25 May 2019

A Difficult SP Revisited

These days the posts on this blog are overwhelmingly news oriented, but once in a while I like to look at a real chess960 position. A few months ago, in A Stockfish Experiment (February 2019), I wrote,
At first glance, there doesn't seem to be a high correlation between the Sesse results and the CCRL results. The first position where there is agreement between the two sources is [SP868] QBBRKRNN. I once discussed this position in 'A Difficult SP for Black' (April 2013). By coincidence, I'm currently playing the position in a pair of correspondence games and hope to have more to say about it in the future.

The two games have finished, so the future is today. For easy reference, here's a link to the original post: A Difficult SP for Black. Already on the first move, White threatens a smothered mate on the third move. In that post I noted,

Black has two methods of meeting the difficult challenge posed by 1.Ng3.

Those two methods were:-
1...Nf6 2.Nf5 Rg8, and

Both of the latest games used different methods of defense, as shown in the diagrams below. The top diagram is my game as White. The game started with the first line above, but instead of 2...Rg8, Black played 2...Nh5, guarding the sensitive square g7. This looks like a natural move, so why didn't I consider it six years ago? I looked at my notes from that game and recalled that the move appeared only infrequently on the CCRL database, which is a record of engine-vs-engine games. Even today on the CCRL, after hundreds more games have been added for SP868, the move 2...Nh5 has not been tried very much. Why not? Either there is a tactical refutation or the engines have a built-in bias against moving a Knight to the a-or-h files. I couldn't find a tactical refutation.

The game continued 3.b3 f6 4.d4 c6 5.Nf3 d5 6.c4 Bxf5 7.Bxf5 g6 8.Bc2 Nf7, after which I castled 9.O-O. I had the initiative for most of the game, but it turned out to be insufficient. The game eventually ended in a draw after about 60 moves, with an unavoidable tablebase position on the horizon.

The bottom diagram is my game as Black. Here I was attracted by the idea of sacrificing a Pawn with 1...Ng6. The move had been played three times on CCRL with a score of +0-3=0, all wins by Stockfish as Black. A Pawn sacrifice is also the idea behind 1...g6, but is either sacrifice really playable? I spent a few hours analyzing the various continuations after 1...Ng6, and concluded that it was no worse than the alternatives. The game continued 2.Nh5 f6 (diagram) 3.c4 d5 4.f4 Nh6 5.f5 Nh4 6.Nxg7+ Kf7 7.Ne6 Ng4 8.Rf3 Bxe6 9.fxe6+ Kxe6. This might be the first game I have played where my King was on its third rank before the 10th move. Even more curiously, it turned out to be safe there. I eventually equalized and the game was drawn on the 55th move.

That makes two games, two draws, and two more ways to handle 'A Difficult SP for Black'. The two new methods are:-
1...Nf6 2.Nf5 Nh5, and

Good thing the SP is more complicated than it looks. Even one chess960 position lost from the first move would mean trouble for Fischer's greatest invention.

18 May 2019

Youtube Resources for FWFRCC

A few weeks ago I posted Roadmap for a World Championship (April 2019), about the '2019 FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship' (WFRCC? or FWFRCC?). After that post appeared, Chess.com released a slick video.

World Fischer Random Chess Championship 2019 (1:35) • 'Published on May 9, 2019'

The description said,

For the first time ever, a world chess championship has a truly open qualification system! Are you a Fischer Random genius?

The description used a couple of Youtube tags that should be useful for locating more about the event or the underlying games. I added a third tag for completeness:-

As long as I'm covering Youtube resources, let's add a video showing the first FWFRCC qualifier: Chess960 Championship Open Qualifier (youtube.com; MaxTheChessKid; 'Streamed live on Apr 28, 2019'). Max isn't a 'Fischer Random genius' and even stumbles over the castling rules in his first streamed game, but the video provides a good record of the look-and-feel of the qualifying event.


Later: A few days after I posted the above, Chess.com provided a list of World Fischer Random Championship: Qualified Players.

