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?

18 March 2017

GM Blitz Battle PGN

In my previous post, Chess.com's GM Blitz Battle (February 2017), I wrote,
Seven matches times three chess960 games per match gives 21 chess960 games played by the world's top grandmasters. I didn't see an easy way to collect those games, but a little perseverance should pay off.

Indeed it did. After signing into Chess.com, I accessed the game archive and selected 'Others' games'. The subsequent procedure was:-

  • Search on games between both players,
  • Open relevant game,
  • Share, and
  • Download [with or without thinking times]

To search on games, you need to know the players' names on Chess.com. These are all available from the 'Blitz Battle' post via the reports on the individual matches. Here they are for the matches from the first round, the winner given first.

  • Grischuk vs. LevonAronian
  • Hikaru vs. GMharikrishna
  • LyonBeast vs. FabianoCaruana
  • MagnusCarlsen vs. TigranLPetrosyan

These four matches plus the other matches are shown in the same chart used in that previous post.

Revisiting the Chess.com report on the final match, Carlsen Beats Nakamura To Win GM Blitz Battle Championship (October 2016), we learn,

Just like the quarterfinals and the semifinals, all three time disciplines opened with a chess960 game, but for the finals, a twist. The players did not get advance notice of the starting positions. Nakamura would go on to take 2.5/3 in the three iterations of chess960, one of the few bright spots for him on the day.

The file containing the chess960 games is here:-

GM Blitz Battle PGN : 21 games

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.

25 February 2017

Chess.com's GM Blitz Battle

I ended the previous post, Rare Birds 2015-16, with an action:-
2016-10-27: Carlsen Beats Nakamura To Win GM Blitz Battle Championship (chess.com) • 'Just like the quarterfinals and the semifinals, all three time disciplines opened with a chess960 game' • That last event merits a deeper look.

Skipping ahead, a chart from the event's final report gives an overview of the entire tournament.

The event was announced in January 2016:-

  • 2016-01-19: The $40,000 GM Blitz Battle Championship (chess.com; ditto for all links given below) • 'Here are the details of the event:
    [...]
    All matches, starting from the quarterfinal rounds through the finals will follow this format:
    - Three hours of blitz and bullet chess
    - First time control: 5|2 for 90 minutes, then 3|2 for 60 minutes, then 1|1 for the final 30 minutes
    - First game of each time control will be Chess960
    - Total match score will determine who moves onto the next round'

Seven of the eight players were all members of the world's chess elite. A preliminary, qualifying event selected the eighth player.

The individual match reports were all written by three of Chess.com's best journalists: Sam Copeland, Peter Doggers, and Mike Klein. Here are the reports on the four quarterfinal matches:-

And here are the reports on the two semifinal matches:-

And here are two reports on the final match:-

Some highlights from the final match:-

'Today GM Magnus Carlsen [...] defeated GM Hikaru Nakamura in the finals by an overall score of 14.5-10.5.' • 'On the whole, Carlsen played faster early and his consistent time advantage helped him open with a 5.5-3.5 win in the five-minute portion.' • 'The world champion then extended his lead to five games by taking the three-minute by the larger margin of 5.0-2.0.' • 'Nakamura attempted a comeback in the bullet, but the lead proved insurmountable. He mostly traded wins in the one-minute, winning the segment by a single game, 5.0-4.0.'

'Nakamura won easily in chess960. Just like the quarterfinals and the semifinals, all three time disciplines opened with a chess960 game, but for the finals, a twist. The players did not get advance notice of the starting positions.' • 'Nakamura would go on to take 2.5/3 in the three iterations of chess960, one of the few bright spots for him on the day.'

Seven matches times three chess960 games per match gives 21 chess960 games played by the world's top grandmasters. I didn't see an easy way to collect those games, but a little perseverance should pay off.