30 October 2010

Chess960 Point and Counterpoint

Advocates of traditional chess love to invent arguments against chess960. I mentioned several in Some Arguments Against Chess960 and More Arguments Against Chess960. While following the pros and cons about Advanced Chess960 @ Chess.com, I had the opportunity to encounter a few more arguments. For the benefit of others who are active in promoting chess960, here is a record of the discussions.

From: Could we please stop calling Chess960 a variant?.

  • heinzie: '[Re SP518] the "one position within it" happens to be the only perfectly logical one, symmetrical and blessed with an even distribution of force'

    SP534 (RNBKQBNR) has the same characteristics as SP518 (RNBQKBNR). Only the castling considerations are different, but that's enough to make it theoretically separate. - Mark [2nd October 2010, 12:07am]

  • EnterTheDragon: 'Subsequently for the following FIVE HUNDRED YEARS the game's name [chess], piece placement, piece movements stood the test of time.'

    Until computers came along, when good old chess, weakened at the knees, started to stumble under the burden. I agree with the person who called chess960 a mutation. It's fortified chess, made to withstand the onslaught of the chess playing engines. It's an evolution of modern chess which was itself an evolution of medieval chess 500 years ago. Times change and things change with the times. - Mark [2nd October 2010, 11:10pm]

  • [Fischer didn't invent chess960] • rigamagician: 'Bronstein ... Bisguier ... Benko ... This was probably one of the first publicized matches of a Chess960-like variant.' • Atos: '"Pre-Chess: Time for a Change"'

    The history of shuffle chess goes back hundreds of years. Gligoric, in his book on chess960/FRC, dates the idea to 1792 and gives games from 1842 and 1851. The 1851 game has the Bishops for each side starting on the same color squares, which is not done in the better evolutions of shuffle chess.

    Fischer added two important concepts to the earlier forms of shuffle chess. First, he specified that the King must start between the Rooks. Second, he defined castling to have the King & Rook end up on the same squares as in traditional chess (RNBQKBNR), for both O-O-O and O-O. That's what makes traditional chess a subset of chess960 and what gives the other 959 chess960 start positions the same feel (and appeal) of traditional chess.

    Comparing chess960 to earlier forms of shuffle chess is like comparing the Wright brothers' invention to hot air balloons. They are not the same thing. - Mark [5th October 2010, 01:06am]

  • Atos: 'that seems rather like saying that traditional chess was invented by the people who introduced the rules for castling and en passant'

    Without the two rules that you mention, traditional chess (aka modern chess) would not be the game that we play today. It would be some other game. So, yes, traditional chess *was* invented by the people who introduced the rules for castling and en passant. That's not to say that they invented the precursors of traditional chess, like medieval chess or like the versions without castling and en passant. The evolutionary sequence is clear and undisputable.

    My point is that chess960 incorporates traditional chess 100%. When you play traditional chess, you are in fact playing chess960, restricted to one of the 960 different start positions (RNBQKBNR). I could say that the just-finished Olympiad was really a chess960 tournament restricted to RNBQKBNR, and I would not be wrong. (I would raise a storm of controversy, but I would not be wrong).

    Chess960 is an evolution of traditional chess. To use an analogy, imagine I build a house on a lot that was previously empty. I call the road it is on 'Chess Street'. The house might be in use for centuries before someone (a certain Mr. Fischer) gets the idea to build more houses on the same lot. He builds 959 similar houses and, to make it easier to identify the houses, assigns them numbers. My original house turns out to be no.518 on Chess Street. Note that I haven't altered the function of the original house nor have I destroyed it. It is still available to everyone who used it before. But for those who are tired of the same house and want something a little different, they have many choices.

    I could carry the analogy further, but I'm not sure it would help clarify the difference between traditional chess and chess960. People who want to continue living at no.518 on Chess St. can do so. They do, however, have choices that were not available 20 years ago. - Mark [5th October 2010, 11:43pm]

  • chessroboto: 'What good does it do to disassociate Chess960 from Chess?'

    For one thing, chess is de facto a simpler game than chess960. The fixed start position in chess means that players can prepare by compiling databases, studying books, running engines on positions they will encounter in real play, and memorizing opening variations. In chess960, those crutches are no longer available.

    Traditional chess also limits the number of recurring patterns that can arise early in the game. This makes it easier to master certain Pawn structures, like IQPs or Pawn chains anchored on e5. In chess960 you have to work out unfamiliar patterns while the clock is ticking. Of course, once you reach the endgame, you are back on familiar territory. This gives an advantage to good endgame players, who are a rare breed.

