29 December 2012

Top Posts of All Time

As a year-end post on each of my three blogs, I had intended to highlight the top-10 most popular posts of the year for that blog. It turns out that the Blogspot.com toolset doesn't return statistics for the past year. They are available only for the past day, week, and month, or for 'all time'. For 'all time' it will be.

First, here's a chart showing monthly traffic since this chess960 blog started in May 2009. That peak near the middle, followed by the steep drop, is June 2010. Since then, the trend has been mostly 'up'.

Second, here's a list of the top-10 most popular posts of all time. A post introducing a list of online play sites heads the list, followed by two posts centered on Fischer himself.

It might be useful to look at keywords used on searches that found the blog, but the toolset no longer provides those statistics.

22 December 2012

The Lechenicher SchachServer

Since I was first bitten by the chess960 bug -- Shall We Play Fischerandom Chess? -- I've been playing chess960 primarily on Scheming Mind. It's a great site with first class management and I have only good things to say about it. The site offers several formats of which my favorites are the league and dropout competitions, both involving two simultaneous games per round with rounds starting at intervals of several months. For me, it's the right balance of chess960 to go with my other responsibilities.

For the 2013 Chess960 Dropout tournament, the site announced a change of format.

Please note that for this tournament, we are trying a new "Countdown" time control. Under countdown time, each player is allocated a fixed time at the beginning of the game (in this case sixty days) - this time is for the entire game, no increments will be added and holiday will not be applied to these games.

Even though the countdown time control is intriguing, I decided that it might be too demanding on my time budget, especially since my games against good players often go into the endgame. How would I pace myself over 60 days, not knowing how many moves the games would last? There was also the issue of no vacation. I tend to minimize online access while on vacation and I'm certain my wife would not be happy if I spent too much vacation time at a chess board. Signing up for the tournament meant up to six rounds with two games per round, plus a high risk that I would eventually crash & burn for lack of time.

While wondering whether to join or not, I remembered that the Lechenicher SchachServer (LSS) also offers the countdown time control, its only format for playing chess960. I had hesitated to play there partly because of the question of unknown game length and partly because I had enough games on Scheming Mind (SM) to keep me busy. The LSS countdown control is 90 moves for the game with 14 days of vacation, more relaxed than the SM equivalent. The five-player double round robin means eight games starting at the same time, but I can time my participation to coincide with those times of the year when I have less to do.

The upshot of this is that I started to play my first chess960 tournament on LSS and hope to report on the site's chess960 culture from time to time. I also started a new tag category to collect the posts; see 'Labels' in the right navigation bar. One other post deserves to be linked because of a long comment that mentions LSS:-

After gaining countdown experience on LSS, I can always return to SM to try the faster control.

15 December 2012

An Attack Is Playing to Lose?

In my previous post, Initial Pawn Moves and Castling, I found the graphic technique useful to understand the difference between the twins I discussed. It was so useful that I returned to the post before that, Twin Research, to identify the next pair of twins on that particular list.

The second pair of twins exhibiting widely varying success rates for White and Black were SP301 QNRBKRBN and SP376 NBRKBRNQ. The position SP301 had an average success rate for White (%W) of 47.0%, while SP376 had %W of 62.9. That means SP301 was more successful for Black, and SP376 more successful for White.

The following chart shows the two SPs next to the results collected from the CCRL's engine vs. engine data (once again, see the sidebar for a link to the CCRL data). For example, the data for SP301 says that the most popular move, 1.Ng3, was played in 89 games and had a 43.2% success rate for White (%W again). The second most popular move was only played in 14 games. I haven't listed the other first moves given by the CCRL for that SP, all of which were seen in less than 10 games. The second block of stats for SP301 shows all of the responses to 1.Ng3. The move 1...f6 was played in 47 of the 89 games and was largely responsible for the low %W.

The data for SP376 tells a different story. While 1.Nb3 (the logical counterpart of SP301's 1.Ng3) was again the most popular first move, the response 1...c6 (the counterpart to SP301's 1...f6) is further down the list. The top response to 1.Nb3 was 1...Nb6, a move whose SP301 counterpart 1...Ng6 is nowhere to be found. What's going on here?

As luck would have it, I've already discussed this pair of twins in another post: Watch out for ****KRBN. In SP301, after 1.Ng3, White is threatening a dangerous attack on g7. The most common opening sequence on CCRL was 1.Ng3 (x89 moves) f6 (x47) 2.f4 (x34) Ng6 (x19). Now there were three moves (total x22 due to transpositions), all played about the same number of times, and all with %W less than 50%. The worst of the three moves was 3.Nf5 with a score of +1-6=0, i.e. a disaster for White.

In SP376, after 1.Nb3 there is no attack on b7 because of the option to castle ...O-O-O. The most common opening sequence was 1.Nb3 (x88) Nb6 (x38) 2.c4 (x21), and now there were two moves more popular than 2...O-O-O (where White won all games). The first move was 2...g6, where the score was +1-7=0; the second was 2...Na4, with a score of +5-1=0. These scores, both disasters for different sides, make no sense to me. Perhaps they can best be explained by the small number of games played.

In both SPs, it appears that the side playing for the attack is 'playing to lose', as the old chess saying goes. I would love to investigate this further, but I'm afraid I've run out of time.

08 December 2012

Initial Pawn Moves and Castling

In Twin Research, I looked at data from CCRL engine vs. engine competition where the chess960 start positions (SPs) were twins, i.e. SPs with the pieces in reverse order relative to each other. One of the discoveries was a list of five pairs of twins having the highest difference in average success rate, i.e. one of the twins has a good score for White, while the other has a good score for Black. For example,
SP222 NQRKNBBR has [an average success rate for White (%W)] of only 43.3%, while its twin, SP644 RBBNKRQN, has %W of 59.8%.

Is this a statistical fluke or is there an underlying reason? I noted,

Four of the five twins with the largest difference in %W have one SP in the pair where castling is possible on the first move. This indicates that the ability to castle quickly is an important defensive strategy in a difficult position.

After posting those observations, I noticed that the four pairs of twins didn't support my conclusion. Where castling was possible on the first move, White had a significantly better score in two of the pairs, while Black was better in the other two. I decided to take a closer look at the twins from my example, SP222 and SP644.

The following table shows some basic information for the two SPs. The column on the right shows the most frequent first moves for each SP along with each move's score for White. For example, in SP222 the move 1.Nb3 was played 35 times and scored 42.8% for White; in SP644 the equivalent move 1.Ng3 was played 36 times and scored 48.6% for White. The two Knight moves appear to affect their respective SPs in the same way.

I doubt that the difference between SP222's 1.Nb3 score of 42.8% and SP644's 1.Ng3 score of 48.6% is statistically significant. A more promising investigation would be SP222's 1.c4 score of 35.7% and SP644's 1.f4 score of 61.2%. Both first moves involve pushing the Pawn in front of a Rook. It so happens that the chosen Pawn is relevant to the position of the castled King on that side.

In SP222, the move 1.c4 weakens an eventual O-O-O; in SP644, the move 1.f4 makes space for the Rook after an eventual O-O. Is that the reason for the difference in scores for White? More investigation is required to answer that question.

01 December 2012

Twin Research

In my previous post, Waving a Yellow Flag, I identified five chess960 start positions (SPs) having the highest success rate for White in play between engines. HarryO proposed to play a few games using those SPs in order to gain some insight into the reason for White's success. Since there are no online play sites that let opponents choose a specific SP, we are playing via comments on his blog, with the first game being conducted in the post Non-Random Chess 960 Trial Game 6: SP408.

Two of those five SPs were twins, positions with the pieces in reverse order relative to each other. Twins have similar characteristics for early piece development and tactics -- only different castling options distinguish them -- and early problems for Black in one twin could easily occur in the other twin. I decided it would be useful to identify other pairs of twins with high success rates for White, so I returned to the data described in the 'Yellow Flag' post to find more.

The following table shows the five twins with the highest average success rate for White (%W AVG). SP408 and its twin head the list, since they were the twins that I had already identified (the lower numbered SP is always listed in the left column). The traditional start position, SP518, and its twin are given as a reference point. The next five entries in the table are the twins with the lowest average success rate for White. If there are any start characteristics that favor Black, they might be hidden in these SPs.

At the bottom of the table are five twins with the highest difference in %W. For example, the first entry SP222 NQRKNBBR has a success rate (%W) of only 43.3%, while its twin, SP644 RBBNKRQN, has %W of 59.8%. The difference between the two values for %W is -16.5. It is of no importance that the lower numbered SP or the higher is more successful; only the absolute value of the difference is important.

Four of the five twins with the largest difference in %W have one SP in the pair where castling is possible on the first move. This indicates that the ability to castle quickly is an important defensive strategy in a difficult position. The only exception to the possibility of early castling is the third pair of twins, SP424 RBNQBNKR and SP733 RKNBQNBR. Why do these twins have such a large difference in success rate for White?

There are plenty of avenues for further investigation here, and I hope that HarryO and I will find the time to tackle a few of them. If so, I'll report on our discoveries in future posts.

