21 February 2015

Chessmaniac, Comments on Chess960

After ChessRex, More Comments on Chess960, next on this blog's list of Correspondence (Turnbased) resources is Chessmaniac.com. I discussed this site a few years ago in Second Looks (February 2012), and there's not much to say beyond that. The chess960 comments in the site's forum are mainly about the initial rollout of the function and I couldn't find an archive of games.

The site has a large number of articles about chess, some of which mention chess960. Many of the articles are copies of material available elsewhere on the web. One article I had seen long ago, then forgotten, is Bobby Fischer's Pathetic Endgame, where the original by Rene Chun is subtitled Paranoia, hubris, and hatred -- the unraveling of the greatest chess player ever (theatlantic.com, December 2002). The portion covering the birth of chess960 takes seven paragraphs, which I'll quote in entirety. It ties together a number of events which I've discussed in separate posts on this blog and introduces a few new angles.

Fischer stayed in Yugoslavia after the rematch [Spassky 1992] , and began promoting what he called Fischer Random Chess -- a tweaked version of shuffle chess, in which both players' back-row pieces are arranged according to the same random shuffle before play begins. Although not revolutionary, the premise of FRC is compelling: with 960 different starting positions, opening theory becomes obsolete, and the strongest player -- not necessarily the player who has memorized more strategies or has the most expensive chess-analysis software -- is assured victory.

Fischer envisioned FRC as a means of democratizing chess and as a lucrative business venture -- and as an easy way to reinsert himself into the world of competitive chess without having to immerse himself in opening theory. He had designed and patented two electronic devices that he hoped to sell to FRC enthusiasts: a clock for timing games, and a pyramid-shaped "shuffler" to determine the starting positions. A 1996 press release described the two instruments as "essential to playing according to the new rules for the game of chess." Fischer desperately wanted the Tokyo-based watch company Seiko to manufacture his FRC products but couldn't generate interest.

Worse than Seiko's snub was the loss of Zita [Rajcsanyi]. After less than a year she left Fischer and, against his protestations, eventually wrote a book that chronicled their relationship. After the book's release he accused Zita of being a spy hired by the Jews to lure him out of retirement.

Following the breakup Fischer roamed around Central Europe for several years. He ended up being befriended by Susan and Judit Polgar, two young Hungarian Jews who were at the time the Venus and Serena Williams of the chess world. "I first met Bobby with my family," Susan recalls. "I told him rather than spending the rest of his life hiding ... he should move to Budapest, where there are a lot of chess players."

Fischer did, and was welcomed as a guest in the Polgar household. He appears to have behaved himself. "I remember happy times in the kitchen cutting mushrooms," Susan says. "He's very normal in that sense, very pleasant." Although Fischer refused to play classic chess, he graciously helped the Polgar sisters with their games. When he wasn't sharing his expert analysis with them, he was playing FRC games against them. He was astounded at how accomplished the sisters were. Seeing that he was impressed by the Polgars' play, a friend of Fischer's suggested a publicized match to promote FRC. Fischer agreed.

Fischer was well aware that a high-stakes match pitting the game's strongest male player (in his own mind, anyway) against Judit Polgar, the game's strongest female player (now ranked in the top ten in the world), would interest the media. But the battle-of-the-sexes extravaganza was not to be. "The Jewish-nonsense stuff caused a problem between Bobby and the girls' father," says a Fischer confidant. "One day Bobby just changed his mind. He said, 'No, they're Jewish!' He just couldn't handle it and walked away."

Would Fischer be able to beat a top grand master in an FRC match today? Doubtful. He played numerous FRC games with Susan, who concedes that the results were "mixed." She isn't optimistic about the prospect of a Fischer comeback either. "He's not that young anymore," she says.

What's new here? First there is the statement that 'Zita [...] eventually wrote a book that chronicled their relationship'. This might shed additional insight into Fischer's ideas for random chess, but it turns out it isn't true. In Responses to and by Rene Chun for her article Bobby Fischer's Pathetic Endgame (bobbyfischer.net), Rene Chun informs,

Petra Dautov was indeed the woman who published a memoir chronicling her relationship with Bobby Fischer. I stand corrected.

Then there is the statement that

[Fischer] had designed and patented two electronic devices that he hoped to sell to FRC enthusiasts: a clock for timing games, and a pyramid-shaped "shuffler" to determine the starting positions. A 1996 press release described the two instruments as "essential to playing according to the new rules for the game of chess." Fischer desperately wanted the Tokyo-based watch company Seiko to manufacture his FRC products but couldn't generate interest.

