23 August 2014

Nakamura's Chess960 Openings

In a comment to my previous post, Rare Birds 2014, HarryO informed about an upcoming match between two GMs. To quote from the PR Newswire link he gave,
Ultimate Showdown will be an exhibition match between GM Hikaru Nakamura and GM Levon Aronian, playing the popular variant Chess960. Both players are former World Champions of Chess960, also known as Fischer Random Chess.

That announcement ties in well with this current post, which is a look at the chess960 games that GM Nakamura played on the ICC. I've written about the American champion several times in the past, where the most recent post was last year in 'I wish there were more opportunities to play'. Later in the year, at the same time I was looking at Elite ICC Chess960 Players, I downloaded his ICC games into a database for further investigation. It's only recently that I found the time to look at those games.

Of the 170 Nakamura games I found -- he goes by the handle Smallville on ICC -- all were played between 2002 and 2010. All but 10 of those were played between 2008 and 2010. All of the games were played at blitz time controls, usually three minutes per player with a one second increment per move.

In 2009, the last year that Chess Classic Mainz featured a full range of chess960 events, I quoted GM Grischuk in Attention to the Chess960 Center. After winning the 2009 FiNet Chess960 Open, he talked about his earlier participations.

The first year I was playing like g4/b4, but in order to play like this successfully you have to be either Aronian or Nakamura.

This comment was an eye-opener for me, because it pointed to the existence of Extravagant Openings in Chess960. Before then I had assumed that all chess960 openings were extravagant, just by the nature of chess960 with its random starting placement of the different pieces. Getting back to GM Nakamura, would his games show that he was inclined to use g4/b4 opening moves, perhaps even h4/a4 moves?

Of the 170 games on my Nakamura ICC database, I found 83 games where he played White. The count of the first moves he chose is shown on the left.

Of the 83 games, in 62 he played the moves 1.e4, 1.d4, or 1.c4, none of which are particularly extravagant. I could also add 1.f4 to the list. Although it's considered unusual in traditional chess (SP518 RNBQKBNR) because it weakens the King position, in chess960 it is often played for the same reasons that 1.c4 is played. It's interesting to note that in no games did he castle on the first move.

As for the g4/b4 moves, he tried them in only four games. He also tried h4/a4 in three games, including 1.h4 in his first recorded chess960 game on ICC in 2002. Was there any particular characteristic of the start positions that led him to choose these moves? I'll look at that question in another post.

As for the forthcoming Nakamura - Aronian match, note that GM Grischuk mentioned *both* players in the sentence I quoted. For a look at another game between the two, see Nakamura vs. Aronian at Mainz 2009. For chess960, 2009 was a very good year.


HarryO said...

Well, thankfully it is confirmed at the Sinquefield cup press conference, Hikaru and Levon will be playing Chess960!

I think it starts Tuesday September 9 2pm St Louis time, is that what you heard?

Great stuff!

Will you be watching it live? Means getting up at 5am for me!

GeneM said...

Interesting data Mark about Nakamura's first pawn moves in chess960-FRC.

While I believe that some of Reuben Fine's famous 9 opening principles of chess do not apply well to chess960, control of center with pawns surely will apply.
The Nakamura data is comfortable confirmation of that.


Mark Weeks said...

Re 'Fine's famous 9 opening principles', Fine had ten principles, not nine. See 'Ideas Behind the Chess Openings' (McKay), Chapter I, 'General Principles'.