25 November 2017

The Seeds of Disaster

In a recent post, The Seeds of Defeat (October 2017), I presented 'two games with Black that I lost without a fight'. In this post, I'll compare the corresponding games with the same start positions where I played White. In both games I'll start with the position where I castled; in both games this occurred before my opponent castled.

The point where one of the players castles (or otherwise forfeits the castling option) is often a good place to study the game. The previous moves have been pure chess960 (whatever that means), the following moves (up to the point where the other player castles) are a mixture of ideas from chess960 and from traditional chess, and the rest of the game will be equivalent to traditional chess. A chess960 opening can thus be logically divided into three phases.

The top diagram contrasts dramatically with the corresponding position in 'Seeds of Defeat'. Neither player has an advantage (which can be considered a moral victory for Black), although there is plenty of play in the position. The game continued 7...f6 8.Nc4 Nxc4 9.Bxc4 b5 10.Be2 O-O, where both players have castled; the position is still balanced, and there is still plenty of play. At this point I looked at three moves with different objectives -- a4, Nc5, c4 -- eventually choosing 11.Nc5. The game continued 11...f5 12.a4 b4 13.Bc4+ Kh8 14.Qh5 Ng6 15.b3 a5, and I was gradually outplayed.

Note that the start position SP230 is almost the same as SP518. The Rook on the a-file and the Knight on the b-file have been switched. This might have played a role in my thinking.

The bottom diagram also contrasts dramatically with the position in 'Seeds of Defeat'. Black's Queen and Bishops are more active than White's corresponding pieces, already giving Black the upper hand. Black played the natural move 10...O-O, and the game continued 11.Rc1 Nd5 12.Bb2 a5 13.a3 Bf6 14.Nd2 Bg6 15.Bf3 a4 16.b4 c5. Here Black has a space advantage and Black's pieces are better coordinated than White's. White must have played poorly and continued to be outplayed for the rest of the game, which lasted another 20 moves.

During all four games using the two SPs, I had trouble formulating a plan and was convinced that my opponents understood the evolving positions better than I did. The results -- four losses for me -- confirm this.

18 November 2017

Chess960 Showdown

If I had been maintaining this blog for the 18 months between July 2015 and December 2016, one of the events I certainly would have covered was the 2015 Showdown in St.Louis: Day 1: Nakamura - Caruana, Hou Yifan - Negi (chess-news.ru). It took place exactly two years ago:-
Two friendly matches started in St. Louis today. Hikaru Nakamura is competing against Fabiano Caruana, while Hou Yifan's rival is Parimarjan Negi. The GMs will play four different types of chess:

November 12 - Basque system (two games simultaneously, time control 90'+30");
November 13 - Fischer chess (four games, 20'+10");
November 14 - Rapid (four games, 15'+10");
November 15 - Blitz (eight games, 3'+2").

I once discussed a possible aspect of the Basque system (Day 1) on this blog in The More the Better (March 2012), 'seems like a natural way to conduct a chess960 tournament'. Regarding 'Fischer Chess' (Day 2), it's fitting that the word 'Random' was dropped from the Chess-news.ru report.


Kasparov Chooses Chess Positions for Showdown in Saint Louis (5:13) • 'Published on Nov 12, 2015'

The description for the clip said,

The Chess Club is running a poll on Twitter where followers may vote for the starting positions, selected by Garry Kasparov, of all four games of Fischer Random Chess during Showdown in St. Louis. These games will be played on Friday, November 13 at 1pm.

As for the chess960 games themselves, the Saint Louis Chess Club has an album on Flickr.com. Here is a composite image showing six of the photos:-


2015 Showdown in Saint Louis: Day 2

Chess.com's Mike Klein wrote a report about day 2 of the event in Big Swings As Nakamura, Hou Yifan Channel Inner Fischer (chess.com).

After day one's Basque Chess, the players shifted to four games of Fischer Random, also known as Chess960, played at the rapid time control of G/20+10. Nakamura dropped game one but took 2.5 of the next three against GM Fabiano Caruana, while the former women's world champion won three straight against GM Parimarjan Negi and missed a chance to possibly make it clean sweep, drawing game four.

Unfortunately, a technical glitch prevented automatic recording of the game scores: 'There are no PGNs for Fischer Random, due to the fact that the notation system cannot understand the castling rules.' That explanation doesn't make sense, but a comment to the post does: 'From what I understand about DGT, they can easily detect that a piece is on a square, but it would be much more difficult to detect which piece it is. So you'd have to enter the initial 960 formation somehow else.' Can DGT chessboards not track random start positions for chess960 games or were the boards not prepared properly? The blog Chess960 Jungle managed to record at least two of the games:-

The Basque and chess960 experiments were only used in the 2015 Showdown. The 2016 and 2017 editions of the event reverted to traditional rapid and blitz formats using SP518 (RNBQKBNR).

28 October 2017

The Seeds of Defeat

In a recent post, Engine Trouble ('Talk about a disastrous tournament!'), I listed five factors in a particularly poor result:-
  • Strong opponents
  • Insufficient engine power
  • Too many games
  • Fast time control
  • Too many vacations

Although none of these factors is exclusive to chess960 -- they can apply equally to the traditional start position -- at the end of that post I mentioned another factor that is exclusively chess960:-

I had several pairs of games -- the same start position against the same opponent playing White in one game and Black in the other -- where I reached uncomfortable positions in both games after 10-15 moves. That means there is something wrong with my approach to chess960 openings.

A few years ago, in May/June 2015, I wrote a series of five posts where I looked at five painful losses:-

The second post in that list ('Passive vs. Active') counted '[four] extenuating factors in the string of losses'. These match the first four above. Back in 2015, vacation didn't play a role, so at least I'm consistent with my excuses. Another characteristic of 'Losing Streak' was that 'in all five games I had Black'.

Looking at the more recent series of losses (+0-9=1, horrors!), I noticed two games with Black that I lost without a fight. The diagrams below show both games after the castling choices have been made. That is the point where the same techniques used to analyze traditional chess also apply to chess960.

In the top position, the players have castled to opposite sides. You can almost count the nine individual moves that have been made by both players to arrive at their respective positions. The game continued with a typical strategy for castling on opposite sides: both players launched a Pawn attack against the castled King. White eventually achieved an overwhelming attack while Black achieved nothing. After another 20 moves, Black resigned.

In the bottom position, White hasn't castled, but the King is in no particular danger. Black's King, however, is threatened by the Bishop on the long diagonal and the two Rooks on the open g- and h-files. These combined forces eventually won a Pawn, during which the Black Pawns on b5, c5, & d5 became increasingly vulnerable. The game lasted another 25 moves.

Since both games are essentially lost at the diagrammed position, an error must have been made before the diagram was reached. But where? In the third game of 'Losing Streak' above, analyzed in the post titled 'Imperfect Understanding', HarryO weighed in with a series of comments. The first comment was 'every move you played in the opening lacked initiative'. While that was undoubtedly an oversimplification, it still contained a big grain of truth. My approach to playing a chess960 opening with the Black pieces is:-

  • Pay attention to the intermediate goals of piece development, of the fight for the center, of King safety, and of keeping a healthy Pawn structure;
  • Avoid the quick, tactical knockout; and
  • Give the move back to the opponent to see what comes next.

In the two games shown above, I failed with the goal of King safety. It took more than 20 moves to realize this for certain, but the seeds of defeat were already planted in the diagrammed positions. At what point should an early fight for the initiative play a role?

21 October 2017

Three Chess960 Developments to Watch

The first development is potentially the most likely to fuel an increase in chess960 interest. Last week, in Chess960 battle: Nakamura vs. Carlsen?, Chessbase.com informed,
In February 2018, there may be an unusual exhibition match held between Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura, playing chess960 (also known as Fischer Random). The competition is planned for the Hening Onstad Art Center in Baerum, Norway. It's funding is not yet fully secured, but Carlsen's manager is confident.

