28 March 2010

No Chess960 @ Doeberl

Chess960 was introduced at the 2009 Doeberl Cup -- 'Australia's Premier Grand Prix Chess Tournament' according to the event's home page -- but is missing from the list of events for 2010. What happened? After the cancellation at Mainz 2010 (see No Chess960 @ CCM10 for more), is this a double whammy? I contacted Shaun Press, the proprietor of the ace Australian blog Chessexpress and an arbiter at the 2009 chess960 tournament ('I was a little lenient on illegal castling'),
The tournament turned into a battle between two groups. In one corner were the Sydney chess960 experts, led by Blair Mandla, Neil Wright and George Xie. In the other were the group of Indian IM's who seemed not to have played it much before, but came to grips with it very quickly. At the halfway point it looked like the Sydney crew would take home the money, but the Indian's finished the stronger to capture the top 3 places. (2009 O2C Doeberl Cup - Chess 960)

and asked him, 'I believe that you had something to do with getting chess960 on the program for 2009 and I wondered if you have any comment on it being dropped.' He replied,

We have always had a traditional lightning (blitz) event at the Doeberl Cup, but unfortunately we didn't have space in the calendar for both lightning and chess960. So when we introduced chess960 we decided we were going to run it in alternate years with the lightning. So last year was chess960, this year will be lightning.

The 2009 chess960 event wasn't accepted in all quarters. Another popular Australian blogger, Amiel Rosario of The Closet Grandmaster, badmouthed the event at every opportunity he had:-

It's a pity that the decision -- (1) traditional chess at blitz vs. (2) chess960 -- is an either/or choice. In these early days of chess960 there are bound to be more players attached to traditional chess than to chess960, just like circa 1492, when chess saw its last major evolution with the introduction of new moves for the Queen and Bishop, there were bound to be more players attached to the slower medieval chess.

Maybe the 'closet grandmaster' should ask GM Levon Aronian, a real grandmaster, what he thinks about chess960 and why he plays it every year at Mainz. Will chess960 be seen at the Doeberl Cup in 2011? I'm sure the Australian blogs will let us all know. Don't you just love the chess blogosphere!

27 March 2010

(Almost) No Chess960 @ CCM10

A year ago, in Chess960 @ CCM9, I was relieved to learn that Chess Classic Mainz (CCM) had survived the worst financial crisis in modern times and that the full gamut of CCM events was assured for 2009. In fact the downturn took longer to bite than it did to bark and CCM did not survive unscathed for its 2010 edition. From Chess Classic Mainz 2010 -- "Back to the roots" (Chesstigers.de):
The Chess Tigers would have loved to present a whole week of top level chess in all its beauty and diversity, as we did in previous editions, but in this difficult economic times many companies do not have the financial resources anymore to support sport events.

The CCM Rapid World Championship, featuring traditional chess, and a couple of simuls are the only events to be held this year.

Chess960, the exciting chess variant that has been pushed in Mainz and even made it in the offical FIDE rules, has to take a break for a year. However, we are confident that we will be able to carry on with Chess960 next year.

Chess960 does get a consolation prize.

On the first day of the event, 6 August, 15th World Champion Viswanathan Anand will play a standard simul on 40 boards. On the same day, [Women's World Champion] Alexandra Kosteniuk will play a 20-board Chess960 simul. As you can see, Chess960 still has a place in Mainz!

I'm not sure how chess960 simuls work, but I imagine all boards start with a different position, which must be really tough on the simul giver. In January I watched Kosteniuk play a tandem simul with Almira Skripchenko in Brussels, and I can confirm that she is a tough person to beat.

Since the CCM chess960 events are the only source of GM-level chess960 games, I'll have to take another look at previous years to find games worth highlighting on this blog. Here's hoping that the Chess Tigers and their sponsors are back in force for 2011.

21 March 2010

Chess960 @ Chessville.com

In my previous post, Chess960 Groups @ Chess.com, I noted a good chess960 article on Chessville and wondered if there were any more. It turns out there are several.