24 November 2012

Waving a Yellow Flag

A few years back, in a post titled Advantage in Chess960 Start Positions Revisited, I created a table from CCRL data showing which start positions appeared to be best for White and and which best for Black. The CCRL site, linked to the right of this page under 'Resources', explains,
CCRL means "Computer Chess Rating Lists". We are a club of people inspired by watching computers play chess.

While I'm not at all 'inspired by watching computers play chess', I do accept that the CCRL findings are the single most important collection of chess960 games in existence today. I ended the 'Revisited' post by concluding that the CCRL sample at that time was probably too small to make generalizations. The club now boasts of having played 115.900 games of chess960, or an average of more than 115 games per start position, or 3-4 times more games than at the time of my first post.

How do the current CCRL statistics compare with that first analysis? Here is a table similar to my earlier table. As before, it shows the number of games played (#); the percentage of games won by White, won by Black, and drawn (%W, %B, %D); and the overall score for White (%S).

Highest Overall Score White
Highest Overall Score Black
Traditional Start
Traditional Start (K&Q switched)
534RNBKQBNR 8434.535.729.849.4

The first observation is that the 'the overall score for White (%S)' lies in a narrower range than before: 64%-42% now vs. 76%-32% earlier. The second observation is that of the top five percentages for White, only one start position is on both lists (SP868 QBBRKRNN); of the bottom five percentages for White (i.e. top five for Black), the list is completely different. The third observation is that the traditional start position (SP518 RNBQKBNR) is now in line with experience.

On the earlier list, I examined the top position for White (SP024 NBQNBRKR) in A Followup, an Error, and an Insight, and surmised (with the help of another chess960 enthusiast) that 'the dangerous start positions share the common feature of several Pawns unprotected and these can be easily attacked by the Queen and Bishop'. That is clearly the case for SP868, where the 'QBB' on the a/b/c-files rake the 'RNN' f/g/h-files. For the record, SP024 is now no.12 on the list, with a 60.9% success rate for White rather than the 76.2% in the earlier table. It's worth remembering that the CCRL requires both 'Book learning' and 'Position learning' to be 'Off for all engines'. This means that the engines don't improve by playing more games.

Now here's a big, yellow WARNING FLAG: the no.1 and the no.3 entries in the current table (SP408 RBQNBNKR & SP749 RKNBNQBR) are twins -- they have the same sequence of pieces, but in reverse order -- only the castling considerations are different. These two positions, plus the repeat position SP868, need to be examined more closely. I would also like to identify the other top (and bottom) twins to determine how random their CCRL results are. I'll follow-up these actions in future posts.

17 November 2012

Ignoring the Positional Handicap

Earlier this year, in No Time for Shelter, I reported on the SchemingMind 2010 Chess960 Dropout Tournament and now I can do the same for the 2011 Chess960 Dropout Tournament. The event finished a round earlier than previous years after the site restricted it to paying members only, which cut the number of entries in half. I wasn't a paid member at the beginning, so I wasn't able to participate.

Two of the strongest players met in the third round and were assigned SP655 RNKRQNBB as their start position. The initial moves were 1.g3 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.gxf4 f5 4.Nc3 d5 5.d4 c6, reaching the position shown in the first diagram.

The first of the talking points in the position is the castling option. Judging by the Pawn structure, it appears that both players have already decided to castle O-O-O. Since the Bishops are on adjacent diagonals aimed at that side of the board, the players have accepted a blocked Pawn center, thereby limiting the scope of the Bishops. Very surprisingly, White has also accepted a backward Pawn on the open e-file. He undoubtedly intends to play a Knight to e5, where Black will be tempted to exchange it, thereby closing the file. White's next move, 6.Nd2, was a step in that direction.

Some moves later the game reached the position shown in the second diagram. The same situation exists on the e-file, giving the impression that Black has been more successful than White in steering the development of the game. Chess positions are not always as simple as they appear and White ignored the positional handicap by playing the tactical 22.e4. Give that move a '!!'. Since both 22...fxe4 23.Bxe4 and 22...dxe4 23.d5 are bad for Black, he played instead 22...f4, trapping the Bishop on g3.

The tactics continued with 23.exd5 cxd5 (if 23...Nxd5, then 24.Bg4), followed by 24.Nxd5 Nxd5 25.Bxd5 Rfe7 26.Bxe6+ Rxe6 27.d5 Rxe1 28.Qc5+, the Queen check untrapping the Bishop for the recapture on e1. I don't often show chess960 middlegame sequences on this blog, especially when, as here, they are indistinguishable from positions that might arise from the traditional start position, but that tactical variation is too impressive to pass up. If you want to check the tactics yourself, here is the PGN, courtesy SchemingMind.

[Event "Chess960: 2011 Chess960 Dropout Tournament, Round 3"]
[Site "SchemingMind.com"]
[Date "2011.07.30"]
[Round "-"]
[White "saxon"]
[Black "Tyler"]
[Result "1-0"]
[Variant "fischerandom"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "rnkrqnbb/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNKRQNBB w KQkq - 0 1"]
[WhiteCountry "GER"]
[BlackCountry "SUI"]
[WhiteElo "2496"]
[BlackElo "2479"]

1.g3 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.gxf4 f5 4.Nc3 d5 5.d4 c6 6.Nd2 Ne6 7.e3 Nd7 8.Nf3 Bf7 9.Bf2 Qe7 10.Bh4 Nf6 11.Bg2 Bh5 12.Rd2 h6 13.a4 Bxf3 14.Bxf3 g5 15.fxg5 hxg5 16.Bg3 Re8 17.O-O-O O-O-O 18.Kb1 Qh7 19.Qf2 Rd7 20.Re1 Bg7 21.Rdd1 Rf7 22.e4 f4 23.exd5 cxd5 24.Nxd5 Nxd5 25.Bxd5 Rfe7 26.Bxe6+ Rxe6 27.d5 Rxe1 28.Qc5+ Kb8 29.Bxe1 Rc8 30.Qf2 Bf6 31.d6 Qf5 32.Rd3 Rc5 33.Qf3 Qd7 34.h4 gxh4 35.Qxf4 Qf5 36.Qh6 Qg5 37.Qf8+ Rc8 38.Qf7 Qc5 39.Qb3 Rd8 40.d7 Qg1 41.Qb4 Ka8 42.Ka2 Qg8+ 43.b3 Qg2 44.Qc5 Rb8 45.Bf2 b6 46.Qd6 Bd8 47.Rc3 a5 48.Bxb6 Rxb6 49.Qf8 Qg5 50.Rc8+ Ka7 51.Rxd8 Qd5 52.Ra8+ Qxa8 53.Qxa8+ Kxa8 54.d8=Q+ 1-0

The player of the White pieces went on to win the event.

10 November 2012

Onward and Upward

As documented in Shall We Play Fischerandom Chess? (*), a little more than four years ago I started playing chess960. My first rating after that first game played on SchemingMind.com, Chess960? I'm Hooked!, was 1619. Four years later the site has me at no.2 for established players. I thought I'd record the event for posterity in the following image.

The SchemingMind ratings are approximately equivalent to ratings 200 points lower on other correspondence sites like ICCF and LSS, i.e. 2500 here is 2300 there. To avoid succumbing to the chess player's ancient enemy -- hubris -- I should point out that I've played all of the other players in the top five and have a combined record of +0-1=6. In other words, I haven't been able to defeat a single one of them. For that reason, I don't expect to see the no.1 position anytime soon.

03 November 2012

Correspondence Chess Ratings and Chess960

On the right side of this page I maintain a list of of online chess960 play sites. A site to be added to the list of 'Correspondence (Turnbased) Chess960' sites is ICCF.com, the International Correspondence Chess Federation. Their page, ICCF Diamond Jubilee 1st Chess 960 World Cup, recently announced that
All preliminary sections are now completed! After 1 year and 522 games, the preliminary rounds are finished.

along with a link to the 'ICCF Games Archive'. I downloaded the file for 'Complete 960 chess until 2012-07-31' and found that it contained 560 games in PGN format.

On top of the required game info -- Event, Site, Date, etc. -- the PGN headers for each game included rating information for the players. Since there was no chess960 rating history on the site, I guessed that the ratings were carried over from the players' experience at traditional chess, making this a good opportunity to check the frequently asked question, 'Does skill in traditional chess carrry over to chess960?' I am almost certain that it does, but it never hurts to check one's assumptions.

I loaded the PGN header info into a database and did some simple calculations. Of the 560 games, there were 488 with ratings for both players. I couldn't think of a clever way to present the data graphically, so I just produced the table shown on the left.

The first column in the table shows the rating difference between White and Black, rounded to the nearest 50 points. The next three columns show a count of the results for that rating difference. For example, the first row shows there was one game where the White player outrated his opponent by about 1050 points, and White won. The last row shows one game where the Black player was higher rated by 1050 points and Black won. In total, White won 216 games, Black won 190, and 82 were drawn.

The table appears to show that the higher rated player of traditional chess does indeed have some advantage when playing chess960. I'm not sure how significant is a sample of 488 games and I'm not sure how well the findings compare to the familiar bell curve of difference in Elo ratings. I'll leave that investigation for another day.