This relates to a blog post from this past summer, First the Non-routine News, (July 2017), that quoted Twitter: 'There are serious plans to organize a FischerRandom / Chess960 World Championship in Norway next year!'. As I reported a few months earlier in GM Blitz Battle PGN (March 2017), the same players met earlier this year in an event that included chess960: 'Chess.com report on the final match, Carlsen - Nakamura [...] Nakamura would go on to take 2.5/3 in the three iterations of chess960'.

The second development is an evolution of that GM Blitz Battle, another event organized by Chess.com: 2017 Speed Chess Championship Schedule, Results, Information (May 2017, but kept up to date as the matches are played). The final match will take place end-December:-

The 2017 Chess.com Speed Chess Championship features 16 of the world's best chess players in an innovative eSports bracket tournament. [...] Each 2017 Speed Chess Championship match will feature 90 minutes of 5/2 blitz, 60 minutes of 3/2 blitz, and 30 minutes of 1/1 bullet chess. One chess960 game will be played in each time control at the end of each time period.

The third development stems from a post last week on my main blog, Understanding Lombardy, where I wrote,

It turns out that the fastest way to understand Lombardy is to study his book, 'Understanding Chess: My System, My Games, My Life'.

Early in the book (p.21), Lombardy observed,

Sadly, Nimzovich died at 48, far too young for a chance to expand on his thinking and summarize that thinking into a true system, for his first work (My System, 1925) can hardly be considered a "system", but rather a collection of interesting games in which Dr. Nimzo offers advice on strategy and how to recognize and avoid mistakes. Yet his thoughts provided a foundation towards advancing chess strategy, even to my recommendation of the super-version of Fischer Random Chess!

This passage is significant for two reasons. First, I've often thought that Nimzovich would have been a brilliant chess960 player, given his penchant for unusual openings and deep strategical concepts. Second, given Lombardy's claim that 'I was Bobby's only chess teacher from [end-1954], and right through Reykjavik', any further thoughts on Fischer and chess960 are bound to be relevant. I'm slowly making my way through the book and will report any further discoveries on this blog.

30 September 2017

Engine Trouble

Talk about a disastrous tournament! If this crosstable is too small to read, all you have to know is that my result is shown on the last line, the one with all the zeroes.


LSS: FC-2015-F-00001

A few months ago I used the red rectangle gimmick in another post, Correspondence Chess and Chess960 (May 2017), where I explained,

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 [others] 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?

That's all very nice, but how did I manage to finish with such a poor result (and lose 100 rating points in a single event)? It was through an unfortunate combination of several factors.

Strong opponents. The tournament was the final section of the LSS 2015 Chess960 Championship, a three-stage elimination tournament. All of the players, including me, finished first or second in both a preliminary tournament and a semifinal tournament. The eventual winner also won the site's 2014 Chess960 Championship. I had played him in four previous chess960 games, achieving a total score of +0-3=1.

Insufficient engine power. Although I follow the evolution of chess engines, I make no effort to maintain a state-of-the-art setup. The PC I use to run the engines (I use several PCs and several engines for different tasks) is now seven years old and the engines are between three and five years old. Once in a while I'll upgrade something, but it's never a priority. The outcome is easy to foresee: if my engine is calculating to a depth of N ply, while my opponent's engine is calculating to N+5 ply, I will eventually be out-calculated.

Too many games. At the same time I started the ten games shown in the crosstable, I started six games in the 2016 semifinal tournament. These were on top of another six games that were already in progress. Normally, I make up for my weakness in engine power by working hard on the games, but this only works for a small number of games, around 10-12 maximum. I play correspondence chess to improve my overall chess ability, which requires that I choose the moves myself rather than let an engine do it for me.

Fast time control. The LSS chess960 games use a countdown time control, which I last discussed in Passive vs. Active Play (May 2015). I try to play these games at the rhythm of a move per day, but with so many games, I end up spending 2-3 days per move (and still getting bad positions).

Too many vacations! The LSS chess960 rules only allow two weeks vacation per tournament, but my wife had scheduled five weeks vacation during the time the tournament was to be held. I used a couple of LSS vacation days at the beginning and end of each real vacation, but sometimes 3-4 vacation days would slide by without any work on my games. There are too many other things to do on vacation besides playing chess.

