27 December 2014

Lichess, Second Look

I ended the previous post, Lichess, First Look, with the question 'where should it be placed in the list of chess960 servers shown in the sidebar of this blog?'. The main page, en.lichess.org, which is also the 'Play' page, lists both 'Real time' and 'Correspondence' play. Since I have fewer 'Real time' links than I have 'Correspondence' links, I listed it under my Crossboard (Live) links.

While I was working on those links, first documented in Chess960 Online Play Sites (March 2011), I checked all links to ensure they were still active. One site had disappeared (Brainking.de) and one site had changed its main address (LSS), so I made those corrections.

As for Lichess itself, everything I look at tells me that it's highly unusual. I'll need a 'Third Look' before I make any conclusions.

20 December 2014

Lichess, First Look

An online play resource I haven't covered yet is Lichess.org. HarryO mentioned it in a comment to Foraging the 'News Groups' (August 2013), and it always pops up on searches for specific chess960 positions like the all important BBQNNRKR. It also offers a chess960 'Play with the machine [Stockfish]' service.

Lichess.org : Play with the machine

What else does it offer? And where should it be placed in the list of chess960 servers shown in the sidebar of this blog? A longer look is needed.

13 December 2014

Design the Chess960 World Championship

Earlier this year I posted a series on my World Championship blog -- The Road to the World Championship: Part I, Part II, and Part III -- along with an opinion on my main blog, The Winning Formula, 'Has FIDE finally found the winning formula?'. The posts describe the qualification process for the FIDE World Championship.

Let's suppose we're tasked with designing a World Championship for chess960 using the same four-stage structure as the FIDE qualification cycle for traditional chess:-

Continental Championships -> World Cup -> Candidates Tournament -> Title Match

This structure uses four different types of event -- Swiss system, Knockout, Round robin, and Match -- corresponding to the four qualifying stages. For each equivalent stage of the chess960 championship,

  • How are start positions (SPs) chosen?
  • When are SPs announced to the players?
  • How many games are played with each SP?
  • What time controls are used?
  • How do tiebreaks work?
  • Is SP518 in use?

Lots of questions. Any opinions?

06 December 2014

The Initial Positional Considerations

In my previous post, Breaking the Symmetry, I reported on the 2012 SchemingMind Chess960 Dropout Tournament. In this post I'll report on the 2013 event. In fact, SchemingMind conducted two 2013 chess960 dropout tournaments. The first was an experimental event using the 60 day countdown time control that I discussed in my initial post about The Lechenicher SchachServer (LSS). The second was a traditional event using the same time control (30 days per game plus 1 day per move) seen in the previous SchemingMind dropout tournaments. Because I had switched to LSS to try their more relaxed countdown control, I decided to skip both SchemingMind events.

Since the first 2013 SchemingMind tournament finished recently and the second is in the last round, I'll report on the first event: 2013 Chess960 Dropout Tournament (Schemingmind.com). A key game took place in the fifth of the six rounds, between the eventual runner-up and the eventual winner, playing White and Black respectively. The chess960 wheel of fortune gave the players SP718 RKQNNBBR, shown in the top diagram.

The initial positional considerations in every chess960 game are nearly always the same:-

  • To which side will I castle?
  • How will I deploy the minor pieces?
  • Where will the Queen go?

In SP718, castling O-O-O appears to be the obvious choice, but the other considerations are not so straighforward. Let's see what the two players did.

The game started 1.d4 d5 2.Nc3 f6 3.e4 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd6 5.f3 e5 6.dxe5 fxe5 7.Bd3 Be7 8.c3 Ne6 9.Be3 Bf7, reaching the position shown in the bottom diagram. Both players have developed the minor pieces in different arrangements. Black has completed their development, while White still has to move the Knight off e1. Its only move is Nc2, which apparently did not appeal to White for his next move, since he played 10.g3. Besides making space for the Knight on g2, the move keeps the enemy Knight off f4, and prepares a Kingside expansion with h2-h4.

Now Black had to tackle the questions concerning castling and the Queen's development. The obvious choice is a Queen move followed by ...O-O-O, but Black found another possibility: 10...a5!. This move says that Black will leave the King in place, will deploy the Rook via the a-file, and will use the a-Pawn to harrass the White King. This plan must have sent White scrambling to find a good counterplan, but he eventually decided to continue on his chosen course. A few moves later Black sacrificed a Pawn to get attacking chances against the White King, and finally won the game. The full game score is...

[Event "Chess960: 2013 Chess960 Dropout Tournament, Round 5"]
[Site "SchemingMind.com"]
[Date "2014.04.18"]
[Round "-"]
[White "pjl1015"]
[Black "Ezedoke"]
[Result "0-1"]
[Variant "fischerandom"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "rkqnnbbr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RKQNNBBR w KQkq - 0 1"]

1.d4 d5 2.Nc3 f6 3.e4 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd6 5.f3 e5 6.dxe5 fxe5 7.Bd3 Be7 8.c3 Ne6 9.Be3 Bf7 10.g3 a5 11.h4 a4 12.Qc2 g6 13.Qe2 Rf8 14.Nc2 Nxe4 15.Bxe4 Nc5 16.Bxc5 Bxc5 17.Qb5 Bb6 18.Qxe5 Ra5 19.Qe7 Bc5 20.Qg5 Qe6 21.a3 Qb6 22.Qd2 Rb5 23.Nb4 Bb3 24.Nc2 Bc4 25.Nb4 Be3 26.Qc2 Re5 27.Qxa4 Rxe4 28.fxe4 Qe6 29.Re1 c5 30.Qd1 Bf2 31.Nd3 Bxd3+ 32.Qxd3 Bxe1 33.O-O-O c4 34.Qd4 Bxg3 0-1

... courtesy of SchemingMind.

29 November 2014

Breaking the Symmetry

The last time I discussed a SchemingMind Chess960 Dropout Tournament was for the 2011 event where I picked an example of Ignoring the Positional Handicap (November 2012). The subsequent annual event, 2012 Chess960 Dropout Tournament, finished earlier this year and I was lucky enough to finish second out of 54 players, with +8-1=3.

My only loss was to the eventual winner, who had also won the 2011 event where he was the victor in the game I featured in the 'Positional Handicap' post. The chess960 wheel of fortune gave me the Black pieces in SP489 QRNBBKNR. Our first moves were 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.O-O Nf6 4.d3 O-O, with perfect symmetry, as shown in the top diagram.

