26 December 2010

Posts with Label 'History'

As long as I'm creating new categories, as in last week's Posts with Label 'Castling', I might as well add a category covering Posts with label 'History' (also visible on the right sidebar of every post on this blog). Although the history category should include most of the posts referenced under

I don't think it's useful to categorize all of those posts twice for the purpose of consistency. It is worth mentioning, however, specific posts on my predecessor blog Chess for All Ages.

I'm sure I've overlooked a few posts and will add them as I discover them.

25 December 2010

Have a Merry Chess960 Christmas!

Christmas Cats Play Chess960 (in 1902!)

19 December 2010

Let's Check the Rules

While I'm on the subject of castling, as in Posts with Label 'Castling', there was a relevant question a few months ago on the Chessexpress blog: Fischer Random Fun. Although it dealt with a specific position (SP748 RBKNNQBR),
Assume that White does castle Queenside [...] If White then moves the Bishop on g1, the Queen on f1, the Knight on e1, and the 'castled Rook' on d1 off the back rank, can White now castle Kingside, as the King and Rook have not yet moved?

the same question applies to any start position (SP) with King on c1 and the h-side Rook on any square except d1. It can also apply to any SP with King on g1 and the a-side Rook on any square except f1.

I'm no expert on the rules of chess960 (not to mention the rules of traditional chess), so my first reaction to this sort of question is always, 'Let's see what the rules say'. In 2009, the rules of chess960 were incorporated into the FIDE Handbook, under Laws of Chess :: Appendices (section: 'F. Chess960 Rules'). There we find

F.3 Chess960 Castling Rules: a. Chess960 allows each player to castle once per game, a move by potentially both the king and rook in a single move. [...]

That's clear enough. Since a player can only 'castle once per game', it's not possible to castle Queenside, then Kingside, or vice versa. As they say, 'When all else fails, read the instructions!'

18 December 2010

Posts with Label 'Castling'

The difference between castling in chess960 and castling in traditional chess is so important that I created a new category: Posts with label 'Castling'. Since there are also posts in my predecessor blog that belong in this category, I'm listing them here.

I'll have a few more posts on castling over the next several weeks.

12 December 2010

A Highbrow Dismissal of Chess960

Continuing with Dvoretsky on Chess960, what does the world renowned trainer think of Fischer's last, and possibly greatest, idea?
I’ve never played this game myself, but many of my friends and students have taken part in the traditional Fischer-random tournaments in Mainz. Most of them liked the new game. They were very happy not to have to waste time preparing for the game, and it was interesting to test themselves and compete with their opponents in solving original tasks. That being the case, one can only welcome the continued hosting of such events, and hope there will eventually be more of them.

This and the following excerpts are from Part 2 of 'Polemic Thinking' (PDF). [Polemic - 'an aggressive attack on or refutation of the opinions or principles of another' (Merriam-Webster.com)] Note the curious phrase 'to waste time preparing for the game'.

But this can hardly mean that chess960 should be promoted as the designated successor to everyday chess. [...] The problems involved with such an enormous change in the rules should be examined from all sides and tested, with all aspects considered in order to find out whether there are drawbacks that might prove dangerous to the future of chess.


One of the main criteria of beauty (along with subtlety and originality) is the soundness, the correctness of the moves, of the individual ideas, or of entire games. And here is where I have some doubts about the future of chess960.

Doubts? What doubts?

In Fischer chess, where the majority of the pieces – if not all of them – are standing in unusual positions, we must deal with many new and unknown elements. As a result, a chessplayer has almost nothing to refer to in looking for a move; he’s playing “without line or compass.” I can assure you that even leading grandmasters play a weak game of chess960, full of both strategic and tactical errors. [...] So these games almost never show us any aesthetic value. If we remember how hard it can be to discover the secrets of a position even in traditional chess, where we can refer to many generations’ worth of experience, what I’m saying becomes logically obvious.

As proof that 'even leading grandmasters play a weak game of chess960', Dvoretsky gives two examples. The first is the same game I used in A Chess960 Catastrophe.