I should have declined the opportunity to play so many games in these circumstances against good players, but I wanted to see if I could handle the pressure. I set myself the goals of finishing with an even score in the 2015 final and of qualifying from the 2016 semifinal. I failed miserably on the first goal, but succeeded on the second. The 2016 final tournament starts soon, but I probably won't participate. I've taken enough psychological punishment for one year. No one likes to lose!

Why mention these tournaments on this blog? First, because I had several pairs of games -- the same start position against the same opponent playing White in one game and Black in the other -- where I reached uncomfortable positions in both games after 10-15 moves. That means there is something wrong with my approach to chess960 openings. Second, because I would like to investigate what sort of engine setup I would need to improve my result. I'll do that on my main blog.

23 September 2017

Start by Placing the Bishops!

Looking for code to generate a chess960 start position randomly? Don't overlook Generate Chess960 Starting Position (rosettacode.org): 'You are encouraged to solve this task according to the task description, using any language you may know.'

The page currently offers 35 solutions in programming languages from A to Z (literally, AutoHotkey to zkl), but I have no idea how many different algorithms are used. Some algorithms appear to be suspect, especially those that start by placing the RKR, then fill in the other pieces.

The reason is that although there are 56 different RKR patterns, some of them have 18 associated start positions, others have only 12. The difference occurs when the RKR all start on the same square color. For more about this, see Castling Patterns Visualized (September 2010).

***

Later: After I wrote this post, I noticed that the 'Task' on the Rosetta Code page is wrong. Instead of

The purpose of this task is to write a program that can randomly generate any one of the 960 Chess960 initial positions.

it should say something like 'randomly generate with equal probability'. Specification errors are worse than coding errors!

26 August 2017

Chess960 Arena on Lichess

Last month, in (Not so?) Rare Birds, Summer 2017, I took my periodic look at recent / forthcoming chess960 tournaments. One small event that received a mention was:-
GM Yermolinsky VS. IM Bartholomew Chess960 Consultation Match: Former U.S. Champion GM Alex Yermolinsky and IM / YouTube sensation John Bartholomew will lead two competing teams in an interactive consultation Chess960 (Fischer Random) match.

I'm always interested in any YouTube sensation that has to do with chess960 and I found a relevant clip on the 'John Bartholomew' channel.


Chess 960 Arena! (1:41:10) • 'Streamed live on Apr 10, 2017 • Join the tourney on lichess.org: [...]'

That last link leads to IM Fins Arena #0HECUP4x (lichess.org), which now has the tournament results. Between the start and the end of the live stream, there is plenty of discussion about chess960. The embedded chat is an integral part of the show.

19 August 2017

Twelve Popular Posts

Since adding the 'Popular Posts' feature to the blog (see my comment dated 17 December 2015 on the Adieu! post), I've noticed that a few posts consistently appear in the 'Last 7 Days' list at the top of each page. Which posts are the most popular overall? Here's what Blogger.com reports as most popular of 'all time':-

I've split the list into three groups. The first post has a view count nearly double the second group, where the posts have about 50% more views than the third group.

Compare this with a similar exercise I did in December 2012: Top Posts of All Time. Of the seven posts on this current list that appeared before December 2012, four were on that first list; I've marked them with an asterisk '(*)'. Three of those posts address common questions about chess960, but I have no idea why 'Recent Comments' continues to be popular.

These statistics can't be taken too seriously. I also have a 'viewed' count for each individual post on the blog, where 'Online Play Sites' and 'Calculate SP Numbers' show about the same number of views. In the same ballpark with these are two more posts that are missing completely from the list of top posts:-

Of the nearly 400 posts on the blog (not counting the artificial pre-2009 posts), these twelve attract the most attention from the search engines.

29 July 2017

(Not so?) Rare Birds, Summer 2017

In my previous post, First the Non-routine News, I wrote,
I started by looking at chess960 news over the last month, but two reliable correspondents interrupted that routine procedure by pointing to non-routine news that begs to be repeated. [...] I'll save the routine chess960 news for my next post.