Now my opponent played 5.Ne2, heading with the Knight to g3, and I took stock of the position. A Queen in the corner nearly always requires special consideration to determine how the piece will get into the game. I looked at 5...a5, decided that it didn't do enough besides letting the Queen out, and finally settled on 5...b5. That move stops d3-d4, and prepares ...Nb6, thereby breaking the symmetry. There are two themes in the works -- (1) minor piece development, and (2) Queenside expansion -- where I could alternate between the two.

The game continued 6.Ng3 Bd7 7.b4 Nb6 8.Bd2, reaching the bottom diagram. With the exception of the Knights that started on the c-file, the position is still symmetric. My Knight had come into the game in one move, while White's Knight had taken two moves, but White's Knight seemed better placed. I decided to continue straightforward development, hoping to capitalize on my extra tempo: 8...Be7 9.Re1 Qb7.

Now White played a break that I had underestimated, 10.a4!. After 10...Nxa4 11.c4 a6 12.d4!, he had a space advantage and the better position. If Black swaps Pawns on d4, a White Knight gets to f5, when Black is in real trouble. I eventually gave up the Pawn on e5, and exchanged down to a position where White had only a 4-3 Pawn advantage on the Kingside plus all major pieces and a Knight against my Bishop. It was enough to win the game.

One of the advantages of SchemingMind is that all games are played to a conclusion. There are no adjudications. I learned that White's small material advantage supported by a Knight was very tricky to defend against.

22 November 2014

No Comment?

What's the best part of blogging? For most bloggers, it must be receiving comments. What's the worst part of blogging? In my case, it has to be replying to comments. I know from experience that online discussions have a tendency to spiral out of control, especially when not-so-serious remarks are taken too seriously. The best way to avoid this is by not participating, but then you lose a good source of feedback and new ideas.

I spent a pleasant hour going through comments received over the last year or so, discovered a few that deserved further attention, and added my thoughts to the stream. The most recent 25(?) comments can always be found in the blogspot.com/feed Chess960 (FRC) Comments.

Thanks to serial commenters GeneM and HarryO for their many insightful remarks. Even if we don't always agree on the details, we do agree that chess960 is worth the time spent.

15 November 2014

Doom and Gloom?

To catch up on Anand - Carlsen, Game 3 (that's a post on my main blog), I watched the archived video for that game on the official site. Around 53:00 into the clip, the commentators, GM Peter Svidler and IM/WGM Sopiko Guramishvili, received a Twitter question from one Nikolaos Ntirlis.

The tweet asked,

Do you believe that in 10-15 years we'll be able to know the "truth" about the major opening lines?

It's a good question for GM Svidler, who also has top-level knowledge of chess960. See, for example, No Place for Chess960, for his chess960 accomplishments at Chess Classic Mainz. The GM answered,

PS: If by this you mean the complete truth which will actually change the way people play chess because it will not be possible to play certain openings because the answer will be known and everybody will be able to reproduce the answer at the board, the answer to your question is 'No'.

SG: Chess will die in that case.

PS: Not really. First of all, I think the heaviest research and work which can result in what this question was about... It's being done as was correctly pointed out in major opening lines. Nobody really spends -- I'm saying 'nobody' but this is probably a mistake -- but not too many people will spend time, effort, and energy getting to the bottom of (I don't know) the Morra Gambit or something.

Generally, theory moves in leaps and bounds in lines which are fashionable at the moment, which are played a lot by the current top players, because there are trendsetters and there are people who just follow the trends. When the trendsetters suddenly begin playing a certain opening, that opening starts attracting a lot of high level games and this way theory suddenly progresses. In a very short period of time you get a lot of new stuff known about the opening. But that only applies to a select few openings.

Secondly, if you're willing to play slightly offbeat lines I don't think it's possible to completely close down chess for good by advancing opening theory. Also there's a question of memory. Let's say if we assume that somehow, let's say the mainline Gruenfeld, becomes solved in 15 years it becomes a question of can you actually remember the answers to all the questions that the opponent can pose you. It's a huge opening and even if you feel someone has come up with an actual answer to whether it's winning for White or a draw, the amount of memorization involved in repeating all those lines is almost impossible.

SG: Black also has so many options you have to memorize all of them.

PS: So, first of all I don't think it will happen, and secondly the impact on the actual playing of the game at -- in particular -- amateur level will have almost zero impact. Apart from discouraging some people from taking up chess, but even then is not a huge factor. Anyway, I think we've spent a bit too much time discussing the doom and gloom...

Although Svidler didn't mention chess960, I imagine the idea crossed his mind as he was answering the question.

08 November 2014

SP864 BBQRKRNN - Other Opinions

In my previous post, SP864 BBQRKRNN - Two Trials, I discussed a particularly difficult start position (SP), which seems to present Black with an immediate problem. Although the 'Two Trials' showed that Black has defensive chances, the test was not particularly convincing.


On Chess.com I found a post, Do you find chess960 challenging or fun?, with a challenge that sums up the position perfectly. I'm leaving it in CAPS, because it deserves to be shouted.


True chess960 fans have a deep rooted belief that none of the 960 start positions are unfair. After some discussion back-and-forth, SaharanKnight came up with a new line.

  • 1...d5 2.c4 Qg4 3.Nf5 O-O-O (or perhaps 3...d4; 3...Qxg2 is bad because of 4.Nf3)

Given the premature Queen development, I'm not convinced that the line is sound, but it deserves to be tested. He also came up the same line that was tested in 'Two Trials'.

  • 1...Nf6 2.Nf5 Rg8

This led to a discussion about castling.

SK: At this point, White shouldn't claim credit for spoiling castle since Black may still castle with the other Rook.

MW: Castling O-O-O is suicide in this SP. Black will have to move two Pawns to develop the Bishops. Meanwhile White will castle O-O and launch a Pawn attack on the other flank. Once the White Pawns open a few lines, the Black King will be a sitting duck for White's pieces.

There's no reason to take my word for it, so the O-O-O idea deserves a test. I'll leave that for someone else to do. After the Chess.com discussion I contacted GM Andrey Deviatkin, seen on this blog earlier this year in More from Moscow 2014, where he was one of the participants. I gave him the position and asked him, 'White opens 1.Ng3, threatening 2.Nf5. What would you play if you were Black?' He came back with two lines.

  • Most likely I'd play 1...g6, and if 2.b4 then 2...f6. Maybe it's not as bad as it seems, for example, 3.c4 b6 4.Nf3 c5.

