30 January 2011

Stats and More Stats

Google's Blogger.com, the blog authoring service that stands behind the blogs hosted on Blogspot.com, recently released an interface to statistics about the blog. This includes details like most popular posts, traffic sources, and audience, all of which can be examined over various time frames like the last day, week, or month (*). The base data only goes back to July 2010, so the most interesting numbers are for 'All Time', meaning the last seven months.

Let there be no misunderstanding here. As I pointed out in a post titled Apples to Apples on my main blog, this chess960 blog is the least popular of the chess resources I maintain and I doubt that the situation has changed much since I wrote that post in April 2010. Keeping that in mind, let's peek at some of the info revealed by the stats. First, here's a graphical overview showing where this blog's visitors are located.

A darker green means more page views and, while I'm not surprised to see English speaking countries with darker shades, I am surprised to see south of Brazil the dark patch identifying Uruguay. Not too long ago I received an email from a correspondent in Uruguay who flagged an online play site that was new to me, so I'll take a closer look at that site in a future post.

As for past posts, what most interests the blog's visitors? Of the top-10 posts by page view, three posts received considerably more attention than the others:-

I'm at a loss to explain why those posts should be more popular than others. A more recent post that also shows higher than average interest is:-

After that, most posts receive approximately the same number of visits. Moving on to traffic sources, i.e. sites that send visitors to this blog, the number one source is my main blog Chess for All Ages. Number two is listed as www.google.com/search?q=blogger, which must be a Google blog search on 'chess960'. I haven't looked at that resource in a long time and it's due another visit.

Also in the top-10 sources are a number of Chess.com forums, something called the Pingy Web Application ('some Blogs you might want to visit while waiting', where I spotted this chess960 blog), and Chess Quotes (aka Rotten Tomatoes). The tomatoes link has a Bobby Fischer audio clip where he says a lot of the same things found in the video clip that I recently covered in 'Me and Bobby Fischer' and Chess960.

The Blogger page on traffic sources also lists the top search keywords used to find this blog. It informs that the phrase 'chess 960' is used even more than the single word 'chess960'. The most unusual keyword is 'rkrnbbnq' -- if you try searching on it, Google first tries to show you results for 'krn bbq', which it interprets to be 'Korean barbecue'?! Rounding out the Blogger stats are the usual summaries of visitor profiles given by all log analyzers:-

Pageviews by Browsers:-
33% Firefox
26% Internet Explorer
22% Safari


Pageviews by Operating Systems:-
66% Windows
26% Macintosh

A long time ago I learned not to place too much importance on web stats. Their most practical use is as a source of ideas for future posts, just like here, where I came up with two.


(*) In case anyone is concerned about privacy (aren't we all?), there is no raw data log available to the blog owner, meaning no information about specific visitors.

29 January 2011

Getting Organized

Reading a blog isn't like reading a book. The posts often jump from subject to subject without any connecting thread and it's never easy to find related posts, especially if they were written long before or long after a post of interest. One of the tools to organize posts sensibly is the label (aka category or tag). Unfortunately, when you start a blog, it's difficult to see what labels will be useful afterwards. It's best done after you've been blogging for some time.

In a few months I'll reach the two year anniversary with this blog and, counting the time I blogged about chess960 on my main blog, next month I'll reach the two and a half year mark overall. That means I know where the main points of chess960 are. By adding a few more labels (also listed in the right column of every page), I can now attach at least one label to each of the 150 posts on the blog. Without further ado, here are four new labels and the posts on the predecessor blog that are relevant to those labels

Posts with label 'Jargon': This is an area I have to watch constantly. As I wrote in Who Says 'Chess960 Array'?, 'There are enough obstacles to promoting chess960 without introducing unnecessary jargon into the explanation.' On the other hand, there are certain concepts that don't exist in traditional chess and these need names.

Posts with label 'Pros and Cons': Some chess players like chess960, but many don't. This leads to recurring discussions about its advantages and disadvantages. Some of the arguments are valid, but many aren't.

Posts with label 'Resources': This is a vague area, but there are many subjects that could also be called 'Tools'.

Posts with label 'Theory': After learning the rules of chess960, this is the subject that interests most players. In chess960, the term 'theory' doesn't mean book moves as it does in traditional chess. It means something else, but what exactly?