[Here] is the full list of non-titled players who've qualified for the first-ever Fischer Random World Chess Championship.

The first 'qualifier event' had 163 players, although the numbers have been declining since then. So far, 16 events have taken place, with another 16 to be played. The rules say, 'The total number of qualifiers from this phase will be 160 players from 32 qualifiers.' If a player qualifies from two different events, the additional place goes to another person.

27 April 2019

Roadmap for a World Championship

The previous post, Summer Is Coming, started with intermittent reports of a 'Fischer Random World Chess Championship in the fall of 2019'. It continued,
This was confirmed in an announcement about 'The Fischer Random Chess Championship 2019' (frchess.com), which included a press release, 'Chess.com Announces FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship' (ditto).

In the week since that post, more detail about the event has emerged:-

  • 2019-04-20: The World Fischer Random Chess Championship is now officially recognized by FIDE (fide.com) • 'The International Chess Federation (FIDE) has granted the rights to host the inaugural FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship cycle to Dund AS, in partnership with Chess.com. And, for the first time in history, a chess world championship cycle will combine an online, open qualifier and worldwide participation with physical finals.'

Given Fischer's longstanding opposition to FIDE when he was alive, it's not clear how the world organization can use his name or assume ownership of his idea to 'grant the rights' to a World Championship. I'll leave that discussion to any parties that might have a legitimate claim.

The FIDE announcement also included links to PDF versions of a 'Press Release' and 'Regulations'. A few days later, Chess.com chimed in:-

The qualification process outlined in the second link, the 'Information Guide', is long and complicated. Its basic segments are shown in the following chart.

(Expands by 50%; see the 'Information Guide' or 'Regulations' for an even larger version.)

The three boxes in the top row define three distinct phases:-

  • "Open Qualifier" Phase : For Non-Titled Players
  • "Play-in" Phase : For Eligible Players
  • "Knockout" : 84 Players + 12 Invited Players

The 'Knockout' phase leads to 'Quarterfinal' (QF) matches that will eventually culminate in a 'Final' match. The first 'Open Qualifier' event starts tomorrow, 28 April. These organizers aren't wasting any time!

20 April 2019

Summer Is Coming

During the few short weeks since my previous post, Carlsen Wins Lichess Again (March 2019), the world of chess960 has been bustling with activity. First it had a mention in Lupulescu Wins Reykjavik Open Among 8-Way Tie (chess.com):-
Romanian GM Constantin Lupulescu won the Reykjavik Open with the best tiebreak in a group of eight players finishing on 7/9. The 15-year-old Iranian GM Alireza Firouzja was second. Firouzja had won the European Fischer Random Championship on the rest day. [...] On the rest day, Firouzja had won the second European Fischer Random Championship. This way, he became the first qualifier for a very strong Fischer Random knockout tournament organized in Norway in October, about which Chess.com will be publishing information very soon.

This echoed news from a year ago, when I posted three times about the event:-

Back to the 2019 Reykjavik Open, we had related news about Meetings in Oslo (fide.com):-

FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich visited Oslo, Norway and met with the representatives of the Norwegian Chess Federation on April 9th on his way home from his trip to the ongoing Reykjavik Open Tournament. [...] The first couple of meetings addressed issues related to the possibility to organize the official Fischer Random World Chess Championship in the fall of 2019 in Bærum, Oslo, and then a discussion regarding the World Championship match in 2020, where Stavanger will be the candidate city for Norway.

This was confirmed in an announcement about The Fischer Random Chess Championship 2019 (frchess.com), which included a press release, Chess.com Announces FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship (ditto):-

The World Fischer Random Chess Championship is now officially recognized by FIDE and will start on Chess.com. This historic event will feature an online qualifying phase on Chess.com, beginning April 28, and is open to all players. The finals will be held in Norway this fall, with a prize fund of $375,000 USD.

The timeline for the tournament is shown in the following chart.

