17 October 2020

Chess960 Opening Meta-theory

After the videos featured in last month's post, 2020 Champions Showdown Live (September 2020), another video is worth special attention.

Openings in Fischer Random?! | Chess Openings Explained - NM Caleb Denby (59:58) • 'Streamed live on 14 Sep 2020'

The description said,

National Master Caleb Denby looks [at] the biggest opening successes and disasters from 2020 Champions Showdown -- Chess 9LX, a Fischer Random Chess (also known as Chess960) event. Learn to identify weaknesses in the opening position.

Thirty seconds into the clip, NM Denby (current FIDE standard rating 2110) explains,

There are two main opening topics that I'm going to focus on tonight, that are accentuated in chess960. First, you'll oftentimes find a lot of very early pressure or attacks on a specific weak point in the position. Players will identify a starting weakness in the initial position that they're given and will base their opening play around it.

Topic number two that I want to focus on is the idea of being left with one bad piece. This is something that often happens in chess960. Players are able to develop almost all of their pieces, but then there seems to be one piece that gets left behind. That can be detrimental to the entire chess position.

That first topic should be automatic for the initial assessment of any chess960 start position (SP). The second topic seems obvious enough, although I don't remember having explored it in any previous posts on this blog. I thought immediately of the traditional start position (SP518 RNBQKBNR with its weakness on f2/f7) and of something GM Karpov once wrote -- and I'm paraphrasing -- 'In every opening (most openings?), Black has to accept a weakness in the development of one of his pieces'.

In the first half of the video, Denby looks at three games from the 2020 Champions Showdown, two of them using the same SP. His examples show how vigilant both players must be during the first few moves. Three links in the video's description (right-click the embedded video for its Youtube address) point to the games on Lichess.org. Around 32:00 into the clip, Denby continues,

I want to switch gears now and go from these wonderful chess960 games to looking at some regular chess openings and how these ideas manifest from the real initial position in chess.

Did he say '*real* initial position'? The examples are from well-known SP518 opening variations and at this point I lost interest.

The first comment to the video was from HarryO of the Chess960 Jungle blog (see the link in the right sidebar): 'As far as I know this could be the first ever lecture on chess960 openings. Thanks.' HarryO ought to know! The first reply to his comment was: 'Lets hope it's the last. Chess960 was introduced to bring skill not preparation back to the games. Sadly chess has degenerated into a memory test.' I can't agree with that sentiment. Chess960 opening theory is meta-theory : how to tackle the analysis of a new, previously unseen SP. There is no memorization required and any analysis of a specific position is to discover that meta-theory.

On top of the sudden switch from chess960 to SP518, there were a few other aspects of the video that were mildly annoying. The first was the Youtube announcement that 'Live chat replay is not available for this video.' I've seen it on other videos, so why is it missing here? The second was Denby's frequent knuckle cracking. These are minor complaints and I have to agree with HarryO's overall assessment: 'Thanks!' I hope it is the first of many such videos, if not by NM Denby, then by other competent players.

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