24 July 2021

Don't Neglect the Corner Queen

A few years ago I wrote a post Activating the Corner Queen (September 2013; SP180 NBBRNKRQ), where I concluded,
Black was always in command and eventually won. The early activation of Black's Queen was the deciding factor.

I was reminded of that post in a pair of games that I recently played at the same time and that both ended disastrously for my opponents. I was White in both games.

The position at the top is from a game that started with SP201 QNRBBKNR. Black played the inconsistent sequence 9...Qa7, followed immediately by 10...b6. This left the Black Queen out of play just as much as in the start position. I played 5.b4 and 6.Qb2, followed later by 17.Qd2, where the Queen joined an attack building against the Black King. The diagrammed position, where Black resigned, shows all White pieces participating in the attack.

The position at the top is from a game that started with SP495 QRNKNRBB. Black's Queen never moved and Black made no effort to develop it by moving either of the Pawns that blocked it. I played 1.b4, activating the Queen on the first move. Although the Queen didn't jump into the game until 19.Qg7, setting up a killer mating net, it participated in the tactics throughout.

In the traditional start position (SP518 RNBQKBNR), the Queen is well placed to enter the game as circumstances dictate -- via either of two diagonals, up the file (often to the second rank), or occasionally sliding along the back rank. When the Queen starts in the corner, it is badly placed and requires special attention.

In both diagrammed games, White was virtually playing with an extra Queen, a significant advantage for any player. It can't have been pleasant for either of the opponents.

26 June 2021

People Also Ask About Chess960

Last week's post on this blog, An Underused Resource (June 2021), led to a post on my main blog, Key Moments in Video (ditto), where I looked at a recent development in Google Search. This week's post is about another, older feature in Google Search.

A simple search on 'chess960' yields a list of about four questions which result in additional questions -- apparently unlimited in number -- after expanding any of the original questions. Shown here is the list for chess960.

And here is the same list using numbered bullets:-

    People also ask:-
  1. Why is Chess960 not popular?
  2. Why is it called Chess 960?
  3. Is Chess960 better than chess?
  4. Is Chess960 the future of chess?
  5. How do I get good at Chess960?
  6. How popular is Chess960?
  7. How many positions are there in Chess960?
  8. Will chess ever be solved?
  9. Is castling a real chess move?
  10. Is it good to play Chess960?
  11. Do people play chess 960?

The two questions about popularity (no.1 and no.6) link to further resources, and I imagine that most (all?) of the other questions also lead to other resources. Some of the questions are about fact (no.2 and no.7), others are opinion (no.3 and no.4; I say 'Yes!', but I'm obviously biased).

One curiosity is that almost all references to chess960 use the uppercase form, 'Chess960'. Almost no one does this for 'chess'. Here's a similar list for a search on 'fischer random chess':-

    People also ask
  1. How do you play Fischer Random Chess?
  2. Can you Castle in Fischer Random Chess?
  3. What does Fischer mean in chess?
  4. Why is it called Chess 960?
  5. Who is the greatest chess player of all time?
  6. What does FF mean in chess?
  7. Can a rook be called a castle?
  8. Can pawns move backwards?
  9. How many times can we check in chess?
  10. Why is Chess960 not popular?

Question no.6 had me stumped, so I expanded it. 'FF' apparently means,

A fairy chess piece, variant chess piece, unorthodox chess piece, or heterodox chess piece is a chess piece not used in conventional chess but incorporated into certain chess variants and some chess problems.

What does that have to do with chess960? We may never know. When I get a chance, I'll take a closer look at Google's 'People also ask' feature on my main blog.

19 June 2021

An Underused Resource

For many reasons, we don't see too many instructive videos about chess960 -- small expert base, difficult thinking process, small subscriber base -- so any time a good video comes along it's worth featuring. This clip, from Youtube channel 'Chess on the Brain with NM David Bennett', does a good job of instructing.

Chess strategy explained with Fischer Random on lichess.org (3:53:56) • 'Streamed live on Sep 28, 2020'

The description says,

No opening theory, just pure chess strategy & tactics with Chess 960 / Fischer Random Chess. I aim to provide as lucid / honest an explanation as possible of my thinking process and the ideas behind the moves rather than just streaming live games.

The games were played at time control '3+3' (three minutes per game plus three seconds per move). NM Bennett spends much of the three minutes explaining the first moves, then gets into time pressure, then plays quickly to avoid time forfeit. All in all it's good entertainment and debunks the frequent criticism -- dare we call it a myth?-- that chess960 is too esoteric for expert commentary.

There is more chess960 material on the same channel, including some videos in Spanish. None of it has as high a view count as it merits.


A second reason for featuring this video is that it popped up on Google search with the following annotation.

I had never seen 'key moments in this video' before and will take a closer look on my main blog. The 'key moments' here aren't really key; I would prefer the start times of each of the live games, but I'm not sure it's possible to do that.

29 May 2021

Chessgames.com Converter Cleanup

In last month's post, Chessgames.com Start Position XREF (April 2021), I created a Chessgames.com SP Converter and finished with an action:-
My cross-reference is crude and lacks the HTML tags that make a proper web page. I'll improve it as soon as I can and, at the same time, integrate it into my other chess960 resources.

While doing that I renamed the page 'Chess960 Start Position Converter for Chessgames.com'. As for integrating it into other chess960 resources, how much attention should be given to a resource that is fundamentally misleading? I decided that only the minimum is necessary.

This is a good time for a general reminder that although a chess960 start position has eight pieces, only five pieces are necessary to determine the new position. After placing the Queen, Bishops, and Knights (NB: Bishops first!), the position Rook-King-Rook is automatically determined.