  • I'd also consider 1...Nf6 2.Nf5 Rg8 and then castling Queenside. 1...Nh6 is another option but I don't like it.

When I explained my doubts about the second line and castling O-O-O, he replied,

I agree about the long side castling, that's why I'd probably prefer 1...g6 and 2...f6. But I have a feeling that Black's position after g6, f6 is better than it seems at first glance, although White is of course more comfortable. But isn't the same true for some Taimanov, Rauzer, Hedgehog, Pirc and so on?

I'm sure there are no "already lost" initial setups because both armies are present at full, in absolute symmetry and far from each other. Many people would argue that some initial positions are already "lost", but I think it's just because of their habit.

I liked the point about the armies being 'in absolute symmetry and far from each other', but wasn't convinced about the comparison to traditional chess.

I'm not so sure about the Taimanov, Rauzer, Hedgehog argument. Those are choices that Black has in traditional chess. A confirmed 1.e4 e5 player might not be comfortable playing a Taimanov and isn't forced to do that. In BBQRKRNN 1.Ng3, Black is defending against a powerful threat already on the first move and is forced to make some concession -- losing the castle O-O option or playing a cramped game with a lag in development. White, on the other hand, hasn't given up anything. What is Black's compensation?

The GM replied,

First, I have some suspicion that the black knight developed to f7 might feel a little more comfortable than the g3-knight (restricted by the g6-pawn), and maybe this will provide Black some compensation for the crampedness? I mean, maybe we don't know Fischer chess openings laws too well yet to judge if something is really awkward or only seems so? Even Berlin was considered awkward till Kramnik analysed it through and played vs Kasparov.

Second, if we talk of normal chess, a confirmed e5-player might face King's gambit, Evans, Scotch gambit and so on -- which were considered dangerous for decades. (Let alone that Fischer chess is exactly about knowing how to play every type of positions).

I think that only practice (and definitely with time limits no shorter than 25 minites per game) can provide real answers if any positions should really be excluded or not, and my opinion so far is that it won't be necessary, maybe except for the classical position.

After some more back-and-forth on traditional openings, I had to admit, 'It's a big mystery why the Sicilian works as well as it does. The Hedgehog systems are another mystery.'

I've spent three posts discussing BBQRKRNN. When all has been said, there remains only one way to find the truth: to play the position objectively from both sides. Chess has its mysteries and they are many, but chess960 promises many more.

01 November 2014

SP864 BBQRKRNN - Two Trials

Continuing with Another Difficult SP for Black, the problem position is shown in the following diagram. How does Black defend against the move 2.Nf5, with the nasty threat of 3.Nxg7 checkmate?

The first trial with this position is recorded on HarryO's Chess960 Jungle blog in Non-Random Chess960 Trial Game 9: SP864. I had White, HarryO Black. He defended the mate threat in the most direct way -- giving up the castles O-O option. After the initial moves, 1.Ng3 Nf6 2.Nf5 Rg8 3.Nf3 Ng6 4.O-O, we reached the position shown in the top diagram below. Harry played his next move, 4...b6, and commented,

Preparing to attack the g2 square and hopefully open access to the h3 square as well. Black is reluctant to play anything other than rock solid moves that try not to induce a second weakness into Black's army.

The next sequence in the game was 4...b6 5.c4 d5 6.cxd5 Bxd5 7.b4 c5 8.bxc5 Nf4. After 8...Nf4, Black wrote,

I'm struggling to see the light for Black. This is really tough. It will only be a few more moves and I will be beyond my skill level to save the game.

Indeed, over the next few moves Black sacrificed a Pawn to escape the pressure, leaving him in a disadvantageous endgame that we abandoned as a probable win for White. Here we discussed other attempts to save Black after White's first move. I suggested,

As for improvements, your move 1...g6 is worth a try. I also think 4...e6, forcing the Knight back immediately, is better than the move you played. The last word has yet to be said for this SP.

HarryO agreed that, after 4...e6, even though 'the f6 square is weakened', we had to show that the start position could be saved.

We rolled the position back to White's fourth move and switched sides, so I had the Black pieces. The trial can again be found on HarryO's blog, this time in Non-Random Chess960 Trial Game 9: SP864 after 4)...e6. The game continued 4...e6 5.Ng3 c5 6.c4 d5 7.cxd5 Nxd5 8.b3 b6 9.Rfe1 f6 10.e3 Nde7. After 10...Nde7, Black commented,

Threatening ...Bxf3, when the weak square on f3 will give Black plenty of counterplay.

We played another move pair, 11.Qc4 Bxf3, and I gave a conditional move move: 'if 12.gxf3 f5', with the comment

Secures the e4-square against use by the White pieces.

The position is shown above in the bottom diagram. White wrote,

If I trace back what happened, when you played 10...Nde7 at that moment the question of lost start positions in chess960 was over in my mind. There are none. [Fischer] was simply a genius who saw this much sooner than anyone that has walked the planet since chess was invented. [...] I am totally shocked, amazed, in disbelief, inspired, confused, intrigued and simply glad to have witnessed the sight of the position that is now on the board.

We had saved a most 'Difficult SP for Black'. Around the end of our first game, HarryO suggested that we 'post the position 4...e6 on Chess.com and see what responses we get'. I agreed the idea was worth pursuing and was happy to find a suitable post, Do you find chess960 challenging or fun? A few comments into the thread, SaharanKnight had posted the challenge,


That statement sums up perfectly the all-too-obvious challenge posed by SP864 BBQRKRNN 1.Ng3. I'll look at the ensuing exchange in my next post.

25 October 2014

Another Difficult SP for Black

The post from a few weeks ago, A Half-Tempo Advantage, reminded me that I had one game left from last year's Proof of Concept with HarryO. After examining A Difficult SP for Black (SP868 QBBRKRNN), we looked at its cousin (SP864 BBQRKRNN) which is largely the same position except that a Queen and a Bishop are switched at the start.


White's first move is again 1.Ng3, threatening 2.Nf5. To defend against the attack on g7, Black must make a positional concession already on the first move. To see how HarryO and I handled it -- I had Black -- you can find our moves on HarryO's blog as comments to Non-Random Chess960 Trial Game 9: SP864 after 4)...e6.

I also flagged the position on a couple of chess960 forums. I'll discuss the feedback in my next post.

