28 December 2013

Who's Interested in Chess960?

A few years ago, in Stats and More Stats, I presented some statistics about visitors to this blog. Here's an update.

May 2009 – December 2013

The three charts, all of which are prepared on demand by Google, show 'Pageviews by Countries', 'Pageviews by Browsers', and 'Pageviews by Operating Systems'. The most significant difference between this world map and the 'More Stats' world map is the appearance of Russia. Interest in this blog -- and by extension, interest in chess960 -- is now at the same level as in Germany and the U.K.

Here's wishing you a great 2014!

21 December 2013

Fischer and 'Wild Variant 22'

I ended the previous post, Notable Chess960 Players (on the ICC) with an observation.
I discovered two active players who don't feature on any 'best' list but who might be important to the history of chess960: GM Miguel Quinteros, aka mquinteros, and GM Eugene Torre, aka Bradidik. Both are known to have been friendly with Fischer.

After writing that paragraph I started to wonder whether Fischer might possibly have played chess960 on the ICC. There were, after all, rumors that he had been spotted there in the early 2000s. Before looking into the details, I checked whether chess960 was available on the ICC at that time. Indeed it was: ICC News Item #1125, 'Fischer-Random Chess is now available on ICC', dated 15 January 1999.

The Internet Chess Club now has Fischer-Random Chess available as wild variant 22. The pieces start out in one of 960 possible initial positions. Pieces are arranged randomly on the first rank, with the only restrictions being the King must be between the two Rooks, and the Bishops must be on opposite colors.

That was well before the ICC sightings were reported; for example, The third coming of Bobby Fischer? [Chessbase.com], 18 September 2001:-

The story is not going away, in fact it is gaining momentum. Many people believe that Bobby Fischer has returned and is performing miracles on the Internet. Nigel Short said he was "99 per cent sure" he has played Fischer.

The reports attracted so much attention that the ICC put up a help page titled Short's Encounter with...Fischer? [Chessclub.com]. Using the links on that page I located a radio interview where he was asked about the rumors (see Bobby Fischer Radio Interviews '20th, Reykjavik, Iceland, Jan 27 2002', about 2:00 into the first audio clip).

Q: There has been news that you might have been playing on the Internet. Is that true? A: Not true. That's a lot of BS. [...] Q: Nigel Short said that he met someone on the Net that might have been you. A: He can say whatever he wants.

It turns out that the radio interview was the same I once featured in Fischer: 'The *Old* Chess Is Dead'. The question about Short was asked between the two excerpts I gave in that 'Chess Is Dead' post.

None of this rules out the possibility that Fischer played 'wild variant 22' on the ICC, but it's definitely a stretch. If the ICC ever releases better tools to query the game database, I'll take a second look, but that's unlikely to happen soon.

14 December 2013

Notable Chess960 Players

Afer that brief detour for The Week in Chess960, let's return to Finding Top ICC Chess960 Players. At the top of the 'Best' list is Hikaru Nakamura, aka Smallville, whose last chess960 game was played in August 2010 against the second best player on the list. The American GM has been featured several times on this blog, where the previous post was 'I wish there were more opportunities to play'. While I would like to present some of his ICC games, they were all played at a three-minute blitz time control and there is no classification by start position on ICC. If I think of some clever way to filter the games, I'll take another look.

Further down the ICC list is Yasser Seirawan, aka Om (as in the Hindu mantra?), another former U.S. Champion. He last played in November 2013, and was last featured on this blog in A Few More Chess960 Resources.

Ranked just beneath Seirawan is Fabiano Caruana, aka Adaptation, and, like Nakmura, another world top-10 player at traditional chess. I wasn't aware that he was a chess960 player until I wrote the 'Top ICC' post. He last played in July this year.

While I was writing this current post, I discovered two active players who don't feature on any 'best' list but who might be important to the history of chess960: GM Miguel Quinteros, aka mquinteros, and GM Eugene Torre, aka Bradidik. Both are known to have been friendly with Fischer. Did they ever play his invention with him? I hope that some day we find out one way or the other.

07 December 2013

The Week in Chess960

In my previous post, Elite ICC Chess960 Players, I ended with a declaration by GM Andrei Deviatkin [Andrey Devyatkin], "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." Around the start of the recent Carlsen - Anand match (game two), I happened to record a Twitter dialog between Deviatkin and TWIC's Mark Crowther. For some reason that escapes me, Twitter excerpts are usually presented as visual snippets. Here it is.

And here's the same conversation transcribed for the sightless, like search engines.

Mikhail Golubev ?@mikhail_golubev 10 Nov • GM Nigel Davies: "I wonder when the fans of 'classical chess' World Championships will finally admit that a change is required".

Andrey Deviatkin ?@AndreyDeviatkin 10 Nov • @mikhail_golubev Fischer random change

Mark Crowther @MarkTWIC 10 Nov • @AndreyDeviatkin @mikhail_golubev If Fischer random is the answer then it's time to take up a completely different game.

Andrey Deviatkin @AndreyDeviatkin 10 Nov • @MarkTWIC @mikhail_golubev Global chess laws, middlegame and endgame theory, tactics - everything will be the same except the openings.

Mark Crowther @MarkTWIC 10 Nov • @AndreyDeviatkin There is a beauty and balance to the start position we have. You can be pretty much lost with some random positions.

The last tweet, missing from my snippet, was

Andrey Deviatkin @AndreyDeviatkin 10 Nov • @MarkTWIC "Ugly" is subjective. And I'm sure Black isn't lost in any of the positions. Isn't it like saying Caro-Kann or French is losing?

It's mind-boggling how often I see fans of traditional chess rejecting chess960 for imagined faults. I'll cut Crowther some slack, because the success of TWIC is partly based on his weekly distribution of recent games. The interest in his work stems from players maintaining chess databases for opening research and would shrink (disappear?) if the game scores were chess960 games. In the world of traditional chess, the middlegame and endgame receive far less attention than the opening, putting Crowther in the same company as titled players who earn a living from books like 'Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Amar's Opening'.

Question to Mark Crowther: If 'it's time to take up a completely different game', what game do you recommend? Halo?