13 December 2014

Design the Chess960 World Championship

Earlier this year I posted a series on my World Championship blog -- The Road to the World Championship: Part I, Part II, and Part III -- along with an opinion on my main blog, The Winning Formula, 'Has FIDE finally found the winning formula?'. The posts describe the qualification process for the FIDE World Championship.

Let's suppose we're tasked with designing a World Championship for chess960 using the same four-stage structure as the FIDE qualification cycle for traditional chess:-

Continental Championships -> World Cup -> Candidates Tournament -> Title Match

This structure uses four different types of event -- Swiss system, Knockout, Round robin, and Match -- corresponding to the four qualifying stages. For each equivalent stage of the chess960 championship,

  • How are start positions (SPs) chosen?
  • When are SPs announced to the players?
  • How many games are played with each SP?
  • What time controls are used?
  • How do tiebreaks work?
  • Is SP518 in use?

Lots of questions. Any opinions?

06 December 2014

The Initial Positional Considerations

In my previous post, Breaking the Symmetry, I reported on the 2012 SchemingMind Chess960 Dropout Tournament. In this post I'll report on the 2013 event. In fact, SchemingMind conducted two 2013 chess960 dropout tournaments. The first was an experimental event using the 60 day countdown time control that I discussed in my initial post about The Lechenicher SchachServer (LSS). The second was a traditional event using the same time control (30 days per game plus 1 day per move) seen in the previous SchemingMind dropout tournaments. Because I had switched to LSS to try their more relaxed countdown control, I decided to skip both SchemingMind events.

Since the first 2013 SchemingMind tournament finished recently and the second is in the last round, I'll report on the first event: 2013 Chess960 Dropout Tournament (Schemingmind.com). A key game took place in the fifth of the six rounds, between the eventual runner-up and the eventual winner, playing White and Black respectively. The chess960 wheel of fortune gave the players SP718 RKQNNBBR, shown in the top diagram.

The initial positional considerations in every chess960 game are nearly always the same:-

  • To which side will I castle?
  • How will I deploy the minor pieces?
  • Where will the Queen go?

In SP718, castling O-O-O appears to be the obvious choice, but the other considerations are not so straighforward. Let's see what the two players did.

The game started 1.d4 d5 2.Nc3 f6 3.e4 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd6 5.f3 e5 6.dxe5 fxe5 7.Bd3 Be7 8.c3 Ne6 9.Be3 Bf7, reaching the position shown in the bottom diagram. Both players have developed the minor pieces in different arrangements. Black has completed their development, while White still has to move the Knight off e1. Its only move is Nc2, which apparently did not appeal to White for his next move, since he played 10.g3. Besides making space for the Knight on g2, the move keeps the enemy Knight off f4, and prepares a Kingside expansion with h2-h4.

Now Black had to tackle the questions concerning castling and the Queen's development. The obvious choice is a Queen move followed by ..O-O-O, but Black found another possibility: 10...a5!. This move says that Black will leave the King in place, will deploy the Rook via the a-file, and will use the a-Pawn to harrass the White King. This plan must have sent White scrambling to find a good counterplan, but he eventually decided to continue on his chosen course. A few moves later Black sacrificed a Pawn to get attacking chances against the White King, and finally won the game. The full game score is...

[Event "Chess960: 2013 Chess960 Dropout Tournament, Round 5"]
[Site "SchemingMind.com"]
[Date "2014.04.18"]
[Round "-"]
[White "pjl1015"]
[Black "Ezedoke"]
[Result "0-1"]
[Variant "fischerandom"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "rkqnnbbr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RKQNNBBR w KQkq - 0 1"]

1.d4 d5 2.Nc3 f6 3.e4 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd6 5.f3 e5 6.dxe5 fxe5 7.Bd3 Be7 8.c3 Ne6 9.Be3 Bf7 10.g3 a5 11.h4 a4 12.Qc2 g6 13.Qe2 Rf8 14.Nc2 Nxe4 15.Bxe4 Nc5 16.Bxc5 Bxc5 17.Qb5 Bb6 18.Qxe5 Ra5 19.Qe7 Bc5 20.Qg5 Qe6 21.a3 Qb6 22.Qd2 Rb5 23.Nb4 Bb3 24.Nc2 Bc4 25.Nb4 Be3 26.Qc2 Re5 27.Qxa4 Rxe4 28.fxe4 Qe6 29.Re1 c5 30.Qd1 Bf2 31.Nd3 Bxd3+ 32.Qxd3 Bxe1 33.O-O-O c4 34.Qd4 Bxg3 0-1

... courtesy of SchemingMind.