18 October 2014

Updated Database of SPs (2014-10)

It's been a year since I last Updated the Database of SPs (2013-10), so I added the posts written since then. These are all posts discussing specific positions and my database is to keep track of them by SP.

A couple of these posts discussed multiple positions -- Nakamura's 1.g4/b4 and Nakamura's 1.h4/a4 -- and I added a database entry for each position discussed. One of these positions was already in the database -- SP931 BRKRNQNB -- so that database entry now points to both posts where it was discussed. Ditto for SP190 - NRNKRBBQ.

As long as I was doing blog maintenance, I decided to restructure parts of Chess960 1-2-3 : Index to Blog Posts. I could have also added all blog posts since A New Page, a TOC, and a Logo (June 2014), but I'll leave that for another time.

11 October 2014

A Half-Tempo Advantage

Not too long ago, my Blogspot.com stats flagged an incoming link from the Arimaa.com forum, Re: Measure stereotyped openings. The link was to a post from two years ago, Waving a Yellow Flag, where I listed a number of chess960 start positions that, according to CCRL experiments, seemed to produce superior results for White. The Arimaa.com poster concluded,
Under the assumption that every chess960 position has exactly the same first-move advantage, by natural variation I get results just as extreme as the ones our blogger has compiled. So perhaps some positions have just been lucky for White so far, and others unlucky, with no inherent bias. At a minimum, if these are the most conclusive stats available, we have to say there is so far no statistical evidence that some positions favor White more than others.

In other words, the CCRL results match the distribution one would expect from the number of games in the CCRL sample, assuming a 55%-45% theoretical advantage for White. I asked Ichabod, the chess960 expert and professional statistician last seen on this blog in A Better Pawn Method, if he agreed with the post on the Arimaa forum and he confirmed its methodology. Then I asked him, 'How big would the samples have to be to reduce the extremes to their theoretical minimum?' He answered,

It's not a question of theoretical minimum. The question is, are the results you are seeing more extreme than you would expect with random chance? If you aren't, then there isn't statistical evidence of an effect.

To clarify, you need to think about how much of an advantage you want to detect. What you're seeing is that at your current sample size you can't detect an advantage of 12% because of the random noise. What advantage do you want to detect? 5%? 1%? From that you could back calculate a necessary sample size from the multinomial win/loss/draw distribution.

Last year, on my main blog, I posted a series on Practical Evaluation, where I learned that the value of the first move in traditional chess is a half-tempo, which is worth 0.2 times the value of a Pawn. In the last post in the series, I learned that A Pawn Equals 200 Rating Points, which gives White a theoretical advantage of 56%-44% based on the half-tempo. This is very close to the observed advantage for White over millions of games.

Given that all of the start positions in chess960 confer a half-tempo advantage on White, does that mean White always has an advantage of 56%-44%? Or perhaps the half-tempo advantage isn't equivalent to 0.2 times a Pawn for all 960 start positions. I suspect the latter is true, but how will we ever find out, given that we need so many games with each start position to provide a valid sample.

I asked Ichabod, 'How many games would I have to play in another start position to know that the new W%-B% is significantly different?' He answered,

Here we get into the issue of the two different kinds of significance: statistical significance and practical significance. Statistical significance is going to determine what sample size you need to detect a given difference. Practical significance is going to determine what difference you want to detect. Say we had a bazillion games for each position, and we could show that in some positions White had an advantage of 0.000001 pawns. No one would care. We would have statistical significance but we wouldn't have practical significance.

On the other hand, let's say in certain positions we could show with statistical significance that white had a full Pawn advantage. Then people would care, and would think that position is flawed. We would have both practical and statistical significance. Now, somewhere between 0.000001 pawns and a full Pawn is a minimum advantage that would be considered a practically significant difference between the standard position and a given chess960 position.

Determining that minimum advantage is not a statistics question, it's a chess question. That is, you have to determine what fraction of a Pawn advantage is a practically significant advantage.

Here's an idea for killing a large amount of time: Run an engine (any chess960-enabled engine) on all 960 start positions (SPs). Record the value of the top-10 first moves for each SP. Analyze the results. Can any information be derived from the observed value of the first moves?

04 October 2014

Nakamura's 1.h4/a4

First I took a bird's-eye look at Nakamura's Chess960 Openings, then looked at four examples of Nakamura's 1.g4/b4. Now I'll look at some examples of 1.h4 and 1.a4.

In the traditional chess start position, the move 1.b4 has its dedicated adherents, while 1.g4 is considered dubious, despite a small number of fans. The moves 1.h4 and 1.a4 are both considered to be even worse than 1.g4. In chess960, the boundaries between good first moves and poor first moves shift depending on the start position. GM Nakamura opened with 1.h4 or 1.a4 in three games recorded on ICC:-

  • SP544 BBRNKNQR: 2002.10.25, Smallville - JelenaDokic
  • SP703 RQKNNRBB: 2009.07.27, Smallville - OfficeMan
  • SP501 RQBBNKNR: 2004.08.10, Smallville - McShane

At first I wasn't going to consider the game played in 2002, because it is Nakamura's earliest recorded chess960 ICC game. The choice of 1.h4 might have been a youthful indiscretion played for no particular reason. Then I looked at the game, shown in the top diagram below. With the two Bishops aimed at the opponent's h-side and the Queen-Rook sitting behind the g-/h-Pawns, the move 1.h4 launches an immediate attack. White's aggressive opening strategy is apparent already on the first move.

The two bottom diagrams are from the later games. In SP703, the pieces on the a-/b-/g-/h-files mirror the same pieces in SP544. The two positions would be twins if the King and a Knight were switched. Following the logic in SP544, White could have played 1.a4, but 1.h4 was played again, apparently to develop the Black-squared Bishop via h2.

In SP501, the Rook-Queen pair is again in the corner, this time without the dynamics in the opposite corner. White played 1.a4, followed by 2.Ra3 and 3.b4 on the next two moves. For his initial moves, Black pushed Pawns in the center and ultimately won. It was the only game of the three where Nakamura did not prevail.

What can be learned from these three examples? First, that a game's strategy starts on the very first move. Second, that the strategy should pay some attention to classical opening principles. Third, that White can use the initial tempo to try something offbeat. But we already knew all that from traditional chess, didn't we.

27 September 2014

Nakamura - Aronian Video

Here's a short video clip related to the recent Nakamura - Aronian match in St.Louis. Featuring the two match protagonists, it's more about Fischer than about chess960, but who's complaining?

