27 April 2013

A Difficult SP for Black

Continuing with Proof of Concept with HarryO, after we analyzed the two start positions (SPs) discussed in Problem with the SP or with the Engines?, we moved on to another problem SP discovered in Waving a Yellow Flag. The moves and comments for this position -- SP868 QBBRKRNN -- can be found in HarryO's blog post Non-Random Chess 960 Trial Game 8: SP868.

The position after White's first move is shown in the top diagram. White threatens 2.Nf5, attacking g7 with the not-so-trivial threat of a smothered mate. I was playing Black and quickly determined that I didn't have many options. I finally decided to give up the possibility of castling O-O, and played 1...Nf6 2.Nf5 Rg8. The game continued 3.b3 Ng6 4.Nf3, reaching the position shown in the second diagram.

Now I played 4...Nf4, with an attack on e2 which seemed to prevent White from castling O-O. White played 5.O-O! anyway, after which I realized that the e-Pawn is poison because of Black's subsequent weakness on the e-file. The game continued 5...d6 6.Ng3 b5 7.c4 bxc4, when I discovered that White almost has a forced win. I requested to take the game back to White's fourth move and, in the spirit of discovering the truth about the initial SP, HarryO agreed.

My second attempt from the diagrammed position (instead of 4...Nf4) was 4...c5. The game continued 5.d4 b6 6.c4 Nf4, with the same idea as the first variation, but in a different setting. This time the move 7.O-O was not as powerful. After 7...Nxe2+ 8.Kh1 d5, White tried 9.Ba3. This led to a series of exchanges which took the pressure off Black. After move 15, we agreed that Black was out of danger and decided to start a new game with the corner Queen and Bishop swapped. That next game is being played at Non-Random Chess960 Trial Game 9: SP864.

Around the same time that the SP868 game started, I was working on a series of posts for my main blog with the theme of 'engine evaluation'. On one of those posts -- One Imbalance Leads to Another -- I learned that the value of castling is approximately equal to a Pawn. This meant that when I gave up castling O-O by playing 1...Nf6, I was making the equivalent of a Pawn sacrifice. I looked again at the position after 1.Ng3, and discovered that the alternative 1...g6 can also lead to a Pawn sacrifice, where Black has considerable compensation for the Pawn. If this is true, then Black has two methods of meeting the difficult challenge posed by 1.Ng3.

20 April 2013

Games Between Skillful Players

The last time I looked at the LSS game collection (see the link to LSS in the sidebar) was in my post on Really Short Games, where I gave an example of a chess960 opening blunder ('??'). There are many more examples and while it might be useful to catalog the patterns involved, this is not the most interesting aspect of chess960.

Continuing with my copy of the LSS database, I identified games between players rated 2000 or more. Of the 7308 games on file, a little more than 100 games met this criteria. The reason is that until a year ago, LSS offered only one type of chess960 event, where players of all strengths are placed into the next event -- first come, first served -- until the available places are filled. Then the next event is opened. This often leads to rating mismatches with differences of 1000 points or more. The site now offers annual 'LSS Chess960 Championships', but the 2012 edition has only completed the preliminary stage, where there was just a single pairing of 2000+ players. We should see more games between top players as the semifinal and final stages complete.

All of the LSS events use the parallel game format, where opponents play two games using the same start position, one with White and one with Black. I've discussed this format in several posts, where the most recent was Opening Logic Sets the Course.

For this current post I chose a game played last year in an event named FO-2012-0-00316. One player was rated 2335, the other 2175, and they were assigned SP456 RBNNBKQR as the start position. The following diagram shows the position after five moves in both games.

In the top diagram, the initial moves were 1.f3 f6 2.Qf2 a6 3.c3 Ba7 4.d4 Nc6 5.Nd3 h5.

In the bottom diagram, the moves were 1.f4 Nd6 2.c3 f5 3.Qe3 Qe6 4.Qh3 O-O 5.Ne3 a5.

Both games show a curious symmetry of the f-Pawn. In the first game, f2-f3 and ...f7-f6 were played. In the second game, f2-f4 and ...f7-f5 were played. Can you tell from looking at the diagrams which player was higher rated?

13 April 2013

'I wish there were more opportunities to play'

American GM Hikaru Nakamura has figured in many posts on this blog, for example CCM9: Nakamura, Grischuk, and Rybka (for more, see 'Search This Blog' in the navigation bar on the right). I was pleased to see a comment in the April 2013 Chess Life (CL): Cover Story; 'The Resolute Grandmaster: Hikaru Nakamura’s slow progress towards the top' by Macauley Peterson (p.24).
Highlights from Nakamura at the London Chess Classic: In general, I try to surprise my opponents much more, as opposed to having a set repertoire of one or two openings. The more weapons you have -- the more chances to surprise your opponents and reach positions that you're more familiar with -- the better off you are. That's why, I would say, Carlsen has such great results. He's very good in pretty much every structure that's out there. He knows the concepts and the piece play a lot better than some of the other players.

With the computers now, you can't just be successful with one opening. You look at players like Karpov or Kasparov. Karpov for almost his whole career played the Caro-Kann, and some Frenches as well, and he did great. And with Garry, he played the Scheveningen and then the Najdorf for the better part of 20 years, whereas nowadays you really have to know more than that because with the computer you can analyze any opening and probably within one day you can have a very good understanding of it. So, because of that it's really changed the whole landscape of chess.

I really like Chess960 [also known as Fischer Random chess - MP]. I think it is the future of chess. For now classical chess is still very much alive, but at some point I think ... most people will be playing [960] ... The pieces are more random but still the skill factor is there, and I really enjoy it because it's really playing pure chess, there isn't the same preparation the way there is now ... I wish there were more opportunities to play it.

The same issue of CL (p.10) had 'Benko Remembers Fischer : Three compositions in honor of Fischer’s 70th birthday (born March 9, 1943)'. Two of the compositions used chess960 castling rules.