Before I get to them, I'd like to tackle a mystery that I raised on my main blog a few months ago: Gone but not Forgotten?, 'except for a few small items under 'Pablo's Chess News', Chessville.com hasn't been updated since end-November [2009]'. It occurred to me to check the site's forum for news of their demise. I found two items.

The first thread, dated May 2009, started, 'I used to visit this forum quite a bit until I got away from chess. Is it my imagination or is there not a lot going on in this forum these days. What happened to all the activity?'. The answer was, 'My guess is that everybody has moved to Chess.com'. Given the astounding success of Chess.com, this seems entirely plausible.

The second thread, dated October 2009, started, 'Why no Chessville.com update since August 2?'. The response was,

I wish I had an answer for you, but I don't. David [Surratt] simply stopped communicating with Phil [Innes] & me [Kelly Atkins], gave no explanation, and refused to make any arrangements to keep Chessville going, or reply to any messages about it from us or anyone else that I know of. The lack of communication and ability to accomplish anything at Chessville because of it caused Phil & me to finally just throw up our hands and walk away from all of it. I have no idea why David hasn't updated the site or sent out a newsletter in months, or at least turned Chessville over to people who would do those things. I now doubt Chessville will ever be updated again, but hopefully I'm wrong. If you ever get an answer, please share it with the rest of us. I'm as perplexed as you.

Surratt, Innes, and Atkins were three of the main players behind Chessville. The thread goes on to mention that the site briefly became active in November, then stopped again. Since four months have already passed, that last stop appears to have been definitive. The upside of all this is, as there will be no new content on Chessville, anything found today is everything there ever will be to find. The downside is that the content will likely disappear one day, as soon as someone pulls the plug on the server.

Getting back to chess960, I found a number of relevant articles on Chessville. First, there are positive reviews of two books.

Then there are comments from two well known online chess personalities. The first is mildly critical.

Lockwood is the mastermind behind Schemingmind.com, where I started playing chess960 in 2008. The article, which I believe is copied from Schemingmind, starts,

Kramnik has made an interesting point about Fischer Random Chess (Chess Life, June 2004), regarding the lack of aesthetic balance of random starting arrays when compared with the familiar RNBQKBNR. Kramnik may well have a point (and who are we to argue?), however playing FRC should be a valuable learning experience for developing chess players because of the opportunity it offers to avoid prepared openings (not that learning opening theory isn't important for developing chess players - just that it's equally important to learn the importance of positional vision from the first move).

Perhaps if it were possible to restrict the opening arrays used in FRC to *only* those with a degree of innate symmetry and reject those where, in Kramnik's words, "the bishop stands on h8, the knight is on g8 and the rook on f8", it might be possible to get the best of both worlds?

The second is extremely critical.

Krabbé, a professional writer, is the keeper of the long running 'Open Chess Diary'. I give a link below, but these days it is only updated haphazardly.

Q: There seems to be a slow, but steady increase in the interest in Fischer Random Chess, or some variant thereof. In fact, some regard FRC as the current 'cutting edge' in chess innovation. Any comments?

A: For one thing, "Fischer Random Chess" is not an innovation - the idea of shuffling the pieces on the first rank dates back to the 18th century. It is amazing that Fischer managed to get his name attached to it. Benkö showed it to him in the 60's, and all Fischer did was spoil it by introducing an idiotic electronic shuffler to determine the starting position. Imagine two Fischer Random players on a desert island - even if they had board and pieces, they still couldn't play, until such a shuffler washed ashore.

People should be ashamed of playing "Fischer Random Chess" - it stems from his paranoia. He invented it because in classic chess, as you know, all grandmaster games have been fixed since 1972. The randomizer is needed because if the shuffling was left (as in Benkö's idea) to the players themselves, they would still fix the games.

Finally, any form of shuffle chess puts chess back 200 years - see my Diary, item 123.

The 'Diary, item 123' reference can be found at Diary 121-140, where it is dated 17 June 2001. There are a few points in Krabbé's comment that are so wildly misinformed that it would be worth discussing the original diary item. I'll come back to that in a future post.

