26 February 2011

Rowson's 'Three Types of Theory'

A while back I started a series on opening principles in chess960 by drawing on known principles from traditional chess. The first two posts in the series were

Lately I've been reading 'Chess for Zebras' by Jonathon Rowson, an excellent book in the genre 'How can we know what we know about chess?' Divided into three parts, the book's third part is titled 'Thinking Colorfully about Black and White'. A little thought should convince you that the color difference applies specifically to the opening.

The first chapter of part three is 'Ch.11 - Three Types of Theory and What They Mean in Practice'. I've isolated a single paragraph by Rowson in each of his discussions of 'Three Types of Theory' that I think explains the gist of that particular discussion. This categorization of theory leads to the question, 'How does chess960 relate to that particular view of chess theory?'.

Hypertheory: [Is chess a win for White, a draw, or a win for Black?] Hypertheory is the omniscient view of chess, the view of chess 'under the aspect of eternity'. [...] No person could ever grasp chess from a hypertheoretical perspective, but in principle it should be possible for a machine to reach this fundamental perspective and develop 32-piece tablebases. This may take decades or even centuries, but [...] I think it will eventually happen.

Since the idea of a 32-piece tablebase might bump into some fundamental limit of material nature, I'll leave that to the mathematicians and physicists to debate. Current technology allows for a 6-piece tablebase and I have no idea when we can expect a 7-piece monster to be available. (*)

If a 32-piece tablebase is available some day, it will solve all starting positions in chess960 as easily as it solves traditional chess. The last chapter for chess960 will then be to determine for each specific start position whether it is a win for one side or a draw. This is an extension of the frequently asked question whether there exist any chess960 start positions that are too drawish or too lopsided for one side or the other. So far, no one has been able to give any specific examples although it is a frequently used argument against chess960.

Elite Theory: [Rowson says 2670+ players represent the elite, but doesn't explain why he picked this unusual number.] The main reason openings matter so much more at the elite level is that during the game the margin for error is so much smaller, and the level of concentration and technique is so much higher. This means if you gain a serious advantage out of the opening there is a very real chance you will win the game. Moreover, if you get nothing out of the opening it is much harder to outplay your opponent because they will normally know how to play rather well!

Since there is no opening theory in chess960, despite the fruitless efforts of countless converts to catalog 'best moves' in each of the 960 positions, there is no notion of 'elite theory'. Some critics go as far as saying that chess960 levels the playing field for all players, whether grandmaster or club amateur, but I'm convinced this is a serious underestimation of how much grandmasters know about the game. It might be a leveller across all grandmasters, e.g. between a super GM and a weak GM (a chess oxymoron if there ever was one), but the results from Mainz don't bear this out. The super grandmasters still manage to win.

Our Theory: [Below 2670?] In addition to the desire to copy the superstars, another reason we spend a disproportionate amount of time learning opening theory is that unlike other kinds of chess work, the fruits of the labor are very tangible. If we learn a new opening idea we can usually imagine putting it into practice much more readily than if we learn any other kind of chess idea. However, this is a limitation of our imaginations rather than a true reflection of the kinds of work that will help us improve.

Another frequent argument against chess960 is that it is primarily for elite players, because that is the group who searches for opening novelties at move 20 and beyond. I submit that this argument is also 'a limitation of our imaginations'. What better way to force improving players to think for themselves than by forcing them to solve new problems starting from the very first move?

In part three of Rowson's book -- highly recommended, if I need to say so in Black and White -- are chapters on 'White's Advantage' (think 'initiative') and 'Black's Advantage' (think Adorjan). No matter what we might think of it as an alternative to traditional chess, chess960 forces us to consider in greater depth the many subtleties of the chess opening.


(*) On my main blog I've collected examples where tablebases have shown famous players to be wrong in their evaluation of certain endgames: see Posts with label Endgame TB. The 7-piece version will provide many more examples.

20 February 2011

Castling Nomenclature

A few weeks ago, I received this email, with a couple of good points about castling in chess960.
Subject: A castle question
Date: Friday, January 28, 2011, 4:51 PM

My question is about castling. It seems to me that the rules of castling would be easier explained if they were referred to as simply "c" or "g" castling. Of course, terms such as "Queenside", "Kingside" "long" or "short" don't apply. But 960 promoters such as yourself often refer to it as "a-side" or "h-side" which I think is often just as confusing to a new comer to the game. Why not just explain the castling rules by simply saying the King can go to the "c file" or "g-file"and the outside Rook goes to the inside, "d" or "f" respectively, if all other castling conditions are met, such as pieces in the way or not passing through check.

