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?