I'm sure I've overlooked relevant posts, both on this blog and on the predecessor blog. I'll add them to the appropriate labels as I discover them.

23 January 2011

'Me and Bobby Fischer' and Chess960

Before I continue with the dialog from Fischer Compares Chess960 to Puffed Wheat, let's set the scene. The video was taken during Fischer's trip from Japan to Iceland, just after his release from detention in Japan. Chessbase.com reported on the trip in a series of articles.

I've already covered the Fischer biography ENDGAME by Frank Brady in relation to chess960 (see Brady on Fischer Random). Brady also mentions the video 'Bobby Fischer and Me' (as it was called in the clip embedded in the 'Puffed Wheat' post).

Prior to Bobby's departure from Japan, [Saemi] Palsson was approached by an Icelandic filmmaker, Fridrik Gudmundsson, to do a documentary for Icelandic television about Fischer's incarceration. the fight to release him, and his escape to freedom. [...] Filming began the moment Bobby touched down in Copenhagen, with a camera in the sports vehicle that drove him, Miyoko, and Saemi to Sweden, en route to Iceland. [...] Continuing to shoot the film in Reykjavik over the next months, Gudmundsson kept trying to pin down Bobby for further interviews and increase his involvement in the project. 'What's the title of the film going to be?' Bobby asked. When he was told it was My Friend Bobby (it was eventually changed to Me and Bobby Fischer), he immediately began to question the whole endeavor. (p.310)

Now let's go back to Fischer's discussion of chess960. The dialog continues about a minute before the end of YouTube's Part 2...

I was just looking at a book Saemi gave me, a book about Capablanca. Capablanca had a very interesting game that he proposed, it was 10 by 10 or something. It had two Kings and extra pieces and you win the game by mating either of your opponent's Kings. It might be a very creative game and maybe much better than Fischer Random, but it looked very intimidating. Even for me, a top chess player, it looked very intimidating. All these extra pieces, a huge board, two Kings -- if it intimidates me I think it would intimidate the average person much more. So there are a lot of games you can come up with that have practical defects, not creative defects, but defects in terms of discouraging people to learn them.

...and flows into Part 3.

You can learn Fischer Random in five, ten seconds practically, so there is no impediment. You have the same pieces, the same board; all you have to do is get an electronic shuffler and in one second you have a position. Of course, you can create more creative games than Fischer Random: maybe an extra piece or a bigger board or all kinds of things. People think I'm anti-chess. No, I'm not anti-chess, I'm pro-chess. I'm trying to keep it alive. I'm not coming up with anything radical at all.

Asked if he was the best chess player ever,

'I want to get back to Fischer Random. [...] First you have to understand something about chess. Of course, I'm better than Morphy. Why am I better than Morphy? I don't say I have more talent than him. I just know much more theory, right? If he came back today, and he couldn't open a book (let's say), he wouldn't do badly even against masters maybe. That has nothing to do with his talent though. So when you say I'm better than someone, it doesn't mean anything, because of all this theory in chess. Now if you want to say 'am I the most talented player', that's something else.'

'Are you the most talented player?'

'I think so, but that's just my opinion. Morphy was fantastic, Capablanca was fantastic.'

'What about later World Champions? Kasparov?'

'As I say, I don't like to delve too much into the old chess, because I hate it so much. By delving into it, I'm promoting it in some way. I don't want to promote this [bleeping] game. I have only one interest in the old chess: to expose the pre-arrangement. People are living in a dream world.'

'Don't you think that's paradoxical coming from the best player that ever was?'

'Life is like that. It's not really paradoxical. Chess is basically a search for truth, right? So I'm searching for the truth. The truth is that chess is no good any more. Chess hasn't been a good game, objectively, for 150 years, since all this theory developed. It was a good game maybe 200 years ago, in the time of [Philidor].'

'So you're saying that already when you became World Champion, already by then, it was a bad game.'

'Yes, it was a bad game. On the other hand, it wasn't as bad as today. No comparison, but it was a bad game. At the time I was fired with ambition to win and I was willing to overcome all of these idiotic obstacles that block a talented person from winning. As you get older, if you don't get better, you have to get smarter. I'm much smarter now than I was then. Much, much smarter. Now I don't want to do things the hard way. Why do things the hard way when there's an easier, better way? The old chess is that you're banging your head against the wall with this theory. You're trying to find some little improvement on move 18, or 20. It's ridiculous. It gets harder and harder and harder. You need more and more computers, you need more and more people working for you.'