All in all, that's not a bad catch for a few minutes spent trawling Chessville. I never paid much attention to the site when it was active, but I might have been mistaken to ignore it.

20 March 2010

Chess960 Groups @ Chess.com

After playing a few chess960 games on Chess.com and blogging about some of the novel chess960 ideas that I've discovered there, I decided that the site had become important enough on this blog to merit its own category: Posts with label Chess.com. I also joined a couple of their discussion groups that specialize in chess960:-

That first group can be browsed even if you're not a member of Chess.com. The second group can be browsed only if you're a member of the group. I see no reason to hide content from non-members, but it's obviously up to the group's admin to decide. I also found another, older chess960 group, currently inactive. I know from experience that it's tough to maintain momentum in a discussion group, but it might come back to life in the future.

One of the big advantages of a discussion group is being able to discover resources that others post about the group's common interest. I found one thread in the forum of the first group listed above (Chess960 RandomChess) titled On the Opening in Chess960 (FRC). It points to an article on Chessville.com, On the Opening in Fischer Random Chess by Robert T. Tuohey. His premise is,

The FRC player is required to analyze the particular starting array he finds before him based solely upon general principles. Very strangely, considering the countless articles written on FRC, this, the most basic problem posed by this variant -- i.e., How do I go about analyzing an FRC opening position? -- has all but been ignored! With this in mind, then, I’d like to offer the following basic method.

That's an excellent subject for discussion and, after the Chess.com thread runs its course, I might return to it on this blog. On top of that, I hadn't been aware that Chessville had an interest in chess960, so I'll tackle that subject in my next post.

14 March 2010

More Women, Chess960, and Video

The previous post -- Women, Chess960, and Video -- featured videos showing the preliminary rounds of the women's chess960 event at Mainz 2008. This video is from the final round that determined the overall winner.

Kosteniuk Chess960 World Champion (9:57) • 'Mainz 08: GM Alexandra Kosteniuk defends her world champion title in Chess960 against challengers Lahno, Zhukova and Cmilyte.'

The clip is from Kosteniuk's own YouTube Channel, ChessQueen. It mentions Tubechess.com ('Flash alternative to Chessmovies.com') and Chesspics.com. Chesspics has its own feature on the Mainz 2008 Women's Chess960 World Championship.

13 March 2010

Women, Chess960, and Video

My two previous posts -- Pictures of a Fischer Random Precursor and Chess960 Fever in Little Sweden -- were about Susan Polgar, the former Women's World Champion, and her experiences with chess960. The eldest of the three Polgar sisters is not the only Women's World Champion to have experimented with Fischer's idea. Current Women's World Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk played chess960 at Mainz 2008 in an elite event with three other top women players.

Kosteniuk leads in FiNet World Women Chess960 Rapid (4:41) • 'The first half of the 2. FiNet Chess960 Rapid World Championship produced entertaining though not perfect chess.'

According to the clip's additional info, the games were played at a time control of 20 minutes plus 5 seconds increment per move. Here are links to both parts of the video:

For more about the Mainz 2008 event, see Chess960 @ Chess Classic Mainz.

07 March 2010

Chess960 Fever in Little Sweden

While working on Pictures of a Fischer Random Precursor, I was reminded that Bobby Fischer wasn't the only former World Champion with whom Susan Polgar has played random chess (see her photos of World Champions for the complete list of World Champions she has met and, in most cases, played). In 2004, she played a six game match with Anatoly Karpov, where two of the games used chess960 rules. Chessbase.com reported on the event in Polgar vs Karpov: chess fever in Little Sweden:
'21.09.2004 -- The Clash of the Titans this weekend in Lindsborg, Kansas, began with a magnificent chess parade and ended with a 3:3 score between the two former world champions. The town was gripped by chess fever, and nationwide about ten million people were exposed to the event. Here's a magificently illustrated report by Paul Truong.' • Another Historic Milestone for Women’s Chess [...] When asked about the two Fischer Random chess games in support their fellow World Champion Bobby Fischer, Karpov said that Fischer has done so much for the chess world and he is a great champion. He thinks Fischer Random chess is quite interesting. He also thinks that Fischer should be left alone and be allowed to live out his life in peace. This is also the same sentiment from Susan Polgar. They both agreed that there are two sides to Bobby Fischer and we should honor his great chess accomplishment. [...]