27 October 2012

Chess960 Caveat Emptor

Not long ago I received the following message from a chess960 fan on Chess.com:-
I haven't seen any reviews yet of the book 'Chess960' by Jesse Russell and am wondering if you have read it or heard anything about it? Wondering if it is worth purchasing?

Like many queries I receive, it was new to me, so I started to investigate. My first search led to Chess960 [Paperback] Jesse Russell (Editor), Ronald Cohn (Editor) on Amazon.com, with 'Product Details; Paperback: 180 pages; Publisher: Book on Demand Ltd. (April 14, 2012)'. The front cover mentioned 'Bookvika publishing' and 'High Quality Content by Wikipedia articles!'. The back cover mentioned Pubmix.com and carried the following blurb:-

I didn't have to transcribe the text because it was repeated in Amazon's 'Book Description':-

High Quality Content by WIKIPEDIA articles! Chess960 (or Fischer Random Chess) is a chess variant invented and advocated by former World Chess Champion Bobby Fischer, originally announced on June 19, 1996 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It employs the same board and pieces as standard chess, but the starting position of the pieces is randomized along the players' home ranks. The random setup forces players to resort to talent and creativity rather than the possibility of obtaining an advantage through the memorization of opening moves.

That's all very true, but how much of the book is original and how much is taken from Wikipedia? Clicking on the name of the first 'editor' leads to 'Books › "Jesse Russell"', where we find '"Official Scrabble Players Dictionary" by Jesse Russell and Ronald Cohn (May 14, 2012)' and '"Industry Foundation Classes" by Jesse Russell and Ronald Cohn (Jan 16, 2012)', among many other titles. The first title had a single customer review:-

Silly me, I thought this was supposed to be a Scrabble dictionary, with words that can be used for Scrabble. Instead, it talks about the origins of Scrabble and then gives me a history lesson on Israel and Thailand. I can't understand why it's called a Scrabble Dictionary! I'm starting to wonder if the contents was mistakenly put into this book! Not pleased!

Silly me, indeed. I imagine that the chess960 title also has its 180 pages filled with peripheral info. A Bobby Fischer bio, anyone? Not pleased, indeed!


Ziggy, 8 November 2012

20 October 2012

More Chess960 on Chessgames.com

After writing the post about 2001 Leko - Adams on Chessgames.com, I set off looking for more resources on the same site. In addition to the pages already mentioned in relation to 'Leko - Adams', all of the most interesting resources were linked from the end of the index Chess openings: Chess variants (000).

For the record, although the official name used on the site is 'fischerandom', this returned the least number of pages (search on 'site:chessgames.com fischerandom'). The single most used term was 'chess960', which was about 10% more frequent than 'fischer random'. The search on 'fischerrandom' returned the most results, because it combined both 'fischerrandom' & 'fischer random', a useful search technique I hadn't seen used before in this specific instance.

As for the four games linked from the 'Variants (000)' page, all are undoubtedly worth a dedicated post. The two 'Team White vs Team Black' games are especially interesting because they record the comments made by the two teams while discussing the start position and the subsequent game. A small King, either White or Black, to the right of the kibitzers name indicates for which team the comment was made. I assume the (secret?) comments by the two teams were merged after the game to produce the final set of comments.

If you're interested in the team games for traditional chess (SP518), see The Chessgames Challenge. The current game is 'The World vs Varuzhan Akobian'.

13 October 2012

2001 Leko - Adams on Chessgames.com

Some people collect stamps, others collect coins, still others collect chess sets. I collect links to web pages. You might think that my collection has no value, but you would be wrong. It's worth its weight in another intangible resource : time. Whenever I need an idea for a post, I sort through the collection of links and -- voila -- something always catches my attention. I hadn't looked at recently acquired chess960 links for at least six months, so when I started sorting through them for this post, dozens of ideas came to mind.

The link I finally chose was from Chessgames.com (CG.com), Peter Leko vs Michael Adams; Mainz CC Fischer Random 2001. The game is from the first chess960 'World Championship' match, as documented on my page Chess960 @ Chess Classic Mainz. It turns out that CG.com has a number of chess960 games in its database, linked from an index page Chess openings: Chess variants (000). From this page we find another game from the same match on CG.com, Peter Leko vs Michael Adams; Mainz CC Fischer Random 2001.

Fortunately, GM Gligoric's book, which I covered in a post with a similar title, Shall We Play Chess960?, gives the moves from all eight games of that match in an appendix. From this we learn that the first Leko - Adams game linked above was game one of the match, while the second linked game was game five. I don't know why these two games are available on CG.com and the other six games from the match are missing, but that 'Variants 000' page points to a few more chess960 games.

A few years ago I used a CG.com page as the basis for a preliminary post on a Chess960 FAQ. It might prove useful to discover what other chess960 resources are available on the same site.

06 October 2012

Deferring the Castling Option

In my most recent post I discussed the generalities of The KQR Corner Family. The position in the diagram is a specific example from a game I played as Black with HarryO. It started with the position SP468 RBBNNKRQ, and reached the diagram after 1.Nf3 c5 2.c4.

The move that cries out to be played is 2...O-O. Castling O-O-O isn't going to be possible anytime soon, and it is hard to see where the Black King will find shelter elsewhere. The problem of King safety is intertwined with the problems of developing the Queen and g-Rook. It's easy to imagine where the minor pieces will be developed, but not at all easy for the King and major pieces.

I had two problems with 2...O-O. The first problem was the attack 3.g4 and 4.h4. After a single move forward, the Pawns backed by their own Rook and Queen already present a real menace. The second problem was the development 3.b3 and 4.Bb2. The Bishops on the a1-h8 and b1-h7 diagonals, although not presenting any immediate threat, will be raking Black's King position for a long time to come.

I decided that it was better to delay the castling decision for as long as possible, preferably waiting until White has shown his own hand. I finally played 2...b6, a natural move that opposes the light-squared Bishop against the Queen on the a8-h1 diagonal.

One advantage to thinking deeply about castling O-O was not having to revisit the decision over the next few moves. White castled O-O on the 11th move and Black followed suit on the 12th, confident that the King would not be overwhelmed. Castling on the first or second move is always an attractive option in chess960, but that doesn't mean it's a good one.

29 September 2012

The KQR Corner Family

In Non-Random Chess 960 Trial Game 5: SP468, HarryO identified an important family of start positions (SPs).
This SP is part of 108 SPs that feature the combination of a Rook, a King and a Queen in the corner, leaving most of the opposite side of the board to the minor pieces and a lone rook.

His math works, too. If we reserve f/g/h for the KQR (in whatever order), that leaves five squares for the other pieces. After randomly placing one Bishop on the three remaining squares of the same color, then randomly placing the other Bishop on the two squares of the same color, that leaves three squares to place the remaining Rook. Placing the Knights on the two remaining squares doesn't change the number of permutations, so we have 3 x 2 x 3 = 18 different permutations of the five pieces for each combination of KQR. Since there are three of those (see next paragraph), there are exactly 54 positions with KQR in one corner. Doubling that to account for the other corner gives 108 SPs, which is HarryO's number.

It's also worth noting that in the 54 KQR-corner SPs, the Queen determines the position of the other two pieces. If the Queen is on the f-file, the pieces must be placed 'QKR'; Queen on the g-file forces 'KQR'; and Queen on the h-file leaves 'KRQ'.

The family of SPs is important because the KQR at such close proximity interfere with each other in their initial movements. They also have different objectives in the opening: the King seeks safety, the Queen seeks a safe development square, and the Rook wants a connection with the other Rook. On top of that, the three heavy pieces bunched together present a convenient target for the enemy Bishops, which are most likely to be on the other side of the board, ready to take up attacking positions after a move or two.

That SP468 post is in fact a game where HarryO and I have been struggling with one such position (SP468 RBBNNKRQ). I'll discuss it in more detail when we are through with our investigations.

22 September 2012

Kasparov *Did* Play Chess960

Sheesh, did I get that wrong! Late last year, in Not Everyone Likes Chess960, I listed three commentators who had gone on record against chess960: Kasparov, Damsky, and NN. I ended the post with the categorical,
The one thing all of these commentators have in common is that it's obvious that none of them has ever tried chess960.

This week I received a freebie 26-page PDF from Mongoose Press, "On Life and Chess" by Sergey Shipov. Here I learned (p.5),

In 1998 Kasparov invited me to be his sparring partner. His breaks between tournaments were fairly long, and so as not to lose his playing edge and feel for the flag Garry needed a partner who could pose problems for him at the board. He couldn't just go to a chess club and play in rapid or blitz tournaments like ordinary mortals.

In the first place, the champion's raging popularity simply would not have allowed him to play his games in peace; and secondly, in public tournaments the percentage of players who could put up any resistance to him was too small. And generally in Moscow, apart from the elite grandmasters, there weren't a lot of candidates for sparring partner. You cannot imagine how powerful he was in that period! This was probably the peak of his practical strength for his entire career. Everyone remembers that unbelievable series of wins by Kasparov at 10 straight supertournaments.

