27 June 2015

Whispering a Fond Adieu!

They say, 'a watched pot never boils'. It seems the chess960 pot is in a constant simmer, but its boiling point remains as elusive as ever. My first blog post on the subject was Shall We Play Fischerandom Chess? (August 2008), and this post will be my last, at least for the foreseeable future. It's time to turn my attention elsewhere.

Google image search on 'chess960'

Heartfelt thanks to the many visitors to this blog for taking an interest in chess960. Special thanks to the two serial commentators -- GeneM and HarryO (in alphabetical order) -- who kept me honest because I knew each new blog post would get at least two hits.

A few months ago I received an email from GeneM, aka Gene Milener, aka the author of 'Play Stronger Chess by Examining Chess960'. He wrote,

In January 2006 I published a book about chess960. This year I will publish another chess book. Even though this new book is not about chess960, I am adding a section in its appendix to discuss or update the state of chess960 now that a decade has passed. Inasmuch as you have become the preeminent voice about chess960, I wondered whether you might be interested in contributing an essay for your own attributed subsection -- on your thoughts about the current state of chess960?

I first thought of this appendix chapter as an 'Epilogue' about chess960, but that sounded too final, like chess960 did not make it and died. I rather think that changes on this scale take time as measured by generations. So instead the chapter will be presented as something like the 'Current State of Chess960 in 2015'.

For years in your blog you have put spotlight and microscope on a broad variety of specific topics within the chess960 realm. Having read your chess960 blog every weekend now for years, I am curious to see what your assessment will be when you step back to consider how the overall picture has evolved, where it stands in 2015, and where it might be headed a generation or two from now.

My essay can be found at Fischer Chess in the Year 2015. I also told Gene,

If I were writing this for the web, I would link to my post debunking certain myths: Top 10 Myths About Chess960. I consider it my top contribution to understanding chess960.

When Gene's book eventually hits the web, I'll mention it on my main blog 'Chess for All Ages' (see the link in the right navigation bar), the same place where I'll post any new reports related to chess960. I agree with Gene that the acceptance of chess960 will 'take time as measured by generations' and I will continue to play for as long as there are opponents interested in Fischer's greatest invention.

Bye for now! - Mark

21 June 2015

Updated Database of SPs (2015-06)

I don't particularly like blog maintenance chores, but there have been so many recent posts dealing with specific positions that my database -- last seen in Updated Database of SPs (2014-10) -- needed a refresh. Of the dozen-or-so posts that were included, SP864 - BBQRKRNN won the popularity prize with three separate posts. I nominate it for the title of 'Most Difficult SP for Black'.

13 June 2015

Being Outplayed

The last of my five lost games from On a Losing Streak was the toughest. As start position, my opponent and I were given SP953 RKRBBNNQ. Once again, as in the other four losses, I had the Black pieces.

All chess960 start positions present their own special challenges and this one has two striking features. The first is the RKR bunched in the corner and the second is the Queen in the opposite corner. The minor pieces are placed between them in one of four possible arrangements.

I use the castling options as a guide to early play and decided to keep those options for as long as possible. While castling O-O-O looks to be the most likely choice, the Rook on the c-file has to move before this is possible. Before that happens, castling O-O might also be possible.

The first moves were 1.f4 d5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 Nf6 4.N1d2 Ng6 5.e3 Qf8, reaching the position shown in the top diagram. The two players have chosen different paths to develop the Knights. For my next moves I intended to move the diagonal pieces off the back rank, then castle O-O.

Before I could execute that plan, the position became very tactical. After the moves 6.c4 c5 7.Qf1 a6 8.a4 cxd4 9.Nxd4 Bd7 10.g4 Bb6, we reached the position in the bottom diagram.

My opponent played 11.Bg3, threatening discovered check, and I replied 11...Qb4, ignoring the threat while attacking the Knight on d2. After the further 12.f5+ Ka7, my castling strategy was in tatters. The next moves were 13.Nb5+ Bxb5 14.axb5 Qxd2 15.fxg6 a5, after which I let my opponent's advanced Pawn settle on h7, which proved to be enough to win the game 30 moves later.

Somewhere in the moves between the two diagrams I made a mistake. Even after looking at the game a second time while preparing this post, I still can't pinpoint it. Sometimes you lose simply because your opponent plays better than you do. It's called being 'outplayed'.

06 June 2015

Botched Castling

In my first three examples from On a Losing Streak, I could point to a section of the game where my play was substandard. In this next game my play was a botch from start to finish. Like the game from the previous post, An Imperfect Understanding, it was played on the LSS server.

I had Black in SP242 BNRKQBNR, where my opponent opened 1.O-O-O, and commented, 'What a funny first move! LOL!'. I had just finished the game described in 'Losing Streak', where I played 1...O-O-O!?, followed by a dubious idea. For this next game I decided to take a different road and to avoid castling for as long as possible.

The next moves were 1...e5 2.e4 a6 3.b3 b5 4.d3 Nc6 5.f4 f6, reaching the position shown in the top diagram. At some point during this sequence -- with 2...a6 & 3...b5 played to 'take advantage' of my opponent's early castling -- I realized that I had forfeited the possibility of castling 1...O-O-O, and would have to find another way to keep my King safe.

The next five moves were 6.Nc3 Bd6 7.Kb1 exf4 8.Nce2 Nge7 9.Nh3 Ng6 10.Qf2 Qe6, reaching the position shown in the bottom diagram. White is temporarily a Pawn down, but its recapture is guaranteed.

Instead of recapturing the Pawn, White went for a real sacrifice with 11.g3!. After accepting it I tried to get some counterplay with ...c5 and ...c4, but my opponent played d3-d4-d5, locking the Bishop on a8 out of play. By the time I decided to castle ...O-O on the 19th move, White had complete control of the center. The Kingside attack on the open g- & h-files was quick and decisive. When I resigned on the 36th move, material was still equal, but White was preparing an invasion that would net a few Black Pawns.

The castling choice in chess960 is often a difficult decision. Ignoring the common sense option can be a path to quick defeat.