23 March 2019

More about Queens in the Corner

On my previous post, More about the Lichess Event, fellow chess960 blogger HarryO (see the sidebar for a link to his blog) commented,
What do you think of Magnus's style where if Queens are in the corner he will often play the edge pawn on the first move?

He was referring to the three hour video embedded in that post. I located two early instances of the corner Queen in the video:-

19:45 SP679 QRBKNNRB
26:45 SP772 QBBRKNRN

The following diagram shows the two positions plus GM Carlsen's first move as White.

The Queen in the corner is one of the knottiest problems to solve in chess960. I once focused on it in a post about A Concrete Publishing Proposal (June 2017) where I outlined the three ways the Queen can be developed.

There's another angle to the problem in that the rapid development of the Queen in many chess960 start positions leads to double-edged play. When one player develops the Queen while the other neglects its development, the first player often gets the initiative with a corresponding advantage. This challenges a basic principle of opening play that applies to the traditional position. I once ended a post, Make the Obvious Moves First (September 2012), with the observation,

Take, for example, 'Do not bring your Queen out too early'. I have played at least one game where early development of the Queen to the center was an excellent strategy.

Carlsen has taken the idea even further. There is no subtle maneuvering to slide the Queen along its back rank and jump out on a center file somewhere. He just pushes the Pawn in front of the Queen, then looks at what his opponent is doing before taking further action. Is this another example of 'Make the Obvious Moves First'?

16 March 2019

More about the Lichess Event

In my previous post, Carlsen Wins Lichess Chess960 Titled Arena (23 February 2019), I mentioned,
The tournament Chess960 Titled Arena #960feb19 finished just in time to make the deadline for this week's post.

A day later Youtube channel ChessNetwork released a video about the event. With more than 100K views and nearly 200 comments, the numbers speak for themselves.


Chess960 Titled Arena ft. Magnus Carlsen as DrNykterstein (3:08:03) • 'Published on Feb 24, 2019'

The description said,

This is a 3-hour bullet chess tournament, Chess960 Titled Arena, I provided commentary on while specifically observing World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen compete. Time controls are 2 minutes with a 1 second increment. This was the first titled arena lichess held with the variant chess960, or fischer random chess.

The comments help to locate the start of interesting games; for example, 'Eric Rosen's game at 45:31'. This game found a second path to Youtube, via the Eric Rosen channel: Playing the World Chess Champion in Chess960.

I played Magnus Carlsen (DrNykterstein) in the first ever Chess960 Titled Arena on lichess.org. The time control was 2+1. The game ended in an intense time scramble.

For more about the tournament, see Shaking Things Up in the Chess960 Titled Arena (lichess.org). Comments are at Forum >> General Chess Discussion >> Shaking... (ditto).

23 February 2019

Carlsen Wins Lichess Chess960 Titled Arena

While I was working on last week's post, A Stockfish Experiment, I noted an announcement for an upcoming tournament, Bonus Titled Arena: Chess960! (lichess.org):-
Due to the recent gain in popularity of the Chess960 (or Fischer Random) variant, we're hosting a bonus Titled Arena: Chess960 Edition! The Titled Arena has become among the world's strongest Bullet tournaments, and we're proud to now also offer a high quality Chess960 tournament to our players.

Many of you have also requested a longer time control during these titled events, so we're trying 2 minutes + 1 second increment this time. Moreover, to ensure that each player will get enough games with this longer time control, we're increasing the tournament duration from the usual 2 hours to 3!

The tournament Chess960 Titled Arena #960feb19 (ditto) finished just in time to make the deadline for this week's post. Here is a copy of the winners' podium.

For future reference, I also noted the links to the three winners' Lichess pages:-

'DrNykterstein' is better known as World Champion Magnus Carlsen. His Lichess page eventually leads to a list of all games he played during the event. Last year he won an unofficial Chess960 World Championship, which I reported on this blog in 2018 Carlsen - Nakamura (February 2018).

