HarryO and I set out to play the SP in the comments to a post on his blog: Non-Random Chess 960 Trial Game 6: SP408. He chose to play 1.d4, the same move played in 64 of the 112 CCRL games, and which had garnered a success rate of 75% for White. The resulting position is shown in the following diagram.
SP408 RBQNBNKR after 1.d4
Now it was my move. I noted in my first comment,
From CCRL I'm seeing 1.d4 with a WLD score of +44-12=8. The two most important variations are 1...c5 with +22-9=6 and 1...Ng6 with +20-2=0. Those are terrible stats for Black.
Later I added,
After 1.d4 c5 2.d5, the most popular move is 2...c4. It's not a bug. The engine is trying to prevent c2-c4, which creates a strong center for White. Note that White has also moved the same Pawn twice, but the second move is very strong because it limits the movement of the Black Knights. I don't think 1...c5 is playable.
On top of that, I don't like 1...Ng6. It commits the Knight to a less than optimal square and leaves White a free hand in the center. I appreciate that it prepares ...O-O and guards the weak e-Pawn, but neither of these objectives is a priority.
I finally decided to play 1...d5, a move which had not been tried in any of the 112 CCRL games. HarryO played the critical move 2.c4, against which I had prepared 2...Nde6. The move depends on the correctness of the tactical sequence 3.cxd5 Nxd4. We played through move 16, and although Black never achieved full equality, he was never in real danger of losing in the opening.
Looking again at the comments we made while making the moves, I am impressed by our general discoveries about chess960. After the game, HarryO expanded the anchor post to highlight some of the unusual variations that might have been played.
Our next game started with the twin of SP408: Non-Random Chess 960 Trial Game 7: SP749. It has the same sequence of pieces, but in reverse order -- only the castling considerations are different. The first two moves for each side mirrored the ideas discovered in SP408. White varied first, playing the equivalent of 3.e3. This put less pressure on Black and when we finally abandoned the trial on move 15, Black had achieved equality and was perhaps even somewhat better.
Getting back to the initial question -- Were the lopsided CCRL results 'because of a problem with the SP or a problem with the engines?' -- I'm convinced that it's a problem with the engines. A discussion of why they go wrong would be a good topic for a future post.