This sounds like confusion about two ideas: the clock and the shuffler. The clock, patent no.4884255 on my page Chess Patents, has been widely adopted for traditional chess and I discussed it on 1992 Fischer - Spassky Rematch : Highlights.

The Fischer chess clock: The match was the first chess event to use the "Bobby Fischer chess clock". The clock had been patented by Fischer in the U.S. in 1989, but a working model had never been constructed. A clock was made for the event in a working time of five days.

As for the shuffler, I incorporated a (the?) 1996 press release in a post titled Fischer Announces Fischerandom, where a 'Fischerandom Chess Computerized Shuffler' is mentioned. A search on '"essential to playing according to the new rules for the game of chess"' returns only the quote by Rene Chun. It is not in the 1996 press release. In fact, there are many methods to determine a random chess960 start position and most of them require no technology, pyramid-shaped or otherwise.

Re the Polgar connection, this is well established. I posted about it in Pictures of a Fischer Random Precursor.

14 February 2015

ChessRex, More Comments on Chess960

Continuing with ChessRex, Comments on Chess960, the site conducted a number of interviews with top women players. I've extracted the portions dealing with chess960 from two of those interviews. Note that the question were sometimes from different people.

Anna Muzychuk Interview (February 2013):-

Q: If you had the opportunity would you Enter a World Championship "Fischer Random Chess960" tournament? • A: I know about this kind of chess, though I have never played any tournaments of chess960. The World Chess960 Championships were organized but now we don't have them. If once they will be organized again, I think I would consider about taking part in it. Why not?

Q: I'm trying to play all the chess960 starting positions from 000-959 OTB -- it's taken a few chess years already to complete 215 SP's and against the same player in five minute sudden death games as we are playing both the light and dark pieces, so that's 1920 games in total to play. Do you know anyone that has played all the starting positions over the board? [See Chess960 Enthusiasm for a video about this exercise.] • A: I have never thought about that and never asked anyone but I don't think that someone has tried to play all the positions. It looks like it really takes a lot of time and I am not sure that it will be so useful. I think it will be more reasonable to train chess skills and try to better as a chess player as after some moves of chess960 you already get some position which by structure is similar to some opening in normal chess. So, the more you know in chess, the better chess player you are the better you will play chess960. This is just my opinion, maybe I am not completely right. We will be able to check it if Fischer chess becomes more popular. But as we can see from the very popular festival in Mainz which was including World Chess960 Championships among men and women, a great general open and also a computer tournament, the winners were the players who are very good in normal chess.

Q: As Chess has evolved over the years and within the Fischer Random starting positions the traditional start position is just One of many that make chess960 so exciting to play. Where do you see chess evolving for the coming chess years? • A: For me it is still very interesting to play normal chess. Of course, it has evolved and this will continue but the game is still very interesting with many "undiscovered" ideas.

Natalia Pogonina Interview (October 2012):-

Q: I like chess960 because I think have a better chance at winning since I haven't studied the opening book. What do you think of chess960? Should it become more important in the chess world? • A: I am not a fan of chess960 and believe that all these moans about having to cram up too much theory that we've been hearing lately are a) exaggerated b) apply only to the very top GMs. Yes, at 2700+ level people do spend a few hours before the game memorizing and going over variations. However, the prevailing majority of the players in the world don't need to dedicate so much effort to studying theory. I like Magnus Carlsen's practical approach: don't stuff too many lines into your head; just outplay the opponent later on.

Q: I am a huge lover of Fischer Random chess. Is it good and advisable to play it or not? • A: In terms of being "good and advisable to play it" – it depends on your goals. If you like the game and enjoy playing chess960, then why not do it. Or, if you meant using chess960 as a way of increasing your mastery in regular chess, then I wouldn't recommend it. There are lots of more efficient training techniques available.

Alexandra Kosteniuk Interview (October 2012). Here I extracted a single question, since GM Kosteniuk has been featured on this blog many times in the past:-

Q: The great Bobby Fischer never publicly stated his feeling about the name 'chess960'. Alexandra, when you talk about this great game what do you call it and why? • A: I know it's Fischer who invented Fischer Random Chess so he deserves most credit for it. But Hans-Walter Schmitt in Germany worked to popularize the game a lot, and under his leadership and support the name "chess960" came out, which is fine. Since he had the "chess960" festivals, I tend to call it that way now.

NB: Schmitt once asked Fischer 'Can I use this name "Fischer Chess"?'

