07 January 2012

Kings and Queens on Chess960

A few months ago I covered the St.Louis Kings vs. Queens Tournament in a series of four consecutive posts starting with Chess960 Kings and Queens. Chess960 interest being what it is, I wasn't expecting to see much about that half of the event in the mainstream chess press, so you can imagine my surprise when it was featured in not one, but both, of the magazines I read monthly.

First it was mentioned in the November 2011 issue of Europe Echecs ('Rois Contre Reines', p.24), where GM Kateryna Lahno, one of the players for 'Les Reines', annotated her round two game against IM Marc Arnold of 'Les Rois'. We've already encountered Lahno in a couple of posts from 2010 -- Women, Chess960, and Video and More Women, Chess960, and Video -- on the women's chess960 event at Mainz 2008, but it's also worth noting that one of her games from that event, an annotated loss to GM Alexandra Kosteniuk, appeared in the October 2008 edition of Europe Echecs (p.44).

A month after the 'Rois Contre Reines' piece, the St.Louis event got a 12-page spread in the December 2011 issue of Chess Life (cover by Shirley Szymanek pictured in the corner), where most of the writeup by IM Irina Krush and all of the annotated games covered the chess960 action. Of her own participation, Krush had this to say (p.21):-

Up until July 2011, I'd never played a Fischer Random game, nor did I know the rules. I got my first taste of it at the 2011 Canadian Open, which had a Fischer Random side event that I eagerly attended with the aim of getting some practice for St. Louis. I played two games against Bulgarian GM Dejan Bojkov, winning with white and losing with black (pathetically, in 14 moves.) I didn't know if I'd like Fischer Random, but I loved it!

In Fischer Random, the thinking starts immediately on move one. There are no well-worn paths to follow; you're the first to reach the frontier ... and just as life on the frontier is dangerous and uncertain, so is the situation on the 64 squares.

Her co-author, GM Ben Finegold, provided most of the annotations and was quoted on his own participation.

Here is what Ben, who scored an amazing 5/5 in the Fischer Random and finished second in the event overall, had to say about his thoughts going in:

"I was quite worried about playing Chess960, since I had no experience. To prepare, I played about eight games on the Internet Chess Club in the week leading up to the event. I won them all, but my opposition was rated about 1500, and the games were not impressive. The best advice I got was from World Champion Vishy Anand. When I asked Anand how to prepare for the games, he simply said, "You cannot prepare for Chess960." This gave me some confidence that I could do no wrong in my prep!

"I spoke to [GM Hikaru Nakamura ] briefly about strategy, since Hikaru is not only a great chess player, but possibly an even better Chess960 player! Hikaru said to play in the center and activate your pieces (just like regular chess!). Hikaru also was able to score 5-0 in the Chess960 games. He played extremely quickly in the Chess960 games and seemed to feel at home, somehow."

And Ben's feelings about Fischer Random after the event?

"I guess I felt more under pressure and nervous during the Fischer Random games. I was worried I would blunder really early. I was more confident during the regular chess, but my results do not show any of that! I liked Fischer Random more than I thought I would, and it wasn't as scary as I expected. Which did I enjoy more? In hindsight, the Fischer Random ... not what I expected to say."

Let's have that again: 'I didn't know if I'd like Fischer Random, but I loved it!', and 'Which did I enjoy more? In hindsight, the Fischer Random ... not what I expected to say'. For my next post on this blog, I'll come back to the games.


GeneM said...

I believe Fischer Random Chess is better without the 'Random'.
Better to add just S#549 RNBBKNQR as the second accepted starting setup.

I gather you disagree, and believe it is better to randomly determine the setup minutes before the clocks start. My question to you is...
*** WHY? ***
Why is accepting just one additional setup less desirable overall?

As your answer, you may have several Pros for massive random, and only a couple of Cons: but until you can articulate here in a blog entry how you see those Pros & Cons, some debates lack the necessary foundation.

Thanks, GeneM

HarryO said...

I think Mark has already articulated in this blog but here are some points:

1) Bobby Fischers idea was that by allowing all 960 positions to appear and by not knowing the start position before the game commencement, players fully exercise conceptual thought. There is nothing "random" about conceptual thought! Conceptual thinking is also very memory intensive, because the players have to develop concepts over time which consist of thousands and thousands of chunks of memorised ideas that they have acquired.

2) Adding one position to the traditional start is fine but it is not Chess960. Therefore the aims of Chess960 will not be realised. You will see that computer analysis will dominate and the position will be dead not in 200 years but in 20 years and then in 2 years and then in 2 months and so on....Chess960 like Chess, is supposed to be a game that exercises total and complete conceptual thought over the board. Memorization of the opening is a side effect of Chess and actually expresses a limitation of Chess itself. That is Bobby's point when he said that Chess is a bad game.

3) If you just add one position to traditional chess, what position and upon what basis will you select it? Will you select it because it compares with traditional chess? But all 960 chess starts already compare with the traditional start anyway! The selection process is arbitrary and you will find that the "arbitrary" nature of the selection will simply back fire. Do not underestimate Bobby Fischer. He probably thought all of these issues through for a long time and thus settled on Chess960 conceptually, and I doubt that you can improve on his thinking on the subject.

4) I think people are deeply confused about what they think "theory" is. Traditional chess theory is conceptual thinking and this it shares 100% in common with Chess960. Where traditional chess differs from Chess960 is not in "theory" but a huge database of accumulated "facts" on best practice. The "facts" just back up the theory. BUT THE THEORY DOESN'T NEED THESE FACTS TO BACK IT UP. There are chess theories that work and theories that don't work. But Chess(960) is a game, and so theory is perfectly tested game after game after game because of the game result. The chess theory in 960 is exactly the same as traditional chess in all 960 positions it is merely that some positions exercise particular aspects of that same theory.

Chess960 = Chess
Chess = Chess960

Can you not see this?

Adding a second arbitrarily selected position to Chess is fine, but why bother to do that? You will have to add a third position then a 4th then a 5th and so on. It is much simpler to get used to Chess960 which changes nothing in Chess, but to render the accumulated facts on the traditional start obsolete, except when the traditional start shows up with a 1/960 chance.


Mark Weeks said...

GeneM - If you would like to play a couple of games, one with each color, using SP549 RNBBKNQR, I can certainly agree to that. If you would like to force me to play only that position for the rest of my life, then you should explain why. Why one position? Why SP549? It is your responsibility, not mine, to present your reasons. - Mark

GeneM said...

The Goldilocks pattern applies to chess setups.

[SETUP IS TOO UNKNOWN] A setup that the two masters have never studied or played before --- In practice this results in opening play that is not as interesting as traditional opening play EXCEPT that it is novel.

[SETUP IS TOO KNOWN] This is the traditional setup and its excessive problems that we all know about today.

[SETUP IS PARTLY KNOWN] This is the golden spot, the "just right" spot for chess openings that are most entertaining (for "spectators" like me who look through the games via .PGN & Fritz a week or a year after they are played). The golden spot provides numerous ripe opportunities for clever novelties during the opening phase, so masters can plausibly fight for wins. Until we have a second stable setup, all play will continue on one of the two outside extremes away from the golden spot.

To watch the analyzed / memorized variations a second stable setup get continuously extended by clever masters, at the rate of new extensions every month or week, would be far more exciting and informative opening play than the ongoing traditional repetitious opening play we get from big name tournaments today.
Seeing the early phase of these extensions is what Mark's "Let's Play" proposal to me is really about. I can imagine a couple people doing this in Advanced Chess (humans who are encouraged to consult with Fritz before choosing each move). But presently I haven't the time to participate well.