Why does 960 use the old traditional notation system of "0-0" or "0-0-0" when these terms seem arbitrary in 960? Just as archaic as terms like "Queenside" or "Kingside". Why not simply record a castle as "KcRd" or simply "cd" and "KgRf" or simply "gf"?


I answered as follows.

You ask a good question and I'm afraid my answer won't be as good. The castling nomenclature, like the name of the game itself (chess960, FRC, etc.) is a topic that distracts attention from the main issue, promoting chess960 as a valid alternative to traditional chess. Since most players are coming to chess960 from chess, I feel that it's useful to explain the differences in terms they already understand, like 'Queenside' and 'O-O-O'. I appreciate that purists think otherwise and that they also have a valid point. I touched on this subject in my latest post...

Getting Organized

...under the heading 'Jargon'. It comes down to what you think the priorities are for promoting chess960.

And received further explanation.

My questions about the castling nomenclature just came from my experiences trying to teach kids how to play chess whether it was orthodox chess or 960. They seem to get confused. I used to say the King can move 2 squares to the right or left and the outside Rook goes to the inside. But after experimenting with 960 I now simply say the King can go to c or g and the outside Rook to d or f, if of course all other qualifying conditions are met.

Bravo, R.L., for teaching chess960 to kids who are just learning chess! If that castling explanation works for you, then there is no reason to explain it any other way. I came to chess960 from chess and have always taken it for granted that most chess960 players follow the same path. There is really no reason to assume that, is there?

19 February 2011

No Place for Chess960

Although I've already reported about the demise of Chess Classic Mainz (CCM) on my main blog -- No More Mainz, What About Linares? -- the spectacular support for chess960 by the Chess Tigers deserves special mention on this blog. The Tigers' good-bye press release said,
A decade full of dedication and passion for international rapid chess has come to an end in Mainz. A splendid decade from 2001 to 2010 with ground-breaking innovations in tournament organization for world class players and amateurs alike and the "Mainz System" Chess960, based on the ideas of the American World Champion Robert James "Bobby" Fischer, made the distinction between the Chess Classic and other classical tournaments. Speed and entertainment, service and amenities for the spectators and participants were the ingredients of a unique merger that took place once a year between the 2000-year old royal game and the ancient city of Mainz.

At the end of the post I've included a list of the chess960 winners as indicated by Chess Tigers in that final press release. For more details of those events, as well as the full text of the press release, see Chess Classic Mainz – End of an Era on Chessbase.com.

'The Chess Tigers team would like to say "thank you" for a decade of full of exciting and entertaining chess. The picture was taken during the last Chess Classic Mainz in 2010.'

And I would like to say "Thank you!" to the Chess Tigers team for doing such a splendid job over the last decade.


A year ago, at the same time that chess960 was put on a reduced regimen at CCM -- (Almost) No Chess960 @ CCM10 -- it also lost its place at Australia's Doeberl Cup -- No Chess960 @ Doeberl. The double whammy hit again this year. The schedule for the 49th Doeberl Cup - Canberra has no trace of Fischer's last invention.


Chess960 Classic Mainz

Chess960 Rapid Chess World Championship (Year & Winner)
2001 Peter Leko
2003 Peter Svidler
2004 Peter Svidler
2005 Peter Svidler
2006 Levon Aronian
2007 Levon Aronian
2009 Hikaru Nakamura

Chess960 Rapid Chess World Championship Women
2006 Alexandra Kosteniuk
2008 Alexandra Kosteniuk

Chess960 Senior Rapid Chess World Championship
2006 Vlastimil Hort

Chess960 Junior Rapid Chess World Championship
2006 Pentala Harikrishna

Open Chess960
2002 Peter Svidler
2003 Levon Aronian
2004 Zoltan Almasi
2005 Levon Aronian
2006 Etienne Bacrot
2007 Victor Bologan
2008 Hikaru Nakamura
2009 Alexander Grischuk

Chess960 Simuls (20 Players)
2003 Peter Leko
2003 Peter Svidler
2004 Peter Svidler
2006 Levon Aronian
2010 Alexandra Kosteniuk

Chess960 Matches Man vs. Machine
2000 Fritz on Primergy - Artur Jussupow [Yusupov] 2 : 0
2004 Levon Aronian - The Baron 1 : 1
2005 Shredder - Zoltan Almasi 2 : 0
2005 Peter Svidler - The Baron 1½ : ½
2006 Spike - Peter Svidler 1½ : ½
2006 Shredder - Teimour Radjabov 2 : 0

Chess960 Computer World Championship
2005 Spike / Böhm/Schäfer
2006 Shredder / Mayer-Kahlen
2007 Rybka / Rajlich
2008 Rybka / Rajlich
2009 Rybka / Rajlich


I've been posting about chess960 twice a week since end-August 2009, which makes exactly a year and a half. I'm going to ease off the pedal a bit and return to posting once a week. I still have lots of ideas for posts, but I lack a source of games between top-notch players. Is there really no place for chess960?

