05 December 2009

Attention to the Chess960 Center

In More from Mainz 2009 I quoted GM Grischuk saying,
The first year [at Mainz] I was playing like g4/b4, but in order to play like this successfully you have to be either Aronian or Nakamura. They look to be the only two persons who do it successfully. Kamsky does it but he tries more like f4/c4, but they are g4/b4. It works for them, but for me it was just terrible. Since then I try to play a more central approach at the starting stage.

After playing chess960 for almost a year and a half, I have some idea what Grischuk is saying. There are two distinct, fundamental ways to treat a chess960 opening. The first way is to follow traditional chess opening principles, of which one of the most important is to pay attention to the center. The second way is to pay less attention to the center, but by taking into account the specific start position, to emphasize the rapid development of the pieces to good squares, even if this means making early moves like g4 or b4.

Grischuk didn't pick the names Aronian and Nakamura at random; they have been among the most successful competitors at recent Mainz events. Aronian won the main chess960 event at Mainz on several occasions (see Chess960 @ Chess Classic Mainz for a list of his accomplishments), although he finished second to Nakamura in the most recent tournament (see CCM9: Nakamura, Grischuk, and Rybka).

This year the two 2700 GMs played two games in the preliminary stage of the closed Rapid World Championship and then met in the final stage. Nakamura lost to Aronian +0-1=1 in the preliminaries, but won +3-0=1 in the finals.

Most of the six games between the two players were more like the g4/b4 variety, but one game used more classical principles in the attention paid to the center. The following diagram shows a position from game three of the final match.

Chess960 World Championship, Mainz 2009
Aronian, L.

Nakamura, H.
(After 8...Bh6-g7)

At first glance the position might be mistaken for the Philidor Defense (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6) in traditional chess, but the Queens in the corners, the Kings on the c-file, and the position of the Rooks, especially the Rook on d3, are a dead giveaway that the position is chess960 (SP666, RNKRBBNQ). White continued 9.Be3, defending the attacked d-Pawn a third time and letting the Rook on d3 retreat if necessary. The PGN for the full game, courtesy Chesstigers.de, is:

[Event "CCM9 - Chess960 Rapid WCh"]
[Site "Mainz"]
[Date "2009.07.30"]
[Round "9.1"]
[White "Nakamura, Hikaru"]
[Black "Aronian, Levon"]
[Result "1-0"]
[WhiteElo "2777"]
[BlackElo "2800"]
[Variant "chess 960"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "rnkrbbnq/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNKRBBNQ w DAda - 0 1"]
[Source "Chess Tigers"]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 g6 3.Nc3 c6 4.g3 d6 5.d4 Bd7 6.Rd3 Na6 7.a3 Bh6+ 8.Bd2 Bg7 9.Be3 exd4 10.Bxd4 Nc5 11.Rd2 Nf6 12.Ng5 Rf8 13.O-O-O O-O-O 14.e5 Ng4 15.f4 Ne6 16.Nxe6 Bxe6 17.h3 dxe5 18.Bxa7 Nf6 19.Ba6 e4 20.Qg1 Rxd2 21. Bxb7+ Kxb7 22.Qb6+ 1-0

The ratings (WhiteElo and BlackElo) are special chess960 ratings calculated by Chess Tigers. In my next post, I'll show a position from another game between the two players where less attention was given to the center.

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