Second place Watneg is an anonymous GM, while third place went to Egyptian GM Bassem Amin. The game between Carlsen and Watneg can be found at GM DrNykterstein vs GM Watneg: Analysis board (lichess.org). To document the progress of the tournament, here are a number of tweets I picked off the Lichess Twitter page:-

Who said chess960 levels the playing field between experienced chess players?

16 February 2019

A Stockfish Experiment

Last year, in the aftermath of the Carlsen - Nakamura chess960 match, Chess.com published an article, What's The Most Unbalanced Chess960 Position?. The essence of the piece was:-
Recently, the Norwegian "supercomputer" Sesse analyzed all 960 variations using Stockfish 9. At a depth of 39-40 ply for each position, which took about two to three hours each, its findings were published.

I downloaded the referenced spreadsheet and compared it with the data currently displayed on the CCRL (see link in the right sidebar). The results are shown below.

The first column shows the start position, followed by the Sesse evaluation in centipawns, followed by the CCRL overall percentage score for White and the precentage of draws. For example, the top row says that BBNNRKRQ was evaluated by Sesse at 0.57 (a little more than a half-Pawn), with a CCRL result of 51.0% in White's favor and 15.3% of games ending in a draw.

The chart gives the top-25 positions flagged by Sesse, down to a cutoff of 0.40. I could have added the numeric ID for each start position and will do so if I ever come back to the data.

At first glance, there doesn't seem to be a high correlation between the Sesse results and the CCRL results. The first position where there is agreement between the two sources is QBBRKRNN. I once discussed this position in A Difficult SP for Black (April 2013). By coincidence, I'm currently playing the position in a pair of correspondence games and hope to have more to say about it in the future.

As for the Sesse results, they confirm that engines just don't evaluate chess960 start positions particularly well. Long term positional considerations are not the engines' strong point.

26 January 2019

FIDE Chess960 Ratings

Believe it or not, a recent post about FIDE on my main blog, Spectating the 89th FIDE Congress (December 2018) is also relevant to chess960. Here are a couple of excerpts from the minutes:-
89th FIDE Congress; General Assembly; Batumi, Georgia; 3-5 October 2018; Minutes [...]

7.2. Qualification Commission. [...] Annex 10 is Proposal from Icelandic Chess federation for the rating of Fischer Random (Chess 960) Games.

Annex 10 can be found by following the links in the 'Spectating' post. It consists of a single page, pictured below. Titled...

'FIDE congress in Batumi 2018; Reykjavik, June 27, 2018; Fischer Random (Chess960) ratings - A proposal from the Icelandic Chess Federation',

...and signed...

'Gunnar Bjornsson, President of the Icelandic Chess Federation',

...the document starts:-

'The Icelandic Chess Federation proposes that FIDE will start to calculate Elo. rating points for Fischer Random Chess (Chess960) as soon as possible.'

After a few introductory paragraphs it continues, 'The Icelandic Chess Federation proposes the following' with four main points:-

  • 'Initially, there will be only one Fischer Random rating. It's possible to have a rating for all time limits; for Blitz and Rapid combined; or Rapid and Blitz separated.

  • 'Tournaments must be played according to FIDE Chess960 rules (Appendix F) and all other FIDE rules should apply.

  • 'Current FIDE ratings should be used as a base rating; the same system as was used for implementing FIDE Blitz and Rapid.

  • 'If this experiment goes well, it is possible to continue with more choices of time limits for Fischer Random Chess ratings.'

The mention of 'FIDE Chess960 rules (Appendix F)' probably refers to an old version of the rules. The current version is under 'Handbook :: E. Miscellaneous', Fide Laws of Chess taking effect from 1 January 2018 (fide.com), in a section titled 'Guidelines II. Chess960 Rules'.

