20 February 2010

Why Not Announce Positions Beforehand?

Even though Garry Kasparov has been retired from professional chess for five years, he continues to wield enormous influence on the game and on its players. A few months ago I excerpted his thoughts on chess960 in a post titled Kasparov's Chess960 Proposal. He again expounded on the subject in the last segment of a recent interview published by Chessbase.com, Bisik-Bisik with Garry Kasparov (Part 3).
Q: What do you think about the future of Fischer Random, Seirawan Chess or any other types of chess variant?

A: I have always liked the idea of choosing a few decent positions. And, I don't think you need more than 15 to 20, out of the 960 possible random chess positions, many of which violate our sense for normal chess geometry. Any change of the position is a challenge, but 10 to 15 to 20 positions can be chosen, and I believe that in the future, every year, we should start with a new position. Again, it should just be one position.

I feel an insult if players should start with something that is totally ridiculous, and you have three minutes to prepare... No, I mean, come on, chess is also about some research. You don't want to have the same extensive thing, fine. But, you have one year of playing one position, which means that players can actually get adjusted and they could do a little bit of research. So at least you have five, six opening moves that are theory now and then you go on to another position.

But, if you just want to eliminate everything and call it purity -- no, it is not purity, it's nonsense. So, again, there is some sense in it, but you have to be reasonable.

Chessbase: We will inform you more thoroughly on Kasparov's ideas on Fischer Random in a later article.

The short discourse largely echos his thoughts from my previous post, with one important addition: that certain chess960 start positions are 'ridiculous'. This indicates to me that he hasn't tried chess960 very often. Some start positions are more difficult and some are less difficult. I haven't yet seen any that I would classify as 'ridiculous', to be avoided at all cost. The positions that are more difficult require more effort to harmonize the development of the pieces, but both players are grappling with the same obstacles. The player with the better chess sense will likely prevail.

As for the opinion that 'three minutes to prepare' for a new start position is insufficient, I wholeheartedly agree. One way to overcome this limitation would be to announce beforehand which positions will be used in a particular event. For example, the organizers of a seven round tournament would announce well before the first round which seven start positions will be used. The players wouldn't know which position would be used in which round, and they wouldn't know whether they would play White or Black, but they would have some opportunity to prepare for those specific positions.

Announcing start positions beforehand would also establish a reason for creating theoretical overviews of the 960 positions. This would open the door for the chess publishing industry to support the evolution to chess960.

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