'And less and less talent?'

'Yes, less and less -- it's ridiculous. Why?'

'Did you gradually start to hate chess or did it come suddenly?'

'That's a good question. [Pauses] I think it came gradually, but then at a certain point I was hating it, but didn't know. I was still trying to make it work. Now I realize I was gradually hating it all along.'

The conversation turns to the 1975 match against Karpov, Fischer becomes agitated, and there is nothing more said about chess960.

22 January 2011

Fischer Compares Chess960 to Puffed Wheat

I've already referenced a number of audio clips where Fischer explained his new type of chess: Fischer Explains the Rules of Fischer Random and Fischer's Last Interview. Now here's a video clip.

Bobby Fischer travelling from Japan to Iceland (1/3) (8:00) • 'Excerpts from the DVD "Bobby Fischer and Me" by Gudmundsson.'

The YouTube description says,

Former world champion Bobby Fischer on his way from Japan to Iceland being interviewed during the ride and flight on chess, Fischer Random, pre-arranged matches, Karpov and Kasparov and more...

Here are direct links to YouTube for the three parts: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. Part 1 has nothing about chess or about Fischer Random and I'm only including it here because it's first in the sequence. It's not until midway through Part 2 that Fischer starts on the subject when he says, 'I hate chess very much'. When asked why, he answers,

'Because I know what chess is all about. It's all about memorization, about pre-arrangement.'

'But creativity?'

'Creativity is lower down on the list', shaking his head.

'But you became World Champion on creativity.'

'First of all, it was a long time ago when I played with Spassky the first match. And even the second match is already some time ago, thirteen years ago. And chess just in the last few years has changed dramatically with all this computer stuff. But really, if you analyze chess objectively, very objectively, it's been a lousy game going back even to the time of Morphy. There was a lot of book.'

'But there still is a place for talent, for creativity. It isn't all pre-arrangement, all theory.'

'No, not all, of course, I agree. But why do you want to get involved with something that is mainly rote and pre-arrangement? Obviously it's not all that, but the creativity is maybe number three on the list. The first is pre-arrangement, then memorization, then comes creativity.'

'As opposed to Fischer Random, there you put creativity first.'

'Right! Let me explain something about Fischer Random. I've never made any claims that this is the greatest thing since puffed wheat or whatever, you know what I mean? I never made any claim saying this is perfect. What I say is that it's much better than the old chess. For example, let's say you could have a million chess-like games. Maybe a million of them (or ten million) are better than Fischer Random. The point about Fischer Random is that it's basically the same as the old chess, except you get rid of the theory and it's very easy to remember the rules. That's my point, you see?'

He then goes on to talk about Capablanca's chess variant. I'll continue the transcription in another post.

16 January 2011

Rybka @ Mainz

Following up More on Chess960 Engines, here are a few more posts from Rybkaforum.net related to the Livingston chess960 events at Mainz.

There is more about engines and chess960 at TalkChess.com :: Search, but the search is awkward and produces too many irrelevant results. Maybe I just need to spend more time on it, if only I had more time to spend...

15 January 2011

Label 'Engines'

The previous post titled More on Chess960 Engines convinced me that I needed a new category -- Posts with label 'Engines' -- so there it is. Add to these relevant posts from my predecessor blog linked in the right navigation bar...

...and away we go. The new category overlaps Label 'CCRL', and some day I might consolidate the two.

09 January 2011

More on Chess960 Engines

The last link in my previous post, C960 & Fullchess (see 'Chessprogramming - Perola Valfridsson'), led me to a resource that I had never explored properly -- chessprogramming.wikispaces.com. Chess960 is only a small portion of the site, which probably explains why there is a major gaffe on its Chessprogramming - Chess page : 'Chess Variants -> Fisher Random Chess (FRC) or Chess 960'.

A search for mentions of chess960 pulls in a number of interesting pages, of which the most valuable is currently Livingston Chess960 Computer World Championship, a list of the Chess Classic Mainz (CCM) events involving chess960 engines. This consolidates in one place the same info I've covered in Chess960 @ Chess Classic Mainz and CCM9: Nakamura, Grischuk, and Rybka. Reference material is better maintained on a structured site like a wiki than on a blog.