22 May 2021

Updated Database of SPs (2021-05)

According to the previous post in the category, Updated Database of SPs (2015-06), it's been nearly six years since I last updated my database that cross references posts to start positions (SPs; see posts from the years 2000-2002). Even after such a long time, I had slightly more than 20 references to add. That's mainly a comment on how little analysis there is on this blog.

I suppose I can do better than that, but there are so many other chess960 angles to explore. At two posts a month, how much ground can I reasonably cover?

24 April 2021

Chessgames.com Start Position XREF

In last week's post, SP864, Reddit, Chessgames.com (April 2021), I wrote,
Chessgames.com: I [...] discovered that the book was structured as an introduction to chess960 from several angles. Unfortunately, it had a big problem. The start positions used Chessgames.com numbering which is non-standard.

I also said,

I've mentioned the Chessgames.com pitfall many times on this blog, but the problem needs a more permanent warning.

To make progress, I created a cross-reference (aka XREF) between standard start position (SP) numbers and Chessgames.com numbers. I uploaded the cross-reference to my own site as a new page:-

I tested the cross-reference on a discrepancy documented in a previous post, Champions Showdown, St. Louis (September 2018), where I wrote,

I noticed one anomaly that I don't understand. The official site's 'Results' page noted the start positions and their numbers for each round, but the numbers don't correspond to the system that I'm familiar with. For example, it gives the first day using 'Position 598: NQBBRKRN'. I prepared the following table for this post, where the first column is the round number and the second column is the numeric start position:-


Indeed, the chess960 standard number SP309 is the equivalent of the Chessgames.com non-standard number 598. Another unsuspecting soul had fallen into the Chessgames.com trap.

My cross-reference is crude and lacks the HTML tags that make a proper web page. I'll improve it as soon as I can and, at the same time, integrate it into my other chess960 resources.

17 April 2021

SP864, Reddit, Chessgames.com

In the few weeks since since my previous post, I've received three noteworthy messages worthy of separate posts. I'll list the messages here according to the order in which I received them.

SP864: The first message was a comment by Andrey D. to my most recent post, TCEC C960 FRC3, (March 2021):-

You might be interested in knowing the solution for Black in a particularly difficult SP we once discussed.

In fact, there are two 'particularly difficult' SPs that are related by switching two pieces. I'll reference them via my 'Database of SPs'. The first is:-

The second is:-

I include a second link for SP868 because I haven't updated the database since I wrote the post two years ago. At the end of this post, I've attached a substantial portion of Andrey D.'s comment in PGN format. It's an important discovery.

Reddit: The second message was an email. My email address can be found on my profile linked in the top right of every page in this blog ('View my complete profile'). The message said,

Maybe you could share some of your articles on /r/chess960, which is pretty much dead.

I replied,

Please feel free to link any of my blog posts on Reddit.

If I could find the time, I would be more proactive than that. The Reddit topic is at chess960 related topics (reddit.com). The world needs a public forum to discuss chess960/FRC.

Chessgames.com: The third message was also an email. It had two PDF attachments that were introduced with:-

It is a pleasure for me to have carried out this humble book with the 960 initial positions, obtained from the page chessgames.com, making screenshots of the 960 positions and diagramming them in the "DIAGTRANSFER" software and placing them in my book. It is in Spanish because I am from Argentina.

I used Google Translate to understand the Spanish and discovered that the book was structured as an introduction to chess960 from several angles. Unfortunately, it had a big problem. The start positions used Chessgames.com numbering which is non-standard. I last saw this a year ago in a post about the '2019 Champions Showdown', Spectating Chess960 (April 2020):-

Day 4 started with a curiosity. The first start position (SP784 BBRQKNRN) was the twin of the position on Day 3 (SP175 NRNKQRBB). [...] 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.

I've mentioned the Chessgames.com pitfall many times on this blog, but the problem needs a more permanent warning. A good place to mention it would be my page Chess960 Start Positions (m-w.com). The page appears in the results for various searches and gets a fair amount of traffic. A table converting between the two numbering systems might also be useful.


Some GM analysis:-

[Event "SP864"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "????.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "W"]
[Black "B"]
[Result "*"]
[Annotator "Andrey D."]
[SetUp "1"]
[PlyCount "0"]
[FEN "bbqrkrnn/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/BBQRKRNN w - - 0 1"]

1.Ng3 c5
  ( 1...f6 )
  ( 1...Nf6 )
  ( 1...g6 )
2.Nh5 f6 3.Nxg7+ Kf7 4.Nh5 Ng6 {This counter-intuitive gambit is in fact very logical upon a closer look; note that White's only piece [pawns included] that has moved so far is his h5-knight which will be forced to retreat soon. Meanwhile Black has already played ...c5 and ...Ng6, and is now intending ...d5 followed by ...Qg4! and ...Nf4!, gaining further tempi. The semi-open g-file can also be used rather by Black than by White [especially if the latter castles h-side].} 5.Nf3 d5 6.b4 b6 7.bxc5 d4
  ( {Morphy-style! However simple} 7...bxc5 {was also fine for Black.} )
  ( 8.Bxd4 Rxd4 9.Nxd4 Qxc5 {and one of White's knights will be lost} )
  ( 8.cxb6 {ignoring development altogether} 8...Bxf3 9.gxf3 Qh3 {with a number of threats for the sacrificed material.} )
8...Qg4 9.Ng3 Nf4 {the roles are now reversed and it's White who has to play Rg1, because if 10.0-0? then 10...d3! 11.cxd3 Nxe2+ 12.Nxe2 Bxf3} 10.Rg1 bxc5 11.Qxc5 e5 {And Black, who has a very strong initiative for two pawns, went on to win in a long and absolutely crazy fight!} *

I wouldn't be surprised to find a similar line for SP868.