13 February 2011

Oversight or Intentional?

In my previous post, Nakamura Sac Attack, I covered GM Hikaru Nakamura's qualification from the 2008 Chess Classic Mainz (CCM8) Chess960 FiNet Open to the 2009 (CCM9) Chess960 Rapid World Championship, where he beat GM Levon Aronian for chess960's most prestigious title. A few months before the FiNet event Nakamura won entry and expenses to the open by finishing first in the Internet Chess Club's (ICC) 2008 Chess960 Championship.

The ICC Chess960 Championship was held from 2007 to 2009, and in each year the winner won entry and expenses to Mainz (links to Chessclub.com):-

In 2009, just like Nakamura had done the previous year, Grischuk went on to win the FiNet Open, qualifying for the 2010 Chess960 Rapid World Championship, an event which was subsequently cancelled due to lack of sponsors. The games from the 2008 and 2009 ICC finals are available on the ICC site, but were played at a blitz tempo that renders many of them less interesting because of early blunders.

In the following game, the sixth and last game in Nakamura's final 2008 ICC match against GM Dmitry Andreikin (DSquared), I couldn't tell if the critical moves were an oversight or intentional. In start position NRBKNBQR (SP262), Andreikin opened 1.Nb3 and Nakamura (Smallville) replied 1...e5, arriving at the position shown in the first diagram.

Now White played 2.f4, with a double attack on the a- and e-Pawns. The a-Pawn is particularly sensitive, because Qxa7 attacks a Rook that can't be defended. Black played 2...Nb6, when 3.fxe5 left White a Pawn to the good. At this point Nakamura played for complications and open lines with 3...f6 4.Nf3 fxe5 5.Nxe5 d6 6.Nf3 Nf6. The game continued 7.d3 a5 8. c4 a4 9.Nbd4 d5, reaching the position shown in the second diagram.

Here White could have held the extra Pawn with several moves, where 10.cxd5 is one obvious choice, not necessarily the best. Instead he played for rapid development with 10.Bg5 dxc4 11.O-O-O, and the game continued with material equality. Was 1...e5 an oversight? What about 10.Bg5? Whatever the reasons for the two moves, Black went on to win the game for the fifth consecutive full point by the Black pieces. Here is the game's PGN, courtesy the ICC.

[Event "ICC tourney 865 (w22 3 1)"]
[Site "Internet Chess Club"]
[Date "2008.06.22"]
[Round "21"]
[White "DSquared"]
[Black "Smallville"]
[Result "0-1"]
[TimeControl "180+1"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "nrbknbqr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/NRBKNBQR w KQkq - 0 1"]

1.Nb3 e5 2.f4 Nb6 3.fxe5 f6 4.Nf3 fxe5 5.Nxe5 d6 6.Nf3 Nf6 7.d3 a5 8. c4 a4 9.Nbd4 d5 10.Bg5 dxc4 11.O-O-O c3 12.Nb5 cxb2+ 13.Kxb2 Qd5 14. Nc3 Qd6 15.Qd4 Qxd4 16.Nxd4 Be7 17.e4 Ng4 18.Bxe7+ Kxe7 19.Re1 Rd8 20. Nf5+ Bxf5 21.exf5+ Kf8 22.Nb5 Rd7 23.Be2 Nf2 24.Rhf1 Nxd3+ 25.Bxd3 Rxd3 26.f6 Rd2+ 27.Ka1 gxf6 28.Rxf6+ Kg7 29.Rf3 Rxg2 30.Nxc7 Kh8 31.Ne8 Nd5 32.Re5 Nb4 33.Rf7 a3 34.Re6 Rg1+ {White resigns} 0-1

Note that the PGN lacks a 'Variant' tag, a glitch which did not cause a problem with either program that I used to step through it.

12 February 2011

A Nakamura Sac Attack

In my recent post, I featured a game by GMs Hikaru Nakamura and Levon Aronian from the preliminary event at the 2009 Chess Classic Mainz (CCM9) Chess960 Rapid World Championship.

