01 October 2011

The Chess960 Wheel of Fortune

In a comment to my previous post, 'Fianchetto the Light Squared Bishop', HarryO informed that the most recent episode of The Full English Breakfast (FEB) -- World Cup Kings and Queens -- the 13th podcast in the FEB series, included a long segment on the chess960 portion of the St.Louis event. Toward the end of that audio clip, there's a mention by St.Louis arbiter Chris Bird of a roulette wheel used to select two of the five chess960 start positions (SPs) played in the event. There's more about the roulette wheel on TheFEB Facebook page, under Bonus Clips. It turns out that the wheel was one of several methods used to select SPs.
CB: Half an hour before the first round started we realized we didn't have any idea [how to select the SP] so we quickly devised the card system, a through h. [...] In the second round we built the giant die about an hour before the round started. We used 2' by 3' [that's feet, not inches!] poster boards and cut a foot off each poster board to keep the die in shape. [...] FEB: And then came the roulette wheel. [...] CB: Depending on the spin of the wheel, whichever piece came up we started on a1 and worked our way across the board. For the fourth round we used some games that the previous players had played, based on the last move in those particular games. We chose the games that finished one with a King move, one with a King move, a couple of Knights... The two players that didn't have games chose in order alternating which game they would choose related to which piece we would place on the squares. For our last round we used the roulette again, slightly modified.

The last round selection is captured in a video clip.

Kings Vs. Queens - Selecting the Chess 960 Starting position (4:49) • 'Arbiter Chris Bird and GM Yasser Seirawan chose the final Chess 960 position in St. Louis.'

While it was a great idea to make a ceremony for the selection of each round's start position, there are easier ways to go about it. A random procedure to determine the start squares for the Queen and minor pieces also establishes the position of the King and Rooks. To have a completely unbiased choice, the Bishops are best placed before the Queen and Knights. Another idea that I've not seen anywhere else is the set of Special Chess960 Dice used in Canada last year. After I wrote that post, I asked the organizers if they knew where to procure the dice, but never received a response.

The FEB podcast wasn't only about roulette wheels. There was also a discussion about the prospects of chess960 ever catching on in a big way. GM Kosteniuk, one of the five women who played in St.Louis, was surprisingly downbeat.

Q: So you don't see chess960 growing to become more established or more widely played among grandmasters? A: I don't think so. It's interesting, it's fun. You don't have all these theoretical lines, but it's not considered to be serious and I don't think it will substitute for classical chess.

This is the most important question that can be asked and answered about chess960. I think Kosteniuk is wrong, but no one really knows for sure.

1 comment:

Ichabod said...

I don't think that method gives an even chance of choosing all FRC positions. It's hard to tell, because the distribution of pieces on the wheel is not clear. Also, you have to assume that the choices made when choice, hawk, or elephant are spun are random. But if each piece has an equal chance of being spun, then each piece has an even chance of being on a1 (except the king, which would be illegal). But a quick check of the 960 legal positions shows that while knights and rooks do have a 25% chance of being on a1, rooks have a 37.5% chance and queens have a 12.5% chance. So the roulette wheel biases away from rooks in the corner and towards queens in the corner. And I believe there was some consternation with queens being in the corner at that event.