18 October 2014

Updated Database of SPs (2014-10)

It's been a year since I last Updated the Database of SPs (2013-10), so I added the posts written since then. These are all posts discussing specific positions and my database is to keep track of them by SP.

A couple of these posts discussed multiple positions -- Nakamura's 1.g4/b4 and Nakamura's 1.h4/a4 -- and I added a database entry for each position discussed. One of these positions was already in the database -- SP931 BRKRNQNB -- so that database entry now points to both posts where it was discussed. Ditto for SP190 - NRNKRBBQ.

As long as I was doing blog maintenance, I decided to restructure parts of Chess960 1-2-3 : Index to Blog Posts. I could have also added all blog posts since A New Page, a TOC, and a Logo (June 2014), but I'll leave that for another time.

11 October 2014

A Half-Tempo Advantage

Not too long ago, my Blogspot.com stats flagged an incoming link from the Arimaa.com forum, Re: Measure stereotyped openings. The link was to a post from two years ago, Waving a Yellow Flag, where I listed a number of chess960 start positions that, according to CCRL experiments, seemed to produce superior results for White. The Arimaa.com poster concluded,
Under the assumption that every chess960 position has exactly the same first-move advantage, by natural variation I get results just as extreme as the ones our blogger has compiled. So perhaps some positions have just been lucky for White so far, and others unlucky, with no inherent bias. At a minimum, if these are the most conclusive stats available, we have to say there is so far no statistical evidence that some positions favor White more than others.

In other words, the CCRL results match the distribution one would expect from the number of games in the CCRL sample, assuming a 55%-45% theoretical advantage for White. I asked Ichabod, the chess960 expert and professional statistician last seen on this blog in A Better Pawn Method, if he agreed with the post on the Arimaa forum and he confirmed its methodology. Then I asked him, 'How big would the samples have to be to reduce the extremes to their theoretical minimum?' He answered,

It's not a question of theoretical minimum. The question is, are the results you are seeing more extreme than you would expect with random chance? If you aren't, then there isn't statistical evidence of an effect.

To clarify, you need to think about how much of an advantage you want to detect. What you're seeing is that at your current sample size you can't detect an advantage of 12% because of the random noise. What advantage do you want to detect? 5%? 1%? From that you could back calculate a necessary sample size from the multinomial win/loss/draw distribution.

Last year, on my main blog, I posted a series on Practical Evaluation, where I learned that the value of the first move in traditional chess is a half-tempo, which is worth 0.2 times the value of a Pawn. In the last post in the series, I learned that A Pawn Equals 200 Rating Points, which gives White a theoretical advantage of 56%-44% based on the half-tempo. This is very close to the observed advantage for White over millions of games.

Given that all of the start positions in chess960 confer a half-tempo advantage on White, does that mean White always has an advantage of 56%-44%? Or perhaps the half-tempo advantage isn't equivalent to 0.2 times a Pawn for all 960 start positions. I suspect the latter is true, but how will we ever find out, given that we need so many games with each start position to provide a valid sample.

I asked Ichabod, 'How many games would I have to play in another start position to know that the new W%-B% is significantly different?' He answered,

Here we get into the issue of the two different kinds of significance: statistical significance and practical significance. Statistical significance is going to determine what sample size you need to detect a given difference. Practical significance is going to determine what difference you want to detect. Say we had a bazillion games for each position, and we could show that in some positions White had an advantage of 0.000001 pawns. No one would care. We would have statistical significance but we wouldn't have practical significance.

On the other hand, let's say in certain positions we could show with statistical significance that white had a full Pawn advantage. Then people would care, and would think that position is flawed. We would have both practical and statistical significance. Now, somewhere between 0.000001 pawns and a full Pawn is a minimum advantage that would be considered a practically significant difference between the standard position and a given chess960 position.

Determining that minimum advantage is not a statistics question, it's a chess question. That is, you have to determine what fraction of a Pawn advantage is a practically significant advantage.

Here's an idea for killing a large amount of time: Run an engine (any chess960-enabled engine) on all 960 start positions (SPs). Record the value of the top-10 first moves for each SP. Analyze the results. Can any information be derived from the observed value of the first moves?

04 October 2014

Nakamura's 1.h4/a4

First I took a bird's-eye look at Nakamura's Chess960 Openings, then looked at four examples of Nakamura's 1.g4/b4. Now I'll look at some examples of 1.h4 and 1.a4.

