13 December 2009

Practical Issues for Hosting Chess960

Chess960 @ Chess.com isn't just about playing (see What Are the Odds? for a post on my first games there). It's also about community. The main forum at Chess.com for the topic is Forums > Chess960 and Other Variants, which is more active than most forums on the subject.

A couple of threads on the forum caught my attention over the past few weeks. The first was Chess960 Tournaments: Variety. Although it addressed the strategy of running chess960 tournaments at Chess.com, the question applies to all such tournaments.

In chess960 tournaments, how often is the same starting position played? (A) The same starting position is used for all games of all rounds of the tournament; (B) The same starting position is used for all games of the same round of the tournament, but for every new round of the tournament, there is a new starting position; (C) [...]

It appears from comments to the thread that Chess.com uses strategy '(A)'. I also know from past investigations that the premier annual chess960 event, Chess Classic Mainz (see Chess960 @ Chess Classic Mainz), uses '(B)' for its chess960 open. Tournaments at Schemingmind.com (see Pyramids and Dropouts for background) use a strategy that the Chess.com author called '(D) There is a new starting position for every single game of the chess 960 tournament'. Which strategy is best?

The second thread was Subversion of the Spirit of Chess960, which addressed an issue that is more a problem for chess960 than for traditional chess.

Chess.com allows a player to cancel a game within a small number of moves. This seems like a reasonable policy for normal chess, but it has peculiar implications for chess960: Any player can start a bunch of games and selectively choose only those starting positions which match a given set of criteria.

Cancellation is particularly annoying in chess960 because, as I pointed out in Differences Between Chess and Chess960, the first few moves of chess960 require a lot more thought (i.e. work) than the first few moves of traditional chess. I've already had a few games where, just when I had played the first moves and was starting to appreciate the position, the game was abruptly cancelled. If this happens to players who are just starting chess960, it could deter them from continuing to play.

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