I was wrong to use the word 'routine' for news about chess960. Any news is still unusual and most news is about tournaments at the local, club level. One exception is the 'Swiss Chess960 Championship', held as part of the 50th Biel Chess Festival.

As with most chess960 reports, there are no full game scores, but there is a link to the Archives - Biel International Chess Festival, where we learn that the chess960 event has been held since 2009. I covered it once before in Rare Bird Tracking, Summer 2011 (September 2011) and hope to see its 10th anniversary next year. In Biel/Bienne, Wikipedia informs,

Biel/Bienne is on the language boundary between the French-speaking and German-speaking parts of Switzerland, and is throughout bilingual. Biel is the German name for the town, Bienne its French counterpart. The town is often referred to in both languages simultaneously. Since January 1, 2005, the official name has been "Biel/Bienne". Until then, the city was officially named Biel.

I mention that because the German speaking countries seem to be the leaders in chess960 events. Two more examples:-

The skbaden.at page eventually points to a 2016 event at chess-results.com, and looking further into that well known site finds hundreds of references to chess960. As for French language references, I noted one at...

...and I even found an English language (USA) reference at

  • Iowa Chess | Twin Ports Open (iowa-chess.org) • 'GM Yermolinsky VS. IM Bartholomew Chess960 Consultation Match: Former U.S. Champion Grandmaster Alex Yermolinsky and International Master / YouTube sensation John Bartholomew will lead two competing teams in an interactive consultation Chess960 (Fischer Random) match'

As long as I'm splitting this post by language, I'll mention an Italian language reference at

  • E-Book Chess 960 - Vol. I • 'Chess 960 Informator a cura di Filiberto Pivirotto; Volume 1; Anno 1 – num. 1; Giugno 2017'

The last page says, 'The C960 Informator will be just a collection of games played with the same [start position].' That's a good idea, but I doubt the author can do all 960 positions (959?) alone.

There might not be much chess960 activity at the level of the world class players -- see, for example, Rare Birds 2015-16 (February 2017) -- but there is plenty of activity at the local level. In the long run we need both world class and local.

22 July 2017

First the Non-routine News

After a short break from blogging, I had two problems to solve with this current post. The first problem was what date to use. According to my current posting schedule, it could have been 15 July 2017, but vacations are vacations and I'll stick with the date that falls after the vacation. The second problem was what to write about. I started by looking at chess960 news over the last month, but two reliable correspondents interrupted that routine procedure by pointing to non-routine news that begs to be repeated.

A comment by HarryO to an old post, Chess960 Simuls @ Mainz (May 2010), started 'Simultaneous blindfold chess960. What an achievement by GM Timur Gareyev!', and linked to Blindfold in Idaho: 'I Feel Sorry if You Missed it' (uschess.org; July 2017).

Timur was up at 5 AM making "power-smoothies" in preparation for the blindfold simul. [...] The simul began with beginners being taught how blindfold chess960 blitz works.

A message from GM Andrey Deviatkin, featured in last month's post, 'The Essence and the Rules of Chess', linked to Aronian: 'I get over losses more easily than wins' (chess24.com), which quoted the Armenian GM...

Q: The computer has now already studied many opening tabiyas in such depth that, perhaps, the moment really has come to switch to Fischer Random Chess?

A: I’ve already on many occasions declared my love for Fischer Random Chess. I hope there will still be tournaments and people will value that variation of the game as I do. In principle, though, we’re currently playing something akin to Fischer Random Chess thanks to Magnus Carlsen, who brought a lot that’s new with his approach. Above all, he managed to minimise the role played by the opening. It’s the Petrosian-Fischer approach -- let’s manoeuvre and see who turns out to be the best. Carlsen has changed modern chess and the majority of players now seek ways to get off the beaten path as soon as possible in the opening, to get a non-standard position. That’s prolonging the era of classical chess.

...then pointed to a tweet by GM Carlsen's sidekick Tarjei Svensen, 'Good news for Aronian' (twitter.com):-

There are serious plans to organize a FischerRandom/Chess960 World Championship in Norway next year!

I'll save the routine chess960 news for my next post.