Chess 960 (1:12) • 'Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis'

At one point Aronian says,

The objective of [chess960] is the same as in the game of chess, although it's trickier because, unlike chess, your pieces are not really coming fast into the game. You can't just use your pattern recognition and say, 'Oh, this is good for me', because the pieces are randomly placed.

For more about the match, see Chess960 'Showdown' in St.Louis.

20 September 2014

Nakamura's 1.g4/b4

In Nakamura's Chess960 Openings, I counted the number of times that GM Nakamura opened an ICC chess960 game with different first moves and wrote,
As for the g4/b4 moves, he tried them in only four games. Was there any particular characteristic of the start positions that led him to choose these moves? I'll look at that question in another post.

Here is a list of the four games:-

  • SP452 RBBNNKQR: 2009.06.25, Smallville - Dreev
  • SP931 BRKRNQNB: 2009.07.27, Smallville - OfficeMan
  • SP751 RKNNQRBB: 2010.06.02, Smallville - TheDuns
  • SP121 NQRBBNKR: 2010.06.27, Smallville - Shadeath

The following diagram shows the position after Nakamura's first move in each game. The first characteristic of the four positions is that -- even before the initial Pawn move -- White has already decided to castle to the wing opposite the Pawn move. The second position, SP931 BRKRNQNB, is the least certain. Since the d-Rook interferes with O-O-O and must move out of the way, castles O-O is a good alternative.

The second characteristic of the four positions is that the Pawn move aids development. In the first three positions -- SP452, SP931, and SP751 -- the initial move opens a diagonal for a Bishop. The same objective could be accomplished by advancing the Pawn a single rank. By advancing two ranks, White prepares the advance of the the adjacent c-/f-Pawn with a gain of space on that wing.

The fourth position -- SP121 -- does nothing directly for a Bishop, but it does prepare the development of the Queen on the long diagonal. It also prepares a protected base for the Knight on b3, and after a subsequent c2-c4, prepares to bring out the light-squared Bishop on the a4-d1 diagonal.

In all of these positions, it's easy to find another, more traditional first move -- 1.c4, 1.d4, 1.e4, or 1.f4 -- that respects the principle of center control, but Nakamura's choice is not at all bad. Considering that all of the games were played at bullet speed (three minutes per side plus increment of a second or two per move), the American GM presented his opponents with unfamiliar problems to solve in a short time. He won all four games.

13 September 2014

Chess960 'Showdown' in St.Louis

After a short break from chess960 blogging, it's time to return to my previous post Nakamura's Chess960 Openings, where I mentioned a forthcoming exhibition match between GMs Nakamura and Aronian. A summary of the match -- billed as the 'Ultimate Showdown' -- along with PGN is available on TWIC's coverage of the 2014 Sinquefield Cup; see the bottom of page. Nakamura won the six game match with a score of +3-2=1.

The six games saw three different start positions (SPs) with the players switching colors for the second game in each position. I'm not sure how the SPs were chosen, but here they are in the order they were played:-


Over on Chess960 Jungle, HarryO discussed the first position in Corner bishops stay on the board, so in this post I'll look at the second position, shown below. The most interesting feature of the position must be the two Bishops aimed at the unprotected g- and h-Pawns. Note that the players can castle O-O-O already on the first move.


Aronian had White in the first game and both players started with the same first move, 1.b3. This threatens 2.Bxg7, winning a Pawn and the exchange. White could also have moved the c-Pawn, threatening the h-Pawn. Other reasonable first moves are 1.Ng3 and 1.Nf3, covering White's weak Kingside Pawns and threatening Black's. The move 1.Ng3 could even lead to an unusual Queen swap after 1...Ng6 2.Nf5 Nf4 3.Nxg7 Nxg2 4.Nxe8 Rxe8 5.Nf3 Nxe1 6.Rxe1.

After 1.b3, the game with Nakamura as Black continued 1...f6 2.f4 b6 3.Nf3 c5 4.e3 Ng6 5.Ng3 e5 6.fxe5 Nxe5 7.c4 g6 8.O-O-O O-O-O. The game with Aronian as Black continued 1...Nf6 2.e4 c5 3.e5 Ng4 4.f3 Nh6 5.c4 Ng6 6.Ng3 f6 7.exf6 exf6 8.Qxe8+ Kxe8. After both game continuations, White seems to have the upper hand, although Black went on to win both games.

Besides the responses 1...f6 and 1...Nf6, the move 1...b6 looks to be the only reasonable alternative. The defense 1...e5 runs into 2.f4.

For more commentary from the chess blogosphere, see Nakamura Defeats Aronian 3.5-2.5 in Chess960 Match on TheChessMind.net. A typical debate about the merits of chess960 can be found on Chessgames.com's forum Sinquefield Cup (2014), starting on the page I linked.

23 August 2014

Nakamura's Chess960 Openings

In a comment to my previous post, Rare Birds 2014, HarryO informed about an upcoming match between two GMs. To quote from the PR Newswire link he gave,
Ultimate Showdown will be an exhibition match between GM Hikaru Nakamura and GM Levon Aronian, playing the popular variant Chess960. Both players are former World Champions of Chess960, also known as Fischer Random Chess.

That announcement ties in well with this current post, which is a look at the chess960 games that GM Nakamura played on the ICC. I've written about the American champion several times in the past, where the most recent post was last year in 'I wish there were more opportunities to play'. Later in the year, at the same time I was looking at Elite ICC Chess960 Players, I downloaded his ICC games into a database for further investigation. It's only recently that I found the time to look at those games.

Of the 170 Nakamura games I found -- he goes by the handle Smallville on ICC -- all were played between 2002 and 2010. All but 10 of those were played between 2008 and 2010. All of the games were played at blitz time controls, usually three minutes per player with a one second increment per move.

In 2009, the last year that Chess Classic Mainz featured a full range of chess960 events, I quoted GM Grischuk in Attention to the Chess960 Center. After winning the 2009 FiNet Chess960 Open, he talked about his earlier participations.

The first year I was playing like g4/b4, but in order to play like this successfully you have to be either Aronian or Nakamura.

This comment was an eye-opener for me, because it pointed to the existence of Extravagant Openings in Chess960. Before then I had assumed that all chess960 openings were extravagant, just by the nature of chess960 with its random starting placement of the different pieces. Getting back to GM Nakamura, would his games show that he was inclined to use g4/b4 opening moves, perhaps even h4/a4 moves?