In the traditional chess start position, the move 1.b4 has its dedicated adherents, while 1.g4 is considered dubious, despite a small number of fans. The moves 1.h4 and 1.a4 are both considered to be even worse than 1.g4. In chess960, the boundaries between good first moves and poor first moves shift depending on the start position. GM Nakamura opened with 1.h4 or 1.a4 in three games recorded on ICC:-

  • SP544 BBRNKNQR: 2002.10.25, Smallville - JelenaDokic
  • SP703 RQKNNRBB: 2009.07.27, Smallville - OfficeMan
  • SP501 RQBBNKNR: 2004.08.10, Smallville - McShane

At first I wasn't going to consider the game played in 2002, because it is Nakamura's earliest recorded chess960 ICC game. The choice of 1.h4 might have been a youthful indiscretion played for no particular reason. Then I looked at the game, shown in the top diagram below. With the two Bishops aimed at the opponent's h-side and the Queen-Rook sitting behind the g-/h-Pawns, the move 1.h4 launches an immediate attack. White's aggressive opening strategy is apparent already on the first move.

The two bottom diagrams are from the later games. In SP703, the pieces on the a-/b-/g-/h-files mirror the same pieces in SP544. The two positions would be twins if the King and a Knight were switched. Following the logic in SP544, White could have played 1.a4, but 1.h4 was played again, apparently to develop the Black-squared Bishop via h2.

In SP501, the Rook-Queen pair is again in the corner, this time without the dynamics in the opposite corner. White played 1.a4, followed by 2.Ra3 and 3.b4 on the next two moves. For his initial moves, Black pushed Pawns in the center and ultimately won. It was the only game of the three where Nakamura did not prevail.

What can be learned from these three examples? First, that a game's strategy starts on the very first move. Second, that the strategy should pay some attention to classical opening principles. Third, that White can use the initial tempo to try something offbeat. But we already knew all that from traditional chess, didn't we.

27 September 2014

Nakamura - Aronian Video

Here's a short video clip related to the recent Nakamura - Aronian match in St.Louis. Featuring the two match protagonists, it's more about Fischer than about chess960, but who's complaining?

Chess 960 (1:12) • 'Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis'

At one point Aronian says,

The objective of [chess960] is the same as in the game of chess, although it's trickier because, unlike chess, your pieces are not really coming fast into the game. You can't just use your pattern recognition and say, 'Oh, this is good for me', because the pieces are randomly placed.

For more about the match, see Chess960 'Showdown' in St.Louis.

20 September 2014

Nakamura's 1.g4/b4

In Nakamura's Chess960 Openings, I counted the number of times that GM Nakamura opened an ICC chess960 game with different first moves and wrote,
As for the g4/b4 moves, he tried them in only four games. Was there any particular characteristic of the start positions that led him to choose these moves? I'll look at that question in another post.

Here is a list of the four games:-

  • SP452 RBBNNKQR: 2009.06.25, Smallville - Dreev
  • SP931 BRKRNQNB: 2009.07.27, Smallville - OfficeMan
  • SP751 RKNNQRBB: 2010.06.02, Smallville - TheDuns
  • SP121 NQRBBNKR: 2010.06.27, Smallville - Shadeath

The following diagram shows the position after Nakamura's first move in each game. The first characteristic of the four positions is that -- even before the initial Pawn move -- White has already decided to castle to the wing opposite the Pawn move. The second position, SP931 BRKRNQNB, is the least certain. Since the d-Rook interferes with O-O-O and must move out of the way, castles O-O is a good alternative.

The second characteristic of the four positions is that the Pawn move aids development. In the first three positions -- SP452, SP931, and SP751 -- the initial move opens a diagonal for a Bishop. The same objective could be accomplished by advancing the Pawn a single rank. By advancing two ranks, White prepares the advance of the the adjacent c-/f-Pawn with a gain of space on that wing.

The fourth position -- SP121 -- does nothing directly for a Bishop, but it does prepare the development of the Queen on the long diagonal. It also prepares a protected base for the Knight on b3, and after a subsequent c2-c4, prepares to bring out the light-squared Bishop on the a4-d1 diagonal.

In all of these positions, it's easy to find another, more traditional first move -- 1.c4, 1.d4, 1.e4, or 1.f4 -- that respects the principle of center control, but Nakamura's choice is not at all bad. Considering that all of the games were played at bullet speed (three minutes per side plus increment of a second or two per move), the American GM presented his opponents with unfamiliar problems to solve in a short time. He won all four games.

13 September 2014

Chess960 'Showdown' in St.Louis

After a short break from chess960 blogging, it's time to return to my previous post Nakamura's Chess960 Openings, where I mentioned a forthcoming exhibition match between GMs Nakamura and Aronian. A summary of the match -- billed as the 'Ultimate Showdown' -- along with PGN is available on TWIC's coverage of the 2014 Sinquefield Cup; see the bottom of page. Nakamura won the six game match with a score of +3-2=1.

