27 June 2020

No Quitting Here!

In last week's post, Chess960 on Playchess.com, I responded to a quote from IM Sagar Shah with:-
Sagar Shah says, 'That's the thing in chess960. If you're not careful you can quickly run into a lost position.'

Since I'm something of a specialist for running into lost chess960 positions, I should document some of my most painful experiences. But which games should I choose? There are so many of them.

If I had any common sense I would stop this chess960 blog here and now. It's been five years to the day since I signalled my first attempt to quit in Whispering a Fond Adieu! (June 2015; 'Bye for now! - Mark'). I managed to stay away for 18 months, then came roaring back with 'Everyone I Know Plays Chess960' (January 2017). The title of that post was a quote from GM Peter Svidler where the complete thought was, 'Everyone I know plays chess960 with great pleasure.' Copy that!

Yes, chess960 continues to be a great pleasure for me. I started playing on correspondence servers in 2008 -- Chess960? I'm Hooked! (September 2008) -- and am still hooked. According to my records, I played 92 games on Schemingmind, most recently in 2016. I played another 136 games on LSS, where I currently have a half-dozen games underway.

With more than 200 games under my belt, I have plenty of examples to choose from -- wins, losses, and draws -- most of which were analyzed fairly deeply while they were being played. All of the LSS games were played with the help of an engine, so I'll start with those. After 12 years of playing chess960, I still don't understand much about its opening theory, making it a logical area to focus on.

So here's the plan: I'll continue to post twice a month. One post will be to keep up with any news; one post will be to learn something about opening theory. Maybe I'll eventually discover how to avoid running into a lost position.

20 June 2020

Chess960 on Playchess.com

After three straight months looking at chess960 videos for the month's kickoff post...

...I was happy to find another streamed video based on commentating an event, this one from ChessBase India.


Big Chess960 event | Live Commentary by IM Sagar Shah | Sponsored by Buddhibal Kreeda Trust (2:17:59) • 'Streamed live on May 23, 2020'

More about the tournament can be found in Fischer Random tournament on 23rd May 2020 on Playchess (chessbase.com; May 2020):-

After the successful online event on Playchess in April the Buddhibal Kreeda Trust (BKT) is back with another tournament. The tournament has a prize fund of 35000 [Indian Rupees] and is a Fischer Random (Chess960) tournament. [...] It will take place [...] in the "Thematic Chess" room on Playchess.com. Entry is FREE for GMs, IMs, WGMs and WIMs.

I was surprised to see this event for a number of reasons. First, the Playchess.com site has been conspicuously absent from the sites holding online chess tournaments during the coronavirus lockdowns. I've been following this development on my main blog, e.g. The Switch to Online Chess, posted a few weeks ago.

Second, I hadn't been aware that Playchess.com offered chess960 games. The online play service is supported by ChessBase, which two years ago came out strongly against chess960. I documented their objections in Purported Problems with Chess960 (April 2018). If their change of heart happened later, I suppose it's another example of 'money talks and nobody talks - they run'. The video description repeated some of the info in the Chessbase.com article and added,

A big Chess960 event [...] has the participation of some of the biggest names in Indian chess - Adhiban, Sethuraman, Karthikeyan, Aravindh Chithambaram, S.L. Narayanan, Praggnanandhaa and many others. IM Sagar Shah will be providing you with live commentary for the event.

At about 13:40 into the clip, Sagar Shah says,

That's the thing in chess960. If you're not careful you can quickly run into a lost position.

Since I'm something of a specialist for running into lost chess960 positions, I should document some of my most painful experiences. But which games should I choose? There are so many of them.

30 May 2020

Seirawan, Nimzovich, and Chess960

In the previous post, Commentating Chess960, I listed two teams of chess960 commentators who handled responsibilities for high level events last year:-
  • Yasser Seirawan, Jennifer Shahade, and Maurice Ashley (in St.Louis)
  • Yasser Seirawan, Daniel Rensch, and Sopiko Guramishvili (in Norway)

The common member of both teams was GM Yasser Seirawan. He is the strongest of the five players, having twice reached the candidate stage of a World Championship cycle: 1985 Candidates Tournament and 1988-90 Candidates Matches. In his prime he was one of the ten best players in the world.

I discussed game two of the Norway event, the FWFRCC final, in the 'Commentating' post. In the video for game three, at around 17:20 into the clip, there was a brief discussion of 'Bad Bishops':-

YS: As Evgenij Ermenkov said, 'How could a Bishop ever be bad?'
DR: I thought Nimzovich said that -- your favorite, Nimzovich.
YS: No, no, he's not my favorite. [Everyone laughing]
DR: Would Nimzovich have been a good Fischer Random player? [Pause; YS thinks] Why don't you write a blog about that on Chess.com? Coming your way soon!
YS: Coming your way soon!