Of the 170 games on my Nakamura ICC database, I found 83 games where he played White. The count of the first moves he chose is shown on the left.

Of the 83 games, in 62 he played the moves 1.e4, 1.d4, or 1.c4, none of which are particularly extravagant. I could also add 1.f4 to the list. Although it's considered unusual in traditional chess (SP518 RNBQKBNR) because it weakens the King position, in chess960 it is often played for the same reasons that 1.c4 is played. It's interesting to note that in no games did he castle on the first move.

As for the g4/b4 moves, he tried them in only four games. He also tried h4/a4 in three games, including 1.h4 in his first recorded chess960 game on ICC in 2002. Was there any particular characteristic of the start positions that led him to choose these moves? I'll look at that question in another post.

As for the forthcoming Nakamura - Aronian match, note that GM Grischuk mentioned *both* players in the sentence I quoted. For a look at another game between the two, see Nakamura vs. Aronian at Mainz 2009. For chess960, 2009 was a very good year.

16 August 2014

Rare Birds 2014

That's rare birds as in 'Chess960 tournaments are rare birds', last seen in Rare Birds 2012. Why no corresponding post for 2013? It just slipped my mind, I suppose.

I asked Google to restrict search results on 'chess960' to entries from the past month. The first two results were this blog and the most recent post on this blog. That's good for this blog, but not so good for chess960. No tournaments means no games, and no games means nothing to talk about. That's not so good for this blog either.

The third Google result was a collection of forum posts from Chess.com, after which I started to see some tournaments. Let's list them in alphabetical order by country.

CH: Swiss Chess960 Championship • A one day (?) event held in conjunction with the 47th Biel International Chess Festival; Victor Mikhalevski (1st), Andreas Heimann (2nd), Viktor Erdos (3rd), Marco Lehmann (Swiss Champion). No games available.

DE: Schach ohne „Herrschaftswissen“ (chess-tigers.de, in German) • 10th Chess960 Open and 3rd German championship; GM Klaus Bischoff (1st), Chess Tigers (top team). One annotated game available. From the Google translation: 'Chess without "superior knowledge" by FM Hartmut Metz: The rapid development has lost momentum and stalled, since there is no longer the world's biggest chess festival in Mainz. In this Hans-Walter Schmitt had seduced the world class with high prize money to play Chess960. [...]'

UK: Mind Sports Olympiad, chess events • 17 August (tomorrow!); 'Chess 960, constituting the official British Open Chess 960 Championship'. TBD.

The Google search radar also picked up a number of correspondence events.

Iccf.com: Russia vs Rest of the World (Chess960) • Thirty boards; top Russian correspondence players against ROW, four games per board. The Russians are currently leading 28.5 - 9.5. Games available when complete.

Chessleagues.com: Chess Leagues 2014; see also 2013. • 'I created this website to provide the best league experience for Chess.com users.' Three chess960 leagues out of 11 total. Although I've been a member of Chess.com since 2007 and am on a couple of teams, I've never understood their league play. TBD.

Yes, there were more Google results from the past month, but these were the entries that stood out. I'll try to remember to do the same search from time to time.

09 August 2014

An Engine-to-Engine Opening

In my previous post, TCEC Season 6 - Chess960, I said I would look at a game between the first and second placed engines, Stockfish and Houdini. I should have said I would look at a position, because it would take many hours to understand the entire game. Engine-to-engine chess games aren't the most transparent battles.

The two engines first met in the sixth round of the 28-round event, Stockfish getting the White pieces. The start position was SP016 BBNQNRKR, shown in the top diagram. The most striking characteristic of this SP is the Bishop pair on the a-/b-files, aimed at the enemy King, which is lodged between the two Rooks. There are three such positions out of the 960 total, with the Queen on one of the c-, d, or e-files, and the Knights taking the last two squares.

The Bishops will be developed by moving the b- & c-Pawns, while the natural square for the e-Knight is f6, leaving d6 for the c-Knight. Because the Queenside (a-side) will be loosened by Pawn moves, castling O-O looks more likely than O-O-O, but the f-Rook must first get out of the way.

The first moves were 1.c4 c5, both sides opening diagonals for the Queen and Bishop, while looking at a subsequent push of the d-Pawn by two squares. This was followed by 2.Nf3 b6, both players conforming to the plan I outlined earlier.

Fast forward to move 15, where White has just castled and Black has played ...Nf8-e6. The four Bishops are active without having moved, the White Knights are looking at the squares b5, d5, and f5, and the Black Knights are positioned both defensively (on d6) and offensively (e6).

Only one of the four Knights is on what I thought would be its natural square, meaning the players have done some maneuvering to bring those pieces to other squares. White's Knights make a better impression than Black's, because the defensively placed Knight on d6 is awkwardly blocking the open d-file.

Black is prepared to castle O-O. In fact, this never happened. The engine eventually played ...h5 instead, moving the Rook down the h-file and leaving the King on g8, where it would have been after O-O.

The Pawn structures are hard to judge. Both players have an isolated Pawn and a semi-open file, where the f-file looks more useful to White than the b-file to Black. Black, however, has the Pawn push ...a7-a5-a4, threatening to weaken White's Pawns on that side of the board.

All in all, I prefer White, but there is still plenty of play in the game. The full game score is copied below.

[Event "TCEC Season 6 - FRC"]
[Site "http://tcec.chessdom.com"]
[Date "2014.07.02"]
[Round "6"]
[White "Stockfish 260614"]
[Black "Houdini 4"]
[Result "1-0"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "bbnqnrkr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/BBNQNRKR w KQkq - 0 1"]
[PlyCount "102"]

1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 b6 3.d4 Ncd6 4.dxc5 bxc5 5.b3 Ne4 6.Nd2 N4f6 7.Re1 d6 8.f4 e5 9.e4 Nd7 10.fxe5 dxe5 11.Ne2 f6 12.Nf1 Nd6 13.Nc3 Rf7 14.Ne3 Nf8 15.O-O Ne6 16.Qg4 Nd4 17.Ncd5 h5 18.Qh4 a5 19.Bc3 Bc6 20.Kh1 Rh7 21.Bd3 Be8 22.Rd1 Kh8 23.Rc1 Nc6 24.h3 Rb7 25.Rcd1 Nd4 26.Bd2 Ra7 27. Nc2 Ne6 28.Qe1 Bc6 29.a3 Ra8 30.Nce3 Bb7 31.b4 Ra7 32.bxa5 Nd4 33.Rb1 Ba8 34.a4 Qe8 35.Rb2 Rd7 36.Qb1 Ba7 37.Nc3 Rd8 38.Nb5 Qd7 39.a6 Nc8 40.Nd5 Ne6 41.a5 Qf7 42.Be3 Kg8 43.Nbc3 Qf8 44.Rb6 Rd6 45.Rxd6 Qxd6 46.Qe1 Kh8 47.Qf2 Bc6 48.Qf5 Bd7 49.Nb5 Qf8 50.Rb1 Nd4 51.Qxd7 g5 1-0

Black's h-Rook never played a role in the game, which was perhaps the main reason for White's win.

