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?

21 March 2020

Problem Pieces

A few months ago, in 2019 Champions Showdown Live (October 2019), after linking to a number of videos from the 2019 Champions Showdown, St. Louis, I closed with a question:-
How am I ever going to find the time to watch all of this?

Today I decided to use this post to start the viewing, but first I stopped in to watch round four of the 2020 Candidates Tournament; Yekaterinburg (Russia). I hadn't been able to see the first three rounds and the fourth day was a rest day. Traditional chess is alive and well! The four games were so interesting that I spent most of my free time following the action. After three draws and another draw looming, I finally switched over to the video for a round from St. Louis:-

Streamed live on Sep 2, 2019; 2019 Champions Showdown | Chess 9LX: Day 1

Since chess is primarily a competitive activity, watching a game is more exciting when you don't know the outcome, but it's still interesting. The announcers -- 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.


SP366 NRKRQBBN

The diagram shows the start position for the first two rounds, i.e. eight games. At 18:50 into the video GM Seirawan said,

When you look at a chess960 position for the first time, you identify which pieces are problem pieces. I would identify Nh1 and Bg1. Which Pawn is the most vulnerable? Most likely the a2 & a7 Pawns [since they] are the only ones that aren't protected. Those will be the Pawns that the players first begin to attack.

I would have identified Na1 and Nh1 as the problem pieces. In fact, any piece starting in the corner, except a Rook, presents a problem. As for the Bg1, it is set to attack Pa7, making it more of an asset than a problem. But I won't quibble with the GM; his methodology is what counts.

P.S. Can we call SP366 the Leap Year position?

29 February 2020

Posts with Label 'News'

Is it "Today's news is tomorrow's history" -or- is it "Yesterday's news is today's history"? Whatever it is, after creating the category for Posts with Label 'History' (December 2010), I used it for both news and history, eventually accumulating exactly 100 posts.

Ten years ago, the number of history posts was greater than the number of news posts, but today those relative numbers are switched. To account for this, I created a new category Posts with label 'News' and moved 47 posts into it. The oldest post is Rare Bird Sightings (August 2010), and the newest is last week's post FWFRCC Manifesto (February 2020).

Let's hope that the year 2020 brings more news about Fischer's greatest invention. Let's also hope that it's good news. Contrary to the popular saying, no news isn't always good news.

22 February 2020

FWFRCC Manifesto

Last year's post, FWFRCC Wrapup (December 2019), was far from being the last on the 'FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship' (FWFRCC). First we had An Alternative to a 'Boring, Mind-Draining Process' (January 2020), and now we have a connection I covered on my main blog in Spectating the 90th FIDE Congress? (February 2020).

What does the 90th Congress have to do with chess960? 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'. Although the annex is undated and unsigned, it's important enough to present in its entirety:-

The FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship

Chess has existed for over 1500 years, and is played by over 600 million people, globally. Chess has a position in modern culture and unique values no other sport or activity can muster. At the same time, chess needs to balance between respect for the classic beauty of the game, and simultaneously look for ways to innovate chess in order to stay relevant for new players, media, commercial partners, and the general public. Fischer Random, also known as Chess 960 [sic; chess960], is highly relevant as one of FIDE’s selected tools to innovate the sport.

The FIDE Management Board has decided to develop Fischer Random (FR) as a new addition to the existing formats of chess. The goal is for FR to coexist with the existing formats, to attract potential and existing players in a new way. This is to be done in partnership with the entrepreneurs who made FR relevant again. They have developed and organized both a show match named "The Unofficial Fisher Random World Championship" in 2017 with Magnus Carlsen as the winner, and the first official FIDE Fischer Random World Fischer Random Chess Championship in 2019, with Wesley So as the winner.

Promotion

In order to broaden the awareness and interest for Fischer Random in general, and particularly the FRWCC amongst potential players, potential audience, potential sponsors and general media, the relevant committees in FIDE and organizers will cooperate tightly. The key elements to create positive interest and attention for FR are:
- Establish rating
- Make sure there are tournaments to participate in
- Launch campaigns targeted towards players, organizers, and chess sites to create positive interest and awareness for the concept of FR.

Global distribution and participation

The WFRCC [NB: that's FWFRCC without the leading 'F' for FIDE] cycle is based on the same concept as the classical cycle. In theory, you can come in from the street, and qualify for a seat in Championship. But, in the FR cycle, the qualifying tournaments, open for anyone, are hosted online. In the first Official Championship, 94 nationalities were represented in the qualifying rounds. The online part secures easy access and a low threshold for anyone who ever dreamt about participating in a Chess World Championship.

