24 March 2012

Updated Database of SPs (2012-03)

Every once in a while I like to update my database mapping start positions (SPs) to blog posts. Those are the posts archived under the years 2000-2002 in the sidebar, where the date of the post corresponds to a specific SP. Since the last update, Updated Database of SPs (2011-08), I've posted nine times on specific positions, all of which are now referenced in the database.

17 March 2012

The Best Chess960 Weapon

A few years ago, when I first started playing chess960, I studied the openings of the best chess960 players I could locate in order to learn some tricks of the trade. One of the players I studied was a fellow nicknamed doodledandy, who won the first two chess960 championships on SchemingMind.com. I featured one of his games in an early post on my main blog, Pyramids and Dropouts.

In the nearly three intervening years since that post, I've played many of the same players who lost to doodledandy way back when. They are good players in their own right and I've come to gain even more respect for doodledandy's play. The position shown in the following diagram is a good example.

The player of the White pieces was the same opponent who beat me handily in a game I posted under the title Castling Misjudged. The start position was SP025 NQNBBRKR and the first few moves were 1.c4 c5 2.Nab3 b5 3.cxb5 Qxb5 4.Qf5, bringing us to the diagram. White's last move attacked the c-Pawn, which is not easily defended. The d-Pawn is pinned, while after 4...Bb6, White has 5.d4. How would you continue?

After 4.Qb1-f5

Black played the surprising Pawn sacrifice 4...e5 (!). Now after 5.Qxe5, the d-Pawn is no longer pinned, allowing 5...d6, which not only protects the c-Pawn, but also attacks the Queen and develops the light squared Bishop. The game continued 6.Qc3 Nab6 7.e3 Bf6 8.Qc2 c4 9.Nd4 Bxd4 10.exd4 Bc6 11.f3 Re8 12.Bf2 O-O, where Black is developing, attacking, or both, on every move. After the last move, 12...O-O, Black is far ahead in development while White's extra Pawn looks worthless. To see how Black converted his advantage, follow the game score, courtesy Scheming Mind.

[Event "Chess960: 2006 Chess960 Dropout Tournament, Round 5"]
[Site "SchemingMind.com"]
[Date "2007.05.08"]
[Round "-"]
[White "Tyler"]
[Black "doodledandy"]
[Result "0-1"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "nqnbbrkr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/NQNBBRKR w KQkq - 0 1"]

1.c4 c5 2.Nab3 b5 3.cxb5 Qxb5 4.Qf5 e5 5.Qxe5 d6 6.Qc3 Nab6 7.e3 Bf6 8.Qc2 c4 9.Nd4 Bxd4 10.exd4 Bc6 11.f3 Re8 12.Bf2 O-O 13.d3 cxd3 14.Nxd3 Bb7 15.Be2 Ba6 16.Rd1 Nd5 17.Bf1 Qb7 18.Qd2 Re6 19.h4 h5 20.Rb1 Ncb6 21.b3 Rfe8 22.Rd1 Ne3 23.Bxe3 Rxe3 24.Kf2 Nd5 25.Qa5 R8e6 26.Rd2 g6 27.Nc1 Bxf1 28.Rxf1 Nf4 29.Rc2 Qe7 30.Qg5 Rf6 31.Kg1 Kg7 32.Kh2 Qe8 33.a3 Rf5 34.Qg3 Nd5 35.Kg1 Rf4 36.Rc4 a5 37.a4 Qe6 38.b4 axb4 39.Rxb4 Rg4 40.Qf2 Rxg2+ 41.Kxg2 Nxb4 42.Kg1 Rc3 43.d5 Qxd5 44.Ne2 Rc4 45.Rc1 Nd3 46.Rd1 Qb7 47.Qe3 Ne5 48.Nd4 Qb2 49.Kh1 Rxa4 50.Qd2 Ra2 51.Qxb2 Rxb2 52.Kg1 Kf6 53.f4 Ng4 54.Ra1 Ne3 55.Ra6 Rg2+ 56.Kh1 Rg4 57.Rxd6+ Ke7 58.Rb6 Rxh4+ 59.Kg1 Rxf4 60.Nc6+ Kd6 61.Ra6 Rf1+ 62.Kh2 g5 63.Nd8+ Kd5 0-1

It's obvious that doodledandy had excellent positional judgement. This must have been his best weapon on the way to winning two consecutive tournaments.

10 March 2012

The More the Better

In my most recent post, Chess960 Needs Fresh Eyes, I touched on the idea of
two-game matches where the opponents used the same start position, taking the White side in one game and the Black side in the other. While this seems like a natural way to conduct a chess960 tournament, for practical reasons it is better suited to correspondence play.

I was thinking about the extra time required to play two consecutive games with the same start position. After posting those remarks, I remembered the recent San Sebastian tournament, an event featuring traditional chess with a twist. As TWIC 896 (9 January 2012) explained it:-

Donostia Chess Festival: The format was unusual a knock-out tournament with some modifications, as the players who got eliminated played in a parallel group. And the main novelty was that, following David Bronstein's idea, the matches consist of two games of classical chess played simultaneously. So no one had the advantage of playing the first game with the white pieces. • [Wikipedia: San Sebastián: 'San Sebastián (Spanish) or Donostia (Basque) is a city and municipality located in the north of Spain']

What did the players think about this format with two simultaneous games? The official site, Donostia Chess Festival, carried a number of comments from top players in the event.

GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov: I think this Basque system is very competitive. I like this format and that's why I'm here. The idea was created by David Bronstein and if I'm not mistaken he was playing against Mikhail Tal crazy matches on eight boards simultaneously. I don't know if this format can be popular in the future but in my opinion to organize this event is already a big success!

GM Sergey Fedorchuk: During the game I was confusing moves, score sheets. I was writing wrong moves, correcting them and of course it distracted me. At least I pushed clocks correctly. I was playing very fast at the beginning thinking that my time will finish very soon but in fact two hours are enough even for two games. I believe it's just new type of game just different one if we compare to "normal" chess. Some players can play better rapid chess; some of them play better blitz, so there will be some players who can play better with [this] format as well. Some poker players open many tables in computer screen. They play simultaneously everywhere and can control the situation.

GM Antoaneta Stefanova: I've never played the tournament like that before, so I expected to be more confused with all those actions -- playing, writing moves in different score sheets, pushing buttons on clocks. Loek Van Wely told me he had played the tournament on the six boards against the same opponent. So since we have only two here it can not be so difficult.

GM Loek Van Wely: It's also kind of tricky to play on two boards. I believe its better not to play fast here. You should not be [distracted] by your opponent who makes moves on the other board as well. Although, if there is an obvious move on the other board you can make the move quickly but in general it's better to keep on thinking about your position. The only situation when it's possible to switch all the time is when you have time trouble. In any case it's not so simple somehow to play here. [...] You look to one board then to another one and somehow you don't see clearly any more. I believe people will like this format and we are going to see more tournaments with Basque system. In my opinion it's a fairer format. There is a chance to play against the same opponent with both colors.

GM Andrei Volokitin (the eventual winner): Basque system is very interesting and not typical. It has right to exist. I like to play chess in general, so I feel comfortable to play so many games. The more the better!

Chess960 is already a giant step forward in the evolution of chess. Is the chess world ready for it to be combined with the Basque System of tournament play?

03 March 2012

Chess960 Needs Fresh Eyes

Last year, in Parallel Games and Parallel Games II, I looked at two-game matches where the opponents used the same start position, taking the White side in one game and the Black side in the other. While this seems like a natural way to conduct a chess960 tournament, for practical reasons it is better suited to correspondence play.

Since writing that post, I've had the opportunity to play a few such matches and now have some understanding of the techniques involved. You might assume that playing a two-game match with a random chess960 position is no different than playing a similar match with the traditional start position, but you would be wrong. In the traditional position, you don't care if your opponent opens 1.d4 or 1.e4 as White, or answers your 1.c4 with 1...c5, 1...e5, or any of the other choices. You've prepared for all eventualities and the initial moves are not about seeing which player has the better understanding of chess. That comes later in the game.

In chess960, on the other hand, already in the first moves you're comparing your initial plan as White with your opponent's plan in the other game. It's a contest to discover who has seen more possibilities in the given position.

The match against my strongest opponent started from SP077 NNRBKQBR. A little analysis convinced me that an early f2-f4 (...f5 for Black) is necessary. On top of letting the Bishop out, it gives the Queen a developing square, thereby preparing to castle O-O. The f4 idea was used by both players in both games. An early position in the game where I had Black is shown below, after the moves 1.f4 f5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Nb3 Nb6 4.e3 Qf6 5.Bf3. Note that White's last move prepares O-O-O.

What to play next? I looked at a number of ideas. The move 5...e5, developing the dark squared Bishop and setting up tension in the center, suggests itself. I rejected this because after 6.fxe5 Nxe5 7.Bxb7 Rb8 8.Ba6, it involves a Pawn sacrifice. Black gets good counterplay, but I wasn't convinced that it was enough for the Pawn.

More straightforward is 5...Bf7, but I didn't want to commit the Bishop to a passive square while more active possibilities were still available. A similar idea is 5...e6. This might have been the best choice, but I decided against it because of 6.Bxc6 dxc6 7.e4, when White's pieces look more active than Black's.

That last line gave me another idea. If White can give up the Bishop pair so soon, why can't Black? That's how I hit on the idea of 5...Bxb3. After the natural response 6.axb3, White has the open a-file, but it doesn't bring any immediate benefit. In return, Black is confident that White won't castle O-O-O, when the a-file is useless.

After I played 5...Bxb3, my opponent must have reasoned the same way, because he answered 6.cxb3. After a further 6...e6 7.O-O-O Be7, I was happy with my game, and eventually got a small positional plus. I still think 6.axb3 was better, but that would have been a different game.

In the traditional start position, you never have the opportunity to exchange a Bishop for a Knight on its first developing move (except after, e.g. Na3/Nh3, which is decidedly unusual). It's hard to overcome that sort of traditional thinking and look at a chess960 position with fresh eyes, but that's exactly what some positions require.