A few years ago, in Three Chess960 Developments to Watch (October 2017), I mused,

I've often thought that Nimzovich would have been a brilliant chess960 player, given his penchant for unusual openings and deep strategical concepts.

I started snooping around Chess.com, hoping to find a blog post by GM Seirawan on Nimzovich and chess960, but came up empty-handed. I found plenty of material by lesser lights explaining why Nimzovich wasn't Seirawan's favorite player, but that's a more suitable subject for my main blog than it is here.

I also took another look at Nimzovich's book 'My System'. Excluding a chapter titled 'The Isolated Queen's Pawn and Its Descendants' (IQP), all 15 chapters of the first two parts are just as relevant to chess960 as they are to chess starting from the traditional initial position. The IQP chapter might also be relevant, although my own experience is that the structure -- which can occur on the d- or e-file -- appears far less frequently in chess960. How many other classic chess textbooks are so relevant to chess960?

23 May 2020

Commentating Chess960

After two posts on the videos from the 2019 Champions Showdown, St. Louis -- Problem Pieces (March 2020), and Spectating Chess960 (April 2020) -- I decided to tackle the videos from the FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship (FWFRCC). The final matches of the FWFRCC were held in Norway a few months after the St. Louis event.

I documented the videos from the Norway event in 2019 FWFRCC Final Live (November 2019). Writing about the St. Louis event in 'Problem Pieces', I noted,

The commentators -- Yasser Seirawan, Jennifer Shahade, and Maurice Ashley -- did a thoroughly professional job explaining the ebb and flow of the games. The chess960 opening is the most challenging phase to explain, so I paid particular attention to the experts during the early moves.

The commentators in Norway were Yasser Seirawan, Daniel Rensch, and Sopiko Guramishvili, and I could have said exactly the same about that team. Two years ago, in Purported Problems with Chess960 (April 2018), I quoted Frederic Friedel of Chessbase saying,

Commenting on a [chess960] game [is like] conducting a guided tour of an art gallery that you are visiting for the first time.

Friedel's remark has been echoed in other settings, using other similes, as an argument against chess960. It's high time to add it to Top 10 Myths About Chess960 (May 2012).

For some reason, a video for game one is missing for the 'FWFRCC Final Live', so I started with game two. The commentators concentrated on the game Wesley So vs. Magnus Carlsen, ignoring the other game, Nepomniachtchi vs. Caruana. They can be excused for doing that because the So - Carlsen duel evolved into a gripping tactical battle, where So sacrificed a Rook for an attack that eventually settled into a better endgame. It was as dramatic as a chess game can be.

The commentators worked their way through the tactics without the aid of an engine, just like the players were doing. They also handled the opening without the assistance of an opening database. I've often said that opening databases aren't really useful in chess960, although I imagine that might change as the number of recorded games between world class players increases.

Kudos to the three commentators, five if you include the St. Louis event. Chess960, aka Fischer Random, is in the hands of capable guides. We're not talking about art galleries here, we're talking about intellectual struggles at the highest level.

25 April 2020

FIDE FRC Minutes

In yesterday's post on my main blog, Minutes of the 90th FIDE Congress, I predicted,
The following chart extracts the table of contents (TOC) from the two documents. [CHART] That chart will serve as a reference for a couple of posts on my other chess-related blogs.

It might be a surprise to many that chess960 played a non-trivial role in the minutes, giving me plenty of material for this Chess960 (FRC) blog. A few months ago I reported on the FWFRCC Manifesto (February 2020; 'FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship'):-

The announcement for the 2020 FIDE Extraordinary General Assembly Agenda and Executive Board Agenda (fide.com; January 2020) listed Annex 8.3, title: 'Fischer Random Chess'.

Now we have the minutes of that 'extraordinary' event. First, the General Assembly:-

90th FIDE Congress; FIDE Extraordinary General Assembly; Abu Dhabi, UAE; 28th February 2020; MINUTES • 1. FIDE President address [...] Mr. Dvorkovich said we also had the pilot project for the Fisher [ugh!] Random Championship, which last year was a mixed experience. We tried to show that we want to use new formats. The first stage of this championship was completely open to everyone in the world, even to amateur players. Now we are learning from the experience of this pilot project. It is important that we should start rating the Fisher [double ugh!] Random Championship.

Ignoring the two references to 'Fisher' -- while at the same time providing another reason why 'chess960' is a better name than 'Fischerrandom' etc. -- that is an 'extraordinary' vote of confidence from the world's top chess official. The discussion continued the next day at a more selective meeting.

90th FIDE Congress; FIDE Executive Board; Abu Dhabi, UAE; 29th February 2020; MINUTES • 8. Miscellaneous [...] 'Mr. Dvorkovich focused on the Fischer Random Chess Tournaments, which consisted of two phases: online (where everyone was eligible to participate) and in presence (with top players). He said that actually more players were expected to participate to the online phase, which means that there was not enough promotional activity for the event. He expressed his optimism about the possibility to learn from this experience and improve the work related to the organization of this event.

It is also necessary to identify the form for the rating system of this competitions, both online and in presence. In this context several suggestions were received. Another issue to deal with is represented by the anti-cheating measures that should be applied to these championships. Mr. Dvorkovich added that the next Fischer Random Chess Tournaments will be held in 2021.

FIDE activities regarding the organization of Fischer Random Chess Tournaments were approved.

Mr. [Nigel] Short said that the rating for the Fischer Random Chess Tournaments was discussed also during the Congress in Batumi. He believed it is an urgent issue, since ratings are a very important part in motivating the players.'

I covered the initial discussion about ratings last year in FIDE Chess960 Ratings (January 2019). As for the statement that 'the next [FIDE] Fischer Random Chess tournaments will be held in 2021', the year 2022 will see a new FIDE election. Will FIDE's support for FRC continue if Dvorkovich is not re-elected?

18 April 2020

Spectating Chess960

After the previous post on Problem Pieces (March 2020), I went back to the same video for Day 1 of the 2019 Champions Showdown Live (October 2019), and continued watching. I was hoping to find more nuggets of general advice similar to 'Problem Pieces', but the commentators were instead focused on the tactics specific to the game they were following.

The format of round one (Day 1) through round three (Day 3) was two rapid games followed by two blitz games, all games in each round having the same start position (SP). Even though I've been playing chess960 since 2008, I was impressed by how entertaining the Showdown games were. There was no explanation of the subtleties of the Najdorf Variation through move 15, no referring to a database of previous games to discover where the first original move was played. There were just some of the top chess players on the planet slugging it out from the first move in positions that have never been explored.

After watching Day 1, I skipped ahead to Day 4 where a different format was used. One SP was selected for four blitz games, followed by another SP for four more games, making eight games total for the day.

The results of the four matches for the first three rounds are shown in the following chart. The rapid games counted for two points, while the blitz games counted for one point. That meant each round had been worth a total of six points. The eight blitz games in Day 4 would be worth eight more points.

The chart shows that two of the matches were effectively decided, one was close to decided, and the fourth was a real tussle. GM Nakamura had come back from a 5-1 drubbing on the first day to trail GM Aronian by a single point. The commentators naturally focused on the Aronian - Nakamura match. The Caruana - Kasparov match had been the focus of attention in the previous rounds.

Day 4 started with a curiosity. The first start position (SP784 BBRQKNRN) was the twin of the position on Day 3 (SP175 NRNKQRBB). This meant that the initial piece development for SP784 repeated the considerations for SP175. The SPs would differentiate at the time of castling. • NB: After choosing the Day 4 position, TD Tony Rich called it 'SP779'. He was using the Chessgames.com Random Position Generator, which does not follow the standard numbering.

Before writing this post I hoped to gain additional insight into chess960 opening strategy, aka meta-theory. Instead I gained an appreciation for chess960 as a spectator. In Commentating the Opening in London (March 2013), I surmised,

This is exactly the attraction of Fischer's greatest invention. Everyone -- whether player or commentator or spectator -- is looking at the position for the first time ever, applying their own knowledge of chess to tackle a completely new chess position. Chess might not be a great spectator sport, but chess960 might well be.

Looks I got it right that time.

28 March 2020

Epaulette Mate

Here's an interesting idea found on Chess.com in a forum thread titled Chess960 Fool's Mate Variation. In the following diagram it's checkmate after 1.e4 b5 2.Qxb5# .


SP921 RKRBBQNN

The thread eventually determines that there are two such RKR***** positions (plus two more *****RKR mirrors). Why two? The Queen must be on the f-file and a Bishop must be on the d-file, because a Knight on that file can block the Queen check. That leaves three squares still to be occupied. The other Bishop must be on the e- or g-file, leaving the last two squares for the Knights.

The thread doesn't discuss the related positions *RKR**Q* and **RKR**Q. In fact, these can't lead to the same mate, because the two Bishops must be next to the Rooks, which places them on the same color square.

All 960 start positions are subject to some sequence of moves -- similar to a 'helpmate' problem -- that leads to the shortest mate for that position. Which positions require the most moves?