24 September 2011

'Fianchetto the Light Squared Bishop'

Getting back to the recent 'Kings vs. Queens Tournament', I discussed the chess960 portion in my post on Chess960 Kings and Queens. There is a wealth of information to be gleaned from the video commentary by GM Yasser Seirawan and WGM Jennifer Shahade, although at the beginning of the first round, I thought we were off to a bad start.
Seirawan (YS): The start position is 'goofy'. • Shahade (JS): 'The [position] that we have is nothing like real chess'

Goofy? Nothing like real chess? Were we in for a bout of bashing Fischer's greatest invention? Then I remembered that chess960 commentating is new for everyone, including these two experienced chess commentators. The level of the discussion soon improved when GM Seirawan gave some excellent advice that applies to all start positions.

YS: 'You have to develop a long term plan early. It's very difficult in chess960 (*) how to best use your time. I start very slowly. When I get the feeling that my pieces are finding their natural squares, I speed up. But I start very slowly, then I get faster.'

Here's a diagram of the position used in round one.


When I first saw it, my eye went immediately to the minor pieces on the Kingside. The commentators' first remarks were instead about the Queens.

YS: 'One of the things you have to be really watchful for is Pawns that in regular chess you assume are defended. In chess960, tactical opportunites really happen very early. Unfortunately, because the Queens are buried in the corner, I don't see real tactics breaking out in the first dozen moves or so.' • JS: 'I was talking to Eric Van Reem, who wrote the FIDE rules for chess960. He said that some of the toughest positions to play are those in which the Queens start in the corner.'

The discussion quickly moved from generalities to specifics. Seirawan used a technique that I've discovered is particularly helpful : start by examining the castling options, what it takes to achieve them, and where they leave the King.

YS: [Discussing the diagrammed position notes that the move b3, to develop the Queen] 'may open you up to ...Ba3+. I noticed that Anna [Zatonskih] at the board is really studying. I would do exactly as she is, trying to think the long term plan here. I would think that e4, Nf3, Ng3, Bc4, developing the Kingside pieces and then castling O-O would be the natural inclination. It will be interesting, since all five games start from this initial position, what opening plans the White players will develop.' • JS: 'It will also be interesting to see how many people wait and look to see how Hikaru [Nakamura] is playing.'

Later in the same session, we had a chance to hear from GM Nakamura directly, who won with White against IM Martha Fierro. I doubt that his thoughts on the position would have helped any of the other players.

JS: What did you think about the starting position and how long did it take you to decide what you would play?

Nakamura (HN): I think the time showed that it didn't take me long to randomly pick something. I haven't played chess960 in quite a while so this was the first time I'd seen a rather unusual position at the beginning of a game.

There are two approaches. Either you can take 3-5 minutes on trying to figure out which move makes the most sense, looks the lost logical, and go from there, or you can sort of randomly pick. I looked briefly at all the first moves and none of them really impressed me.

This morning I had a conversation with a good friend of mine and I told him to give me an idea what to play on the first move. He said, 'Play something to fianchetto the light squared Bishop'. I wanted to play g3, but after ...b5 I wasn't in love with the position. [Interruption] If the Bishop had been on b1, I would have played a3 and Ba2, but the Bishop happened to be on f1. Therefore g3 made the most sense, but after 1.g3 b5, I didn't really like the position that much. I thought 2.Nf3 e5 and I didn't like the feel of the position. Black's going to get a lot of squares in the center.

One thing that I've noticed about chess960 from playing a couple times in Germany is that when you try to play these openings where you don't put Pawns in the center, like Alekhine's Defense or the Pirc/Modern, those sorts of setups, you tend to get in a lot of trouble because the pieces don't go on the squares they normally should. Therefore you usually want to play in the center. I had already agreed that I was going to move the Bishop to g2 if I could, but g3 wasn't any good, so I had to play g4.

With Nakamura, you're never completely sure if he's taking things seriously, but the idea to start with 'fianchetto the light squared Bishop', no matter what the start position, was new to me. The conversation continued,

JS: So you had your eye on the Queen on a8.

HN: It works out that way. Clearly I knew what the starting position was going to be ahead of time, so that's why I made this agreement to put my Bishop on a light square.

JS: So you knew like 10 minutes before the game?

HN: I just knew. I'm psychic.

YS: Being psychic and a chess player, that's a good combination. So after g4, how did she play? Could you take us through the moves? • JS: We liked the position she got.

HN: Martha made very standard moves. I think she played ...e5. Since Martha's not that familiar with chess960, I thought that playing something a little more offbeat made some sense as opposed to say, the game Lahno - Cao, where they found a way to transpose back into a normal position which you could reach out of a Ruy Lopez or one of those systems. I figured it was to my advantage to throw Martha off very early in the game. That's why it also worked out.

