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.

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