That is interesting in itself, but there was more.

By the way, those fools who for years explained Kasparov's dominance only by his opening superiority (which, let me point out, is not a gift that falls from heaven, but rather comes from hard labor) simply had no idea what they were talking about. I remember we played six games of Fischerandom chess, and there was no battle there at all! In completely unfamiliar positions, Kasparov's advantage over me was far greater than in normal chess. In the absence of the usual pathfinders his flights of fancy, his sense of dynamics, and his ability to instantly separate the important from the secondary became particularly salient.

Assuming he played according to Fischer's published rules, Kasparov did indeed play chess960. Moreover, it looks like I'll have to abandon any hope of winning against him in a chess960 game. What are the chances of getting the move record of those six games?

Of course, all the games I played with The Great One were accurately recorded on my computer, but I don't want to share them with my readers. My wins were nothing to be proud of (training and official tournaments are different things), and my losses were distressing. The chess content of our encounters would hardly embellish the treasure troves. Basically, this is just a memorable exhibit in my personal collection.

To get your own copy of Shipov's monograph, see Mongoose Press on Facebook.com.


Later: Not only did Shipov's monograph shed some light on Kasparov's experience with chess960, it also mentioned Yakov Damsky, the second of the trio in the 'Not Everyone Likes' post. There is, however, no chess960 connection (p.11):-

Iakov Damsky, our Soviet master and radio commentator, helped me a lot. In his later years he became a professional chess writer. He knocked out new books almost once a month. I myself spent at least four years on my first Hedgehog.

For more about Damsky, see 'Chess Records' by Damsky, on my main blog.

15 September 2012

Extreme Barbecues

After our first two tests of Non-random Fischer Random, which I documented in

HarryO and I decided to skip the initial phase of selecting a start position (SP) and go directly to an SP that had caught our attention in the first game. This was SP000 BBQNNRKR, aka the 'Extreme Barbecue' position. The name is derived from the BBQ formation on the first three files, aimed at the RKR formation on the last three files. Given the latent pressure of the three diagonal pieces against the bunched King and Rooks, it's an SP that could prove to be one of the trickiest for Black to navigate.

After that game, we played a second game starting with SP959 RKRNNQBB, the twin of SP000. Here the RKR on the first three files are under pressure from the QBB on the last three. Strategically, the only difference between SP000 and SP959 is the castling option. The top diagram below shows the position after the first five moves in the SP000 game, where HarryO played White. The bottom diagram shows the position after five moves in the SP959 game, where I had White. The moves and commentary for the two games are on HarryO's blog, Chess960 Jungle:-

HarryO subtitled SP000 'or SP960 depending on who you talk to'. He is referring to the common error that chess960 newcomers sometimes make, numbering the 960 SPs starting with '1' rather than with '0'. In that case, they invariably tack SP000 on to the end of the list. It's a fortunate coincidence that the two 'Extreme Barbecue' SPs are located numerically at the extremities of the standard numbering system.

Our running commentary for the two trial games can be found on the same posts where we made the moves. I don't have much to add. In both games, it's amazing how much has been accomplished on the board after only five moves for each side. The RKR setup is difficult to unravel, especially because the inside Rook (c- or f-file) blocks the corner Rook from castling. One option is to develop the corner Rook by pushing the Pawn in front of it to its fourth rank, then lifting the Rook to its third rank. This means that the Rooks are going to remain unconnected for a long time. Castling to the far side with the inside Rook involves moving three or four other pieces out of the way. All of this has to be done while the diagonal pieces are bearing down on the RKR.

In the second game, I had an unpleasant experience that I had never encountered before. The diagram shows my c-Pawn on c4. My plan in playing this was to move the Rook to c2 and castle Queenside (a-side for the purists). After that I had the mental image of the King sitting on b1 and the Rook on c1, instead of c1 and d1 when O-O-O is done correctly. I also had the persistent problem of confusing the abcd-files with the efgh-files in my analysis. In other words, while playing c2-c4, my inner voice would be saying f2-f4, and vice versa. As I wrote in a comment,

I think I made this elementary mistake because we just played the twin start position, SP000, and I simply flipped all my ideas in my head without readjusting for the new castling situation.

I took away two lessons from this. First, the chess960 castling options are not as firmly entrenched in my subconscious mind as I thought they were, certainly not to the level of the two castling options in traditional chess. Second, I consciously have to avoid the same phenomenon if I should again play an SP immediately followed by its twin. I shouldn't be thinking about how the pieces move. I should be thinking about what happens after they move.

08 September 2012

Disruption of Balance

Let's return to a position from a post I wrote a few weeks ago, A Clash of Styles. The position, seen in the following diagram, shows the start position and the first move for both White and Black.


After playing the move, Black commented (see that 'Clash' post for background and links to the game),

1...b5 develops the Queen, creates a spot for a minor piece, prevents e4, and claims space on the Queenside. Not bad for one move, eh!

Not bad at all, I had to agree. For my own part, I commented,

I spent a lot of time studying the position after 1...b5, looked at many different moves that adhered to classical principles, and finally decided that the non-traditional 2.a4 was my best shot. It solved the problem of developing my Queen and gave Black an immediate problem.

GeneM picked up that 2.a4 comment, and wrote,

I respectfully caution us against the casual habit of using the powerful word "principles" when describing chess opening theory that is based on deep experience with only the traditional start setup. I believe some of what we today call opening "principles" will eventually be exposed as being mere esoteric tactical considerations of the traditional setup.

Yes, it's the same comment I quoted in Make the Obvious Moves First, but I left off GeneM's further thought that

Your non-traditional early opening move 2.a4 might well obey an important opening priciple of pure chess, even if it violates what we all have sloppily or ignorantly been calling an opening principle based on our very narrow experience limited to only one start setup.

That remark caught my attention because I had exactly the same thought when making the move 2.a4. It reminded me of an 'Every Move Explained' article I wrote a few years ago where I touched on a concept called the 'illegitimate disruption of balance'. See 1927 New York - Alekhine vs. Marshall, especially the notes to Black's third and White's fourth moves, where I incorporated some heavyweight commentary by Alekhine, Kotov, and Yudovich, from The Soviet School of Chess (1958).

As I understand it, 'illegitimate disruption of balance' refers to a (usually subtle) violation by one side or the other of the positional principles underpinning chess. The term is found nowhere else on the web, but is so logical that I'm sure it exists elsewhere under one or more different names. Briefly summarized, it gives the opponent of the offending party a 'heads up' to look for an atypical response that also violates positional principles, fighting fire with fire, so to speak.

Later in the same chapter on Alekhine, Kotov and Yudovich give another example of 'illegitimate disruption of balance', without identifying it as such. It so happens that I posted on the game some time ago in Alekhine - Rubinstein, The Hague 1921. Here the disruption of balance was Black's wasted tempo on the third move.

The concept of 'illegitimate disruption of balance' is one of the most intriguing chess concepts I've ever encountered. To understand it requires a feeling for 'balance', which can mean either dynamic equality in a single position -or- the back-and-forth volleying that happens so often in chess, where both players attack and defend on each move. Extending this to 'disruption of balance' means that one side purposely provokes the other by breaking the equilibrium. This is usually by some kind of a premature attack, although I imagine that premature defense can be just as unbalancing. Finally, the adjective 'illegitimate' implies that there are also exists a 'legitimate disruption of balance'. How to spot the difference between 'legitimate' and 'illegitimate' would be one of the tricks of the trade for the discerning master.

What does all of this have to do with chess960? Since we aren't absolutely sure that all of the 960 positions are indeed balanced -- although the available evidence is pointing this way -- how can we know which moves maintain the balance or disrupt the balance?

While I don't know the answer to that last question, I do know that 'after 1...b5, I looked at many different moves that adhered to classical principles and finally decided that the non-traditional 2.a4 was my best shot'. Was this an accident or had I stumbled upon a chess960 example of Alekhine's concept? I'll be on the lookout for further examples.

01 September 2012

Make the Obvious Moves First

Last week's post, A Clash of Styles, attracted several excellent comments. First at bat was GeneM, who wrote,
I respectfully caution us against the casual habit of using the powerful word "principles" when describing chess opening theory that is based on deep experience with only the traditional start setup. I believe some of what we today call opening "principles" will eventually be exposed as being mere esoteric tactical considerations of the traditional setup.

I responded with links to a number of previous posts on that same subject.

It's also worth noting that opening principles that apply to the traditional start position (SP518 RNBQKBNR) weren't constructed from thin air, nor were they developed by sifting through the thousands of critical variations that arise from that position. They are based on the same considerations that guide a chess player throughout a game. I've listed these in an article that has nothing specific to do with chess960: Positional Play in Chess. They are

  • The center,
  • Open lines,
  • Piece activity,
  • Pawn structure,
  • Strong and weak squares, and
  • King safety.

If I wrote the same article today, I would add

  • The initiative

which through years of playing chess (and chess960), I've come to appreciate more and more. That makes seven points, the same as the number of colors in a rainbow or the number of notes in a musical scale. There's something natural about the number seven that appeals to me.