From Frchess.com

We should see many posts on this blog about the series of events which will span more than six months. What about a follow-up to last month's 'Carlsen Wins Lichess'? If it happens, it won't be soon; Titled Arena Returns (lichess.org):-

After two very successful 960 events, it is finally time to play some proper chess. Position 518, where the starting piece positions actually make sense. The latest editions have been won convincingly by the Doctor. Will he be victorious yet again, or is time for a new king to rise and take the throne? Winter is coming.

Play some proper chess? Positions that actually make sense? Winter is coming? Someone needs to take a deep breath.

30 March 2019

Carlsen Wins Lichess Again

Thanks to an extra weekend this month, I can report on another Lichess Chess960 event. I covered the first event in a pair of posts:-

The announcement of the second event came a few days after that second post:-

  • 2019-03-18: Chess960 Titled Arena Returns (lichess.org) • 'Given how well received the previous Chess960 Titled Arena was, we're bringing it back for round 2. As with last time, the control will be 2 minutes + 1 second increment to give everyone a chance to get used to the unfamiliar positions. The tournament duration will also be 3 hours, and thanks to the donation of last month's first place prize we have a bumped prize pool of $1500!'

Note that last sentence: 'thanks to the donation of last month's first place prize'. That makes World Champion Carlsen -- in traditional chess, where the big money is -- an unofficial sponsor of chess960 events. Thanks, Magnus! The event took place at Chess960 Titled Arena Mar 2019 (lichess.org). The results were summarized at:-

To honor the top three players, I once again captured a picture of the winners' podium.

GM DrNykterstein is Magnus Carlsen himself, while the 2nd and 3rd place winners were NM Janak Awatramani and GM Andrew Tang. GM Watneg, the 2nd place finisher in the previous Chess960 Titled Arena, finished 4th this time. Carlsen's performance was again streamed by Youtube's ChessNetwork, who left us a permanent record on his channel.

Chess960 Titled Arena ft. Magnus Carlsen as DrNykterstein | March 2019 (3:05:20) • 'Published on Mar 28, 2019'

The description of the video says,

This is a 3-hour bullet chess tournament, Chess960 Titled Arena, I provided commentary on while specifically observing World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen compete. Time controls are 2 minutes with a 1 second increment. This was the 2nd titled arena lichess held with the variant chess960, or fischer random chess.

On top of kudos to the commentator like 'Jerry, just got to say, your content is absolutely incredible', the comments point to key games in Carlsen's path to winning the event.

23 March 2019

More about Queens in the Corner

On my previous post, More about the Lichess Event, fellow chess960 blogger HarryO (see the sidebar for a link to his blog) commented,
What do you think of Magnus's style where if Queens are in the corner he will often play the edge pawn on the first move?

He was referring to the three hour video embedded in that post. I located two early instances of the corner Queen in the video:-

19:45 SP679 QRBKNNRB
26:45 SP772 QBBRKNRN

The following diagram shows the two positions plus GM Carlsen's first move as White.

The Queen in the corner is one of the knottiest problems to solve in chess960. I once focused on it in a post about A Concrete Publishing Proposal (June 2017) where I outlined the three ways the Queen can be developed.

There's another angle to the problem in that the rapid development of the Queen in many chess960 start positions leads to double-edged play. When one player develops the Queen while the other neglects its development, the first player often gets the initiative with a corresponding advantage. This challenges a basic principle of opening play that applies to the traditional position. I once ended a post, Make the Obvious Moves First (September 2012), with the observation,

Take, for example, 'Do not bring your Queen out too early'. I have played at least one game where early development of the Queen to the center was an excellent strategy.

Carlsen has taken the idea even further. There is no subtle maneuvering to slide the Queen along its back rank and jump out on a center file somewhere. He just pushes the Pawn in front of the Queen, then looks at what his opponent is doing before taking further action. Is this another example of 'Make the Obvious Moves First'?