This wasn't the first game I've posted between these two chess960 superstars. I featured the first three games from their 2009 final match twice each.

Nakamura qualified for CCM9 by winning the 2008 FiNet Open at CCM8. My overview of the first eight CCM events, Chess960 @ Chess Classic Mainz, points to a Chesstigers.de page giving details about that event: Hikaru Nakamura wins FiNet Open.

The American, who won the ICC qualifier for Mainz in June dominated the field from the word go. With only two rounds left he seemed to be cruising to the title, but in the penultimate round German ace Arkadij Naiditsch won the exciting encounter against the fastest player on earth. When Nakamura only scored a draw in his final round against Vladimir Potkin the audience thought that Naiditsch would win the event [...]

All of Nakamura's games are worth a look, but I especially liked his win from the fourth round against GM Rainer Buhmann. The game started with RQBKNBNR (SP694), shown in the first diagram. Five of the eight pieces are on their traditional start squares and the other three -- QN, Q, and K -- have all been rotated one square to the left within the three squares where they normally start.

On the fourth move, White played 4.Bc4, attacking Black's f-Pawn. Instead of defending the Pawn, Nakamura sacrificed it with 4...Nh6 5.Bxh6 Bxh6 6.Bxf7. After 6...Nf6 7.e5 Ne4 8.Nd3 Bg4 9.O-O, he ruined the castled King's Pawn structure with 9...Bxf3 10.gxf3. At this point he could have regained material with 10...Nd2, but played more speculatively with 10...Ng5, and prevailed with a sustained attack against the King. Once again, here is the PGN of the game, courtesy of Chess Tigers.

[Event "CCM8 - 7. FiNet Chess960 Open"]
[Site "Mainz"]
[Date "2008.07.31"]
[Round "4"]
[White "Buhmann, R."]
[Black "Nakamura, H."]
[Result "0-1"]
[Annotator "Chess Tigers"]
[Variant "chess 960"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "rqbknbnr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RQBKNBNR w KQkq - 0 1"]

{SP 694} 1.d4 g6 2.Ngf3 Bg7 3.e4 d6 4.Bc4 Nh6 5.Bxh6 Bxh6 6.Bxf7 Nf6 7. e5 Ne4 8.Nd3 Bg4 9.O-O Bxf3 10.gxf3 Ng5 11.Bd5 c6 12.f4 Nh3+ 13.Kg2 Nxf4+ 14.Nxf4 Bxf4 15.Be6 Kc7 16.c4 Qf8 17.Qe4 dxe5 18.d5 Qf6 19.b4 Rad8 20. Rad1 Rhf8 21.Rd3 h5 22.h3 g5 23.f3 Kb8 24.Rfd1 Rd6 25.c5 Rdd8 26.a4 cxd5 27.Rxd5 Rxd5 28.Qxd5 Qh8 29.Qd7 e4 30.Kh1 Bc7 31.Qxe7 Re8 32.Qf7 Rf8 33. Qe7 exf3 34.b5 Rd8 35.Rxd8+ Bxd8 36.Qd6+ Bc7 0-1

The quote from the Chesstigers.de page above mentions an 'ICC qualifier'. I'll look at that event in my next post.

06 February 2011

Switching Bishops and Knights

The story in Dog-Tired from Memorizing Openings was just me poking fun at someone who didn't know how to set up a chess board correctly, but the two positions I mentioned in the post are both legitimate chess960 positions. One of the positions even turned up in an important game at Mainz in 2009; in fact, it was played in two important games.

The flagship chess960 event at Mainz that year, billed as the Chess960 World Championship, was a double round robin featuring four world-class chess grandmasters. The two players with the best scores in the preliminary event then played a four game match to determine the Chess960 World Champion. Each round played at Mainz uses the same start position (SP) on all boards, and the fourth round of the preliminary event saw RBNKQNBR (SP540) in both games.

The pairings for that round were Aronian - Nakamura and Bologan - Movsesian. Aronian had finished the first three rounds with a perfect score of 3.0, while the other players were tied at 1.0 each. To stay in the running for the title match Nakamura needed at least a draw in this second game against Aronian.

The start position is shown in the following diagram, along with Aronian's first move, 1.Nb3. The position resembles the traditional start position RNBQKBNR (SP518), but the placement of the minor pieces makes a big difference. A Bishop starting the game on the b- or g-file is not particularly well placed and here both players have two such Bishops. What's the best way to develop them?

