06 July 2013

'Bizarre Castling Rules'?

From 'Counterplay / Readers Respond', Chess Life (CL), July 2013:-

Chess960 is a noble, but flawed attempt to force players to start thinking from the very first move of the game. The biggest problem with Chess960 are the bizarre castling rules. For anyone not familiar with Chess960, consider the following, which is just one bizarre aspect of “castling.” Depending on the opening setup, when castling, the king can move anywhere from five squares to zero squares to minus one squares (yes, the king can actually move in the opposite direction than it normally would). It would be difficult to teach this maneuver to anyone not familiar with standard chess. A variant called Chess480 seeks to simplify these castling rules, but in doing so creates some of its own issues.

I propose a variant which achieves the goal of eliminating memorization of openings while avoiding the failings of both Chess960 and Chess480. This variant, which I have dubbed Chess18, has a randomized opening setup just like its “predecessors.” The difference is that the rooks and the king start on the same squares that they do now so that castling remains exactly the same as it is now— problem solved!

An additional benefit of Chess18 is that it avoids the situation in Chess960 where with some opening setups White can attack an undefended black pawn with her first move.

When Bobby Fischer met with former FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov to propose the switch to Chess960, Ilyumzhinov advocated “step-by-step” changes mindful of the heritage of chess. Well, here is such a step.

David Couture, via e-mail

CL also provided a response:-

Chess Life asked Damian Nash, a two-time Utah state champion who ran small Chess960 tournaments at the U.S. Opens in 2010 and 2011, and also conducted small break-out sessions on the topic, to reply:

David Couture hits the nail on the head. Bizarre castling rules are a serious problem with Chess960 (Fischer Random). His solution is novel: Leave the rooks and king on the same squares as classical chess, thereby keeping familiar rules intact. Chess18 is a logical first step toward the evolution of the world’s greatest game, expanding opening books by a factor of 18. Another interesting alternative is “Moab Random,” a form of pre-chess that replaces castling (already a bizarre move in classical chess) with the much simpler ‘evacuation’ of the king to any empty back-rank square.

Kudos to Mr. Couture and other game theorists who attempt to wrestle chess out of the grip of the brilliantly obsessive memorizers at the top, who hold Ph.D. equivalents in opening theory. Consistent with Bobby Fischer’s hope for the future of the game, Chess18 could help return chess to the vastly larger audience of brilliant tacticians and strategists worldwide; at least for a little while, until opening jargon catches up. In classical chess, opening experience usually trumps raw talent. But in ChessX, as X increases, natural ability and sound strategy will yield progressively better results.

What do you think? Are 'bizarre castling rules' the 'biggest problem with chess960'?


HarryO said...

This does highlight a beautiful contradiction in teaching Chess960:

1) It would be difficult to teach castling to anyone who HAS NOT PLAYED standard chess.

2) It would be difficult to teach castling to anyone who HAS PLAYED chess because they get interference in their thinking about castling when they play Chess960!

Honestly the answer is just two fold:

1) Some people want to popularize chess and bring it to a wider audience - that is fine

2) But some people overlook the power of habit. If you play Chess960, castling becomes simple and obvious once you have absorbed the rule (it doesn't take that long). It's really not hard it's just that people struggle visualizing where pieces go (the very skill needed to play chess)

Chess18 would be fine but it would be a real pity to see "Queens in the corner" disappear. They produce really fun games.

Mark Weeks said...

I found a copy of the CL letter on Chess.com, posted by the original author (known there as DaveC-Westminster)...


...I took advantage of the discovery by adding my own comment to the thread. The item was posted around the beginning of June, so there's no guarantee the author will see it. - Mark

GeneM said...

The claim by Couture and Nash was/is absurd. It only proves they have poor teaching skills.

** Simple Statement of the Rule:
"In chess960-FRC, after a player castles, his king and castling rook end on the same squares they do in traditional chess."

Somehow Couture and Nash contort this into blather about the varied number of squares the king can move in various setups during castling. An unskilled teacher can make simple things seem complicated to his audience; so what?

HarryO said...

Gene bingo to you!

You must start with training wheels before you can ride a bike. Standard chess are those training wheels before you ride the Chess960 bike.

Just like riding a bike, castling in Chess960 is easy once you have practiced it.

I sympathize with people trying to run tournaments! Essentially the problem is that you cannot conduct tournaments in Chess960 if the players have not practiced how to play Chess960.

It's like saying to push bike riders that you are now entered into a motor-cross trail bike riding competition because you can ride a push bike.

Can you imagine the chaos?

HarryO said...

I just read an article from Chessbase about the legendary Pal Benko and his enthusiasm for Fischer Random ideas.

If you look at the pictures of the older Pal Benko, there is a picture entitled "Explaining the Randomized Chess Idea".

What struck me is that he has set up the board in the picture ready for a Chess18 game.

Here is the article link: