28 November 2020

Chess960 Movers and Shakers

Last week's post, The Norwegian Connection, featured Eric van Reem's two part podcast interview with GM Jonathan Tisdall, where part 2 was subtitled 'Let's talk about Magnus and chess960'. At the end of the post I promised,
I'll cover van Reem's second chess960 podcast in another post on this blog. The invited expert was GM Andrey Deviatkin, another chess960 mover and shaker.

If you haven't already listened to the podcast, here's the link:-

  • 2020-11-03 #9 GM Andrey Deviatkin, 'Let's talk about Chess960' • 'In this episode Eric talks to the Russian grandmaster Andrey Deviatkin. Andrey decided to quit his chess career a couple of years ago, because he wanted to try something else: Chess960. But why did Andrey stop playing "traditional chess"? He said: "I understood that chess has become an absolutely different game from the one I have played in my childhood and youth. The computer has changed it dramatically. I have been working hard to become a chess grandmaster, but now my interest is over". Enough to talk about in this episode!'

A few minutes into the discussion, the two chess960 experts address one of the nagging controversies:-

07:25 EVR: 'What is the correct name?' [lists several names for chess960] • AD: 'I thought a lot about it. Maybe my best answer is that, at some point, maybe five or ten years [from now], we'll just call it chess. The game we're playing right now will be called old chess or traditional chess or something like this.'

GM Deviatkin has been seen several times on this blog. For the most significant post, see 'The Essence and the Rules of Chess' (June 2017). That quote is his title, and the post went on to give his full Facebook entry, starting with:-

Seen on Facebook: 'From time to time, I receive requests for chess coaching...' (facebook.com/andrey.deviatkin)

The rest of the Eric van Reem podcast is more than 40 minutes of discussion about chess960. It touches on many of the issues facing chess960 today, most of them even more important than the name.

21 November 2020

The Norwegian Connection

Remember Eric van Reem? Although it's been a few years since I last mentioned him on this blog (use the search box on the right navigation column to find specific posts), he's long been one of the movers and shakers in the small, but expanding, world of chess960.

For the last couple of months he's been producing a podcast, Let's talk about chess (letscast.fm), where he has already featured important segments on chess960. One interview, split into two parts, was introduced in:-

  • 2020-10-03: #4 GM Jonathan Tisdall (part 1), 'Let's talk about chess in the 80s' • 'In this fourth episode Eric talks to Jonathan D. Tisdall. Jon (born 1958 in Buffalo, New York) is a chess grandmaster (title awarded 1993) and works as a freelance journalist. An American citizen by origin, he became Irish and later Norwegian. He was Norwegian Chess Champion in 1987, 1991 and 1995. Combining chess with his job as a journalist, he often attends major chess events. [...]'

The chess960 discussion appeared a few days later:-

  • 2020-10-05: #5 GM Jonathan Tisdall (part 2), 'Let's talk about Magnus and chess960' • 'In this fifth episode of the podcast, Eric continues his conversation with three time Norwegian champion GM Jonathan Tisdall. In the previous episode, Jon told us some great insider stories from the eighties and in this episode, Eric and Jon talk about the current state of affairs in the world of chess, the popularity of online chess, chess960 and other variants. [...]'

Chess960 is mentioned a few minutes into that fifth episode:-

12:40 JT: 'For the very top players I can see why they're big fans of chess960. It's not for 99.99% of us, but for the very top players.'

We can quibble with the statement 'It's not for 99.99% of us', but this isn't the right time. The podcast continues,

13:30 EVR: 'Are you a fan of chess960? You just mentioned it and you've commentated on it. Do you personally like it? Do you play it yourself?' • JT: 'I don't play anything myself these days but, yeah, I really like it. It's just so liberating to see people -- world elite -- happy to predict the first two moves, sometimes thinking at move one.'

The chess960 segment lasts eight minutes. At one point GM Tisdall mentions an interview he had with GM Carlsen, perhaps the most famous Norwegian in the world today:-

It hasn't come out yet and I can't say so much about it. Magnus is a huge fan of chess960, much more so than I thought.
After that, the subject changes to the recent variants proposed by AlphaZero, a subject I covered on my main blog in Nine Chess Variants (September 2020). English excerpts of the interview with GM Carlsen appeared later in:-

Both articles use the term 'Fischer Random', so that's the key to zero in on the relevant paragraphs. There is much more to the interview than chess960, which is to be expected when World Chess Champion Carlsen starts promoting chess in general. In some way, both chess and chess960 are part of the same landscape in contemporary chess.

I'll cover van Reem's second chess960 podcast in another post on this blog. The invited expert was GM Andrey Deviatkin, another chess960 mover and shaker.

31 October 2020

Chess960: USA, Russia, Turkmenistan

We have a fifth Saturday this month, so let's have an extra chess960 post on this blog. A few months ago, Blogger.com, the service that I use to maintain the blog, changed its user interface. One of the improvements was a new look for its reporting of statistics.

Five years ago I wrote an article titled Fischer Chess in the Year 2015, where I included a chart showing countries of origin for visitors to this blog. The image below shows similar in the form of a pie chart.


'Last 12 Months'

While I was preparing this chart, my first question was about the third country on the list: 'Where's Turkmenistan?'. I quickly learned that it's on the eastern side of the Caspian Sea, opposite Azerbaijan on the western side. My second question was: 'Why Turkmenistan?'. This I was unable to answer -- not even a clue.

As for the other countries, the position of the U.S. and Russia as no.1 and no.2 confirms the chart from 2015. Given that 45% of visits to the blog are from those two countries, there is plenty of room for an increase in the percentages of other countries.

24 October 2020

Lost in Lichess Links

Last week's post, Chess960 Opening Meta-theory, featured a video from NM Caleb Denby. The post mentioned,
Three links in the video's description (right-click the embedded video for its Youtube address) point to the games on Lichess.org.

While I was working on that post, I couldn't determine how those three links led to more information about the event in which they were played, the 2020 Champions Showdown. I still can't find a path, but I did find more info about the event itself and the games that were played. From Lichess.org (lichess.org/broadcast):-

It turns out that all three games explained by NM Denby were played on Day 3, the 'Final Day'. The Nakamura - Svidler game on that page has a tag that points to NM Denby's link, plus a couple of tools that point to other paths (lichess.org/study) for the same game.

What I'm missing now is a higher level page that points to days 1 through 3, although the 'Day 3' page does link to the first two days. While I was working on this current post I noticed that many of the chat comments were about finding games, e.g.:-

Why is the interface so bad that you need some random guy to post a link so you can find the games?

Why indeed? Anyway, I started to note similar lichess.org/broadcast links for the two previous editions of the Champions Showdown -- 2018 & 2019 -- and will post them when I think they're ready. Lichess is a-maze-ing!

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.

26 September 2020

2020 Champions Showdown Live

Last year we had 2019 Champions Showdown, St. Louis (September 2019), followed by 2019 Champions Showdown Live (October 2019; video). This year let's follow 2020 Champions Showdown, Lichess (September 2020) with a video.


2020 Champions Showdown | Chess 9LX: Day 1 (4:26:23) • 'Streamed live on 11 Sep 2020'

The description of the clip, brought to you by the Saint Louis Chess Club, starts,

The world’s top grandmasters battle online from September 11-13 in Fischer random chess. World Champion Magnus Carlsen, Garry Kasparov, World #2 Fabiano Caruana, and more, compete in five separate Chess960 matches. Join GMs Yasser Seirawan, Maurice Ashley, and WGM Jennifer Shahade for the move-by-move.

For days two and three, see

on saintlouischessclub.org/blog. As usual with embedded videos, right click the video to find the original page on Youtube.

19 September 2020

2020 Champions Showdown, Lichess

For nearly a decade, the Saint Louis Chess Club has been a leading supporter of chess960. Last year we had the 2019 Champions Showdown, St. Louis (September 2019), the fifth St.Louis chess960 event covered on this blog. This year we had the 2020 Champions Showdown: Chess 9LX (uschesschamps.com; August 2020). That press release started,
The top international chess superstars are set to battle online from September 11-13 in Championships Showdown: Chess 9LX hosted by the Saint Louis Chess Club. Champions Showdown: Chess 9LX will feature the world’s top grandmasters including legendary World Champion Garry Kasparov, the reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen, and World Number 2 Fabiano Caruana. The matches will be played in Chess 960 style, also known as Fischer Random, with a $150,000 prize fund.

Because of the difficult travel conditions during the worldvide coronavirus pandemic, the event was held online using Lichess: Carlsen, Kasparov, Nakamura, Firouzja and more battle it out on Lichess (lichess.org/blog; September 2020). That Lichess blog post started,

A pair of amazing tournaments will be taking place in the next week on Lichess with a combined $400,000 prize fund. Featuring World Champion Magnus Carlsen, former World Champion Garry Kasparov, and many other Super GMs: Vachier-Lagrave, Caruana, Nakamura, Aronian, Svidler, Firouzja, and more. We will get to see Carlsen and Kasparov play their first competitive game since Magnus was 13 years old.

The anonymous post went on to describe the first 'amazing' tournament as 'what is *uninspiringly* called "Chess 960" on Lichess', and the second as 'the *archaic* form of chess that includes the same starting position in every game'. The asterisks ('*') are mine. Does someone have an axe to grind?

For more objective reporting, I could have turned to any of the major chess news services, which reported on all three days of the chess960 event. I'll go with Chess.com, because it has also supported chess960 since the early days and because the reports were by Peter Doggers, one of the top chess journalists in the world.

That last report included a final crosstable, which is reproduced here.

I'll come back to this event in another post to look at games and videos. For the second year, the format was called Chess 9LX and tagged with a 'TM' symbol, as if it didn't have enough names. Another top chess journalist, Leonard Barden of The Guardian, has some trouble keeping the many names straight:-

I added '9LX' to the list of names on the header of this blog, but will hold off on '9XL'. I might have to list it anyway if the misnomer ever catches on with a wider audience. Maybe I should 'TM' it.