30 November 2013

Elite ICC Chess960 Players

In my previous post, Finding Top ICC Chess960 Players, I linked to an interesting resource that does exactly that: lists top ICC chess960 players. I also included a snapshot of a portion of the (then) current list, 'The 'Best' list, identifies the top-20 chess960 ratings of all time. It currently looks like this.' What can be learned from this resource?

First, we learn which world class players have dabbled with chess960. The current list includes five players rated over 2700 by FIDE. See the 'Finding Top Players' post for an explanation of the data.

1  Smallville    g Hikaru Nakamura    (2786 USA) 2480 82
3  quangliem     g Quang Liem Le      (2703 VIE) 2297 70
8  depressnyak   g Alexander Grischuk (2785 RUS) 2271 33
14 Vladimirovich g Dmitry Andreikin   (2710 RUS) 2249 114
16 Adaptation    g Fabiano Caruana    (2782 ITA) 2240 106

After that, we learn who are the most serious chess960 players among the elite. There are five titled players on the list who have played over 1000 chess960 games.

2  Vidocq        g Boris Grachev      (2669 RUS) 2389 1217
4  RoadKing      g                               2293 1460
7  Impitoyable   m Benoit Lepelletier (2476 FRA) 2275 1374
11 Shadeath      g Andrei Deviatkin   (2526 RUS) 2257 1651
12 TheDuns       m Aurelien Dunis     (2517 FRA) 2256 1032

Of those five titled players, one name was more familiar than the others: Shadeath (Andrei Deviatkin). Where had I heard his name before? His 'finger' page -- Andrey Devyatkin [Deviatkin] -- gave me a clue:-

3: I play only chess960, or Fischer chess - this name seems more appropriate to me than the ugly 'Fischerandom'. Robert Fischer was a genius.
5: Since there are no serious Fischer chess tournaments, I'm retired.
7: Anyway, chess is just a game like minesweeper and shouldn't be taken too seriously unless your (chess) talent is enormous.

A few months ago his name appeared in the general chess news: "It's Time to Try Out Something Else." GM Andrei Deviatkin Decides to Quit His Chess Career [chess-news.ru].

GM Andrei Deviatkin decided to finish his chess career and announced his decision on his Facebook page: "Maybe I will continue playing Fischer's chess, but the fact that there are no tournaments in this format means that chess is over for me. It's time to try out something else."

The article further quoted him as saying, "I just understood that chess became an absolutely different game from the one I have played in my childhood and youth. The computer has changed it dramatically.' What else does this elite player have to say about Fischer's greatest invention? I'll continue with that in another post.

23 November 2013

Finding Top ICC Chess960 Players

In my previous post, Carlsen's First Chess960 Move?, I mentioned a resource titled Highest ICC ratings, which includes a section on chess960. Since ICC attracts many of the top players in chess, a 'highest ratings' looks like a good way to identify top players in chess960. This is in spite of the warnings by the author of the page (Juha Kivijärvi of Finland): 'These lists are meant for personal use. Nothing is guaranteed to be correct. I am not affiliated with ICC in any way.'.

Like the other sections on the page, chess960 is split into 'Current' and 'Best' lists. The 'Best' list, identifies the top-20 chess960 ratings of all time. It currently looks like this.

The columns are for ICC handle, player (title / name / elo / age / country), rating, number games. More info on the players can be found using the ICC 'finger' command. For example, the command for the first entry in the list is Finger: Smallville

Information about Smallville(GM) (Last disconnected ...

              rating [need] win  loss  draw total   best
Wild            2232  [6]   200   132     7   339   2321 
Chess960        2410  [8]    75     3     4    82   2480

The difference here between 'Wild' and 'Chess960' isn't completely clear to me. The ICC help page, Playing "Wild" Chess Variants, says

Fischer Random Chess -- Wild 22 • This is also a type of shuffle chess, and was invented by Bobby Fischer. [...] See help Fischer-random.