The six games saw three different start positions (SPs) with the players switching colors for the second game in each position. I'm not sure how the SPs were chosen, but here they are in the order they were played:-


Over on Chess960 Jungle, HarryO discussed the first position in Corner bishops stay on the board, so in this post I'll look at the second position, shown below. The most interesting feature of the position must be the two Bishops aimed at the unprotected g- and h-Pawns. Note that the players can castle O-O-O already on the first move.


Aronian had White in the first game and both players started with the same first move, 1.b3. This threatens 2.Bxg7, winning a Pawn and the exchange. White could also have moved the c-Pawn, threatening the h-Pawn. Other reasonable first moves are 1.Ng3 and 1.Nf3, covering White's weak Kingside Pawns and threatening Black's. The move 1.Ng3 could even lead to an unusual Queen swap after 1...Ng6 2.Nf5 Nf4 3.Nxg7 Nxg2 4.Nxe8 Rxe8 5.Nf3 Nxe1 6.Rxe1.

After 1.b3, the game with Nakamura as Black continued 1...f6 2.f4 b6 3.Nf3 c5 4.e3 Ng6 5.Ng3 e5 6.fxe5 Nxe5 7.c4 g6 8.O-O-O O-O-O. The game with Aronian as Black continued 1...Nf6 2.e4 c5 3.e5 Ng4 4.f3 Nh6 5.c4 Ng6 6.Ng3 f6 7.exf6 exf6 8.Qxe8+ Kxe8. After both game continuations, White seems to have the upper hand, although Black went on to win both games.

Besides the responses 1...f6 and 1...Nf6, the move 1...b6 looks to be the only reasonable alternative. The defense 1...e5 runs into 2.f4.

For more commentary from the chess blogosphere, see Nakamura Defeats Aronian 3.5-2.5 in Chess960 Match on TheChessMind.net. A typical debate about the merits of chess960 can be found on Chessgames.com's forum Sinquefield Cup (2014), starting on the page I linked.

23 August 2014

Nakamura's Chess960 Openings

In a comment to my previous post, Rare Birds 2014, HarryO informed about an upcoming match between two GMs. To quote from the PR Newswire link he gave,
Ultimate Showdown will be an exhibition match between GM Hikaru Nakamura and GM Levon Aronian, playing the popular variant Chess960. Both players are former World Champions of Chess960, also known as Fischer Random Chess.

That announcement ties in well with this current post, which is a look at the chess960 games that GM Nakamura played on the ICC. I've written about the American champion several times in the past, where the most recent post was last year in 'I wish there were more opportunities to play'. Later in the year, at the same time I was looking at Elite ICC Chess960 Players, I downloaded his ICC games into a database for further investigation. It's only recently that I found the time to look at those games.

Of the 170 Nakamura games I found -- he goes by the handle Smallville on ICC -- all were played between 2002 and 2010. All but 10 of those were played between 2008 and 2010. All of the games were played at blitz time controls, usually three minutes per player with a one second increment per move.

In 2009, the last year that Chess Classic Mainz featured a full range of chess960 events, I quoted GM Grischuk in Attention to the Chess960 Center. After winning the 2009 FiNet Chess960 Open, he talked about his earlier participations.

The first year I was playing like g4/b4, but in order to play like this successfully you have to be either Aronian or Nakamura.

This comment was an eye-opener for me, because it pointed to the existence of Extravagant Openings in Chess960. Before then I had assumed that all chess960 openings were extravagant, just by the nature of chess960 with its random starting placement of the different pieces. Getting back to GM Nakamura, would his games show that he was inclined to use g4/b4 opening moves, perhaps even h4/a4 moves?

Of the 170 games on my Nakamura ICC database, I found 83 games where he played White. The count of the first moves he chose is shown on the left.

Of the 83 games, in 62 he played the moves 1.e4, 1.d4, or 1.c4, none of which are particularly extravagant. I could also add 1.f4 to the list. Although it's considered unusual in traditional chess (SP518 RNBQKBNR) because it weakens the King position, in chess960 it is often played for the same reasons that 1.c4 is played. It's interesting to note that in no games did he castle on the first move.

As for the g4/b4 moves, he tried them in only four games. He also tried h4/a4 in three games, including 1.h4 in his first recorded chess960 game on ICC in 2002. Was there any particular characteristic of the start positions that led him to choose these moves? I'll look at that question in another post.

As for the forthcoming Nakamura - Aronian match, note that GM Grischuk mentioned *both* players in the sentence I quoted. For a look at another game between the two, see Nakamura vs. Aronian at Mainz 2009. For chess960, 2009 was a very good year.