26 November 2011

The Impact of Chess960 on Chess Publishing

A couple of years ago I jotted down some thoughts about the potential negative impact of chess960 on the publishing industry -- Some Numbers on Chess Book Publishing and Whistling Past the Graveyard? -- followed by a couple of potential solutions: Kasparov's Chess960 Proposal and Winter's (Chess960?) Proposal. Neither of these solutions is completely satisfactory. Kasparov's violates the spirit of chess960, while Winter's, a reaction to the emphasis on opening books, assumes a greater interest in chess history than the facts suggest.

After two more years experience of playing chess960, I have a little more insight into the subject. First, I've found that I have a far greater interest in endgames than I did previously. While I've always known that endgames were important, the time involved studying -- dare I say memorizing? -- opening theory doesn't leave much time for endgames. Since chess960 eliminates the need for the study of specific openings, that time is available for endgames. I know that many players consider endgames to be dry and somewhat tedious, but that might be because they've never applied themselves to the subject. An analogy would be the attitude that non-players of chess have to the game itself. It takes more than superficial knowledge to appreciate the subtleties of the game (or its endgame).

I've been exploring endgames more and more on my main blog (see Posts with label Endgames and Posts with label Endgame TB, where TB = TableBase) and am convinced this isn't a coincidence. I have more time to spend on endgames and the time I spend on them increases my appreciation substantially.

Another area of chess publishing where chess960 is bound to have an impact involves middlegames. It is certain that, because it introduces so many types of middlegame positions that can't arise from the traditional start position, chess960 lifts middlegame theory to new heights. I don't own any reference resources specific to the middlegame, so I did a quick survey of the web to find out what's available.

I started by looking for encyclopedia-like resources and found two. The older of the two is 'Encyclopedia of Chess Middlegames: Combinations', published by Chess Informant in 1980. The qualifying word 'Combinations' tells us that it's about tactics. A Wikipedia article on Chess tactics gives an idea of the book's content:

The Encyclopedia of Chess Middlegames gives the following tactical categories: Double Attack, Pawns Breakthrough, Blockade, Decoying, Discovered Attack, Passed Pawn, X-ray Attack, Interception, Deflection, Pin, Demolition of Pawns, Overloading, Annihilation of Defense, Pursuit (perpetual attack), Intermediate Move, and Space

without identifying it definitively as the volume published by Informant. Other references to the book confirm that it is indeed organized by tactical motif. That organization is, of course, equally valid for chess960.

The more recent reference is 'Encyclopedia of Middlegame', a software series produced by Convekta starting around the year 2002. As is typical of Convekta, the product is sold both alone and bundled into other products, which complicates any casual attempt to understand exactly what is offered. I found descriptions of the individual components of the series on Wholesalechess.com: Encyclopedia of Middlegame I, II, III, IV, and V. Their description of 'Encyclopedia of Middlegame I' says,

[A] program for studying the middlegame plans behind various openings and the playing techniques. A theoretical section includes over 600 games/lectures, each of them illustrating the popular openings' typical plans and methods. There is also a special training section with more than 1000 exercises for a user to solve as well as 400 training positions to be played against the built-in chess playing program Crafty. The course is composed by GM Kalinin.

The descriptions of the other components are similar and all reference specific openings. This leads me to understand that the series is based on the study of specific openings, an approach which is not feasible for chess960. It's not clear how any systematic study of the chess960 middlegame could be based on positional themes rather than tactical motifs, but that might be because we just don't have enough experience.

Finally, although chess960 diminishes the need for encyclopedias of chess openings, there is still a need to catalog common chess960 opening ideas somehow. I'm not aware of any breakthroughs in this area, which might well be because the subject is so new and hasn't attracted sufficient attention. As with so many other aspects of chess960, time will tell.


GeneM said...

If one FRC-chess960 nontraditional position were chosen for heavy reuse for the next couple of decades, a whole new set of opening systems would be developed.
A good choice would be S#549 RNBBKNQR.

Fritz_13's cloud feature named "Let's Check" would have a large positive effect on the speedy growth of such new systems.

Stablizing on S#549 would be a dream come true for authors and publishers of chess openings books.

Some fore-thought would be needed to make a good scheme for the naming of new opening systems.

GeneMi (2011-12-09)

HarryO said...

Hi Mark hope you are doing well - new website for Chess960 including quotes by you and I. Really interested in how the site evolves because it might start publishing both quality games with comments and Fischer Random concepts in more depth:

Also, free epub book on Chess960:

Don't shoot the messenger though if these resources are not up to scratch! I downloaded the book but it contains almost no theory that is not already in the public domain.

Just spreading the word :-)