05 March 2011

How I Spent My Free Day

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, in No Place for Chess960, '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.' Since I post once a day on one of my three blogs, following a fixed weekly schedule, the upshot of that decision was that I had a few hours to do something else. Here's what I considered doing:-
  • (A) Repairing & painting the kitchen wall where we removed a radiator
  • (B) Cleaning the back patio
  • (C) Posting on one of my other blogs
  • (D) Playing live chess960 on Chesscube.com
  • (E) Nothing at all

After a little thought, I eliminated three options: Choice (B) is best done when winter is officially over; (C) just shifts the burden of writing elsewhere, something I can always do in the future; and (E) doesn't really appeal to me. That left (A) and (D). My wife would have been happy with (A) -- and that's what I should have done -- but I finally settled on (D). It's been over two years since I first considered playing on Chesscube (see Chess960 on Chesscube.com) making it the oldest open action on my 'Chess960 TODO' list.

After developing an interest in chess960, I've played close to 50 games on Schemingmind.com and Chess.com, two sites that offer only correspondence chess960. My experience from those game is that, before making the first move, it takes some time to understand the peculiarities of whatever start position has been dictated by the server. I typically spend at least 30 minutes, sometimes double that, studying the position before I make my first move in a chess960 game. How to reconcile that with the fast time controls used in live chess?

After poking around Chesscube for a while, getting a feel for its layout and offerings, I decided to play at the relatively slow control of 15 minutes per player per game with no increment per move. The site assigned me an initial rating of 1500, and I accepted the default range offering opponents rated within 300 points of my own rating.

I've played traditional chess on a lot of different online sites and my experience is that established players don't like playing unrated players. Among other issues, the provisional rating is too inaccurate. Tagged as a newbie and wanting a slow game, would I be able to find opponents on Chesscube? As it happened, there was absolutely nothing to worry about. Within 30 seconds of creating my SEEK, I was playing White in my first live game of chess960. I played 1.f4, my opponent answered 1...g5, and we were off. It was, in a word, exhilarating. Already on the third move I was faced with tactical and strategical problems that I had never seen before, unlike a traditional chess game where these challenges usually start about ten moves later. I won the first game, played two more which I also won, and ended up with a rating around 1600.

Although I started to work out the contours of a routine to evaluate a new start position quickly, it's too soon to share it. Before playing live chess960 the next time, I'll warm up with the Random Position Generator on Chessgames.com, deciding what my first move would be as White in a half-dozen or so random positions. It would be nice to have the same sort of facility from Black's point of view -- seeing a random position with White's first move already made -- but that would require some software development.

It would also be useful to have the possibility of playing an online chess960 game against a computer. I wouldn't want to play a complete game, just the first few moves to practice coordinated development and to exercise the tactical eye. Unlike human opponents, computers never complain when you hit the RESET button to start a new game. Maybe I should just dig out the engines I've collected that understand chess960. I haven't used them in ages, but they should be somewhere on my hard drive.

1 comment:

HarryO said...

Hi Mark
You chose the correct option to play Chess960. Supporting the activity is a community service duty you are performing.