Nakamura solved the problem for his dark-squared Bishop with the bizarre 1...a5, planning to bring it out via a7. At the same time he made space for the Rook and prepared a possible ...a4, harrassing the Knight. The downside of the move is that it neglects the center and renounces castling O-O-O. It's worth noting that the other game, Bologan - Movsesian, saw the same idea a few moves later: 1.e4 e5 2.f3 f6 3.Nb3 a5.

The second diagram shows the position after ten moves by both players. Aronian has also decided to develop his Queenside (a-side) Bishop via the short diagonal, while both players have chosen to develop the other Bishop on its long diagonal. How to assess the position? Black has a Queenside majority, while White's Kingside (h-side) majority is crippled, giving Black a slight, long-term positional plus.

The game continued 11.Bf2 Qd6 12.Qg3 Qxg3 13.hxg3, swapping Queens, when Black went after the b-Pawn with 13...Na4 14.Bxa7 Rxa7. White could have defended the Pawn with 15.Kc1, or even 15.Rh4, but played speculatively with 15.Ba2, and never managed to recover the lost Pawn. Here is the PGN of that game, courtesy of Chess Tigers.

[Event "CCM9 - Chess960 Rapid WCh"]
[Site "Mainz"]
[Date "2009.07.29"]
[Round "4.1"]
[White "Aronian, Levon"]
[Black "Nakamura, Hikaru"]
[Result "0-1"]
[Variant "chess 960"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "rbnkqnbr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RBNKQNBR w KQkq - 0 1"]

1.Nb3 a5 2.e4 e5 3.d4 exd4 4.f3 Ne6 5.Nxd4 Nd6 6.Nf5 Qf8 7.Nd2 f6 8.a3 Nxf5 9.exf5 Nc5 10.Qh4 Ba7 11.Bf2 Qd6 12.Qg3 Qxg3 13.hxg3 Na4 14.Bxa7 Rxa7 15.Ba2 Nxb2+ 16.Kc1 Bxa2 17.Kxb2 Bf7 18.Rae1 h6 19.Re4 b5 20.Rg4 Rg8 21.Nb3 a4 22.Nc5 d6 23.Rd1 h5 24.Re4 Re8 25.Ne6+ Bxe6 26.fxe6 g6 27.g4 hxg4 28.fxg4 Ra6 29.g5 f5 30.Re2 Rc6 31.Rde1 Rc4 32.g3 Rg4 33.Re3 c6 34.e7+ Kd7 35.Re6 Rxg5 36.Rf6 Rxe7 37.Rd1 d5 38.Rh1 Rh5 39.Rxh5 gxh5 40.Rxf5 Rg7 41.Rxh5 Rxg3 42.Rh6 Kc7 43.Rh8 Kb6 44.Rh6 Kc5 45.Rf6 Re3 46.Rh6 d4 47.Rh5+ Kc4 48.Rh6 c5 49.Rh4 b4 50.axb4 Kxb4 51.Rh5 c4 52.Rh1 a3+ 53.Kb1 0-1

Nakamura won all three games in the second leg of the event, matched Aronian's final score, and the two players squared off the next day for the title. For an overview of the entire event, including links to external resources, see CCM9: Nakamura, Grischuk, and Rybka.

05 February 2011

Dog-Tired from Memorizing Openings

This hound is nobody's mutt. He read my post in the series on World Championship Opening Preparation, the one titled 'Did You Consider Just Playing Chess?', where Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam interviewed Garry Kasparov after the 13th World Champion lost his title in the 2000 Kramnik - Kasparov match...
Q: Did you consider forgetting about all opening preparation and just playing chess? • A: A good recommendation. At one point I wished we could change Bishop and Knight in the opening position, because then I had no doubts I would win the match.

...Our four-footed friend decided he couldn't go astray by heeling to Kasparov's advice. He closed his dog-eared copies of BCO, ECO, and MCO, not to mention DCO (the latest edition, authored by the old dog himself, Herman Shepherd), and told his human that from that moment on they would only play the chess960 positions RBNQKNBR (SP524) and its twin RBNKQNBR (SP540).

The photo shows him just before this year's house championship putting on the dog in his favorite blue harness. When asked if he would ever return to the traditional game, he sniffed, 'No, the old chess is for dogmatists'. • HT: lolchess (Streatham & Brixton Chess Blog), borrowing from ITZ B Ur MOVE (Loldogs, Dogs 'n' Puppy Dog Pictures).