There's a lot more to the discussion, but you can listen to it yourself if you're interested. In my next post, I'll continue with another game from the event.


(*) Throughout the commentary, different people use different terms to describe the game that I call chess960 on this blog. In transcribing the remarks, I'll adhere to my own convention.

17 September 2011

Chess960 Kings and Queens

When I mentioned in my previous post, Rare Bird Tracking: Summer 2011, that St.Louis would be hosting a chess960 event, I was hardly expecting the extravaganza we got this week. The official web site, Kings vs. Queens Tournament, hosted on the main site of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, told us,
This will be a Scheveningen-paired tournament, in which each of the five team members will play each of the opposing team members twice: once in a Fischer Random (Chess 960) game with a time control of G/25 + 10-second increment and once in a rapid game with a time control of G/25 with a 5-second increment.


GM Yasser Seirawan and WGM Jennifer Shahade will provide live commentary of the event, which will be open to the public.
The team of 'Queens' included GMs Kateryna Lahno and Alexandra Kosteniuk, both of whom competed in the last Chess960 Women's Rapid World Championship at Mainz 2008, won by Kosteniuk (see Women, Chess960, and Video), while the 'Kings' featured GM Hikaru Nakamura, who won the unrestricted World Championship title at Mainz in 2009 (see CCM9: Nakamura, Grischuk, and Rybka).

The Seirawan / Shahade live commentary is preserved in video clips on the official site (all clips are around 90 minutes long) and is worth a look, especially for the Nakamura interviews after his first four rounds. The complete set of Aviv Friedman's reports on all five rounds is available on TWIC at Kings vs. Queens Tournament 2011. The Queens were trounced in both the chess960 and the rapid events, making me wonder if it was such a good idea to bill the event as a 'Battle of the Sexes'. Both Nakamura and teammate Ben Finegold, also a GM, scored 5-0 in chess960.

The starting positions for the five chess960 rounds were:-

  • R1: SP874 QRKRBBNN
  • R2: SP713 RKQBBNNR
  • R3: SP108 QBNRNKBR
  • R4: SP763 RKNNBRQB
  • R5: SP326 NRBQKBRN

The five games in each round used the same position. There are lots of interesting games to choose from and I'll present a position or two in subsequent posts.

10 September 2011

Rare Bird Tracking, Summer 2011

A year ago I wrote a pair of posts -- Rare Bird Sightings and Rare Bird Tracking -- about the dearth of chess960 tournaments in the world. The situation hasn't changed much since then.

The Swiss Chess960 Championship was one of the events making up the 44th Biel International Chess Festival in July, where Magnus Carlsen finished ahead of second place Alexander Morozevich in the elite GM event. GM Boris Grachev (RUS, 2680) edged out GM Tigran Gharamian (FRA, 2670) on tiebreak to win the chess960 event. GM Alexandra Kosteniuk (SUI, 2530) finished third ahead of 37 other players, which was good enough to become the 2011 Swiss (!?) chess960 champion.

For the second year, the U.S. Open featured a chess960 side event, attracting 12 players this time; see Fisher Random (sic, see also below) for the results. WGM Jennifer Shahade, a two time U.S. Women's Champion, participated and wrote about the event for USchess.org: Jennifer on 960 (Fischer Random). She also mentioned another rare bird,

I'm really excited to deepen my understanding of 960 as some of the most creative chess minds in the World, including GM Hikaru Nakamura will face off next week in alternating rounds of 960 chess and rapid chess in K v. Q aka the Battle of the Sexes in Saint Louis.

GM Kosteniuk will be one of five women representing the Queens team in the Scheveningen style tournament.


Call it chess960, call it Fischer random, call it anything you want; just don't call it 'Fisher' chess, as in DAIVD NAVARA: FISHER CHESS HELPED ME (chess.ugrasport.com, the official site of the 2011 World Cup, currently in the quarter final stage). OK, they spelled GM Navara's first name wrong as well -- it's David, of course -- but at least they got a good quote from him after his first round victory.

My opponent made a good preparation and surprised me. I made a mistake, then another one and at some point Black had got an advantage. There was a non standard position where it was easy to blunder. But I play Fisher chess very well, I like these positions and as a result I managed to win.

The moral of the story: Even 2700+ GMs can be outprepared by opponents rated 200 points below them. Add chess960 techniques to your arsenal of chess weapons.

03 September 2011

Chess960 with YouTube's Kingscrusher

In my most recent post, Chess960 on YouTube's ChessNetwork, I spotlighted a chess960 video from a popular chess instruction channel on YouTube. Here's another clip from a different instruction channel that is also extremely popular.

Chessworld.net presents: Kingscrusher vs Kingscrusher Cafe Team (28:41) • 'Consultation game - Fischer Random' • SP431 RNQNKRBB

For more video clips, most of them about traditional chess but with a few chess960 videos in the mix, see Kingscrusher's Channel.