07 February 2015

ChessRex, Comments on Chess960

After Chess.com Comments and More Comments, next on the online play sites listed on the right navigation bar is ChessRex.com. Like many online play sites, the game area is available only to signed-on members, but links to the content should work even if you are not a member. This is good marketing for any play site.

The most recent post that I found particularly interesting is titled Chess960 Equalizer (September 2013). It's based on a video whose content no longer works outside of Youtube, but you can watch it onsite: Guinness Basketball Commercial. It features a group of athletes playing basketball in wheelchairs. ChessRex founder Ernesto comments,

Chess960 is often called a variant. Chess960 is not a variant of chess because it is played by the same rules with the same pieces and executes to the same outcome as traditional chess.

Since chess is widely played by memory and recognizing openings and tactical positioning is key in becoming a successful chess player, knowledge will give you a great advantage over less experienced players. Chess960 evens out the playing field because there are 959 other starting positions including the traditional position used as the norm. Most players of high caliber do not want to give up their advantage over any player no matter what so they result in calling chess960 a variant or "not chess" at all.

To force or request a player to give up his memorized opening and positional recognition is like asking a basketball player to use a wheelchair to compete. All in all chess960 is not a variant or a handicapper but an equalizer.

While I agree with the comment about chess960 not being a variant -- and like the reason given -- I don't agree with the comment about it being an equalizer. In chess960 a good player has to think about the opening starting from the first move, just like his opponent. His understanding of positional play in the opening -- rapid development, piece activity, center control, Pawn structure, etc. -- gives him a big edge in reaching a position that he understands very well. That edge will remain after the transition into the middlegame.

Although many chess960 middlegame positions are unlikely to arise from the traditional start position, there are many other positions that could easily arise, especially after both players have castled. In the endgame, which is indistingushable from traditional chess, the good player's experience will guarantee a big edge.

Fun, yes; challenging, yes; equalizing, no. Chess960 has enough advantages that we don't need to invent new ones.

31 January 2015

Chess.com, More Comments on Chess960

In the previous post Chess.com, Comments on Chess960, I linked to a post dating the introduction of chess960 on Chess.com to mid-2009. Since that time, tens of thousands of players have experimented with Fischer's invention and have left hundreds of comments on the site's various forums. Here are a few comments from the last year (or so) which highlight different areas of practical concern.

The question of how to start the clocks equitably is more complicated than for traditional chess.

I propose that if/when chess960 is added to Live Chess, white's clock should not begin immediately. There should be an extra time bank for the players to examine the position. I propose that the amount of time in the extra time bank should be 1/30th of the time control for the game, proportionally. Thus, for a 5 minute game, there would be 10 seconds to study the position; for a 30 minute game there would be a minute. • Live 960 extra clock at start

Everyone who gets hooked on the game wonders whether all 960 positions are fair to Black.

I was looking into chess960 starting positions and came across QNRBKNBR After 1.b3 doesn't white already have a clear advantage? black is basically forced between 1...Ne6?! which must be bad since it blocks the e pawn and makes developing both black bishops very difficult. 1...f6 which is probably best but still weakens blacks king side and takes away a diagonal from the DSB which may have been quite useful. • Unfair starting position in chess960

Selecting specific start positions for all rounds of a tournament is not as obvious as one might think.

Round one of a chess960 tournament and everyone plays the same random board, as white and black against opponents. All good, but when/if you progress to Round two, what do you get? The SAME BOARD AGAIN!?? This now actually makes it a thematic tournament rather than chess960. If you've ever encountered this you'll know the disappointment at seeing the same board again that everyone's played to death in multiple games the first Round. • Time for Chess.com to sort out 960 Tournaments!

What about overall strategy? How does chess960 compare to traditional chess?

Most of the same fundamentals apply. Why I say most because one can take a risk a try an early mate threat that may lead to mate or win material. What they have in common: Develop your pieces and rapidly and effectively (people forget this part). By this place them where they are the most active. [Long...] • How to play chess 960

Selecting a start position manually is another area of concern. The following method is wrong! The Bishops must always be placed first.

In chess960, the board is arranged randomly. So when playing without using computers, you should think of a way to arrange pieces randomly. Well I will explain here... • How to arrange board for a Chess960 game in your home (Without using any electronic device) - Explained

What about software and engines?

I am looking for a database or just plain chess program that can handle the nuances of chess960 castling. [...] Is there a decent chess960 software out there? • Chess 960 Software and Database

Once players realize that there is more to chess than the traditional start position, the ideas start flowing.