The moves of only one chess960 game, won by Polgar, were included in the report and I wasn't able to locate the moves of the game won by Karpov. The following diagram shows the position in the surviving game just before White castled.

SP558: RNKNQBBR • After 11...Qe8-f7

Here is the complete game.

[Event "Clash of the Titans"]
[Site "Lindsborg, Kansas"]
[Date "2004.09.19"]
[Round "3"]
[White "Susan Polgar"]
[Black "Anatoly Karpov"]
[Result "1-0"]
[Annotator "SP558"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "rnknqbbr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNKNQBBR w - - 0 1"]

1.e4 e5 2.f3 f6 3.Nbc3 Bf7 4.Ne3 Ne6 5.Bc4 Bc5 6.Bxe6 Bxe6 7.Ned5 Bxg1 8.Qxg1 d6 9.d4 c6 10.dxe5 fxe5 11.Ne3 Qf7 12.0-0-0 Rd8 13.Qf2 Na6 14.Kb1 Nc7 15.Qg3 h6 16.a3 b5 17.Rd2 Rd7 18.Rhd1 0-0-0 19.Ne2 g5 20.h4 Qf6 21.hxg5 hxg5 22.Nc1 Kb7 23.Nd3 a5 24.Ng4 Bxg4 25.Qxg4 Ne6 26.Qf5 Qe7 27.c3 Kc7 28.Rh1 Rf8 29.Qg4 Nf4 30.Nxf4 gxf4 31.Rh6 Rf6 32.Rh8 Rf8 33.Rh5 {etc. Black lost on time} 1-0

A year later the two former World Champions met again in Lindsborg, this time with a former President of the Soviet Union -- Chess for Peace with Mikhail Gorbachev (Chessbase.com) -- but the six game match featured only traditional chess.

06 March 2010

Pictures of a Fischer Random Precursor

On her blog, Susan Polgar has published a number of photos from a 'Fischer Random' game she once played against Bobby Fischer. The following image is a composite of those photos, in chronological sequence, showing the first few moves of the game (1.g3 e5 2.Nb3 b6 3.f4 exf4).

The photos in the top row can both be found on Never been published FR games. The photos in the bottom row can be found on The Original Bobby Fischer Clock and World Champions.

It's worth noting that the position in the photos is not a legal chess960 start position. The best shot of the position is the photo in the lower left, which shows the pieces set up as either NKNBRRBQ or NQNBRRBK. Although it's not completely clear which piece is the King and which the Queen, in neither case is the King located between the Rooks, as required in chess960. Gligoric's Shall We Play Fischerandom Chess? allows us to date the photos to 1993 (p.36-39).

During Fischer's stay in Saint Stefan in 1992 [the second Fischer - Spassky match], he recommended shuffling all the pieces at random on the back row before the beginning of each game. [...] It turned out that Fischer's first plan would make 2400 different commencing positions. Immediately after his sensational return to the chess scene in 1992, he began experimenting privately with this kind of chess against colleagues and chance visitors.

Although Fischer was pleased that the mathematical sum of starting positions was very large, he soon discovered that eventually having two Bishops of the same color made an unpleasant impression, producing one-sided and limited opportunities on the chessboard. It was also clear that obstructing the right to castle would mean a step backward toward the primitive distant chess past and if the intermingling of pieces on the back row made castling impossible for both sides, this would inflict irreparable damage on playing strategy as well.

The result of Fischer's constant meditation on how to give alternative life to the game of chess, threatened by the exhaustion of its creative resources, was the formulation, in September 1993, of the rules of "Fischerandom Chess".

For more about Fischer's original rules, see Fischer's Rules of Fischerandom.