The level of play demonstrated here by grandmasters isn’t much different from (to take an example from traditional chess) the efforts, successful or unsuccessful, to exploit the weakness at f7 from the starting position, and deliver the "scholars mate". Of course we need to take into account the fact that in Mainz, the games were played in rapid chess; however, I suspect that, even under a classical time-control, the quality of play would not have risen very much. In the early days of chess, many such naïve games were played. As experience grew, so did the understanding of the principles of opening play; new schemes of battle appeared and were worked upon, and those that didn’t work out were tossed aside.

Naive games?

In chess960, there will be practically no accumulation of experience: there are too many opening positions, and too many differences between them. And thus, the concept of the opening phase will find itself frozen, for a long time, at a childhood level.

Childhood level?

Let me summarize, briefly: Playing Fischer-random is undoubtedly interesting (and probably even useful: overcoming routine, and developing an unfettered approach to the position). But studying played games is of no interest, because it’s almost impossible for anything creatively important to come from them (when measured against the level that both amateurs and experts in classical chess have grown accustomed to). So switching to this new game involves a serious risk that we may lose the aesthetic element of chess – and consequently, a great number of its adherents.

This argument is similar to the one I addressed in More Arguments Against Chess960, where I quoted Tim Krabbé writing, 'Any form of shuffle chess puts chess back 200 years.' This highbrow dismissal of chess960 because errors occur early ignores the reality of modern grandmaster chess. The start of a game is two players following a known path for 'X' number of moves, after which they follow computer based preparation for 'Y' number of moves, after which they are on their own. At this point there are three possible outcomes: either they agree to a draw, or one of them blunders, or they continue playing as best they can.

The example I used in that previous post was the first game from this year's Anand - Topalov match where Anand blundered on move 23. As we later learned, the blunder occurred because he forgot his preparation ('Y') and mixed up his ideas. As for agreeing to a draw as soon as move X+Y is reached, I could give lots of examples, starting with the 2004 Kramnik - Leko match, which saw a humiliating loss by Kramnik because his computer preparation was faulty.

The reason we see errors earlier in chess960 is not because the games are played at a 'childhood level' (Dvoretsky's phrase). It's because the players are on their own earlier. That they play chess better than they play chess960 is an illusion, a fiction, a fabrication due to conveniently overlooking the X+Y unoriginal moves that preceded real play. The truth is that GMs play chess960 very well.

As for Dvoretsky's remark that 'studying played [chess960] games is of no interest, because it’s almost impossible for anything creatively important to come from them', this implies that the only creative phase of a game is the opening. Is there really no creativity in the middlegame or endgame? If there isn't, I can throw away Dvoretsky's own books plus all the other books I've mistakenly acquired on those subjects.

As I wrote in the response to Krabbé, 'Playing over chess960 requires playing slowly from the very first move, just like playing a chess960 game requires real thinking from the very first move.' That last thought is worth repeating: chess960 requires real thinking from the very first move. Real thinking, creative thinking, has little to do with memorization. There is no 'X'; there is no 'Y'; there is only chess.


Later:See also 'The Chess Instructor 2009' (New In Chess 2008),Ch.2 'Mark Dvoretsky: Controversial Thoughts', section 'Should we all play chess960?' (p.30). On reading through this post a second time, I realized that Dvoretsky has selected a difficult chess960 position (RKR in the corner, where castling is particularly problematic) played at rapid time control and used it to condemn the entire idea of chess960. Anyone for sophistry?

11 December 2010

Dvoretsky on Chess960

I'm getting a lot of mileage out of Dvoretsky this week. First I referenced an interview with the world renowned trainer by Chessvibes.com in a post on my main blog: Recently Spotted - Blog Carnival & Soviet School. Then I used excerpts from the interview on my World Championship blog: Dvoretsky on the World Championship. Now I am going to tackle a reference to chess960.
At the end of 2007 and the beginning of 2008 on the ChessCafe site my big articles about the chess problems was published. It’s mainly about the very harmful influence of opening theory and some other aspects. Maybe somebody who wants to know my opinion about some important chess problems can read this article. I analyze the influence of opening theory, I analyze Fischerrandom/Chess960 and make another suggestion for how it’s possible to change the chess rules and so on. (From The big Dvoretsky interview, part 3).