Back to the list of four previous posts, GeneM picked up on 'Knights before Bishops?' and made another comment.

Reuben Fine listed his famous nine opening principle of chess in his book 'Chess the Easy Way'. But... From considering chess960-FRC, I believe that some of Fine so-called principles would be found to be merely esoteric tactical considerations of the particular start setup that has been traditionally reused since 1475; and those items from Fine's list would become less interesting when seen in the proper larger context of openings for many sensible start setups.

I assume that Fine's 'Chess the Easy Way' repeats the same points from his 'Ideas Behind the Chess Opening', which I listed in 'Fine's General Principles'. As with some of Fine's other principles, 'Develop Knights before Bishops' is a guideline specific to SP518 and not necessarily to all other chess960 start positions. The principle can be expanded to include all chess960 start positions by stating something like 'make the obvious moves first'. In SP518 the Knight jump to the long diagonal is generally better than either of the two alternatives. For the Bishops, the choice is not so clear. First there is the choice of which diagonal. Then there is a choice of squares on that diagonal.

One quarter of chess960 positions start with a Knight in the corner. The obvious move there is to develop the Knight to its third rank. The alternative, to the second rank, happens less frequently. Knights starting on the c-, d-, e-, or f-files often do not have such an obvious choice, partly because they have a choice of two good squares on the third rank.

For how many positions does the principle 'make the obvious moves first' reduce to 'Knights before Bishops'? We already know about SP518. We can also add SP534 RNBKQBNR, because the development patterns are identical to SP518. No doubt there are other SPs, but how many? What characteristics of initial piece placement do they share?

Other points on Fine's list lead to similar questions. Take, for example, 'Do not bring your Queen out too early'. I have played at least one game where early development of the Queen to the center was an excellent strategy. For sure there are other positions, but how many? What characteristics do they share? For me, answering questions like these are more critical than the tree of opening variations for a single start position. In the long run they will help me to understand chess better and to play a stronger game.

25 August 2012

A Clash of Styles

After our first test of Non-random Fischer Random, which I documented in The Barbecue Positions, HarryO and I immediately started a second test. This time I had White.

I placed the first Bishop on the d-file, because I wanted to play with a center Bishop. HarryO placed the second Bishop on the e-file, because 'I really enjoyed the Bishops in the center in the past'. Whereas in our first game, HarryO had chosen to place the Queen for his second turn as White, I chose to place the two Knights. I put them on the c- and f-files to create a symmetrical position on the central files: **NBBN**.

For his second move, HarryO decided he wanted his King on the g-file, because 'I want to be able to castle short as soon as possible'. This left two squares for the Queen: either the a- or the b-file. He placed it on the a-file, because 'as Black, I don't want to add complications but want to simplify'. I imagine that would be a common reason for placing a Queen in the corner, especially against a good player. It takes the Queen longer to get into the game when it starts in the corner. Those starting choices gave us SP393 QRNBBNKR.

As White, I had the privilege of the first move and played 1.d4. Harry answered with 1...b5. That gave us the position shown in the diagram.


Some time ago, in Attention to the Chess960 Center, I observed,

There are two distinct, fundamental ways to treat a chess960 opening. The first way is to follow traditional chess opening principles, of which one of the most important is to pay attention to the center. The second way is to pay less attention to the center, but by taking into account the specific start position, to emphasize the rapid development of the pieces to good squares, even if this means making early moves like g4 or b4.

I am definitely in the first camp, following traditional chess opening principles. After playing a few games with HarryO, I now know that he is in the second camp, paying less attention to the center. That makes our games a clash of styles from the outset.

I spent a lot of time studying the position after 1...b5, looked at many different moves that adhered to classical principles, and finally decided that the non-traditional 2.a4 was my best shot. It solved the problem of developing my Queen and gave Black an immediate problem.

The rest of the moves and associated commentary -- we are only playing to move ten in these trial games -- can be found on HarryO's blog, Non-Random Chess960 Trial Game 2. Our first two non-random chess960 games have shown that the players can indeed determine the start position without any special equipment. Whether it is the best way to do so remains to be seen.

18 August 2012

The Barbecue Positions

The idea I proposed in Non-random Fischer Random, where the two players take turns deciding on which squares the pieces start, has already received two trials. The first game was played using comments to Fischer-Bronstein Non-Random Chess960 Trial on HarryO's chess960 blog, Chess960 Jungle.

Harry placed the first Bishop on the b-file and I placed the second Bishop on the a-file. Harry then decided to place the Queen, setting it down on the c-file. Bishop on a, Bishop on b, Queen on c is BBQ*****, which we promptly named a Barbecue position. A quick calculation shows that there are ten such positions, from which I chose the position with the Knights on the e- and f-files: SP384 BBQRNNKR. Harry played 1.c4 and we were off.

After we played ten moves, enough to get a feeling for the tactical and positional opportunities lurking in that start position, Harry summarized his impressions of the first trial in Non-Random Chess960 Trial Game 1: SP384. As for me, I learned a lot during the trial. Having some control over the placing of the pieces led to considerable reflection over how my choices influenced further play.

It turns out that the first position in the standard numbering scheme, SP000 BBQNNRKR, is also in the BBQ family. We dubbed this position the Extreme Barbecue (or Barbecue Extreme) both for its number and for the BBQ pieces attacking the RKR pieces on the opposite flank. We're currently conducting a trial of SP000 and its twin, SP959 RKRNNQBB (the last in the numbering scheme!), to make sure that Black is not busted from the start.

I'll report on those results, as well as our second trial, Non-Random Chess960 Trial Game 2: SP393, in a future post.

11 August 2012

Opening Logic Sets the Course

The last time I discussed parallel games, where a player has both White and Black in two simultaneous games using the same start position against the same opponent, was in Chess960 Needs Fresh Eyes. I recently played another such pair of games on SchemingMind.com, where I tackled the opening using logic alone. This made the games particularly instructive.

The games were assigned SP826 RKNQBBRN, a lineup that can be seen in the diagram below. Both players opened with the natural 1.d4, occupying the center with a Pawn, making space for the Queen and Bishop, and providing a natural square for the Knight at d3. For similar reasons, both players continued 1...d5, reaching the diagram.

In my game with White, I gave the position some serious thought. A natural move is 2.Nd3, as previously prepared. Although castling O-O-O looks more likely, the King is not in any immediate danger and castling O-O will require only three additional moves: by a Pawn and the two Bishops. Since White can afford to wait to decide where to castle, the next step is to determine the development of the pieces from the c- through the f-files.

The more I looked at 2.Nd3, the less I liked it, because I couldn't find a good way to develop the other pieces. After e2-e3, the light squared Bishop will go to e2. Then the Queen must go to d2, but only after the dark squared Bishop develops further out on the a5-e1 diagonal. Neither of the squares b4 or c3 looked particularly attractive, and Black's ...e6 will anyway render Be1-b4 awkward. The real problem is that there are only two squares, d2 and e2, for three pieces, the Queen and Bishops.

One solution is to fianchetto the light squared Bishop to g2. This requires playing g2-g3, which has the obvious disadvantage of blocking the Knight on h1. Of course, that piece can go to f2, which requires pushing the f-Pawn. On top of adding two additional Pawn moves, the f- and g-Pawns, to the list of moves to be played, the f-Pawn is awkwardly placed both on f3, where it blocks the Bishop on g2, and on f4, where it leaves a raggedy stonewall formation d4-e3-f4-g3. There is much to be gained by harmony in a chess position, and this plan was as unharmonious as I could imagine. There had to be something better.

At that point I realized that the Knight on c1 isn't forced to develop to d3. It can also go to b3. With the Knight on b3, the squares d3, d2, and e2 are available for the Queen and two Bishops. The Knight on h1 will then go to g3. On top of all these positives, castling to either side remains an option, giving me plenty of time to observe the deployment of my opponent's pieces and act accordingly.

So as not to show my hand, I waited for my opponent's move as White. He played 2.Nd3, giving me the green light to play 2.e3 in my game as White and 2...e6 as Black. Note that, unlike the traditional start position, the single step of the e-Pawn does not interfere with a Bishop on the c-file. It's a good waiting move that doesn't reveal the plan behind it.

The first moves of my game with White were 1.d4 d5 2.e3 Nd6. Black insists on continuing with the development I had found wanting. Now I played 3.Bd3. This last move gave me a bonus that I hadn't noticed in my previous meditations: the undefended h-Pawn is attacked. Now after defending with 3...g6, Black has made the concession in logical development that I had so carefully avoided. After 4.Nb3 Bb5 5.Ng3 Bxd3 6.Qxd3 Bg7 7.Bc3 e6 8.f3 f5, the game steered off in a direction I hadn't anticipated, but my position was ready for it. I castled O-O, planning the central break e3-e4 before Black has completed his own development.

My game with Black went 1.d4 d5 2.Nd3 e6 3.Ng3 Ng6 4.e3 Nb6. White must have realized that the pieces were getting in each other's way, because he played 5.Bb4. After 5...Bxb4 6.Nxb4 Qe7 7.a3 Bd7, I was happy with my game and felt that I had already equalized.

