26 August 2017

Chess960 Arena on Lichess

Last month, in (Not so?) Rare Birds, Summer 2017, I took my periodic look at recent / forthcoming chess960 tournaments. One small event that received a mention was:-
GM Yermolinsky VS. IM Bartholomew Chess960 Consultation Match: Former U.S. Champion GM Alex Yermolinsky and IM / YouTube sensation John Bartholomew will lead two competing teams in an interactive consultation Chess960 (Fischer Random) match.

I'm always interested in any YouTube sensation that has to do with chess960 and I found a relevant clip on the 'John Bartholomew' channel.

Chess 960 Arena! (1:41:10) • 'Streamed live on Apr 10, 2017 • Join the tourney on lichess.org: [...]'

That last link leads to IM Fins Arena #0HECUP4x (lichess.org), which now has the tournament results. Between the start and the end of the live stream, there is plenty of discussion about chess960. The embedded chat is an integral part of the show.

19 August 2017

Twelve Popular Posts

Since adding the 'Popular Posts' feature to the blog (see my comment dated 17 December 2015 on the Adieu! post), I've noticed that a few posts consistently appear in the 'Last 7 Days' list at the top of each page. Which posts are the most popular overall? Here's what Blogger.com reports as most popular of 'all time':-

I've split the list into three groups. The first post has a view count nearly double the second group, where the posts have about 50% more views than the third group.

Compare this with a similar exercise I did in December 2012: Top Posts of All Time. Of the seven posts on this current list that appeared before December 2012, four were on that first list; I've marked them with an asterisk '(*)'. Three of those posts address common questions about chess960, but I have no idea why 'Recent Comments' continues to be popular.

These statistics can't be taken too seriously. I also have a 'viewed' count for each individual post on the blog, where 'Online Play Sites' and 'Calculate SP Numbers' show about the same number of views. In the same ballpark with these are two more posts that are missing completely from the list of top posts:-

Of the nearly 400 posts on the blog (not counting the artificial pre-2009 posts), these twelve attract the most attention from the search engines.

29 July 2017

(Not so?) Rare Birds, Summer 2017

In my previous post, First the Non-routine News, I wrote,
I started by looking at chess960 news over the last month, but two reliable correspondents interrupted that routine procedure by pointing to non-routine news that begs to be repeated. [...] I'll save the routine chess960 news for my next post.

I was wrong to use the word 'routine' for news about chess960. Any news is still unusual and most news is about tournaments at the local, club level. One exception is the 'Swiss Chess960 Championship', held as part of the 50th Biel Chess Festival.

As with most chess960 reports, there are no full game scores, but there is a link to the Archives - Biel International Chess Festival, where we learn that the chess960 event has been held since 2009. I covered it once before in Rare Bird Tracking, Summer 2011 (September 2011) and hope to see its 10th anniversary next year. In Biel/Bienne, Wikipedia informs,

Biel/Bienne is on the language boundary between the French-speaking and German-speaking parts of Switzerland, and is throughout bilingual. Biel is the German name for the town, Bienne its French counterpart. The town is often referred to in both languages simultaneously. Since January 1, 2005, the official name has been "Biel/Bienne". Until then, the city was officially named Biel.

I mention that because the German speaking countries seem to be the leaders in chess960 events. Two more examples:-

The skbaden.at page eventually points to a 2016 event at chess-results.com, and looking further into that well known site finds hundreds of references to chess960. As for French language references, I noted one at...

...and I even found an English language (USA) reference at

  • Iowa Chess | Twin Ports Open (iowa-chess.org) • 'GM Yermolinsky VS. IM Bartholomew Chess960 Consultation Match: Former U.S. Champion Grandmaster Alex Yermolinsky and International Master / YouTube sensation John Bartholomew will lead two competing teams in an interactive consultation Chess960 (Fischer Random) match'

As long as I'm splitting this post by language, I'll mention an Italian language reference at

  • E-Book Chess 960 - Vol. I • 'Chess 960 Informator a cura di Filiberto Pivirotto; Volume 1; Anno 1 – num. 1; Giugno 2017'

The last page says, 'The C960 Informator will be just a collection of games played with the same [start position].' That's a good idea, but I doubt the author can do all 960 positions (959?) alone.

There might not be much chess960 activity at the level of the world class players -- see, for example, Rare Birds 2015-16 (February 2017) -- but there is plenty of activity at the local level. In the long run we need both world class and local.

22 July 2017

First the Non-routine News

After a short break from blogging, I had two problems to solve with this current post. The first problem was what date to use. According to my current posting schedule, it could have been 15 July 2017, but vacations are vacations and I'll stick with the date that falls after the vacation. The second problem was what to write about. I started by looking at chess960 news over the last month, but two reliable correspondents interrupted that routine procedure by pointing to non-routine news that begs to be repeated.

A comment by HarryO to an old post, Chess960 Simuls @ Mainz (May 2010), started 'Simultaneous blindfold chess960. What an achievement by GM Timur Gareyev!', and linked to Blindfold in Idaho: 'I Feel Sorry if You Missed it' (uschess.org; July 2017).

Timur was up at 5 AM making "power-smoothies" in preparation for the blindfold simul. [...] The simul began with beginners being taught how blindfold chess960 blitz works.

A message from GM Andrey Deviatkin, featured in last month's post, 'The Essence and the Rules of Chess', linked to Aronian: 'I get over losses more easily than wins' (chess24.com), which quoted the Armenian GM...

Q: The computer has now already studied many opening tabiyas in such depth that, perhaps, the moment really has come to switch to Fischer Random Chess?

A: I’ve already on many occasions declared my love for Fischer Random Chess. I hope there will still be tournaments and people will value that variation of the game as I do. In principle, though, we’re currently playing something akin to Fischer Random Chess thanks to Magnus Carlsen, who brought a lot that’s new with his approach. Above all, he managed to minimise the role played by the opening. It’s the Petrosian-Fischer approach -- let’s manoeuvre and see who turns out to be the best. Carlsen has changed modern chess and the majority of players now seek ways to get off the beaten path as soon as possible in the opening, to get a non-standard position. That’s prolonging the era of classical chess.

...then pointed to a tweet by GM Carlsen's sidekick Tarjei Svensen, 'Good news for Aronian' (twitter.com):-

There are serious plans to organize a FischerRandom/Chess960 World Championship in Norway next year!

I'll save the routine chess960 news for my next post.

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.


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?