The concept of FR is not to take players away from classical chess. The goal is to widen the range of interesting ways to play chess for existing players, as well as broaden the scope for ways for children to get interested in chess.

The first official championship was not without flaws, and there is room for improvements. That is why both FIDE and its commissions shall work closely with the organizers to secure a fair and smooth competition.

The following elements for developing an accessible, popular and global World Championship cycle are already established, and will be formalized in tight cooperation between FIDE and the organizers:

Finance and commercial rights

The organizers, the limited company Dund AS, owned by Jøran Aulin-Jansson and Arne Horvei, are appointed by FIDE as the exclusive organizer of the WFRCC Cycle for 2021 and 2023. This includes all and exclusive rights, including but not limited to sponsorships, transmission and other commercial agreements. Dund AS will pay to FIDE a fee of 20% of the prize fund raised for the championship.

Cycle structure

The FIDE World Fischer Random Cycle is to be organized with finals in November 2021 and November 2023. Based on the interest and attention after these two cycles FIDE, in partnership with the organizers, are to evaluate, and discuss if the Fischer Random World Championship Cycle should continue every second year, or go over to annual cycles. Each cycle will consist of both online qualifiers, and over the board finals.

Online qualification

The first steps of the online qualifiers are to be open to all chess players around the world, regardless of rating and experience.

FIDE is working for the online qualification tournaments to be hosted on several platforms. This will both help with the global awareness and interest for the Championship, and it can help to motivate the online platforms to host Fischer Random tournaments throughout 2020.

Involving different, and competing sites with potentially big differences in technology, anticheating systems, and reach, will require FIDE and the organizers to develop a set of specifications. Online platforms that comply with these specifications are welcome to host Open Qualifying tournaments on their sites. This will require good planning and dialogue with the platforms, in order to keep good control over anti-cheating, timing of tournaments, and number of participants that are to be qualified from each platform.

Time control

It is decided that Fischer Random games shall be rated under the time control for Rapid format. Which type of Rapid time control, both for online games, and for over the board games, will be discussed more in detail.

There are so many talking points here that I don't know where to start. I'm sure I'll come back to it in future posts.

25 January 2020

From van Zuylen to Benko

In the previous post, An Alternative to a 'Boring, Mind-Draining Process', I discussed an article from the January 2020 Chess Life. The same article had a short sidebar titled 'What is Fischer Random Chess?', which started,
Fischer Random Chess was publicized by the 11th World Champion, Bobby Fischer, in Buenos Aires in 1996. The foundation of Fischer Random chess had been laid two centuries earlier by Philip Julius van Zuylen van Nijevelt as a means of combating expanding opening theory, requiring players to rely on creativity rather than rote memorization and repetition.

We've seen van Zuylen once before in this blog -- More Arguments Against Chess960 (April 2010) -- where Dutch writer Tim Krabbé placed van Zuylen's idea on an equal footing with Fischer's idea. In fact, the two ideas have as much in common as an acorn has to an oak tree. Van Zuylen shuffled the pieces on the rank behind the Pawns, not even taking care to place the Bishops on different colored squares. It's an interesting idea, but it's not particularly difficult to imagine. Fischer invented a castling scheme that was comprehensive enough to make the rules governing the traditional start position (SP518 RNBQKBNR) a subset of his own invention. The intellectual leap between the simple shuffling and the complex castling was a real feat of imagination.

For more about van Zuylen, see Philip Julius van Zuylen van Nijevelt (wikipedia.org). That page includes a link to van Zuylen's book, written in French, where the shuffling idea was introduced. I haven't had time to study the book, but another page, La Superiorite Aux Echecs: The first chess book of endgame theory by van Zuylen van Nyevelt (chess.com/blog/introuble2), makes it clear that shuffle chess represents only a miniscule portion of its total content.

Jumping from the 18th century to the 20th century, the November 1978 Chess Life (CL; p.609) had a pair of articles on shuffle chess. The introduction to the first article, showing the opposing pieces in a strategic huddle, is pictured below.


'Pre-chess : Time for a Change' by GM Pal Benko
(Drawing: Nelly Kastelucci)

GM Benko wrote,

About ten years ago someone told me of another idea, which he said had come originally from Soviet grandmaster David Bronstein, certainly one of the most original thinkers in chess The idea is to begin with the sixteen pawns set up as usual, but with no pieces on the board. White's first move is to set any one of his pieces on any square along his first rank. Black then places any of his pieces anywhere on his own first rank.

Play alternates, each player placing another piece on his first rank. No piece or pawn may be moved until all the pieces of both sides are in place. To keep the game as close as possible to orthodox chess, Bishops must be placed on opposite-color squares and castling is permitted only if the King is on "K1" and at least one Rook is on a corner square.

