23 June 2018

Another Purported Problem with Castling

I ended the previous post, A Purported Problem with Castling, with the observation:-
Another general rule is that castling considerations are more complicated in chess960 than in traditional chess, even if specific start positions might be less complicated.

It turns out that the observation also applies to the rules for castling. The 'Purported Problem' post was based on hundreds of comments to a Chessbase article, of which the last half might be called the Petrarlsen - Celeje debate. For more than a month the two parties discussed the pros and cons of various castling rules, all of them alternatives to Fischer's chess960 rules. I won't enter into that debate -- this is a chess960 blog -- but there were a number of thought-provoking points that are worth discussing. For example:-

In certain [chess960] positions, the [castling] King moves toward the center.

A little thought is enough to determine that these are positions where the King starts on the b-file and castles O-O-O. This brought me once again to an old post on my main blog, Introduction to Chess960 Geometry (March 2009), where I developed the following table. Pardon me for taking a snapshot of the table and its discussion, which is easier than copying everything separately.

From that table we learn that there are exactly 108 positions where the Kings start on the b-file. When one of those Kings castles O-O-O, it starts on the b-file and ends on the c-file. While that might be a (small) disadvantage, it is counter-balanced by the simultaneous activation of the Rook that started on the a-file. Since all start positions with a King on the b-file imply a Rook on the a-file, there is another important consideration for the opening plan: How to activate that Rook? There are four ways to do this:-

  • Castle O-O-O [moving the King toward the center]
  • Castle O-O [switching the King from the b- to the g-file]
  • Moving the King to the second rank
  • Moving the Rook along the a-file

The strategy that a player chooses -- remember that both White and Black have the same options -- depends on the overall strategy for developing all eight pieces. Each one of those four choices for King/Rook activation has an impact on the choices for the other six pieces and vice versa.

That last observation might seem obvious, but a second observation might be less obvious. Of the six files where a King can start the game, the simultaneous considerations for castling (King safety and Rook activation) present six different scenarios. For example, in those positions where a King starts on the d-/e-files, the choice of moving the King to the second rank is less attractive than when the King starts on the b-file. On the d-/e-files, the King is more exposed to attack than on the b-file, and moving to the second rank doesn't really change this.

The special considerations for castling arise because a single move alters the position of two pieces of the same color. In the Petrarlsen - Celeje debate, Petrarlsen (a chess960 antagonist) argued that the chess960 castling rules must respect the exact same goals of King safety and Rook activation found in the traditional setup (SP518 RNBQKBNR). Celeje (a chess960 protagonist) was more flexible. What would Petrarlsen say about the start positions When Castling Undevelops a Rook (September 2010)?

It's curious that even in SP518, the consequences of castling to the two sides are not completely equivalent. Castling O-O-O moves the King one square off-center and develops the Rook to the center. Castling O-O moves the King closer to the corner, but doesn't bring the Rook to the center. Both scenarios often require a second move to correct the deficiency of the castling move. Castling O-O-O is often followed by Kc1-b1, while castling O-O is usually followed by a further Rook move.

Similar considerations apply to all of the other 959 start positions. If we want all chess960 positions to mimic the traditional position, we might as well just play only that position.

16 June 2018

A Purported Problem with Castling

My previous post, Comments on Purported Problems (May 2018), continued a mini-series on a Chessbase article, 'The problem with Chess960'. After commenting on the article itself (follow the 'Purported Problems' link to find my original post and comments), I selected some thought-provoking discussion points from the more than 200 comments made against the Chessbase article. One in particular is worth a discussion on its own:-
Petrarlsen 3/2/2018 03:31 • In one of the Carlsen - Nakamura game, the two players castled on move one, and I rather think that every game played with this position between top GMs would follow the same course; this feels more like a farce than like the beginning of a serious game.

The game reference is to the recent match, 2018 Carlsen - Nakamura (February 2018). The commenter continued,

What can be the meaning of castling if the players castle on the first move and wouldn't even consider playing any other move?

Ignoring the arrogant assumption about knowing what the players considered or didn't consider, let's look at the position. The PGN is available via my '2018 Carlsen - Nakamura' post. It turns out that the position was used in games 11 and 12 of the match, when both games were drawn.


In game 11, with Nakamura as White, the players continued 1.O-O O-O. With Carlsen as White, the first moves were 1.c4 O-O 2.O-O. Carlsen at least tried 1.c4, but then castled on his next move.

Looking at the position more carefully, what are the logistics behind castling O-O-O? Taking White as the example, we have to move the dark-squared Bishop and the Queen to enable O-O-O. Both moves can be prepared by d2-d4 (or d2-d3), after which there is a further question of where to place the Bishop or Queen when it moves. Neither piece has an obvious developing square, and the Bc1 is perhaps better on the long diagonal. So it takes at least four moves to play O-O-O, after which there is no particular advantage in the resulting position. The move O-O, on the other hand, looks natural -- the King is a little safer and the Rooks are connected. Isn't that what castling is supposed to achieve?