29 November 2014

Breaking the Symmetry

The last time I discussed a SchemingMind Chess960 Dropout Tournament was for the 2011 event where I picked an example of Ignoring the Positional Handicap (November 2012). The subsequent annual event, 2012 Chess960 Dropout Tournament, finished earlier this year and I was lucky enough to finish second out of 54 players, with +8-1=3.

My only loss was to the eventual winner, who had also won the 2011 event where he was the victor in the game I featured in the 'Positional Handicap' post. The chess960 wheel of fortune gave me the Black pieces in SP489 QRNBBKNR. Our first moves were 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.O-O Nf6 4.d3 O-O, with perfect symmetry, as shown in the top diagram.

Now my opponent played 5.Ne2, heading with the Knight to g3, and I took stock of the position. A Queen in the corner nearly always requires special consideration to determine how the piece will get into the game. I looked at 5...a5, decided that it didn't do enough besides letting the Queen out, and finally settled on 5...b5. That move stops d3-d4, and prepares ...Nb6, thereby breaking the symmetry. There are two themes in the works -- (1) minor piece development, and (2) Queenside expansion -- where I could alternate between the two.

The game continued 6.Ng3 Bd7 7.b4 Nb6 8.Bd2, reaching the bottom diagram. With the exception of the Knights that started on the c-file, the position is still symmetric. My Knight had come into the game in one move, while White's Knight had taken two moves, but White's Knight seemed better placed. I decided to continue straightforward development, hoping to capitalize on my extra tempo: 8...Be7 9.Re1 Qb7.

Now White played a break that I had underestimated, 10.a4!. After 10...Nxa4 11.c4 a6 12.d4!, he had a space advantage and the better position. If Black swaps Pawns on d4, a White Knight gets to f5, when Black is in real trouble. I eventually gave up the Pawn on e5, and exchanged down to a position where White had only a 4-3 Pawn advantage on the Kingside plus all major pieces and a Knight against my Bishop. It was enough to win the game.

One of the advantages of SchemingMind is that all games are played to a conclusion. There are no adjournments. I learned that White's small material advantage supported by a Knight was very tricky to defend against.

22 November 2014

No Comment?

What's the best part of blogging? For most bloggers, it must be receiving comments. What's the worst part of blogging? In my case, it has to be replying to comments. I know from experience that online discussions have a tendency to spiral out of control, especially when not-so-serious remarks are taken too seriously. The best way to avoid this is by not participating, but then you lose a good source of feedback and new ideas.

I spent a pleasant hour going through comments received over the last year or so, discovered a few that deserved further attention, and added my thoughts to the stream. The most recent 25(?) comments can always be found in the blogspot.com/feed Chess960 (FRC) Comments.

Thanks to serial commenters GeneM and HarryO for their many insightful remarks. Even if we don't always agree on the details, we do agree that chess960 is worth the time spent.

15 November 2014

Doom and Gloom?

To catch up on Anand - Carlsen, Game 3 (that's a post on my main blog), I watched the archived video for that game on the official site. Around 53:00 into the clip, the commentators, GM Peter Svidler and IM/WGM Sopiko Guramishvili, received a Twitter question from one Nikolaos Ntirlis.

The tweet asked,

Do you believe that in 10-15 years we'll be able to know the "truth" about the major opening lines?

It's a good question for GM Svidler, who also has top-level knowledge of chess960. See, for example, No Place for Chess960, for his chess960 accomplishments at Chess Classic Mainz. The GM answered,

PS: If by this you mean the complete truth which will actually change the way people play chess because it will not be possible to play certain openings because the answer will be known and everybody will be able to reproduce the answer at the board, the answer to your question is 'No'.

SG: Chess will die in that case.

PS: Not really. First of all, I think the heaviest research and work which can result in what this question was about... It's being done as was correctly pointed out in major opening lines. Nobody really spends -- I'm saying 'nobody' but this is probably a mistake -- but not too many people will spend time, effort, and energy getting to the bottom of (I don't know) the Morra Gambit or something.

Generally, theory moves in leaps and bounds in lines which are fashionable at the moment, which are played a lot by the current top players, because there are trendsetters and there are people who just follow the trends. When the trendsetters suddenly begin playing a certain opening, that opening starts attracting a lot of high level games and this way theory suddenly progresses. In a very short period of time you get a lot of new stuff known about the opening. But that only applies to a select few openings.