24 June 2017

A Concrete Publishing Proposal

My previous post, 'The Essence and the Rules of Chess' was a call for action by GM Andrey Deviatkin to raise the popularity of chess960 [aka 'Fischer chess']. It ended,
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.

When I first saw the GM's Facebook post, I jumped in with a comment on what I think is the number one problem facing widespread adoption of chess960. (To protect the innocent, I've changed the names of the commenters to their initials.)

MW: To make real progress with chess960, someone has to solve the publishing problem. It renders obsolete every opening book ever published as well as many middlegame books. Only endgame manuals survive (and you know what many players think about studying endgames). What sort of books will the chess publishing sector produce? They are the natural enemies of chess960.

The phrase 'natural enemies of chess960' might be strong, but I'm not sure it's wrong.

PL: Databases would also be largely obsolete.

PL is the Peter Long of Peter Long on Chess, who writes extensively on the web. When people talk about chess databases, they often mean Chessbase.

SN: We aren't suggesting migrating from chess to chess960. What is being proposed is gradual diversification.

PL: I believe the solution here requires drastic action!

The series of comments ended with several concrete proposals.

AD: Firstly, in my opinion, the number of opening theory manuals is already excessive, to say the least. Secondly, I don't believe that chess960 will just kill the theoretical topics and not bring about any of new ones. Why so if it's in fact a much richer game? I can easily imagine books and videos on 'How to handle starting positions with bishops in the corners', 'Queen in the corner', 'To castle or not to castle', 'Flank-based development of the rooks', 'Preventing a bishop from being locked' etc etc.

MW: While I agree that there are too many books on openings, people write them, people publish them, and people buy them. I believe they are the most popular genre in chess literature today. Chess960 has been known for almost 21 years -- a full generation -- and there is almost no literature: zilch. One problem is that it defies classification; you can't start analyzing position no.1 and continue through no.960, because you learn nothing useful from the exercise. The furthest I have seen anyone get is around no.250, about 25% of the total start positions. • Here's a challenge for you. Taking your example 'Queen in the corner', develop an outline for a 150 page book.

I didn't get an answer to that challenge, but I didn't expect to get one. It's a tough problem that can't be answered in 25 words or less. If it were easy, someone would have already published such a book. I gave my challenge some further thought. A Queen in the corner can be developed in three ways:-

  • Along its file.
  • Along its diagonal.
  • Along the back rank.

'Along its file' breaks down to three further cases. Let's say the Queen is on a1. To develop along the file requires pushing the a-Pawn. It can be pushed to a3, to a4, or beyond. The choice depends on (a) whether Bishops are sitting on f8, g8, or h8; and (b) whether White intends to castle O-O-O.

'Along its diagonal' has two main cases: whether a Bishop is sitting on h8 or not.

'Along the back rank' depends on what pieces are sitting to the immediate right of the Queen and whether White intends to castle O-O-O.

Any further subclassification requires looking at how the other pieces are arranged at the start of the game and becomes an analysis of specific start positions. Since that is neither feasible nor useful, a better next step would be to gather game examples of the types of Queen development (from both a1 and h1) and show how the games evolved for both the White and the Black players.

Since the problems of development are most important in the first 10-15 moves of a chess960 game, an analysis of specific examples needs only to be carried out until the middlegame is reached. What I'm thinking of here is a sort of move-by-move analysis showing how the specific features of the position translated into a choice of plans and of moves within those plans. And let's not forget that some examples will inevitably involve bad plans and bad moves. To fill 150 pages in a book (that's an average size for the opening books I have at hand) would take something like 40-50 examples.

Note that one-eighth of the 960 start positions (SPs) have a Queen on a1 and the same number have a Queen on h1. That makes 240 SPs to be considered. I know that some people would prefer to exclude all of these positions from being chosen as an initial SP, because they are so foreign to the traditional start position (SP518 RNBQKBNR), but I'm not one of those people.

A few years ago I worked out A Framework for Chess960 Opening Theory (April 2009). A 'Queen in the corner' is one of the 19 discrete examples in the framework; I labeled it 'Q:a/h'.

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.


WC/960-02/F

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...