Rather than being 'more like a farce than like the beginning of a serious game', the move O-O is the first idea in what promises to be a long, tight struggle. It also adheres to the principle of playing the obvious moves first. As for the other start positions where O-O is possible on the first move, I once counted these positions in Introduction to Chess960 Geometry (March 2009, on my main blog):-

There are 90 start positions where the players can castle O-O on the first move. [...] There are 72 positions where the players can castle O-O-O on the first move.

I am sure that not all of these 90 positions are as straightforward as SP324. As a final thought, in a post titled On a Losing Streak (May 2015), I wrote,

After the game, my opponent said, 'I have found from past personal experience, castling on the first move makes for a very difficult game!' I could hardly disagree with him, especially when it is followed by a dubious gambit.

While that opponent might have exaggerated his personal experience, it is a more useful general rule than to claim that a player should always castle on the first move whenever possible. Another general rule is that castling considerations are more complicated in chess960 than in traditional chess, even if specific start positions might be less complicated.

19 May 2018

Comments on Purported Problems

I ended my previous post, Purported Problems with Chess960, with:-
The [Chessbase] article also attracted more than 200 comments, many of them with ideas worth further exploration. Perhaps I'll tackle these in a future post.

Here are the first 20 or so comments that, in my opinion, made a particularly good point worth exploring.

Ken Neat 2/28/2018 09:35 • I am surprised that David Bronstein's version of random chess is never mentioned. Here the back rank is empty at the start, and the first eight moves for each player are to place their eight pieces on the board, with certain restrictions (e.g.the bishops). To me this seems far more interesting than the Fischer version.

John Upper 2/28/2018 10:00 • Rather than say FRC does away with "preparation" you should say it does away with "opening preparation". Preparing by working on tactics and learning endgames is still very beneficial to playing FRC.

Petrarlsen 3/1/2018 04:24 • I find the idea of games entirely decided over the board interesting, but I find also extremely interesting the "fight of opening ideas" that can be seen in top-GMs games.

peterfrost 3/1/2018 06:46 • An obvious attempt to address this which is rarely tried is to randomise the pairings (rather than the pieces!) so that players don't know who they will be playing on a given day. This will at least make preparation considerably harder, as I think a big part of the problem is "cramming" the night before a game to get ready for a known opponent.

BeFreeBusy 3/1/2018 07:59 • Why abandon the game of chess and, for too large part, the beauty and history of it?

celeje 3/1/2018 08:14 • One of the main points of chess960 is that it can exist alongside the game with the traditional starting position, played by the same people, with the same skills rewarded. There's no replacement going on.

lajosarpad 3/1/2018 09:16 • A year playing a single position seems to be quite long. An improvement on that might be to randomize a single position for each tournament of FRC and let the players and commentators know the randomized position in advance. This way the random variant will stay random, but we will see some basic openings and the commentators will have ample time to prepare for their job.

fons3 3/1/2018 12:46 • [Bronstein's version] Not mentioned in this article but I think that putting a piece on the board should count as a move so the clock would be running.

Petrarlsen 3/1/2018 02:19 • In chess960 (obviously, in my opinion, it can be mastered in less than 5 minutes. by any experienced chess player, even a complete amateur), only that, in several chess960 starting positions, castling is very weird and quite inharmonious.

svr 3/1/2018 03:33 • Before the start of the game, both players will look at the starting position for a few minutes. Then one of them will set the clocks (with their total adding to 30 minutes, if it is a rapid game, for example). Then the other player will choose on which side to play.

boorchess 3/1/2018 06:11 •

KWRegan 3/1/2018 09:15 • Link to what is really just combining Bronstein's and Fischer's ideas:

Mawin 3/2/2018 06:55 • I have suggested that players randomize the pieces themselves. The players may, before play begins, swap places of the king + queen and another piece except the rooks. The castling rules are the same as in chess960. [...] "Relocation variants - rearranging the initial array"

elmerdssngalang 3/2/2018 09:04 • Place the big money on chess960 and soon it will gain popularity among the best traditional chess players. One great advantage to be gained is that more players from lower ranks can be allowed to compete with the best ones on a more level playing field.

geraldsky 3/2/2018 02:08 • If Paul Morphy and Harry Philsbury [were] still alive they would play equally against modern players in chess960

koko48 3/2/2018 03:15 • In traditional chess, no matter how many theoretical or previously analyzed moves you play, you (almost always) eventually reach a unique position. The only difference is that with chess960, you get the 'unique' position earlier. But as the game progresses well into the middlegame, the chess960 positions start to look like positions from a traditional game. [...] So in essence chess theory will go back to the way it was in the late 1800s or early 1900s in traditional chess, when modern opening theory was in its infancy, and there as much more creativity in the early stages of the game

Petrarlsen 3/2/2018 03:31 • In one of the Carlsen - Nakamura game, the two players castled on move one, and I rather think that every game played with this position between top GMs would follow the same course; this feels more like a farce than like the beginning of a serious game.

