24 August 2013

Thanks, Bobby!

I passed an anniversary milestone this week. I'm not talking about my wedding anniversary, which was a week earlier; I'm talking about five years playing chess960. I recorded the decision to play in a post on my main blog, Shall We Play Fischerandom Chess? -- yes, we shall, and a month later I reported on my first game, Chess960? I'm Hooked!

At the same time I began playing, I started looking into the nuances of the game, including a weekly post on that main blog. Some months later, in May 2009, I set up this current blog, Chess960 Blogging Leaves Home, and have been writing at least one post a week.

My first chess960 games brought back powerful memories of the days when I started to take a keen interest in chess. The thrill of discovery used to be a rare emotion, but now I experience it during every chess960 game, where the intellectual challenge starts on the first move.

After five years I'm still full of enthusiasm. My chess middlegame is stronger, thanks to the fantastic number of new types of position that chess960 offers, and my endgame is much stronger, now that I have time available for study that used to be spent on the openings. Knowing that I can tackle endless varieties of never-before-seen positions has given me additional confidence in all phases of the game.

For me, the only open question is whether chess960 will ever become as popular as chess is. Maybe it will, maybe it won't. As long as there are other keen players against whom I can match wits, its popularity doesn't matter at all.

17 August 2013

'Reform Chess'

Pleased that I actually learned something from old rec.games.chess (rgc) posts -- see my previous blog post, Foraging the 'News Groups' -- I returned to the resource looking for more material on the early days of chess960. Here's a snippet by IM Mark Ginsburg from May 1993, titled Fischer (again).
Fischer met with the Polgars recently on the Yugoslavia / Hungary border. He attempted to negotiate a match when he would play Judit a variant of chess, known in some circles as "Reform Chess" - where the piece arrangement for both sides on the first rank is determined at random before the game starts (except that the Kings, and the Rooks, stay on their 'normal squares' to allow for eventual castling).

No doubt Fischer feels that Judit is a product of intense training (and by extension, memorization) and wants to 'prove' his superior talent. Whatever the case, the Polgars have rejected his initial overtures to a Reform Chess Match and they went back to Budapest - and I suppose he likewise retreated to a hotel room in Belgrade. One anecdote that came out of this meeting is that Fischer is now being asked to pay for his hotel room daily, in cash.

A follow-up post, also titled Fischer (again), but from another rgc-user, gave more details about Fischer's new idea.

While some may interpret this as Fischer being unwilling to play Judit straight-up, I'd counter that Fischer has been promoting the idea of randomized chess for some time. Also, during a [Fischer - Spassky] II press conference (perhaps it was the one before the match started?) Fischer was discussing randomized chess.

Randomized chess was experimented with early on by Aaron Alexandre (1766-1850) and later by Erich Brunner (1885-1938). Of course, Bird (1830-1908) and Capablanca (1888-1942) were also very big supporters of unorthodox chess to get away from mechanistic memorization of openings. Fischer is obviously of the same belief.

This squares with other facts that I've featured in earlier posts. See, for example, Pictures of a Fischer Random Precursor. As for the youngest (and strongest chess player) of the three famous Polgar sisters, Judit is on record as having said, 'To be honest, I never was a big fan of Fischer Random'; see KC-Conference with Judit Polgar.

10 August 2013

Foraging the 'News Groups'

The heyday of rec.games.chess (rgc; a piece of a technology once known as 'news groups') was long ago, but the forum's posts through the mid-2000s are a valuable archive for the early days of the Internet. What can rgc tell us about the early days of chess960? For example, what can it tell us about the evolution of the 'chess960' name? I searched rgc for the first occurrence of the most popular chess960 synonyms.

'fischer random'

The two word spelling was the earliest reference I could find.

April 1996 was after the first (tentative) formal mention by Fischer in November 1995, as I recorded in An Aborted Announcement, and the formal announcement in June 1996, Fischer Announces Fischerandom. There is not enough information in the rgc thread to identify what happened in April.


  • 1996-06-02: The Week in Chess No. 85 • 'One person who always attracts attention when he appears is the long lost Bobby Fischer. He is about to appear in Argentina to promote his newchess game FISCHERANDOM with a press conference later this month.'

The spelling with one 'r' was Fischer's preferred spelling, but it didn't take long for the two 'r' version to appear.


That thread uses both 'r' and 'rr'spellings in posts by two different people. The chess960 name, which has since been adopted as the preferred name (except perhaps in the United States), emerged more than six years later.


  • 2002-12-29: Wishes for the coming year 2003 • 'My computer chess related hope for 2003 is for more chess programmers to integrate the Fischer Random Chess (FullChess / Chess960) variant into their engines.'

The post was signed 'Reinhard Scharnagl', another of the early promoters of Fischer's greatest invention.

03 August 2013

Queen Safety in the Center

'Do not bring your Queen out too early', as I once quoted in a post on Fine's 'General Principles' of Opening Theory. There are at least two reasons for this: (1) the best square for the Queen is usually not apparent until some other pieces and a few Pawns have moved, and (2) the opponent can develop more pieces harrassing the Queen at the same time.

While this is a tried-and-true principle of traditional chess, some chess960 positions leave room for more specific considerations. One such position that I encountered, SP679 QRBKNNRB, is shown in the top diagram. I played it as White in a pyramid game on Schemingmind.com (see Pyramids and Dropouts for an explanation of the event format). I had been playing chess960 for less than a year, my opponent, a top-10 player on Schemingmind.com, was the highest rated player in the pyramid, and I was curious to see if I could hold my own against him.

The initial moves were cautious, 1.b3 b6 2.Nf3 Ne6 3.Bb2 Nd6 4.d3 Bb7, as is often the case when the Queen starts in the corner. After the first contact between the forces, both players decided to castle O-O-O: 5.e4 f5 6.exf5 Nxf5 7.N1d2 O-O-O 8.O-O-O. This led to the position in the bottom diagram.

The game continued 8...g6 9.Bxh8 Rxh8, exchanging the dark squared Bishops. Now I wondered what to do with my Queen. I finally hit on the idea of 10.Qe5, placing it in the center. This might seem paradoxical, given that all of the pieces, except the Bishops that were just exchanged, are still on the board. Black, however, doesn't have many possibilities to harrass the Queen. The move ...d6 leaves the Knight en prise. If the Knight first moves away, or if Black moves the other Knight followed by a Rook lift to f5, White can retreat the Queen down the e-file.

The game continued 10...Rhf8 11.g3 a5 12.a4 Rf7 13.e4 h6 14.h4 Rdf8 15.Rde1 Nfg7 16.Nh2 d6, finally attacking the Queen, which retreated 17.Qc3. I eventually lost in the endgame, after declining my opponent's draw offer, but was happy with the course of the opening. I learned that there are chess960 positions where the Queen is quite safe in the center.