02 August 2014

TCEC Season 6 - Chess960

After posting Stockfish, the Strong, winner of this year's TCEC Season 6 Special Event (chess960), I started looking at the games from the event. I couldn't find a crosstable, so I made one myself, shown below. The crosstable is simple, but doesn't conform completely to standard crosstable presentation -- the engines are listed on the horizontal axis in alphabetical order rather by descending score.

The difference in final score between the two top engines is due to their own mini-match (+2-1=1 for Stockfish) and to Houdini's relative failure against third placed Critter (+0-0=4). I was mildly surprised to see that different start positions (SPs) were chosen for each game. Since each engine played four games with the other engines, it might have been better to use the same SP in one pair of games between the same engines, giving both engines the chance to play White and Black.

The PGN for the event is worth a look. Shown below are the header and first two moves for the first game on the file.

[Event "TCEC Season 6 - FRC"]
[Site "http://tcec.chessdom.com"]
[Date "2014.06.28"]
[Round "1"]
[White "Fire 3.1"]
[Black "Tornado 5"]
[Result "1-0"]
[BlackElo "2778"]
[EventDate "2014.06.28"]
[FEN "rknqbbrn/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RKNQBBRN w KQkq - 0 1"]
[GameDuration "03:59:58"]
[PlyCount "90"]
[SetUp "1"]
[Termination "adjudication"]
[TerminationDetails "TCEC win rule"]
[TimeControl "7200+30"]
[Variant "fischerandom"]
[WhiteElo "3067"]

{ WhiteEngineOptions: Protocol=UCI; Hash=16384; Threads=16; UCI_Chess960=true; OwnBook=false; Ponder=false;, BlackEngineOptions: Protocol=UCI; Hash=16384; Threads=16; NalimovPath=C:/EGTB/Nalimov/; NalimovCache=32; UCI_Chess960=true; OwnBook=false; Ponder=false; }
1. Ng3 { d=27, pd=Ng6, mt=00:06:16, tl=01:54:13, s=22597 kN/s, n=8512418665, pv=Ng3 Ng6 d4 d5 e3 a5 a4 e6 Nd3 b6 b3 Nd6 Be2 Be7 Bc3 Bc6 f3 f6 Qd2 Qd7 Ka2 Kb7 Bb2 Nf7 f4, tb=0, R50=50, wv=0.02, }
e6 { d=30, pd=a4, mt=00:12:44, tl=01:47:45, s=6728 kN/s, n=3229899629, pv=e6 a4 a5 Ra2 d5 d4 Ng6 e3 Nb6 Nb3 Bxa4 Nxa5 Ra7 b3 Be8 c4, tb=0, R50=50, wv=0.11, }

I can't claim to understand all of the values in the notes ('{...}'), but most of them are self-explanatory if you are familiar with chess engines. In my next post I'll look at a game between the first and second placed engines.

26 July 2014

Stockfish, the Strong

Which engine is the strongest at chess960? According to Chessdom.com, it's Stockfish, as in Stockfish is TCEC double champion.
The TCEC Grand champion Stockfish, modification 260614, won another prestigious computer chess competition – the Fischer Random Chess (FRC) tournament, organized as a TCEC Season 6 Special Event. [...] The reigning champion Stockfish was convincing with 25/28 points, leaving the runner-up Houdini 4 full 3 points behind. Critter 1.6a took the bronze, collecting 17,5 points.

TCEC is, of course, the Thoresen Chess Engines Competition. In May, Chessdom posted an Interview with Martin Thoresen – organizer and director of TCEC, where we learn that

Some people refer to TCEC as the "unofficial Computer World Championship". The organization ICGA is hosting the official World Championship, but they have lost a lot of interest over the years – in particular because none of the strongest engines are participating there and they play very few games.

and that

I [Thoresen] was a part of the CCRL rating list prior to starting TCEC. I ran a lot of test games for them, but it really didn’t interest me as much after a while – I was more interested in organizing tournaments and broadcasting it for others to watch

I downloaded the PGN file containing the games from the event and will look at it in another post. These games will make a valuable addition to my own copy of the Chess Jungle's database; see Chess960 Database, Part II for more info.

19 July 2014

Clinging to the Past

In my previous post, It's Not Unusual, I brought up GM Soltis's 'Chess to Enjoy'column in the current issue of Chess Life. The focus in that post was on combinations, but Soltis has more to say that is relevant to chess960. After discussing combinations, he moves to the value of studying the games of top players.
But the problem is that games played by today's top grandmasters have less to teach the aspiring student than do older games. Why? Because a typical game by elite grandmasters these days begins with 15-plus moves of computer-checked home analysis. What happens in those moves is often impenetrable if you're not already an expert in that opening.

He repeats the idea a few paragraphs later.

Something similar happens in grandmaster games in which the opening is highly analyzed, such as the Sveshnikov Variation of the Sicilian Defense, the Marshall Gambit in the Ruy Lopez, the main line of the Classical Variation of the King's Indian Defense, or one of several others. In each case, the game doesn't really start until move 20 or so. How much can you possibly learn from them?

And finally concludes that there is not much to learn from these games.

And you learn more when you see how a great player punishes mistakes. But today, when a Nakamura or a Carlsen wins, it is usually because their opponent made errors that are subtle. The mistakes are so below-the-surface that it's hard -- if not impossible -- to learn from them. In short, we have more and more games to study and yet fewer and fewer teachable moments. A well-known American grandmaster, who has given thousands of lessons, put it well. "Today's games," he told me, "are bad for your chess."

The same criticism, 'bad for your chess', is sometimes aimed at chess960. If studying modern games that use the traditional start position is considered bad for your chess, does the argument have any real weight against chess960?