I eventually won both games in the endgame. Given the many twists and turns in both games, it would be an exaggeration to say that I won because of the opening, but it certainly played a role. A winning game plan starts with the first moves.

04 August 2012

Another Analogy

A couple of years ago I came up with Two Analogies to explain how traditional chess was a subset of chess960. Here's another analogy to explain how traditional chess differs from chess960 in practice.

Let's imagine that a chess game is an exam of 40 questions. I use the number 40 because that is approximately the average number of moves in an average chess game, grandmaster draws not counting. Then let's imagine that some time before the exam you are given all of the possible questions in advance. Let's say there are 1000 possible questions from which the 40 exam questions will be drawn. I picked the number 1000 out of thin air, so if you want to use another number, I won't argue with you. Those 1000 questions are equivalent to the number of opening variations, middlegame plans, and endgame themes in the arsenal of an average club player.

Your task as the taker of the exam -- its importance depends on your personal situation -- is to research as many of those 1000 questions as you can before taking the exam. You can consult books, talk to friends, practice working out examples, and even take trial exams. The only limitations are the time and other resources you have available. The more time and resources you have, the more questions you will master during your preparation. The other exam takers have also been given the 1000 questions, and your score on the exam will be relative to the others.

Chess960 is like taking the same exam without any foreknowledge of the questions. You have some idea about the types of questions you might be given, endgame themes for example, but until you open the exam you don't know with which specific questions you will be confonted. The other exam takers are in the same situation and the favorite to score highest is the person with a better grasp of the underlying subject material.

The difference between an exam where you know the questions in advance and one where you don't is equivalent to the difference between a chess game where you know the start position in advance and one where you don't. Knowing the start position allows you to discover the most effective opening variations and to explore the typical middlegame positions that arise from those variations. That's what chess players have been doing for hundreds of years with a single start position, which made for a captivating pastime until the coming of computer chess. Now it has become drudge work, memorizing scads of variations as the computer presents them. Thanks to Fischer, there's another way to approach the magnificent game of chess.

28 July 2012

Never Move a Pawn Twice in the Opening?

Q: What's almost as rare as chess960 tournaments? A: Published chess960 OTB games, where OTB is 'Over-The-Board', i.e. face-to-face, in contrast to online or correspondence games. In my previous post, Recent Comments, I was pleased to find a few games along with the results of the 2012 Schachclub Waldbronn - Chess960 Open. The seven round rapidplay event attracted 36 players and saw FM Josef Gheng and GM Klaus Bischoff emerge as co-winners with 6.0 points each, a full point ahead of third place.

The winners met in the fifth round with GM Bischoff playing White in a game that started with SP888 RBQKBRNN. After a few fairly routine moves, White played 5.d3, reaching the position shown in the top diagram; the start position is still discernible. Black replied 5...Nf7, when White pushed the d-Pawn once more, 6.d4.

Why not play the Pawn to d4 on the fifth move? I'm really not sure. Perhaps White was concerned about 5...Bf7, when the square c4 is available to the Bishop. After ...Nf7, the Bishop move is no longer an option. Whatever the reason, after 6.d4, the game took a tactical turn with 6...d6 7.c4 e5 8.Bc3 e4 9.d5 Ng4 10.Nd4 Bd7 11.h3 Ngh6, reaching the position shown in the bottom diagram.

The next few moves saw both players castle to the same side: 12.O-O c5 13.Nde2 O-O. Now White owned the long a1-h8 diagonal, where he built a Queen / Bishop battery. Black had no effective counterplay and was lost after 30 moves. To play through the complete game, here is the PGN as provided by schachclub-waldbronn.de.

[Event "Waldbronner Chess960 Open Deutsche Meisterschaft 2012 20'+5''/Zug"]
[Site "Waldbronn"]
[Date "2012.06.17"]
[Round "5"]
[White "Bischoff,Klaus"]
[Black "Gheng,Josef"]
[Result "1-0"]
[WhiteElo "2503"]
[BlackElo "2397"]
[WhiteTitle "GM"]
[BlackTitle "FM"]
[WhiteType "human"]
[BlackType "human"]
[Variant "Chess 960"]
[Variation "Chess 960"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "rbqkbrnn/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RBQKBRNN w KQkq - 0 1"]
[Opening "960 Stellung 888"]
[Termination "normal"]
[PlyCount "59"]
[EventDate "2012.06.17"]
[EventSponsor "Sparkasse Karlsruhe-Ettlingen"]
[EventType "swiss (rapid)"]
[EventRounds "7"]
[Section "Open"]
[TimeControl "1200+5"]
[Mode "OTB"]
[ECO "Chess 960"]
[Annotator "Schachclub Waldbronn"]
[Editor "Clemens Linowski"]

{Runde 5: Chess960-Start-Position 888} 1.f4 f5 2.Nf3 c6 3.e3 Nf6 4.Ng3 g6 5.d3 Nf7 6.d4 d6 7.c4 e5 8.Bc3 e4 9.d5 Ng4 (9...exf3 10.Bxf6+) 10.Nd4 Bd7 11.h3 Ngh6 12.O-O c5 13.Nde2 O-O 14.b3 Bc7 15.a4 Bd8 16. Ra2 Re8 17.Ba1 Be7 18.Bxe4 {W steht positionell besser, sodass er hier einschlagen kann} Bf8 {S nimmt nicht:} (18...fxe4 19.Nxe4 Nf5 20.Qc3 Qd8 21.N2g3 Bf8 22.Nxf5 Rxe4 23.Nxd6 Rxe3 24.Qxe3 (24.Nxf7 Rxc3 25.Nxd8 Rxb3 26.Ne6 Bxe6 27.dxe6 Re3 28.Be5) 24...Bxd6 25.Qc3 Bf8 26.Re2 Qh4) 19.Bd3 Bg7 20.Bxg7 Kxg7 21.e4 Qd8 22.exf5 Bxf5 23.Bxf5 Nxf5 24. Nxf5+ gxf5 25.Ng3 Kg6 26.Re1 Rxe1+ 27.Qxe1 Qf6 28.Kh2 h6 29.Re2 Qd4 30.Re7 {S gibt auf - Black abandoned} (30.Re7 Rf8 31.Qe6+ Qf6 32.Qe2) 1-0

That must set some kind of a record for most tags in a single PGN game score.

21 July 2012

Recent Comments

While I was on vacation this blog received more than the usual number of comments, among which were a few deserving special notice. First I'll list a few posts leading up to vacation that received multiple comments.

The 'Iceberg' post had a particularly noteworthy comment related to the Anand - Gelfand title match. I had intended to highlight it myself, but the comment pre-empted me. From Steve Giddins, The Levellers (stevegiddinschessblog.blogspot.com), file this under 'you can lead a horse to water etc. etc.':-

The result is a whole series of effectively contentless games, where the players are just checking each other's computer-aided preparation. Once in a while, they will hit on a gap, and get some advantage, but most of the time, there will just be what we have already seen in Moscow - 15-20 moves of preparation, 4-5 more accurate moves, a dead position, and a draw.

So, what is the solution? Sadly, I don't think there is one, at least not without abandoning traditional chess, in favour of Fischer Random, and I hardly know anyone in the chess world who wants to see that (I certainly don't). It grieves me to say it, but I think classical chess is in its last days.

The remark was repeated twice on Chessbase.com. First there was a reprint of the post: World Championship G4 reflections – it's the computers!; followed by a reaction: Giddin's reflection on draws, readers' feedback. Many of the readers' remarks mentioned the Fischer Random idea, some for it, some against. At least people are discussing the idea rather than dismissing it without due consideration.

Back to this present blog, other recent comments were made against the following posts.

Of particular note here were a number of comments by Vasile Andreica against the first two posts.

The first Chess960 tournament ever organized in Romania will take place on July 7th in the northern city of Satu Mare. It will be an open tourney with 7 rounds, Swiss style, each round featuring a separate start position.

Our Romanian correspondent also provided a pair of links: Cupa Informatia Zilei la sah 960 si blitz and Inedita premiera! La Satu Mare se va organiza primul turneu de sah 960 din România. The event was won by 'the one IM participating', showing once again that skill in traditional chess carries over to chess960. Unfortunately, the games were not recorded. On that line of thought, and going back a few months to April -- Rare Birds 2012 -- a link to the Waldbronn tournament now leads to several games by titled players; see 'Partien'.

Another comment against my 'Modern Chess' post brought up the objective of reducing the draw rate. The problem of draws, especially short draws, is raised so often during discussions about chess960, that it is worth adding it as a new bullet to 'Top 10 Myths'. Fischer's greatest invention is not a panacea for all the ills that beset traditional chess. It is, in a word, about excessive *memorization* which has been exaggerated by computer preparation.

14 July 2012

Non-random Fischer Random

In Kasparov's Modern Chess, I touched on the idea of Bronstein chess.
Re Sveshnikov's 'more sensible is Bronstein chess', I believe that he is referring to the variant of shuffle chess where the two players take turns placing the pieces on the back rank. I've never investigated this idea and it would make a good start point for a followup post.