16 March 2019

More about the Lichess Event

In my previous post, Carlsen Wins Lichess Chess960 Titled Arena (23 February 2019), I mentioned,
The tournament Chess960 Titled Arena #960feb19 finished just in time to make the deadline for this week's post.

A day later Youtube channel ChessNetwork released a video about the event. With more than 100K views and nearly 200 comments, the numbers speak for themselves.

Chess960 Titled Arena ft. Magnus Carlsen as DrNykterstein (3:08:03) • 'Published on Feb 24, 2019'

The description said,

This is a 3-hour bullet chess tournament, Chess960 Titled Arena, I provided commentary on while specifically observing World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen compete. Time controls are 2 minutes with a 1 second increment. This was the first titled arena lichess held with the variant chess960, or fischer random chess.

The comments help to locate the start of interesting games; for example, 'Eric Rosen's game at 45:31'. This game found a second path to Youtube, via the Eric Rosen channel: Playing the World Chess Champion in Chess960.

I played Magnus Carlsen (DrNykterstein) in the first ever Chess960 Titled Arena on lichess.org. The time control was 2+1. The game ended in an intense time scramble.

For more about the tournament, see Shaking Things Up in the Chess960 Titled Arena (lichess.org). Comments are at Forum >> General Chess Discussion >> Shaking... (ditto).

23 February 2019

Carlsen Wins Lichess Chess960 Titled Arena

While I was working on last week's post, A Stockfish Experiment, I noted an announcement for an upcoming tournament, Bonus Titled Arena: Chess960! (lichess.org):-
Due to the recent gain in popularity of the Chess960 (or Fischer Random) variant, we're hosting a bonus Titled Arena: Chess960 Edition! The Titled Arena has become among the world's strongest Bullet tournaments, and we're proud to now also offer a high quality Chess960 tournament to our players.

Many of you have also requested a longer time control during these titled events, so we're trying 2 minutes + 1 second increment this time. Moreover, to ensure that each player will get enough games with this longer time control, we're increasing the tournament duration from the usual 2 hours to 3!

The tournament Chess960 Titled Arena #960feb19 (ditto) finished just in time to make the deadline for this week's post. Here is a copy of the winners' podium.

For future reference, I also noted the links to the three winners' Lichess pages:-

'DrNykterstein' is better known as World Champion Magnus Carlsen. His Lichess page eventually leads to a list of all games he played during the event. Last year he won an unofficial Chess960 World Championship, which I reported on this blog in 2018 Carlsen - Nakamura (February 2018).

Second place Watneg is an anonymous GM, while third place went to Egyptian GM Bassem Amin. The game between Carlsen and Watneg can be found at GM DrNykterstein vs GM Watneg: Analysis board (lichess.org). To document the progress of the tournament, here are a number of tweets I picked off the Lichess Twitter page:-

Who said chess960 levels the playing field between experienced chess players?

16 February 2019

A Stockfish Experiment

Last year, in the aftermath of the Carlsen - Nakamura chess960 match, Chess.com published an article, What's The Most Unbalanced Chess960 Position?. The essence of the piece was:-
Recently, the Norwegian "supercomputer" Sesse analyzed all 960 variations using Stockfish 9. At a depth of 39-40 ply for each position, which took about two to three hours each, its findings were published.

I downloaded the referenced spreadsheet and compared it with the data currently displayed on the CCRL (see link in the right sidebar). The results are shown below.

The first column shows the start position, followed by the Sesse evaluation in centipawns, followed by the CCRL overall percentage score for White and the precentage of draws. For example, the top row says that BBNNRKRQ was evaluated by Sesse at 0.57 (a little more than a half-Pawn), with a CCRL result of 51.0% in White's favor and 15.3% of games ending in a draw.

The chart gives the top-25 positions flagged by Sesse, down to a cutoff of 0.40. I could have added the numeric ID for each start position and will do so if I ever come back to the data.

At first glance, there doesn't seem to be a high correlation between the Sesse results and the CCRL results. The first position where there is agreement between the two sources is QBBRKRNN. I once discussed this position in A Difficult SP for Black (April 2013). By coincidence, I'm currently playing the position in a pair of correspondence games and hope to have more to say about it in the future.

