02 March 2013

Carlsen and Chess960

Magnus Carlsen and chess960? As far as I know, the world no.1 has never shown any interest in Fischer's invention. The purpose of that headline was to introduce a portion of GM Bachar Kouatly's editorial in the March 2013 issue of Europe Echecs:-
The characteristic of a genius is to innovate and to take the opposing view against established dogma. Carlsen remakes chess today the same way as Fischer who wanted to avoid forced passage through the openings ['le passage forcé par les ouvertures']. The invention by the American genius of Fischer Random Chess or 960 was destined to measure the intrinsic strength of a player without reciting the opening by heart. His attempt to transform the game of chess by a renaissance was too brutal for a world that doesn't like change.

Carlsen succeeded the tour de force by playing at chess960 ['échecs 960'(!)] with our old rules. In effect, it is extremely rare to see him take the advantage in the opening, contrary to Kasparov who nearly always led the debate in this phase of the game. To the contrary, Carlsen tries to obtain a playable, even slightly inferior position in the first 15 to 20 moves, which goes against all of today's players who like to play with the initiative from the beginning.

He accepts to kowtow ['courber l'échine', literally: 'bend the spine'] in order to begin the real combat in the middlegame, and frequently to terminate it in endgames exhausting to all his opponents. Through his phenomenal understanding of the game he manages to abandon what we believe to be fundamental in a chess game.

[I left in a couple of GM Kouatly's original phrases because I'm not sure about my translation (in case there is any doubt, I'm not a professional translator) and mentioned 'échecs 960' because I couldn't remember encountering the phrase before.]

There is considerable food for thought in the brief passage from EE. I should point out that, unlike many mainstream chess resources, Europe Echecs is not anti-chess960. I referenced a few of their articles in one of my posts about the 2011 St.Louis event, Kings and Queens on Chess960. The statement that chess960 is 'too brutal for a world that doesn't like change' remains to be seen. It's still too early in any transition to make categorical statements like this.

As for the comparison between Fischer's idea and Carlsen's style, it comes down to the observation that geniuses know when and how to break the rules that the rest of us are struggling to assimilate. Kouatly seems to be saying that Carlsen relies on slightly inferior moves to unbalance his opponents. This would be a good topic to explore on my main blog, where I'm building a collection of Carlsen's games; the most recent post was Carlsen TMER PGN.

I've already addressed the idea of using inferior moves to escape the burden of opening theory; see, for example, Shall We Play Amar's Opening? While it has certain attractions for diehard adherents of traditional chess, it is far less rich in ideas than the universe of alternatives offered by chess960. The proof of this is the notion that it takes 'the first 15 to 20 moves' for Carlsen to find an interesting position. In chess960, this happens already on White's first move.

Although it would be a great boost for chess960 if a player of Carlsen's stature would openly support it, I have no illusions that this will happen soon. Professional players need to 'follow the money' and today there is no money in chess960. The transition from traditional chess will happen not from the top-down, but from the bottom-up. As club players realize that too much effort is required to tackle the enormous body of opening theory, which is a necessary prerequisite to finding new approaches in that theory, they will be attracted to the simplicity, elegance, and challenge of chess without opening books. As this happens, the money will start to trickle in and the professionals will follow.


HarryO said...

A couple of years ago on the forums at Chess.com I felt Carlsen would beat the best chess engines in the world at Chess960 (with a month or two of familiarizing).

The reason is exactly what you have said about his opening style. Still today two years later, even Houdini-3 is missing some basic ideas in Chess960 and I'm sure he would see them (as no doubt a few other top GM's would as well).

It's probably the last way to host a human -verses machine match in this day and age and it would be a great way to give some exposure to Chess960.

But Carlsen is focused on winning the world title, and I doubt he would let himself be distracted by Chess960 even if it would not damage his Chess, precisely because of his flexible style of play.


GeneM said...

If chess960-FRC popularity grows, my guess is it will be neither from top-down nor bottom-up.

Rather chess960 will grow from middle-down-up. And it will start at online chess playing websites, bypassing local T.O.'s.

By this I mean local Tournament Organizers / Directors must nuture the potential interest from local club players by advocating and themselves hosting chess960 tournaments, real tournaments with standard long time-controls.

Only such tournaments can build interest among class players, that can then bubble up to masters.
But I think 99% of T.O.'s are uninterested in chess960, and the other 1% might follow interest from their clientel, but they are not going to work to initially create that interest.

Bughouse chess seems to be growing this way today in 2013: scholastic T.O.'s hold Bughouse tournaments.
Bughouse is now more popular than is chess960.

The single most realistic hope for chess960 growth lies in the web. Some chess playing websites hold chess960 tournaments. This bypasses the need for local a T.O. If these online chess960 tournaments grow in popularity, changes might occur at some local clubs, etc.


Torbjörn Björklund said...

I read somewhere some years ago that Magnus Carlsen likes to play Chess960 on ICC.

nlo said...

Thanks for this blog and the chess960 forum you provide. Anyone have any information on chess960 tournaments for amateurs? Perhaps in nyc?