This is confirmed in the Telegraph's 2006 obituary of David Bronstein.

He was one of the originators of Rapid Chess played at a faster time limit, with 30 minutes or less for the game, and developed a form of Random Chess well before Bobby Fischer claimed ownership of the concept. In Bronstein Random Chess the pawns are set out and the first eight moves involve placing the pieces on the vacant back rank.

HarryO pursued this idea in a comment to the Modern Chess post, where he proposed that the players alternate placing the King, Queen, etc. until all pieces have been placed. While this is certainly an easy method to follow, it has the drawback that it can favor certain of the 960 possible positions. We have already seen this problem in the method used to select start positions during last year's 'Kings and Queens' event in St.Louis; see the comment to The Chess960 Wheel of Fortune.

Since the only method to ensure an even chance of choosing all positions is to start by placing the Bishops, and since the position of the King and Rooks is determined by the start squares of the other five pieces, I propose a different method.

  • Player A places a Bishop, which the other player echoes.

  • Player B places a Bishop on a different color square than used in the previous step, also echoed.

This leaves the Queen and Knights to be placed. I propose that the two Knights be placed on the same step by the same player, and that this should be considered a single step.

  • Player A places either the Queen or the two Knights, which the other player echoes. The choice of placing either the Queen or the Knights is Player A's decision, as is the choice of square(s) for the piece(s).

  • Player B places the remaining piece(s) -- either the Queen or the two Knights -- also echoed.

  • The King and Rooks are placed on the three remaining empty squares according to the rules of chess960, the King between the Rooks.

This method ensures that all 960 positions have an equal chance of being selected. It also allows for the development of a new kind of opening theory. As for the question of which player gets to go first as Player A, that can be decided using the same sort of method that we already use to determine who plays White.

[To be consistent with the standards of this blog, I should have titled this post 'Non-random Chess960', but the play on words was too cute to ignore.]

30 June 2012

Kasparov's Modern Chess

Vacation reading this year is the series 'Kasparov on Modern Chess'. While volumes two through four are more appropriate for a post on my World Championship Blog, the first volume, Revolution in the 70s, is surprisingly appropriate for this chess960 blog. If you're not familiar with the book, see Jeremy Silman's review, Kasparov on Modern Chess Volume One, for an outline of the material.

The last chapter in the book, 'The Opinions of 28 World Experts', is a 60-page look at the major issues -- 'problems', if you prefer more direct language -- facing modern opening theory. For someone like me, already hooked on chess960, the chapter is a long essay on Fischer's famous statement that 'The *Old* Chess Is Dead'. A few of the 28 experts even mentioned Fischer's invention.

  • Nikitin: So that players should think with their own brains, the rules can also be changed slightly. Apart from the invention of his wonderful clock with the automatic addition of time, Fischer also suggested a new, arbitrary arrangrment of the pieces before the start of the game. But this is perhaps too radical. I think that it would be interesting to abolish castling or at least make it different: simply exchange the places of the King and the Rook, or move the King to the Rook's square and the Rook to the adjacent one (b1 or g1).

    Or, say in the initial position both Kings and Queens should exchange places with the Bishops. Old theory will immediately be shelved, and the creation of a new theory will be done by future generations. It is also important that in this case it will be possible to learn from the games of the classics: the basic laws of play in the middlegame and the endgame, and the method of combat with different Pawn structures will remain the same. (p.356)

  • Sosonko: The excessive development of theory significantly reduces the purely playing component of chess -- that for which we so love this ancient game. How to avoid theory? Regarding this there have been many suggestions. My only comment is that Fischer or Bronstein chess is some different kind of game, and here I must 'pass', as I simply know nothing about it. (p.367)

  • Sveshnikov: To return to something like the chess that we once played, the possibility of preparation must be minimised. But in what way? I do not like Fischer chess, for the reason that in it the evaluation of the initial position depends on a random draw. [...] Far more sensible is Bronstein chess, when everything is in the hands of the players themselves: with their initial moves they themselves lay out the pieces. But even so, this is already another game. (p.391)

Re Nikitin's suggestion that 'both Kings and Queens should exchange places with the Bishops', this is none other than SP521 RNQBBKNR. I would like to research what, if anything, is already known about this position.

Re Sosonko's 'here I must "pass", as I simply know nothing about it', I wish that all players of whatever strength were so objective before passing judgement on an evolution of the traditional game. The odds are that anyone in favor of chess960 has actually played it, while anyone against chess960 is speaking without experience.

Re Sveshnikov's 'more sensible is Bronstein chess', I believe that he is referring to the variant of shuffle chess where the two players take turns placing the pieces on the back rank. I've never investigated this idea and it would make a good start point for a followup post.

09 June 2012

The Myth of the Corner Bishop

There have been some noteworthy comments made against my recent post Top 10 Myths About Chess960. The myth that received the most attention was
  • Some start positions are too bizarre or illogical for serious play

GeneM introduced his example of a family of bizarre positions in two separate comments:

Almost half of the chess960 positions have a Bishop start on a corner square. Such setups are bad because the Bishop has only one way to develop. Those setups should be discarded. • As Kramnik noted, a Bishop that starts on a corner square has only one degree of freedom in how it can be developed. It needlessly reduces the range for human imagination in using the pieces from the start of the game.

This reminded me of a concept I documented some time ago, where my first problem was to locate the post. I found it on my main blog, where I used to write about chess960 before setting up this current blog which is dedicated to the subject. While searching for the post, I realized that I had never incorporated my earliest posts about chess960 opening theory into this chess960 blog. Here they are, in reverse chronological order, because later posts tend to build on their predecessors.

The post I was looking for is the second in the list: A Framework for Chess960 Opening Theory. The 'framework' is a two dimensional array of Pieces & Possible Start Files together with a notation to identify cells in the array. For example, GeneM's example of a 'Bishop that starts on a corner square' could be identified B:a/h, i.e. a Bishop starting on the a- or h-file.

Unlike GeneM & GM Kramnik, I enjoy playing B:a/h positions. Rather than taking two moves to develop the Bishop as with the B:c/f of traditional chess -- a Pawn move followed by a Bishop move -- the corner Bishop is developed by a single move: advancing the adjacent b-/g-Pawn on the diagonal. On top of that, the corner Bishop never interferes with castling, meaning that the two operations -- (1) Bishop development & (2) castling -- can be executed independently. In traditional chess, the one always precedes the other. Furthermore, the development of the Bishop sometimes uncovers an attack on a weak Pawn on the Bishop's diagonal. When this happens, tactical complications arise immediately.

I see no reason to single out the corner Bishop as 'bizarre or illogical'. A corner Knight (N:a/h) has limited options because its first developing move is usually to the b/g file rather than the c/f file. A corner Queen (Q:a/h) often means that the Queen is slow getting into the game, giving these positions a slow, positional buildup (see 'Fianchetto the Light Squared Bishop' for an example). Since a King can't start in the corner, the only piece really suited to the corner is the Rook (R:a/h), like in traditional chess. As with the Queen, a corner Rook has the disadvantage that the piece is slow to get into the game. Early Rook actions, which can be compared to a lightning tank attack in modern, mechanized warfare, almost never happen.

What about the Bishop starting on other squares? The Bishop starting next to the corner (B:b/g) also has limited options. Its natural diagonal, the one chosen for its development in most games, is the long diagonal, opened by moving the c/f Pawn, rather than the short diagonal, opened by moving the a/h Pawn. Starting two squares from the corner (B:c/f), is the setup we all know and love from traditional chess, while the central Bishop (B:d/e) offers a different set of challenges. I quoted GM Seirawan on this last possibility in 'A Tempo and a Half in a Symmetrical Position'.

The only real disadvantage of the B:a/h setup is when both Bishops start in the corner. When this happens, all four Bishops are facing each other on their long diagonals. The order in which the Bishops are developed becomes a subtle tactical dance where a player's fast grab of one diagonal cedes the other diagonal to the opponent. Furthermore, a premature development of the Bishops can lead to them all being swapped off in the opening for a Bishopless middlegame. A player who wants to avoid this must block the diagonal before developing the Bishop, but this gives the opponent the opportunity to develop first on the same diagonal. And so the dance continues.

One point which should never be forgotten: whatever the advantages and disadvantages of a specific start position, both players are struggling with the same issues. The only difference is that one of them starts first. This is a feature of traditional chess with which we have all learned to live and is no less true for chess960.

[Note to myself: Determine how many positions have B:a/h,b/g facing a weak Pawn on the diagonal. Ditto for Queens.]

02 June 2012

Ducking Chess960

Just like two years ago, as documented in Searching for Amand - Topalon, page views on my World Championship site spiked during the recent Anand - Gelfand match. While I was analyzing the log file for the month of May 2012, I thought it might be interesting to look at referrers to my page about Chess960 Start Positions.

That page doesn't receive many visits -- about three per day on average -- and 90% of those are referred by Google. It is far down the list I developed for Google Likes Me Why Exactly. Of the other referrers, the only resource that was new to me came from another search engine: chess960 at DuckDuckGo.