Chessvibes also provided links to the ChessCafe articles, which were titled 'Polemic Thinking' -- Part 1 & Part 2 -- both PDFs. Here are the section headings from both parts.

1. The Components of Success; (à la Botvinnik) where the fourth component, 'Specialized chess preparation' is the springboard for the rest of the essay.

2. The Role of Opening Theory

3. The Principles of Working Effectively

4. Problems In Contemporary Chess; 'I could go on for a long time, making a list of the existing problems, but for now I would like to dwell on just one of them: the negative influence of opening theory on contemporary chess.'

5. Chess960

6. An Alternative Suggestion; (to chess960)

The flow of Dvoretsky's essay is evident from the headings. I'll look at the fifth section, on chess960, in another post. The sixth section, 'An Alternative Suggestion' is an attempt to decouple chess from the burden of opening preparation while keeping the familiar RNBQKBNR setup. I don't know if anyone has tried the idea in competition, but I'll leave the investigation to others who are more interested than I am.

05 December 2010

Chess960 Position Generator Revisited

After posting about Another Chess960 Position Generator, it occurred to me that the source I had corrected as the base for my own position generator contained a logical error. It was a small error, reducing the number of times that the first position (SP000 BBQNNRKR) would be randomly generated, but that was enough to render it unusable.

To test my concern, I wrote a driver to call the generator thousands of times and to count the number of times each position was generated. Sure enough, the count for SP000 was approximately half of the count for the other SPs (Start Positions). After fixing the logical error, and feeling more confident about my Javascript skills, I decided to take a closer look at another generator I identified for my post on Chess960 Position Generators on the Web, i.e. the generator at very.co.il/services from a company called Very Ltd.

This second generator, based on the same die-rolling technique used by people to generate a chess960 position, was more sophisticated than the generator I had studied for the first cut. I adapted it to my needs, used my driver to verify its accuracy, and updated my page of Chess960 [Fischer Random Chess] Start Positions to use the adaptation. At the same time I incorporated a comment made to Another Generator to improve the presentation of my generator.

While doing the above, I realized that the IF/THEN table technique used to convert between SPs and their corresponding numbers ('If ID=SP000 then SP=BBQNNRKR' or vice versa) could be replaced by the method described in Calculate SP Numbers in Your Head. I'll do that in another programming project.

04 December 2010

Monstrous Opening Preparation

While reading the book 'Smart Chip from St.Petersburg' by GM Genna Sosonko, I found a short passage related to chess960. I believe it's the first time I've encountered such a book reference outside specific sources on the subject. The following excerpt is from the chapter 'Grand Slam', an essay on Irina Levitina, who left professional chess and took up professional bridge. She was even more successful at bridge than she had been at chess.
You have written about [Genrikh] Chepukaitis. Chip wasn't only an incredible blitz player, he was a real chess player. He didn't care what, where, why or how much, the main thing was to play. Chess has gradually lost this quality. Real players want to play, not to laboriously study and analyze openings at home. They can't do this, or they don't want to do it, it's boring for them. Perhaps I understand them better than you do, as I'm one of those types myself.

[Blitz is] a real game, a game in the literal sense of the word, and you're playing against a specific opponent, trying to exploit more than just their chess weaknesses. That's why I really like the idea of random chess, as this could take chess back to its original purpose as a game and you wouldn't have this monstrous opening preparation.

According to my page on the World Chess Championship, Index of women players, Levitina participated in six Women's Candidate events, once qualifying for a title match which she lost to Maia Chiburdanidze in 1984. For more about her, see the Wikipedia page, Irina Levitina.

After the comment about 'monstrous opening preparation', she added, 'But even if people start playing this kind of chess, it's still difficult for me to imagine myself ever sitting at the chess board again.' The Sosonko book doesn't mention when the essay was first published, except to say that it was in 'New in Chess' magazine. The phrase 'Smart Chip' in the book's title is a reference to Chepukaitis.