22 June 2019

Titled Players Join the FWFRCC

Two months after I posted Roadmap for a World Championship (April 2019), the first phase -- "Open Qualifier" Phase : For Non-Titled Players -- has finished. The results are available at World Fischer Random Championship: Qualified Players (chess.com).

Eight days of qualifying events, with four events per day and five players qualifying from each event comes to a total of 160 players qualified for the next phase. That 'Qualified Players' page showed that many players finished high enough to qualify more than once, when their second qualifying spot went to someone a little further down the list. Did any players qualify more than twice?

I loaded the list of qualified players into a database and created the chart shown on the left. It shows that there were nine players who qualified at least three times.

My database counted only 157 names, instead of the 160 I expected. Maybe there was a glitch in my procedure, maybe there was another reason, but my overall numbers should be accurate enough.

One Chess.com player, KokeFischer of Chile, qualified nine times, while two others, from Brazil and the USA, qualified four times. Are players from the 'New World' more interested in chess960 than players from the rest of the world? Maybe, but I suspect it has more to do with the start times of the four events favoring certain time zones.

So what's next? The rules (see the 'Roadmap' post for links) call for a '"Play-in" Phase : For Eligible Players', aka 'Qualifying Stage 2'. Specifically,

  • The 160 qualifiers from the 'Non-Titled Open Qualifier' stage will join titled players at this stage.
  • Players will register for tournaments they are eligible to play.
  • Players will compete in a 10+2, 9-round Swiss tournament based on the set qualifying schedule, with the top 7 finishers from each winning eligibility to purchase entries into the Knockout Qualifier Phase.
  • The total number of qualifiers from this phase will be 84 players.

The Schedule page (frchess.com) tells us when this will take place. First, here's the phase that has already completed:-

  • 2019-04-28: Open qualifiers begin • Non-Titled Players. Occurs 32 times to qualify 160 Players. 10+2. Top-5 to Play-in Qualifier.

The next phase starts a week from now:-

  • 2019-06-30: Play-in qualifiers begin • Eligible Players. Occurs 12 times to qualify a total of 84 Players. 10+2. Top-7 to Knockout Qualifier.

As for the rest of the tournament, here's the schedule. This is, of course, subject to change:-

  • 2019-08-11: Knockout qualifiers begin • 84 players + 12 Invited Players. 15+2. Two game mini-match. Winner of each 16-Player Bracket to QF.
  • 2019-10-04: Quarterfinals stage 1 begins • 6 winners from the Knockout Qualifiers join Nakamura & Caruana.
  • 2019-10-06: Quarterfinals stage 2 begins • 2 losers bracket winners join the 4 QF Stage 1 winners in a series of different time controls.
  • 2019-10-27: Semifinals begins • 3 QF winners join Magnus Carlsen for a semifinal with a series of different time controls.
  • 2019-10-31: Finals begins • Championship and Third-place matches begin with a series of different time controls.

Some of that doesn't make much sense -- e.g. '2 losers bracket winners' -- but it should all become clearer as the individual events arrive. The finals start on Halloween. Best costume wins a special prize?

15 June 2019

Playing the FWFRCC

For the second time in my life I played in a qualifying event for a World Championship. The first was an ICCF correspondence event, which I documented in a post on my main blog, WCCC29SF14 (July 2007). The second was a preliminary event in the 'FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship' (FWFRCC). So far I've posted twice on this chess960 blog about the tournament:-

Until a couple of weeks ago, I hadn't even thought about playing in the tournment. My online ('live!') playing days ended 15 years ago, except for a few hours of chess960 that I documented on this blog in How I Spent My Free Day (March 2011). Blitz has never been my strong point and there are always other things to do. So how did I end up playing in the FWFRCC?

While I was working on the previous FWFRCC posts, I came across the page 2019 Fischer Random Open Non-Titled Qualifier - Chess Club (chess.com), and tried to join. A few days later I received the message

I can't let you into the Fischer Random club as you are not registered. If you wish to play in the open qualifiers and receive a free diamond membership please pay to register at frchess.com.

I hadn't understood the purpose of the club, but fair enough -- I paid my five dollars at frchess.com and became a member of the club. I started poking around the club's page and noticed comments from other members saying things like 'This is my chance to participate in a historic event!' They were right. Here I am maintaining a blog about the subject and I hadn't even considering playing in the first large scale C960/FRC tournament ever held.

Nine rounds at 10 minutes per player per game comes to at least three hours per tournament. Given per-move increments and organizational lags, that's probably closer to four hours. Finding a block of four consecutive, uninterrupted hours for an online tournament is not easy for me, even though there were four start times every Sunday. Last Sunday my wife was gone for the entire day and I knew if I didn't play on that day, I might not get another chance.

How to prepare for the tournament? In the days when I played FIDE-rated OTB events, my pre-game preparation was to run through tactical exercises. For chess960, I added choosing the first move as White from a random start position. I would have liked to do the same exercise with Black -- after being given White's first move -- but I don't have a tool to do that.

I also wanted to play in a preparatory tournament, in order to become familiar with the time control and the Chess.com interface, but I couldn't find a suitable event on Chess.com. I settled on playing a few games against their computer: Play Chess960 (Fischer-Random Chess) vs the Computer (chess.com). In the first game I blundered a minor piece, in the second I blundered a Queen, and I knew if I didn't want to finish the FWFRCC with a 0-9 score, I would have to improve my concentration. I decided I would play in a neutral setting, away from my office and all of the associated distractions.

I went into the tournament with a 1600 rating assigned by Chess.com. In the first game I was paired as White against a 2200 player. Although I avoided blundering, I spent most of the game on the defensive and finally lost on time in an unclear endgame. In my second game I checkmated my opponent in nine moves and was freed from the stigma of a 0-9 result. After five games I had a score of +2-3=0. I had been playing for exactly two hours, which averaged out to 24 minutes per game. It was supper time, the dog was begging to be fed, I was also hungry, and since I hadn't planned for these circumstances, I reluctantly decided to withdraw from the tournament. My final result ('bemweeks') is shown in the following chart.

Fischer Random Championship Non-Titled Open Qualifier 25

I lost another game on time when I had a won position, so it's clear that my play was too slow. The time control doesn't allow for spending additional time on the first few moves, which are the most difficult in a game of chess960. If I want to improve my result, I'll need to practice. It's that simple.

The $5.00 I paid for entry entitled me to two tournaments. Tomorrow is the last Sunday of qualifying events, starting at 8 AM, 12 noon, 4 PM, and 8 PM, all U.S. Pacific time. Since I live in central Europe, that translates to 1700, 2100, 0100, and 0500, my local time. Given other commitments, the only realistic possibility for me to play is at 0500 Monday morning, but even that is not so realistic. Since I would again have to withdraw after only two hours, it looks like I'm out of luck.

Kudos to Chess.com for organizing a terrific series of events. I was worried about running into some aspect of their interface that would prove to be a blocking factor, but everything worked as I expected. The site has been a strong supporter of chess960 for ten years. Without that support we might not be anywhere near a FWFRCC. Thanks, Chess.com!

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.