This brief foray into the world of chess960 engines reminded me that I covered the topic of advanced chess (aka freestyle chess) in a recent post on my main blog: Chess of the Future -or- Chess of the Past? There I discovered that a couple of the best resources on chess engines are Rybkaforum.net and Computerschach.de. A search on Rybkaforum.net for chess960 pulls up material like Rybka @ 5th Livingston World Computer Chess960 Championship, written by Mr. Rybka himself, Vasik Rajlich.

The 5th Livingston World Computer Chess960 Championship [2009] was held this past week in Mainz and Rybka won ahead of Shredder, Deep Sjeng and Ikarus. A huge thanks to Hans-Walter Schmitt, Eric van Reem, Hans Secelle and the rest of the Chess Tigers staff for putting on a great event. They get everything right, from the big things down to the little things, and it's really fun to be there.

Don't miss the further link to Rybkachess.com which has another report and lots of photos. A search for chess960 on Computerschach.de is little more problematic, because all of the interesting pages are in German (not to mention undated). Since they are somewhat slow to load, Google Language Tools gives up on the URL with a message saying 'Sorry, we are unable to access the page you requested'. That means you have to copy / paste the German text into the Google tool. The results can be worth the effort, as in Stefan Meyer-Kahlen über Fischer-Schach ('Stefan Meyer-Kahlen [Mr. Shredder] on Fischer Chess'):

CSS Online: Why do you have installed in FRC Shredder? • SMK: The reason was that I would like to play with Shredder in the Chess960 World Championship in Mainz. • CSS Online: There were already proposals to FEN and PGN. Why did you not use? Where exactly are the differences between the two FRC FENs? • SMK: There were suggestions on how to expand FEN and PGN so that it works with Chess960. These extensions, however I have not really liked because it is very cumbersome and very error prone. Prone to errors both in programming as well as during subsequent reading PGN games.

I'll try to explore both resources in more depth for a future post.

08 January 2011

C960 & Fullchess

I added two more terms -- C960 and Fullchess -- to the 'What's in a name?' list displayed at the top of each page on this blog. Although both terms are in limited use, they can lead to chess960 resources which might not be found otherwise.

The abbreviation 'C960' is shorthand that I use in my own notes. A search pulled up a relevant page from the late, lamented ('It’s not dead, it’s sleeping!') Chessninja.com: Anand was First in Seconds. The anchoring Daily Dirt post was about last year's Anand - Topalov World Championship match and how Anand received assistance from Carlsen, Kasparov, and Kramnik. The comments to the post turned into a raging battle (is there any other kind on web forums?) on the value of computer preparation. The players' prep reached new heights -- some people might say 'new lows' -- during the match and is a recurring argument for the move from traditional chess to chess960. One 'observer' (that's his real handle) wrote,

A better way to see who has more chess skills - 48 games of Fischer Random as follows: In one day - 4 games are played. Each c960 position chosen at random and repeated with colors switched for the next game. Lunch recess and two more games. The time control could be closer to rapid chess -- classical chess time control is outdated.

In the same amount of days - 48 games complete - no computer/other GM assistance and the better player has won. 12 games of classical chess at this time control with GM seconds and computer assisted opening preparation is silly. I would rather see Anand vs Topalov with this format than what we saw.

While I would not go as far as supporting this scenario myself, it could very well come to pass some day although with more serious time controls. The term 'Fullchess' pulled in a page titled Ruffian interview, which included the following question by the interviewer:-

At the present time a lot of people talk about FullChess (Fischer Random Chess, Chess960, Shuffle Chess) which has gained a lot of popularity. In Mainz (Germany) a big GM-match was played this year using it. The freeware-GUI "Arena" supports the possibilities to play FullChess but at the moment no engine supports the special castling-rules at FullChess.

Do you plan to implement FullChess to Ruffian? Ben Bursik (DGT projects), Martin Blume (Arena), Reinhard Scharnagl (Smirf) and Eric van Reem (CSVN) work on FullChess for a longer time already. Do you think that FullChess will give new aspects to computer chess programming because of the new possibilities to test engines without the influence of an opening book etc.? We expect that there is a big interest in users as well for FullChess.

