Russian Jew players...

• "Botvinnik, he spent years developing a chess computer. But he never made this chess computer public, he never played any games with it. I believe what he was really developing was a computerized system of prearranging games, of inventing games. You can prearrange games now at unbelievably fast speeds. It used to be a very tedious hard process to prearrange a realistic looking game. Now you can prearrange a game I think in a matter of minutes. They can prearrange a whole tournament I think in a few hours or days now with this hightech computer technology."

In response to a question, 'How do you look at Deep Blue then?', Fischer replied,

Deep Blue... it plays very well. I think that match that Kasparov played Deep Blue was a genuine match. What did everybody say about Kasparov's play? Ask anybody about his play. Read all the stories. Everybody said Kasparov was unrecognizable. Why was he unrecognizable? Because it was a real match. His moves were not prearranged. That's why he was unrecognizable. The Kasparov that you think you know, you don't know. The Kasparov you think you know is the Kasparov who's played all his prearranged moves in these prearranged games.

'If you were there to play with that computer would you do it?'

I would play Fischerandom chess. If there was a good offer, I would play Fischerandom chess, sure.

'Against Deep Blue?' • 'Yeah, yeah.' • 'Really. And you're not afraid about that?' • 'No, I'm not afraid, no. Why should I be afraid? The worst that could happen is you lose.' • 'But you can play against the machine. You know, quicker in response than a human being.'

Now here's the bit that's especially relevant to chess960 (aka Fischerandom, aka FischerRandom).

Yeah, but I think with Fischerandom chess the strategy is much more complex... The great strength, one of the great strengths, I won't say the only great strength but one of the very great strengths of the computers are to have an enormous opening library. And they can get a really good opening generally speaking. And the opening is the hardest part of the game. But they can get a good opening because they're drawing on millions and billions of hours of human manpower that has developed these openings over a couple of centuries, you see. They gain the benefit of intensive study by millions of chessplayers all over the world for 200 years. Now you take that all away from the computer, put the computer on its own in the openings I think the computer will probably just... The computer's great strength is calculation but there's not really very much to calculate the first few moves of the game, it's a very high level of strategy, you know.

And this... Maybe the computer's up to it, but I'm not sure it's up to it at all yet. This is really artificial intelligence, the early part of the game. Once you get out of the opening and the pieces start to make some kind of contact that is, threats and defence, then the game starts to play itself and then the computer's tremendous... It can calculate unbelievably well but in those early moves of the game where it's really high-level, intelligence is involved where there's no immediate threat, so you have to combine [what] you perceive maybe threats in the distant future with your early positional moves. You're combining tactics and positional chess. It really takes a lot of thinking and a lot of intelligence, I believe, I don't think it's so cut and dried as the old chess.

I believe if I were to play Deep Blue with Fischerandom chess, I'd get very good openings. And once I get a good opening, I'm pretty tough. The computer will find that out. On the other hand, on the other hand, Pablo, computers are getting better every day and they're getting more intelligent and they're getting programmed so I don't guarantee anything but I believe I could take it. I believe I could take Deep Blue based on what I saw of its play in its last match with Kasparov. Maybe they've improved it a lot, I don't know. I can take it in Fischerandom chess if it plays at the level it played against Kasparov."

The author of the RGC post summarized, 'He is absolutely finished with the old chess. "I don't play chess anymore... I'm through with chess." [...] "Prearrangement is just totally dominating chess now."'

Then the author made the connection with Hans Berliner: 'The comments on Botvinnik explain everything for Berliner. If he'd just waited until now, he wouldn't have had to publish in ICCA Journal.' This remark deserves an explanation, but goes beyond the objective of this chess960 post.

One last point in the RGC post is worth highlighting: 'The interviewer was **brilliant** to insert the comment about Deep Blue right at that point. Even though he sounds rather sleepy. But I suppose even though many people would like to see a Fischer - Deep Blue Fischerandom match, it will be like Kasparov - Shirov, everyone wants to see it but circumstances prevent it from happening.'

This met with an objection in another RGC comment: 'Here's the rub: Deep Blue's chess program was hardcoded into the chips -- there is absolutely no possibility of it playing Fischer at FischerRandom! Bobby undoubtedly knew this when making the above comments. So it was more hot air -- enough to fill a balloon.'

That last comment also goes beyond the objective of today's chess960 post. Maybe I'll continue it on my main blog.

21 January 2017

'Everyone I Know Plays Chess960'

After an 18-month absence from chess960 blogging, I'm going to return to the subject with a couple of posts every month. While developing a new list of topics to tackle, I came across some recent remarks from GM Peter Svidler that nicely summarize the current situation (see Svidler on Carlsen - Karjakin, Computers & More, chess24.com):-
Q: People have long talked about the computer death of chess, about everything having been analysed. One of the cures for that is so-called Fischer chess, or chess960, where the starting position is determined by a drawing of lots. Incidentally, you’re a three-time World Champion in that format.

A: Four-time. Unfortunately when Hans-Walter Schmitt stepped down from organisational activity as a promoter of that game, chess960 went into decline. He organised tournaments in Frankfurt am Main and believed it was an important format which would help chess remain vibrant and young, but at some point his main sponsors left and the tournaments disappeared, and now there’s almost nowhere to play. It’s a great pity, because everyone I know plays chess960 with great pleasure.

Q: I’ve heard it said that leading players regret the huge amount of opening work that would prove useless in chess960.

A: No, that’s not the issue. If suddenly there was no other chess then that work would have been in vain, but there’s never been any serious talk about replacing classical chess with chess960. The main discussion now in terms of the future of chess is what to do with the time control.

Was Svidler three-time World Chess960 Champion or four? In No Place for Chess960 (February 2011), I counted three times, but I'm not going to quibble with the genial GM.

So it wasn't Adieu! (June 2015) after all...