Secondly, if you're willing to play slightly offbeat lines I don't think it's possible to completely close down chess for good by advancing opening theory. Also there's a question of memory. Let's say if we assume that somehow, let's say the mainline Gruenfeld, becomes solved in 15 years it becomes a question of can you actually remember the answers to all the questions that the opponent can pose you. It's a huge opening and even if you feel someone has come up with an actual answer to whether it's winning for White or a draw, the amount of memorization involved in repeating all those lines is almost impossible.

SG: Black also has so many options you have to memorize all of them.

PS: So, first of all I don't think it will happen, and secondly the impact on the actual playing of the game at -- in particular -- amateur level will have almost zero impact. Apart from discouraging some people from taking up chess, but even then is not a huge factor. Anyway, I think we've spent a bit too much time discussing the doom and gloom...

Although Svidler didn't mention chess960, I imagine the idea crossed his mind as he was answering the question.

08 November 2014

SP864 BBQRKRNN - Other Opinions

In my previous post, SP864 BBQRKRNN - Two Trials, I discussed a particularly difficult start position (SP), which seems to present Black with an immediate problem. Although the 'Two Trials' showed that Black has defensive chances, the test was not particularly convincing.


SP864 BBQRKRNN 1.Ng3

On Chess.com I found a post, Do you find chess960 challenging or fun?, with a challenge that sums up the position perfectly. I'm leaving it in CAPS, because it deserves to be shouted.

SaharanKnight: I CHALLENGE ANYONE TO SHOW ME AN OPENING POSITION WHERE EITHER SIDE HAS AN ADVANTAGE OTHER THAN TEMPO!

True chess960 fans have a deep rooted belief that none of the 960 start positions are unfair. After some discussion back-and-forth, SaharanKnight came up with a new line.

  • 1...d5 2.c4 Qg4 3.Nf5 O-O-O (or perhaps 3...d4; 3...Qxg2 is bad because of 4.Nf3)

Given the premature Queen development, I'm not convinced that the line is sound, but it deserves to be tested. He also came up the same line that was tested in 'Two Trials'.

  • 1...Nf6 2.Nf5 Rg8

This led to a discussion about castling.

SK: At this point, White shouldn't claim credit for spoiling castle since Black may still castle with the other Rook.

MW: Castling O-O-O is suicide in this SP. Black will have to move two Pawns to develop the Bishops. Meanwhile White will castle O-O and launch a Pawn attack on the other flank. Once the White Pawns open a few lines, the Black King will be a sitting duck for White's pieces.

There's no reason to take my word for it, so the O-O-O idea deserves a test. I'll leave that for someone else to do. After the Chess.com discussion I contacted GM Andrey Deviatkin, seen on this blog earlier this year in More from Moscow 2014, where he was one of the participants. I gave him the position and asked him, 'White opens 1.Ng3, threatening 2.Nf5. What would you play if you were Black?' He came back with two lines.

  • Most likely I'd play 1...g6, and if 2.b4 then 2...f6. Maybe it's not as bad as it seems, for example, 3.c4 b6 4.Nf3 c5.

  • I'd also consider 1...Nf6 2.Nf5 Rg8 and then castling Queenside. 1...Nh6 is another option but I don't like it.

When I explained my doubts about the second line and castling O-O-O, he replied,

I agree about the long side castling, that's why I'd probably prefer 1...g6 and 2...f6. But I have a feeling that Black's position after g6, f6 is better than it seems at first glance, although White is of course more comfortable. But isn't the same true for some Taimanov, Rauzer, Hedgehog, Pirc and so on?

I'm sure there are no "already lost" initial setups because both armies are present at full, in absolute symmetry and far from each other. Many people would argue that some initial positions are already "lost", but I think it's just because of their habit.

I liked the point about the armies being 'in absolute symmetry and far from each other', but wasn't convinced about the comparison to traditional chess.

I'm not so sure about the Taimanov, Rauzer, Hedgehog argument. Those are choices that Black has in traditional chess. A confirmed 1.e4 e5 player might not be comfortable playing a Taimanov and isn't forced to do that. In BBQRKRNN 1.Ng3, Black is defending against a powerful threat already on the first move and is forced to make some concession -- losing the castle O-O option or playing a cramped game with a lag in development. White, on the other hand, hasn't given up anything. What is Black's compensation?