Jacob woge 3/4/2018 02:27 • As for the Carlsen - Nakamura match, the main interest lies in the result. The sporting element is emphasized. The games are, with the exception of a few endings, to forget.

Petrarlsen 3/4/2018 03:50 • In traditional chess, in a very large majority of positions, it is possible to explain castling by the two ideas of the safety of the King and the development of one of the Rooks. I don't think that in chess960 it is possible to find such clear and general ideas who could be applied more or less everywhere, for castling.

That last comment -- 'clear and general ideas for castling' -- is worthy of a separate post, perhaps an article, perhaps even a book. The discussion circled around the topic for a long time. The remark by the same commenter (see above at 3/2/2018 03:31) on first move castling belongs to the same discussion.

Also worth a separate investigation is the thread on Bronstein's version of shuffle chess. I've never played it, so I can't comment directly. A big advantage of Fischer's version is that the castling rules ensure that a game eventually looks and feels like a traditional chess game. Is the same true of Bronstein's version?

28 April 2018

Purported Problems with Chess960

That title is taken from a recent article by Frederic Friedel of Chessbase: The problem with Chess960 (chessbase.com; February 2018). Let's cut to the chase. The problem with chess960 is that there is no problem with chess960. Chessbase has a problem with chess960 in that it eliminates the need for their flagship product. I read Friedel's remarks with the same understanding that I would read the remarks of any corporate CEO faced with an existential threat. Let's look at his main points.

'The game has some fairly complex castling rules.' • This is a bullet straight out of Top 10 Myths About Chess960 (May 2012). Friedel points to a Wikipedia article that states the rule in 17 words: 'After castling, the final positions of King and Rook are exactly the same as in standard chess'. Wikipedia then goes on to repeat the same restrictions that are found in the rules of traditional chess: King and Rook must not have moved etc. etc. What's so complicated about that?

'Slowly the game gained popularity, though it did not take off the way its devotees hoped.' • The game is doing fine, thanks very much. There are plenty of places to play (How about Chessbase's Playchess.com?) and plenty of people to play it with. There is no money in it, but I'm not convinced that's a problem.

'A chess960 rapid game has a weird position the players [are] still pondering on move four.' • This 'grave disadvantage' (Friedel's phrase) is in fact one of the attractions of chess960. The thinking starts on the first move (not after 15 moves of theory).

'Commenting on a [chess960] game [is like] conducting a guided tour of an art gallery that you are visiting for the first time.' • One of these days I must watch the commentating by GM Yasser Seirawan and IM Anna Rudolf on the recent 2018 Carlsen - Nakamura Match (February 2018). How did they manage to cope?

'The chess960 positions, regarding their winning probabilities, are often asymmetric.' • I don't understand what this means. What are 'asymmetric winning probabilities'? That White often has a small advantage over Black? That the 960 positions offer different winning percentages to the two players? Something else?

'Traditional chess offers continuity [...] That is impossible in chess960. • This is referring to the opening. Traditional chess has three phases: opening, middlegame, and endgame; chess960 has the same three phases. In the chess960 opening, there are undiscovered principles that are awaiting the intrepid explorer. Ditto the chess960 middlegame, which is richer than in traditional chess. The chess960 endgame is the same as traditional chess.

'Some [chess960 start positions] give White substantial advantage, some are simply bizarre, causing players to cringe, and some invite blunders and result in very short games. But many are interesting and exciting.' • All are 'interesting and exciting'. None are cringeworthy. I speak from experience.

'Chess960 tournaments should have two games with swapped colors per encounter.' • Is this necessary? The Mainz events did not use this system. Perhaps it is a psychological crutch for players who lack confidence in the fairness of chess960 or in their ability to tackle its challenges. The Carlsen - Nakamura match used 'swapped colors' and provoked a conversation about unintended consequences. Other solutions are possible, like a change in the scoring system (e.g. as in duplicate bridge).

'The main problem of chess960 is that you start with absolutely no prior information or practice.' • Absolutely none at all? Starting with this sentence, the rest of Friedel's article breaks down into some silly assertions (sorry, Frederic!) and a call to consider Kasparov's Chess960 Proposal (October 2009). I've discussed the idea several times on this blog, for example, It's Not About Short Draws, Garry (February 2014). Short answer: There is nothing to stop any group of players from limiting the number of chess960 positions; likewise, there is nothing to stop the rest of the world from playing all 960 positions. Long answer: Same as the short answer.