A report on the meeting of the Qualification Commission (QC), FIDE Congress Update: Chess 960 and an Illegal Move Quiz (uschess.org), by 'International Arbiter and Organizer Grant Oen (US Chess FIDE Events Manager)', explains,

QC is perhaps the most relevant commission to many of our members, as it regulates over-the-board titles and title applications, and the rating of all FIDE-rated games.

The report devotes four paragraphs to chess960 and starts,

The most heated topic of the QC meeting was the discussion of introducing ratings for Chess960 (Fischer Random Chess) following a proposal from the Icelandic Chess Federation.

I'm not completely convinced that a separate international rating system for chess960 is justified at this time, but anything which gets people to talk about Bobby Fischer's greatest invention is fine with me.

19 January 2019

First Post, New Year

The first post on this blog for the year 2019 is an appropriate time to reflect on the chess960 activities of 2018 -- and what a year it was! Of the 24 posts I wrote during the year, I count four that were for top-level chess960 events:-

Should I retire the 'rare birds' series, last seen in (Not so?) Rare Birds, Summer 2017 (July 2017)? No, I'm a patient person, so I'll give it more time. I haven't seen any relevant announcements and all of the events mentioned above could have been one-offs.

Chess960 was dropped for Chess.com's 2018 Speed Chess Championship, where Hikaru Nakamura defeated Wesley So in the final. It never made much sense to include a single chess960 game in a tournament for traditional chess, although the exposure for chess960 can only have helped. As for 2018's '1st Chess.com Chess960 Championship', I note that it wasn't the '1st annual' event and I'll keep watching for any announcement of a '2nd annual' tournament.

Does a decline in top-level chess960 events mean a decline in the number of posts for this blog? Of course not! I might actually find the time to study some of the many top-level chess960 games that were played in 2018...

29 December 2018

'Hitting the Mainstream!'

Seen in Chess Life Kids, December 2018 (p.12): '960 Bugs on My Chessboard?' by FM Mike "FunMaster" Klein. The article started,
Chess is fun. You could play it for days on end (don’t forget to eat!). But using those same 32 pieces, chess players have invented dozens of other variations of chess to make sure the game never gets stale. Two of the most popular "variants" are Bughouse and Chess960. Yes, they are a bit silly, but they also allow for a different kind of creativity. Even the world’s most elite grandmasters play and compete in both!

No one will argue that bughouse isn't a variant -- the four players' strategies have little to do with traditional chess -- but I'll raise my hand once more to question the word when used with chess960. It is, after all, one of the first bullets in Top 10 Myths About Chess960 (May 2012)...

No.2: 'It's a variant of traditional chess'

...and I've given the better part of at least one post to the subject, Chess960 Encounters, Past & Future (October 2011), where I said, 'The classification of chess960 as more than a variant is not a simple difference of opinion on semantics.'

Let's get back to the rest of the Chess Life Kids article. The magazine appears six times per year, is 24 pages long, and is the 'Official Scholastic Publication of US Chess'. FM Klein's article was featured on the December 2018 cover, and was introduced on the contents page with 'Chess variants are hitting the mainstream!'

The three page article gave a page to bughouse and a page to chess960. A page was enough to explain the basics of chess960, i.e. the meaning of the name, the setup of the pieces, the 'funny' castling rules, and examples of castling ('Weird!'). It also gave the main reason for playing it.

So why did Bobby Fischer propose this game? Simple -- studying openings is useless. You know how masters can play 20 or 30 moves of "book"? Well, there’s no such thing in Chess960. Pretty much every game is an unexplored kingdom of newness and some grandmasters think more creativity is possible.

That paragraph gives me plenty of justification to overlook negative words like 'silly', 'funny', and 'weird'. Instead I'll concentrate on the positive : explaining chess960 to a new generation.

The introduction of bughouse to the U.S. chess scene preceded the introduction of chess960 by almost 25 years, a full generation. In Fischer Random Bughouse (July 2011), I once showed that the two chess offshoots can even be merged. That would make yet another 'unexplored kingdom of newness'.