The GM replied,

First, I have some suspicion that the black knight developed to f7 might feel a little more comfortable than the g3-knight (restricted by the g6-pawn), and maybe this will provide Black some compensation for the crampedness? I mean, maybe we don't know Fischer chess openings laws too well yet to judge if something is really awkward or only seems so? Even Berlin was considered awkward till Kramnik analysed it through and played vs Kasparov.

Second, if we talk of normal chess, a confirmed e5-player might face King's gambit, Evans, Scotch gambit and so on -- which were considered dangerous for decades. (Let alone that Fischer chess is exactly about knowing how to play every type of positions).

I think that only practice (and definitely with time limits no shorter than 25 minites per game) can provide real answers if any positions should really be excluded or not, and my opinion so far is that it won't be necessary, maybe except for the classical position.

After some more back-and-forth on traditional openings, I had to admit, 'It's a big mystery why the Sicilian works as well as it does. The Hedgehog systems are another mystery.'

I've spent three posts discussing BBQRKRNN. When all has been said, there remains only one way to find the truth: to play the position objectively from both sides. Chess has its mysteries and they are many, but chess960 promises many more.

01 November 2014

SP864 BBQRKRNN - Two Trials

Continuing with Another Difficult SP for Black, the problem position is shown in the following diagram. How does Black defend against the move 2.Nf5, with the nasty threat of 3.Nxg7 checkmate?


The first trial with this position is recorded on HarryO's Chess960 Jungle blog in Non-Random Chess960 Trial Game 9: SP864. I had White, HarryO Black. He defended the mate threat in the most direct way -- giving up the castles O-O option. After the initial moves, 1.Ng3 Nf6 2.Nf5 Rg8 3.Nf3 Ng6 4.O-O, we reached the position shown in the top diagram below. Harry played his next move, 4...b6, and commented,

Preparing to attack the g2 square and hopefully open access to the h3 square as well. Black is reluctant to play anything other than rock solid moves that try not to induce a second weakness into Black's army.

The next sequence in the game was 4...b6 5.c4 d5 6.cxd5 Bxd5 7.b4 c5 8.bxc5 Nf4. After 8...Nf4, Black wrote,

I'm struggling to see the light for Black. This is really tough. It will only be a few more moves and I will be beyond my skill level to save the game.

Indeed, over the next few moves Black sacrificed a Pawn to escape the pressure, leaving him in a disadvantageous endgame that we abandoned as a probable win for White. Here we discussed other attempts to save Black after White's first move. I suggested,

As for improvements, your move 1...g6 is worth a try. I also think 4...e6, forcing the Knight back immediately, is better than the move you played. The last word has yet to be said for this SP.

HarryO agreed that, after 4...e6, even though 'the f6 square is weakened', we had to show that the start position could be saved.

We rolled the position back to White's fourth move and switched sides, so I had the Black pieces. The trial can again be found on HarryO's blog, this time in Non-Random Chess960 Trial Game 9: SP864 after 4)...e6. The game continued 4...e6 5.Ng3 c5 6.c4 d5 7.cxd5 Nxd5 8.b3 b6 9.Rfe1 f6 10.e3 Nde7. After 10...Nde7, Black commented,

Threatening ...Bxf3, when the weak square on f3 will give Black plenty of counterplay.

We played another move pair, 11.Qc4 Bxf3, and I gave a conditional move move: 'if 12.gxf3 f5', with the comment

Secures the e4-square against use by the White pieces.

The position is shown above in the bottom diagram. White wrote,

If I trace back what happened, when you played 10...Nde7 at that moment the question of lost start positions in chess960 was over in my mind. There are none. [Fischer] was simply a genius who saw this much sooner than anyone that has walked the planet since chess was invented. [...] I am totally shocked, amazed, in disbelief, inspired, confused, intrigued and simply glad to have witnessed the sight of the position that is now on the board.

We had saved a most 'Difficult SP for Black'. Around the end of our first game, HarryO suggested that we 'post the position 4...e6 on Chess.com and see what responses we get'. I agreed the idea was worth pursuing and was happy to find a suitable post, Do you find chess960 challenging or fun? A few comments into the thread, SaharanKnight had posted the challenge,

I CHALLENGE ANYONE TO SHOW ME AN OPENING POSITION WHERE EITHER SIDE HAS AN ADVANTAGE OTHER THAN TEMPO!

That statement sums up perfectly the all-too-obvious challenge posed by SP864 BBQRKRNN 1.Ng3. I'll look at the ensuing exchange in my next post.