    Some players report a light feeling of nausea when they start to play chess960 and are confronted with a new start position. I'm convinced this is because they actually have to think starting from the first move, and this unfamiliar feeling literally sets their thoughts spinning. It's like the panic you feel in traditional chess when your opponent makes a move you didn't expect.

    One day, traditional chess might even be considered the equivalent of training wheels for chess960. After you have mastered the basics of RNBQKBNR and are ready for a fight starting from the first move, you move to random start positions. - Mark [7th October 2010, 02:26am]

  • CapAnson: 'it also has different rules for castling.'

    The chess960 castling rules are based on traditional chess rules. It is exactly those rules (1) that make traditional chess a subset of chess960 and, (2) that drive the other 959 chess960 start positions toward middlegame positions that look like they arose from traditional chess. It is another example of Fischer's genius for all things concerning chess. - Mark [9th October 2010, 11:52pm]

  • onetwentysix: 'There are actually 480 positions in Chess960, because half of the positions are reflections of the other half.'

    You're right that 'half of the positions are reflections of the other half', but, as glider pointed out, they don't play the same because of the castling rules. Let's look at an example.

    In traditional chess (SP518 RNBQKBNR) there are variations that allow castling O-O in four moves, which is the minimum. One example is the Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defense: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.O-O. After castling, the castled pieces are on f1 and g1. This can lead to the Berlin Wall variation that helped Kramnik win the World Championship from Kasparov in 2000.

    Now let's take the reflection, which has the King and Queen switched (SP534 RNBKQBNR). The equivalent variation is 1.d4 d5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Bg5 Nc6 4.O-O-O. This time the castled pieces are on d1 and c1. It's not at all the same thing. Now the Berlin Wall doesn't work, because the d-Pawn is protected. The theory is completely new.

    Two positions that are reflections of each other I call 'twins'. I've also seen them called 'mirrors'. Whatever you call them, they are different positions that lead to different variations. - Mark [11th October 2010, 01:07am]

From: Please, can we make white have to think for once?

  • chessroboto: 'When you introduce randomness in the game of chess such as Chess960's piece placement, it changes the nature of the all-information game. Such games belong to a different category that include card games and board games that use dice or jumbled tiles.'

    So if I play a game of traditional chess, it's an 'all-information game'. If I then play a game of chess960 with start position RNBQKBNR (SP518), which uses *exactly* the same rules as traditional chess, it's not an 'all-information game'. It appears that you've confused information available before the game with information available during the game. - Mark [11th October 2010, 10:41pm]

  • chessroboto: 'Can you please name one or more all-information-type games where two or more people can play and the starting positions or conditions are randomized?'

    Random conditions? Before a casual game you don't know what color you will play. Haven't you ever hidden a White Pawn in one hand and a Black Pawn in the other and asked your opponent to choose? That selection is a random process. Before a tournament game, you don't know who your opponent will be until the pairings are announced. The pairings are determined by a third party and there are always random factors involved.

    There is more hidden information in a traditional chess game than there is in chess960. In traditional chess you often have no idea how much your opponent knows about the particular opening you are playing. He might have played it dozens of times and analyzed it into the endgame. In chess960 you know that both players are playing without preparation. - Mark [14th October 2010, 01:12am]

  • CapAnson: 'That is in fact the problem with chess 960... It's by and large a game only for 20 or 30 people in the world, for everyone else it's a novelty.'

    The idea is so new that it's a novelty for everyone, but I accept your point. I also wonder whether it's more interesting for experienced players than for beginning chess players. Time will tell.

    As for how experienced you need to be to appreciate it, I think most class A players (rating 1800+) know that opening preparation goes a long way to getting a good game. It would be interesting to conduct a poll asking 'When you study chess, what percent of your time do you spend on A) the opening, B) the middlegame, C) the endgame, D) Other [history, for example]', then correlate the responses according to rating. I wouldn't be surprised to find average club players and below (<1500) spending a lot of time on openings.

    What got me hooked on chess960 was being forced to think about the game starting with the first move. It's not at all the same as reeling off the first 10 moves of a Closed Lopez (or Poison Pawn Najdorf, or King's Indian Bayonet Attack, or ..., or ..., or ...) from force of habit, then relying on preparation for the next few moves, then really starting to think creatively somewhere around move 15. With chess960, the creative thinking starts when you see the initial position. You don't have to be a GM to enjoy that. Isn't the intellectual challenge one of the reasons we play chess? - Mark [14th October 2010, 01:44am]

To summarize these arguments against chess960: traditional chess uses the only logical start position; it has survived 500 years without change; Fischer didn't invent chess960; it's really a different game; the rules of castling are different; it should be called chess480; it introduces uncertainty; only top GMs will be interested in it. I'm sure there are more...

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