That 'Fischer-random' page starts,

Fischer Random Chess (wild 22 on ICC) is a chess variant invented by Bobby Fischer. To play a game of Fischer Random Wild on the ICC, type "seek w22" to issue a seek, or "match Fred w22" to offer a game to a specific player.

After looking at many finger pages, I'm sure that the 'Wild' line includes counts for Wild 22 (aka 'Fischer-random', aka chess960), plus other 'Wild' variants. Why the separate data for chess960? Again, I haven't figured it out yet.

There's one more thing before I sign off for today. The 'Highest ICC ratings' page says it is updated daily, but there appears to be no archive of previous pages. As with so much information lost from the web, Archive.org comes to the rescue: Saved 22 times between April 27, 2006 and ....

Now that I know a little more about who plays chess960 on ICC, I'll come back to the top players in a future post. There are some well known names on both the 'Current' and 'Best' lists.

16 November 2013

Carlsen's First Chess960 Move?

While I was working on this post, Magnus Carlsen, playing Black, beat Vishy Anand in the sixth game of their World Championship match, giving him a 2-0 lead with six games to play. Not many observers would now rate very highly Anand's chances of retaining the title. It might seem opportunistic to point out that Carlsen Played Chess960, but so he did, if only for a few games.

The first game mentioned in the 'Carlsen Played' post -- 'McShane' vs. 'Magnus' -- was played in September 2004, the year Carlsen became a grandmaster at age 13. It was played at a blitz time control of three minutes per player plus an increment of one second per move. I can't imagine that anyone would play chess960 for the first time at a bullet or blitz control, so it's entirely possible that Carlsen had already played chess960 before this first recorded game.

The start position was SP317 NQRBKRBN, and after 1.e4 c6, the players reached the position shown in the top diagram. I don't really like Carlsen's first move, 1...c6. Although it opens diagonals for the Queen and Bishop, it neglects the center, allowing White to play 2.d4 with impunity, which he did.

After the following moves, 2...Nb6 3.c3 d5 4.e5 e6 5.Ng3 f6 6.f4 f5 7.Be3 Bf7 8.Rc2 Qc7 9.Nb3 Nc4 10.Bc1 Ng6, the players reached the position shown in the bottom diagram. The blocked Pawn center, which could easily arise after 1.d4 in traditional chess, looks better for White because of the space advantage. Both players now castled O-O, and White won on move 44.

After this game, ICC returns only two more Carlsen games, both played against 'JonLudvig' (probably Norwegian GM Jon Ludvig Hammer) in 2007. It's fair to say from this small sample that Carlsen was not overly impressed by chess960. Which strong players compete regularly at chess960 on ICC? The answer is on a list at Highest ICC ratings, where chess960 is the last section on the page. I'll take a closer look at this resource in a future post.

09 November 2013

Carlsen Played Chess960

This week, in an email message, I received an offer from the Internet Chess Club (ICC) that said, 'The first two days of the World Championship match will be free for everyone in ICC.' That sounded good to me, so while I was watching game one of the Anand - Carlsen match on another site, I followed the instructions and joined ICC.

As most of the chess world knows by now, game one of the match ended in a draw by repetition after only 90 minutes of play. Signing up with the ICC took somewhat longer than that. What to do with the new membership? While watching GM Benjamin's commentary, I remembered that Carlsen was rumored to have played chess960 on ICC. One of my posts earlier this year, Carlsen and Chess960, started,

Magnus Carlsen and chess960? As far as I know, the world no.1 has never shown any interest in Fischer's invention.

A few days later, I was corrected in one of the comments to the post.

I read somewhere some years ago that Magnus Carlsen likes to play chess960 on ICC.

After a few minutes reading various ICC help pages, I learned how to search the game archives and discovered that the Norwegian GM had indeed played at least three games on the site.

I was able to download the three games, but will save any discussion about them for another time. It appears that saying, 'Carlsen likes to play chess960', is an exaggeration, but three games are better than none.