That's certainly more sophisticated than van Zuylen's acorn, although still far from Fischer's oak tree. The rest of Benko's article was about a four game 'pre-chess' match with GM Arthur Bisguier. It was followed immediately by the second CL article, titled 'Pre-chess : For the Thinking Player' by GM Bisguier, who won the match. The two GMs' thoughts on their version of shuffle chess foreshadowed the thinking about chess960 more than two decades later.

18 January 2020

An Alternative to a 'Boring, Mind-Draining Process'

If, like me, you thought that last month's post, FWFRCC Wrapup, was the last on that subject, then you would be wrong. The January 2020 edition of Chess Life (CL) had a four page article by GM Robert Hess titled, 'So Showcase', subtitled, 'GM Wesley So goes on a winning spree at the first FIDE World Fischer Random Championship'. It started,
Between the U.S. Championship, five Grand Chess Tour events, the FIDE Grand Prix cycle, the World Cup, and the FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss, GM Wesley So hardly had any downtime in 2019. Breaks from tournaments are necessary: time is spent mending holes in the repertoire and diving deep into the weeds of openings to unearth a new variation.

Preparation often requires rote memorization of long series of moves, countless Berlin lines stored for future use. Many do not find this an enjoyable endeavor. The FIDE World Fischer Random Championship, then, was a nice reprieve from the typical drudgery required to be competitive at the game’s highest level.

Near the end of the article, GM So confirmed that sentiment.

[Wesley] So certainly wants to see the variant grow. To him it was "wonderful not having to memorize lines and go over and over the same material searching for a novelty somewhere. I have a good memory, but it is such a boring, mind-draining process." In Norway, not having anything to memorize, his daily routine consisted of solving chess puzzles, studying chess books, working on tactics over the board, eating well, and sleeping regular hours.

Between those paragraphs was a high-level summary of GM So's path to the title, including his crushing win over GM Magnus Carlsen in the final match. The following photo (photographer unknown) shows the playing arena in Norway's 'Henie Onstad Art Center'.


Caption: 'So emerged as the surprise leader after his day one matchup with GM Magnus Carlsen.'

Along with that article, GM Hess analyzed two games from the FWFRCC competition. The first was a Nakamura - Caruana game in the December 2019 issue of CL. The second was So - Carlsen in the January 2020 CL, game two of the final match.

For a chess magazine which has long emphasized American juniors and has lately been emphasizing American women, the chess960 articles were a welcome change. I wonder if there's any demand for more of the same.

28 December 2019

Non-random, Non-castling

Former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik has an idea: Kramnik and AlphaZero: How to Rethink Chess? (chess.com; comments). It started with a commonplace observation:-
The increasing strength of chess engines, the millions of computer games and the volumes of opening theory available to every player are making top-level chess less imaginative.

GM Kramnik approached Demis Hassabis, the CEO of DeepMind, with an idea:-

We tasked AlphaZero with exploring a variant that prevented either side from castling, trying different opening moves from both sides. The outcome was beyond our expectations!

A few days later Chessbase jumped at the concept in Vladimir Kramnik proposes an exciting chess variant! (chessbase.com; comments), supplemented with a video from ChessBase India, No-Castling Chess - Vladimir Kramnik suggests an exciting variant! (youtube.com). We know from a post last year, Purported Problems with Chess960 (April 2018), that Chessbase is faced with an existential threat from chess960. We've also seen on this blog that Kramnik is no fan of chess960:-

Retaining the traditional start position (SP518 RNBQKBNR) and changing only the castling rules, resets theory so that chess fans can continue to run their engines and memorize calculated variations, thereby gaining an edge on an opponent in the next big game.

Ten years ago I explored the history of the castling rules in a series of posts:-

Perhaps AlphaZero or one of its many descendants could explore the castling ideas that were abandoned centuries ago. Or perhaps Kramnik's no-castling idea could be applied to chess960. In that case, there is no need to retain Fischer's restriction that the King starts between the two Rooks. Then we're back to basic shuffle chess with its roots in Bronstein, Benko, and a host of other inventors. That makes far more than 960 start positions, a number I might calculate another time.

If Kramnik's idea is meant to retain engine analysis and memorization of opening variations, the same objective could be accomplished by switching to SP534 RNBKQBNR. This has the additional advantage of retaining most of the patterns and plans that arise from SP518.

Thinking up new ideas is the easy part; convincing other people of their worth is the hard part. When moving on from over-analyzed SP518, a statement of primary objectives would avoid hidden agendas.