As for the Sesse results, they confirm that engines just don't evaluate chess960 start positions particularly well. Long term positional considerations are not the engines' strong point.

26 January 2019

FIDE Chess960 Ratings

Believe it or not, a recent post about FIDE on my main blog, Spectating the 89th FIDE Congress (December 2018) is also relevant to chess960. Here are a couple of excerpts from the minutes:-
89th FIDE Congress; General Assembly; Batumi, Georgia; 3-5 October 2018; Minutes [...]

7.2. Qualification Commission. [...] Annex 10 is Proposal from Icelandic Chess federation for the rating of Fischer Random (Chess 960) Games.

Annex 10 can be found by following the links in the 'Spectating' post. It consists of a single page, pictured below. Titled...

'FIDE congress in Batumi 2018; Reykjavik, June 27, 2018; Fischer Random (Chess960) ratings - A proposal from the Icelandic Chess Federation',

...and signed...

'Gunnar Bjornsson, President of the Icelandic Chess Federation',

...the document starts:-

'The Icelandic Chess Federation proposes that FIDE will start to calculate Elo. rating points for Fischer Random Chess (Chess960) as soon as possible.'

After a few introductory paragraphs it continues, 'The Icelandic Chess Federation proposes the following' with four main points:-

  • 'Initially, there will be only one Fischer Random rating. It's possible to have a rating for all time limits; for Blitz and Rapid combined; or Rapid and Blitz separated.

  • 'Tournaments must be played according to FIDE Chess960 rules (Appendix F) and all other FIDE rules should apply.

  • 'Current FIDE ratings should be used as a base rating; the same system as was used for implementing FIDE Blitz and Rapid.

  • 'If this experiment goes well, it is possible to continue with more choices of time limits for Fischer Random Chess ratings.'

The mention of 'FIDE Chess960 rules (Appendix F)' probably refers to an old version of the rules. The current version is under 'Handbook :: E. Miscellaneous', Fide Laws of Chess taking effect from 1 January 2018 (fide.com), in a section titled 'Guidelines II. Chess960 Rules'.

A report on the meeting of the Qualification Commission (QC), FIDE Congress Update: Chess 960 and an Illegal Move Quiz (uschess.org), by 'International Arbiter and Organizer Grant Oen (US Chess FIDE Events Manager)', explains,

QC is perhaps the most relevant commission to many of our members, as it regulates over-the-board titles and title applications, and the rating of all FIDE-rated games.

The report devotes four paragraphs to chess960 and starts,

The most heated topic of the QC meeting was the discussion of introducing ratings for Chess960 (Fischer Random Chess) following a proposal from the Icelandic Chess Federation.

I'm not completely convinced that a separate international rating system for chess960 is justified at this time, but anything which gets people to talk about Bobby Fischer's greatest invention is fine with me.

19 January 2019

First Post, New Year

The first post on this blog for the year 2019 is an appropriate time to reflect on the chess960 activities of 2018 -- and what a year it was! Of the 24 posts I wrote during the year, I count four that were for top-level chess960 events:-

Should I retire the 'rare birds' series, last seen in (Not so?) Rare Birds, Summer 2017 (July 2017)? No, I'm a patient person, so I'll give it more time. I haven't seen any relevant announcements and all of the events mentioned above could have been one-offs.

Chess960 was dropped for Chess.com's 2018 Speed Chess Championship, where Hikaru Nakamura defeated Wesley So in the final. It never made much sense to include a single chess960 game in a tournament for traditional chess, although the exposure for chess960 can only have helped. As for 2018's '1st Chess.com Chess960 Championship', I note that it wasn't the '1st annual' event and I'll keep watching for any announcement of a '2nd annual' tournament.

Does a decline in top-level chess960 events mean a decline in the number of posts for this blog? Of course not! I might actually find the time to study some of the many top-level chess960 games that were played in 2018...