I looked at the first few DuckDuckGo search results, realized there was some new material, and decided to go a little deeper. The first page that caught my eye was on Chess.com: Chess960: The Opening Makes a Comeback! Written by IM David Pruess, it presents a bit about the introduction of chess960 on the world's most popular chess site followed by a few tips on the chess960 opening.

Next was a page from Chess960.nl: Chess960 Tournament Calendar. Unfortunately, the last tournament entry is dated May 2009, so the calendar isn't much use now, but it might be interesting to look at few of the events listed to determine if there has been any sort of followup.

Next on the list, a review of Gene Milener's Play Stronger Chess by Examining Chess 960 wasn't new to me. I had already mentioned it a couple of years ago in Chess960 @ Chessville.com. It did, however, remind me of a comment that GeneM (same Gene) made to my recent post Top 10 Myths About Chess960, 'Chess960 will not help you play better chess any more than traditional chess will help you play better chess', which seems to contradict the title of his own book?! [MarkW to GeneM: 'Does not compute!']

I was also pleased to see another domain name incorporating one of the many names of Fischer's invention: Fischerrandom.com Although the site doesn't have much content, it does reference a Twitter feed of the same name. I checked whether the name Fischerandom.com (one 'r') was also taken, and it's still available.

Many years ago I played in an open section of the Biel festival and discovered that it was a great tournament. If I were playing there this year, I would definitely play in the Biel International Chess Festival: Chess960 Tournament, aka the 'Swiss Chess960 Championship'. Add this event to the list of Rare Birds 2012.

Maintaining lists of related links was popular in the early days of the web, but since then has gone completely out of fashion. A relatively recent effort ('Updated : October 2008') is Random Chess Links, meaning 'Fischer Random Chess', not 'Chess Links Selected at Random'. The first paragraph on the page mentions Capablanca Random Chess, Stanley Random Chess, and Transcendental Chess, all of which are new to me.

If you're interested in chess960 engines, the CCRL Discussion Board has a thread on Houdini 2.0 x64 chess960 testing, where Houdini whips all comers. The engine is included in the 'Chess King' package, so it's fitting that my final link is to Chess-king.com: Stopa – Kosteniuk Chess960, a game played at last year's Chess960 Kings and Queens event in St.Louis.

The DuckDuckGo search results scroll endlessly and would likely return dozens of other chess960 resources worth investigating. The handful I've given above are enough for this post, so I'll sign off with 'Happy Duck Hunting with Chess960'.

26 May 2012

Chess960 on the iPhone

I recently received the following email message:-
Subject: Chess960 (FRC) iPhone utility
Sent: Saturday, May 12, 2012 12:19 AM

I've written a Chess960 (Fischer Random) board generator and editor for the iPhone, which may be of interest to readers of your Chess960 (FRC) blog. It's called ChessWheel960 because it has a thumb wheel that allows you to scroll through the 960 valid starting positions (SP). Additionally, it will:
  • generate a random SP
  • display the SP for a given number
  • display the number for a given SP

I'm interested in any feedback you may have. Here's the iTunes link: Chess Wheel 960 [itunes.apple.com]

Thanks very much, W.L.

If you have used the app, let us know what you think. If you know of similar chess960 apps for the iPhone or equivalent technologies, I would like to hear your thoughts on that as well. It's a subject I've wanted to look into for some time now, but haven't.


Later: In response to this post, I received info about another, similar product.

Subject: Re: Chess960 on the iPhone
Sent: Tuesday, May 29, 2012 4:33 PM

I am a chess960 convert and have followed your blog on the subject for some time now. I actually submitted last week to the Apple App Store a very similar app (initially, at least, it will be free) to the one you mention, which I didn't even know existed until your post. It's named "Morphy" (after Paul Morphy), and I'll drop you another email if/when it's approved and available.

I've been working for quite some time on a multiplayer chess960 app for iOS, correspondence-style. This position generator was just a way to get my feet wet, back into the development mindset.


Subject: Re: Chess960 on the iPhone
Sent: Thursday, June 7, 2012 4:37 PM

The 1.0 version is now available on the App Store:
Morphy By MCG Enterprises

It's free, and I'd certainly be happy to get a mention from you. I should also provide a link to my page with some more detail as well:

Thanks, JS

More apps to come?

19 May 2012

Top 10 Myths About Chess960

Over on my About.com material for traditional chess, one of the pages that gets a lot of views is Top 10 Myths About Chess, subtitled 'People say the darnedest things about chess'. I've been playing chess960 for long enough, plus following its subculture, that I can easily write a similar article about Bobby Fischer's greatest invention.

Chess960 hasn't been around long enough to speak of myths, so it would perhaps be better to use the word 'misconceptions', but I like my titles short. The following list isn't really in any particular order, although the first few statements are probably more frequent than the last few. I'm not going to embellish the list with explanations. I've already discussed most of the items in posts that can be found via my blog category Posts with label Pros and Cons. One aspect they all have in common is that they are invariably repeated by chess players who know little if anything about chess960. So here they are, my 'Top 10 Myths About Chess960':-

  • It isn't real chess
  • It's a variant of traditional chess
  • It wasn't invented by Fischer
  • The rules for castling are complicated
  • You need special equipment to choose the start position
  • Some start positions are forced wins for White
  • It's only for very strong chess players
  • It erases the stronger player's natural advantage
  • Some start positions are too bizarre or illogical for serious play
  • It's mainly for people who are too lazy to work on traditional chess openings
  • It will kill the chess publishing industry
  • It won't help you play traditional chess

Yes, I can count and I realize that the list has more than ten items. I could have easily added a few more, e.g. about the name or the numbering system, and I'll probably think of a few others after I post this. Let's just call this a first cut that gives me an anchor for further discussions. One more item I will add immediately was prompted by HarryO's second comment to Steering into an Iceberg:-

  • It will never catch on

Although it's too early to pass judgement on that last one, I am confident that it will one day -- very soon -- prove to be the biggest chess960 myth of them all.


Another myth that arises frequently -- chess960 is designed to address the problem of short draws.

To repeat what I wrote in Recent Comments, 'Fischer's greatest invention is not a panacea for all the ills that beset traditional chess. It is, in a word, about excessive *memorization* which has been exaggerated by computer preparation.'

12 May 2012

Steering into an Iceberg

In a recent post from my main blog, Time Enough for Taimanov, I quoted from the introduction to GM Taimanov's 'Winning with the Sicilian'. The excerpt ended, 'the opening is the seed, the shoots of which grow on every part of the chessboard and yield the harvest in complete dependence on the original groundwork'. Although the former World Championship candidate was writing about traditional chess, he could easily have been writing about chess960, where the character of the early game is determined by the characteristics of the random start position.

Later in his introduction, Taimanov discussed the general evolution of a player's approach to the opening, again within the context of traditional chess.

At the outset of a player's career the first moves of the opening generally bear an accidental character -- the taste of the amateur is omnivorous and special opening attachments have not yet been developed -- he plays any position with equal interest. But once a basic grasp of the game is acquired, its strategic rules and tactical possibilities, every chessplayer gradually conceives his own subjective criteria of factors in the war of chess and in accordance with his character and temperament develops his own style.

An inclination arises either towards peaceful play of the 'positional' type, or towards dashing combinational attacks, to strategical or tactical methods of creative self-expression, this individual approach leading to a preference towards positions of a closed, semi-closed or open character, according to taste. There is now a period of formation of individual ideology, style of play, in short, of a creative credo of a chessplayer, and he purposefully tries to dictate the choice of opening scheme and construction.

Moreover, the necessity arises to formulate a solid and not too broad repertoire, which will allow him to develop his own individual creative traits to the maximum — 'A chessplayer cannot and must not play all the openings known to theory,' advises Mikhail Botvinnik, for 3-4 opening systems are quite sufficient for White in one match and the same number for Black. But these systems must be well prepared.' This means that the chessplayer, having set himself serious goals, should pay some attention to research work. And this work is capacious, diverse and ... endless, for it fasts through one's entire creative life. Max Euwe once described it as 'Titanic'.

It is much too early in the development of chess960 to discuss any sort of a general evolution in approach to the openings. The phrase in the first paragraph -- 'accidental character' -- sums up the current theory of chess960, assuming it even makes sense to talk about theory. Even so, there is already the faint outline of the next step, where a players seeks opening positions 'in accordance with his temperament'. I touched on this in an earlier post titled Attention to the Chess960 Center, where there is a brief discussion of three approaches to chess960: the g4/b4 players, the f4/c4 players, and the e4/d4 players.

Another way of saying the same thing is to split chess960 players into two camps: those who steer the game into positions that resemble traditional chess and those who steer away. I'm firmly in the first camp, largely because I don't understand the second. A casual look at GM Nakamura's games (see the search box on the right to find examples) should be enough to convince that he is in the second camp. I can only assume that he is guided by some chess960 logic that escapes me completely.

Taimanov's third paragraph, on the development of an opening repertoire that suits one's style, is most likely beyond the capabilities of chess960 players. If it's a hard task for a single start position, it's an impossible task for 960 such positions. The term 'Titanic' is appropriate indeed.