Don't misunderstand me. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Friedel's thoughts. Remember the 'corporate CEO faced with an existential threat'? There were other points worth examining. Friedel's relationship with Bobby Fischer was news to me. The article also attracted more than 200 comments, many of them with ideas worth further exploration. Perhaps I'll tackle these in a future post.

21 April 2018

Early Chess960 in Hungary

Thanks to two recent, well publicized chess960 events...

...I learned a bit more about the early days of chess960. First, here's a blog post by GM Susan Polgar, I will attend 2018 European Fischer Random Cup in Reykjavik, which might have been better titled 'My Memories of Fischer Random'. After answering the question 'How did you meet Bobby Fischer?' [NB: after the 1992 Fischer - Spassky Rematch], the former Women's World Champion answered the followup question, 'Did you play chess with Fischer while he was in Hungary?'

I played many Fischer Random blitz games with him. In fact, if you Google "Fischer Random", the only published photos of Bobby playing Fischer Random [were] with me. When he arrived in Hungary, he was still torn about the final rules of Fischer Random. Therefore, he and I spent countless hours discussing the pros and cons of various rules. Then we worked on finalizing the rules, which includes castling. I probably ended up playing more Fischer Random games with Bobby than anyone alive today.

This adds some additional info to one of my early posts on this blog, Pictures of a Fischer Random Precursor (March 2010). Except for a couple of exhibition games with Anatoly Karpov, which I documented in Chess960 Fever in Little Sweden, GM Polgar has never shown much interest in promoting the fruit of her work with Fischer.

Peter Leko, another Hungarian GM who met Fischer in Hungary at about the same time (see the recent Youtube video Peter Leko talks about Bobby Fischer staying at his home), competed in some of the earliest Mainz events. See, for example, No Place for Chess960 (February 2011) on this blog along with other posts that can be found via search. He talked about his experience in Leko: "A milestone for Fischer Random Chess"; Interview with Peter Leko about a unique match (chessvariants.com; June 2001).

31 March 2018

2018 Fischer Random Cup PGN

The 'Blog Archive' on the right shows that my normal schedule is two posts per month, usually on the third and fourth Saturday of the month. Since this month has five Saturdays, I used the extra day to collect games from the recent Fischer Random Cup in Reykjavik.

For an overview of data about the event available from Chess-results.com, see the first post from this month, Lenderman, Rapport Take Reykjavik. For an overview of data available from Chessbomb.com, see More on the Fischer Random Cup. In that post I wrote,

How about some games? Since 100 players participated, 50 games were played per round -- nine rounds should give 450 games for the tournament. The page Fischer Random Cup (reykjavikopen.com) has results for 20 games per round, presumably for games which were recorded automatically while they were in progress. [...] A similar interface producing the same information is on GAMMA Reykjavík Fischer Random Chess Memorial 2018 (chessbomb.com).

I used Chess-results.com to identify the top five boards per round, then used Chessbomb.com to create a PGN file of those games. That makes 45 games from the event (in fact, 46 games, because one game from round one defaulted after the first move). The following table shows the start position used in each round. The start position for round five was not recorded correctly at Chessbomb.com, so those games are effectively missing.

Rd Start Position (SP)
05 SP???

The PGN file can be found at m-w.com/c960/blog/c96-ic31.pgn. If you find a problem with the file, please flag it using the comment section for this post.

24 March 2018

More on the Fischer Random Cup

After last week's post Lenderman, Rapport Take Reykjavík, what more can be said about the event, aka the 'European Fischer Random Cup'. How about some games? Since 100 players participated, 50 games were played per round -- nine rounds should give 450 games for the tournament.

The page Fischer Random Cup (reykjavikopen.com) has results for 20 games per round, presumably for games which were recorded automatically while they were in progress. Clicking on a game opens a viewer to play through and download the game. Clicking on the PGN download button gives only the message 'Not logged in'. Logging in to Chessbomb.com gives the message 'Only Premium accounts can download PGN'. A similar interface producing the same information is on GAMMA Reykjavík Fischer Random Chess Memorial 2018 (chessbomb.com).

Back to Reykjavikopen.com, a number of side events were held in conjunction with the Fischer Random Cup (GAMMA Reykjavík Open 2018 – Bobby Fischer Memorial):-

The page announcing the Fischer Memorial Tour I, 'a trip to the Fischer Center in Selfoss and Fischer’s Grave nearby', included a map of Selfoss:-

For more about the Fischer Center, see Welcome to the Bobby Fischer Center (fischersetur.is).