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.


HarryO said...

Mark great post thanks. Chess960 does allow people to express their playing style except for one technically complex issue. I think that symmetry needs to be discussed in the context of Chess960 and creativity. Symmetry can shape the overall feel of quite a few starts even for some time after it is theoretically broken.

Symmetry is what tends to limit a feeling of creativity, but the limitation is only slight and Chess960 is still fine, there is in practice not one bad position in the set of 960.

If you want to try what it is like to play Chess960 with the symmetry dimension removed from the starting theme, try my modified Winboard app that introduces engine screened "Transcendental chess960".

It is a very relaxing way to play the start when there is no possibility for symmetry. It is more creative, but also paradoxically simpler than Chess960 because symmetry adds another layer of technical complexity.

I'm not proposing it as a replacement to Chess960, just that it complements Chess960 in an informal way.

Think of Transcendental Chess960 as being for beginners, and Chess960 for more advanced players.

Check it out:



HarryO said...

Here is the first comment on Fischer Random Chess960 in a few weeks.

"... 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"

Source: Steve Giddins' Chess Blog

Mark, the problem as I see it is that people like Steve Gidden's (traditional chess players) have lost their sense of humour. They are trapped in a hell of their own making.

Chess960 is actually very funny and many games have a comical, deep and complex side that all skill levels can enjoy and that brings a smile to the face if you learn how to let that happen.