Chess1920 is a variant of Western Chess much like Chess960. The initial position for a game of Chess1920 is first created according to the rules of Chess960. Then, a coin is tossed. If the coin shows heads, then the set-up process is done. If the coin shows tails, then the black pieces are taken off the board and repositioned to be the left/right reversal of the white pieces. It's simple, fair, and has twice the variety as does Chess960. • BRC/Chess1920

Ditto for the idea of randomizing.

I was thinking, why not let us choose our own army setup? For me at least, it's infinitely more interesting than getting a random position and playing that. People could master their own setups, theory would still be almost as useless. You would see traditional setups (R-N-B-Q-K-B-N-R) against hybrids, totally bonkers stuff too! • New idea for chess960

Because Chess.com doesn't offer live chess960, there is occasionally a discussion of other servers where it is offered.

Passion is probably what made the creators of Lichess create the server. It is a chess site with a very clean interface, a lot of options, even a REST API (that's a programming thing, don't worry about it). Most of all, the site is completely free, no ads, no nags and a mission statement that ensures that the game will remain thus forever. • LiChess, a very interesting chess server; (see also my recent post Lichess, Third Look)

I have a bigger collection of Chess.com comments from even further back, but I'll save those for a rainy day.

24 January 2015

Chess.com, Comments on Chess960

The previous post, FICS / ICC / Lichess, Comments on Chess960, discussed the last of the Crossboard (Live) Chess960 servers listed on the right. With this post I'll tackle the Correspondence (Turnbased) Chess960 servers.

I'm sure that nearly everyone is familiar with Chess.com, a site that has been discussed many times on this blog; earlier posts can be found under Label Chess.com, also listed to the right of every page. Along with correspondence play, the site has the most active chess960 forum on the web: Chess960 and Other Variants. The only function missing from the site is live chess960 play, an anomaly mentioned frequently in the forum.

[There is another chess960 forum on Chessgames.com which was active during the early days of chess960, a time when the topic was more controversial, but the frequency of posts has declined steadily over the last few years. I once used it as the subject of another post, Chess960 FAQ (June 2009).]

The most important chess960 forum post on Chess.com is undoubtedly Chess960 101. Along with pointers on aspects of chess960 that might be useful to the newcomer, it has links to Erik (aka Mr. Chess.com) Allebest's introduction to the new chess960 function (June 2009?) and to IM David Pruess's followup essay on tips to play successfully.

I have many other links to the Chess.com forum that are worth referencing. Unfortunately, as mentioned in a recent post on my main blog -- Blog Maintenance -- I'm currently overhauling my bookmarks. A discussion of those resources will have to wait for another day.

17 January 2015

FICS / ICC / Lichess, Comments on Chess960

After ChessCube, Comments on Chess960, let's take a look at comments about chess960 on FICS. First, here are the FICS rules on how to play (first written in 1996!):-

FICS doesn't have a forum and I couldn't find much discussion on other forums. The recurring theme seems to be how problematic it is to find a game there. For example:-

As for the last two servers listed after ICS under my 'Crossboard (Live) Chess960' links, I've already discussed them on this blog. Here is the final post for each server; follow the link to find earlier posts:-

In my next post I'll start looking at servers listed under 'Correspondence (Turnbased) Chess960'.

10 January 2015

ChessCube, Comments on Chess960

While working on Lichess, Second Look, I thought it might be a good idea to look at comments about chess960 from each of the ten online play sites listed on the right. That would give me some insight into practical issues involving the implementation of chess960. First on the list is ChessCube.com, where I found two good comments about when the clocks should be started.

Chess960 clock change (Feb 2011):-

At the moment the clock timer only starts once White has made his first move. White gets too much advantage! White is free to think for as long as they like while Black cannot predict what White will play with any degree of confidence and thus cannot properly prepare a reply during the time the clock is still. Once White has moved, Black's time is then the first to suffer!

The situation is made worse because White automatically get's one free tempo simply because they are White. Statistically speaking, this tends to put Black on the defensive from the game start. If White's time counts down immediately, this tends to balance out Black's chances to attack and play aggressively because at least there is some compensation to Black for being a tempo down.

Chess960 clock change (Aug 2013):-

White's countdown clock should start immediately on White's first turn. Black is already at a disadvantage and so when it comes to their first turn, all of the thinking they were doing on White's first turn might well come to nothing because White plays a different first move.

They almost sound as if they had been written by the same person. Whoever the author is, I agree with the reasons given.

While I was working on ChessCube, I deleted its label, which had also been listed on the right. When I set it up, I thought I would be playing frequently on the site, but it hasn't worked out the way I expected.