Google dates the page to 23 August 2003, but I found another reference -- Chessprogramming - Perola Valfridsson -- linking to it under the title 'Interview with Perola Valfridsson, October 2002'. Whatever the date of the original page, I suspect the term 'Fullchess' is no longer in common use, if it ever was.

02 January 2011

Brady on Fischer Random

As I mentioned in Blitzing Fischer, the forthcoming book on Fischer, ENDGAME by Frank Brady (Crown Publishers), has references to chess960, around a half-dozen, although Brady prefers to call it 'Fischer Random'. The first reference is in Ch.12 Fischer-Spassky Redux, in a section on Zita Rajcsanyi [Raiczanyi], who travelled to Los Angeles to meet Fischer and to persuade him to play a second match with Spassky.
Bobby and Zita played one game of chess: his new variation, called Fischer Random. She claims that she won and then became frightened. Perhaps he'd become violent toward her, she thought, because she was a woman and, also, not yet even a master. (p.237)

As far as I know, this is the earliest mention of Fischer Random, predating a passing reference by Fischer at the press conference opening the match with Spassky, September 1992. After the match Fischer stayed in 'Magyarkanizsa, in the northernmost reaches of Serbia, on the border of Hungary'. There he made the acquaintance of the Polgar family and, with their encouragement, later moved to Budapest.

All of the [Polgar] sisters played chess with him, but acceding to his preference, they played Fischer Random. Invented by Bobby, this was a variation on the standard game. [brief description of rules & reasons for playing] As it happened, 18-year-old Sofia, the middle of the Polgar daughters, beat Bobby three straight. Zsuzsa [Susan] played him "countless games" and never revealed the results other than to say she did "all right". (p.260)

For another account of this, see my post Pictures of a Fischer Random Precursor. Brady relates another anecdote involving the Polgars that was new to me.

[Fischer] became angry, when Laszlo [Polgar] showed him a book published in 1910 by the Croatian writer Izidor Gross. The book described a variation of chess that seemed to be the forerunner of Fischer Random, with the exact same rules. Muttering something about Gross being Jewish, Bobby went on to change the rules of his variation to make it different from Gross's. (p.261)

While in Budapest, Fischer also made the acquaintance of Andrei [Andor, Andre] Lilienthal, who arranged a meeting with FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov.

Bobby showed Ilyumzhinov how Fischer Random was played. [...] Ilyumzhinov also offered to put up millions for another Fischer - Spassky match, but all Bobby would say was "I am only interested in Fischer Random". (p.264)

It's not clear from Brady's account when this meeting took place, but the February 1996 issue of Europe Echecs (p.22) gives a date of 15 December 1995. That would have been less than a month after Ilyumzhinov was first elected FIDE president in a special election. Fischer's official announcement of his variant only merits passing mention.

Bobby felt safe enough to travel and eventually went to many countries [...] to Argentina to promote his Fischer Random variation (p.268)

I posted about that June 1996 event in Fischer Announces Fischerandom. The last two references by Brady, from Fischer's final years in Iceland, are more difficult to date.

Bobby couldn't escape chess, although he desperately wanted to. "I hate the old chess and the old chess scene", he wrote to a friend, making reference to his invention of Fischer Random. Nevertheless, there were entrepreneurs flying to Iceland [...] who were trying to entice him to play -- any kind of chess was acceptable, just to encourage him and ease him back into the game. [...] Another match against Spassky was discussed (and Spassky was agreeable to playing Fischer Random), but these talks ended in a matter of days. (p.306)


Despite his promotion of Fischer Random and his rejection of and scorn for the "old chess", he still played over games, tempted by the action of contemporary tournaments and matches. [...] He never wavered from claiming that all of the games in the 1985 [Karpov - Kasparov] match were fixed and prearranged move-by-move. [...] Others held that his accusations were a ploy to promote his new Fischer Random chess. (p.309)

I'm a member of that 'others held' camp -- see Fischer: 'The *Old* Chess Is Dead' -- but I wouldn't call it a 'ploy'. He sincerely believed that his variant would save chess from 'very interesting, beautiful pre-arranged games being created by very intelligent players, working with computers'.

01 January 2011

Happy 2011!


What will the New Year bring for chess960?