I hope game two of the Anand - Carlsen match will be more exciting than the first game. In any case, I'll be watching it on ICC.

02 November 2013

Chess960 Better than Traditional Chess?

Last week's post about Chess960 Interest on Chess.com reminded me of the time I spent on the site a few years ago. I summarized the exploration in a post titled Chess960 Point and Counterpoint. Here's the gist of it.
Advocates of traditional chess love to invent arguments against chess960. I mentioned several in 'Some Arguments Against Chess960' and 'More Arguments Against Chess960'. While following the pros and cons about 'Advanced Chess960 @ Chess.com', I had the opportunity to encounter a few more arguments.

With nearly 69.000 chess960 players currently registered on Chess.com -- plus another 400 in the week since I wrote the 'Chess960 Interest' post -- I am happy to report that the discussion has moved up a level or two since then. For example, following are excerpts from a thread started six months ago, Chess 960. Love it? Or not really?. The initial question was straightforward.

varelse1: So what do you think of chess960? Is it better than standard chess? As good? Or worse?

This was followed by the questionner's own viewpoint.

varelse1: I thought 960 would time-warp me back to the days of Greco and Lopez. Challenging me to invent opening theory, the way they did. But now that I've tried 960 for a while, I'm not so sure. Okay, I'm shakey in the opening part, that much I expected. But I never realized how uncomfortable I would be in the middlegame as well. The middlegames I reach are completely unfamiliar. There is no sense of "been there, done that." The positions are almost an alien landscape. Only as the endgame approaches, do things start to look familiar again. I still intend to keep trying 960. But so far, I am disappointed.

It's easy to overlook that not only were Greco and Lopez trailblazers in the opening, they were on equally unfamiliar ground in the middlegame and endgame. Anyone looking for 'been there, done that' in chess960 middlegames is bound to be disappointed. Here's an opinion on the opening phase.

SaharanKnight: If you thoroughly follow the principles of opening play, which is the same in chess960 except for a few added considerations, then you as a lower rated player can indeed compete against a chess master, especialy if he is new at chess960. Of course, if he/she is an old pro at chess960, it will be harder, but strict following of opening principles should allow one to remain competitive. But who thoroughly follows the opening principles, or who has mastered them? Conclusion: Mastery of opening principles = enjoyment of chess960.

And another on the middlegame phase.

morgondag: Chess960 in my experience (which isn't that great) often enter relatively quickly into sharp and even chaotic positions. According to the "Chess for Tigers" [by Simon Webb] book, this is the kind of positions in which a much lower ranking player has the greatest possibility of beating a much stronger player.

A common sentiment is that chess960 offers a bigger intellectual challenge than does traditional chess.

FM marljivi: I give no credit to the victory of the game, which lasts, let's say, 40 moves,and the first 20 moves had been prepared with computer, then the moves 21-30 had been a part of prepared general plan, which had probably also been merely worked out by computer, and then the last 10 moves were just conversion of the big advantage into a full point. I would really like to hear someone to explain to me the drawbacks of the chess960. Please, I am all ears.

This requires a bigger investment in thinking time.

Patscher: Chess 960 can't be played live. You have to spend lots of time since the opening, so blitz 960 isn't good.

In traditional chess, a player who knows opening theory can steer a game into his strengths. This is more difficult in chess960.

AngeloPardi: The problem with playing competitive chess960 is that this introduces an element of luck : some starting positions will favor tactics, other will probably be very positional. Some might even be lost for one side from the start!

That last remark brought a favorable mention of Chess960 Jungle (see the sidebar for a link) and investigations into diffcult SPs.

morgondag: The blog Chess960 Jungle has made some more serious attempts to clasify and analyze chess960 openings. They have also tried to find SPs that are lost for black but so far not found any, although there are some SPs that are more dificult than others and black can quickly get in serious disadvantage if he does not play accurately.

Over the past few months I've noted other Chess.com forum threads that offer new angles for looking at chess960. I'll consider highlighting them in a future post on this blog.