Why doesn't GM Soltis just accept the obvious fact that computers have changed chess forever and adopt chess960? A look at Bookfinder.com reveals that he has published many dozens of chess books, the majority of them on the opening. The popularity of chess960 would severely diminish interest in those books. Is it any wonder that Soltis, and the rest of the chess publishing sector, will cling to traditional chess for as long as they can?

12 July 2014

It's Not Unusual

It's hardly news when a GM starts complaining about the advanced state of opening theory, but how often do you hear the same lament about the middlegame? In the July 2014 issue of Chess Life, GM Andy Soltis does exactly that in his 'Chess to Enjoy'column, titled 'Too Much of a Good Thing'. The reason for his grievance is a set of five combinations, all featuring combinations that start with a Queen for Rook pseudosacrifice on d7. He says,
It's not unusual that all five games have remarkably similar features. Chess combinations have a way of being repeated. It is very rare to come upon a truly original combination. This is why studying great tactical battles of the past is so useful.

It's not unusual? Why should it be otherwise? Since every game in every tournament -- chess960 tournaments excepted, of course -- has the same pieces starting on the same squares, and since every first move of those pieces goes to the same small set of target squares, what do you expect? Combinations showing the Bishop sitting on b1 or the Knight on d6 don't occur very often.

The following diagram shows the six positions that GM Soltis chose for his monthly puzzle set, a regular feature of his column. The positions are all from John Grefe games of the 1970s.

Take a good look at the positions. Three games have a Bishop sitting on the c/f start square, and four have the piece on the long diagonal. Five games have a Knight sitting on a square that can be reached on a single move move from its traditional start square.

In chess960, where the pieces often occupy squares that are unusual in traditional chess, original combinations occur in the majority of games. When you limit the number of start squares for the pieces, you limit the number of positions that arise from sequences of logical moves.

05 July 2014

A Better Pawn Method

A short formality at the beginning of every chess960 game is to choose the start position for that game. If you're playing in a tournament, the position is always given, but if you're playing for fun, how do you select a random position? Here is a new method that was flagged to me by its creators: The Pawn Method: An easy way to set up Fischer Random Chess positions.
The Pawn Method is a simpler, faster way of setting up a starting position for Fischer Random Chess (aka Chess960). Unlike other methods, it doesn't require dice, coins, or a complicated process. It has been proven to select one of the 960 possible starting positions with perfect randomness. Created by Robby Walker and Tim Suzman.

Since web pages come and go, I'll quote the gist of the method here.

On the bottom of each Pawn, write the following: [White Pawns] Q B B N N... [Black Pawns] L1 L2 L3 L4 R1 R2 R3 R4

That only needs to be done once. For each game,

Begin by randomly shuffling the White Pawns in their starting row. Look under each Pawn. If the Pawn says Q, B, or N, place a Queen, Bishop, or Knight in the corresponding starting square.

Did the two Bishops land on the same color square? Randomly select one Black Pawn and look at the bottom. The number (1-4) tells you which number square of the opposite color to move the bishop to. Move the Bishop to that new square, swapping it with the piece already there if there is one.

Fill the three empty squares with Rook - King - Rook, in that order.

A few years ago I mentioned a similar, simpler method in Chess960 Waits for No One (see the last quote in the post). Ichabod, a professional statistician, commented on the post to point out that it didn't produce an even distribution over the 960 start positions. How does the Walker / Suzman method fare? I asked Ichabod for his opinion and he replied,

There are 1680 the letters on the bottom of the White Pawns can be arranged. 960 of those will be valid positions, leaving 720 invalid positions. The Black Pawns can rearrange each invalid position into 8 other positions, or 5,760 ways total. 5,760 / 960 = 6. That means that if the 5,760 ways are evenly distributed among the 960 legal positions, then the method works. My attempts to write a Python program to confirm that it does this have failed (they're giving invalid results meaning there is an error in the program), so I can't confirm it. My lunch hour is up, so I don't have time to fix the program.

A day later he confirmed that the method worked.

I redid the Python program. The system works. Each possible 960 position has the same probability of being chosen.

While that's a good start for the 'The Pawn Method', what about the statement that 'it doesn't require dice, coins, or a complicated process'. While it doesn't require dice or coins, it does require a special chess set. Lacking that set, how do you generate a new start position? You will still need dice, coins, or yarrow sticks. As for whether or not it is a 'complicated process', that requires a practical field test where real people judge its simplicity.

Chess960 certainly needs a simple, effective method to generate a new start position. Should chess sets be distributed with a mechanism to do that? Perhaps the time has already arrived.

28 June 2014

A New Page, a TOC, and a Logo

While on vacation I reviewed the Chess960 1-2-3 project, last seen in Chess960 1-2-3 2013++, and filled in one of the obvious gaps: castling tips for beginners. The new page is titled Chess960 Castling Patterns Explained.

Copying the look-and-feel of Welcome to 'Chess for All Ages', I added a Chess960 1-2-3 : Table of Contents, along with a new logo from cooltext.com.

The TOC is skimpy for now, but that's how all of my chess projects start. The index to blog posts, brought up-to-date in the '2013++' post, also follows the new format and can be found at Index to Blog Posts.

07 June 2014

Chess960 1-2-3 2013++

Aka Chess960 1-2-3 part 7/7. Continuing with Chess960 1-2-3 2012++, I added posts for the rest of 2013 and year-to-date 2014. That makes a total of 347 posts linked from the Chess960 1-2-3 index, which is also accessible via a tab at the top of every post on this blog.

Next step: Look at the index taken as a whole and identify the gaps.

31 May 2014

Chess960 1-2-3 2012++

Continuing with Chess960 1-2-3 2011, I added posts from this blog for 2012 and 2013Q1 to Chess960 1-2-3. In the next session I should be able to bring the 1-2-3 page completely up-to-date. With nearly 300 posts already cataloged, I have some ideas about where to take the project for the next step.

24 May 2014

Chess960 1-2-3 2011

When I posted last week's Chess960 1-2-3 2010H2, I could have mentioned that this blog had just passed its five year anniversary. Happy Birthday to us! Today I'm even more enthusiastic about chess960 than I was five years ago.

The year 2011 saw 57 posts, a strange number explained by my shifting early in that year from two posts per week to one post, a rhythm that I've maintained since then. All 57 posts are now accounted for on the Chess960 1-2-3 index.

17 May 2014

Chess960 1-2-3 2010H2

Just as summer follows spring, so does 2010H2 follow Chess960 1-2-3 2010H1. All posts on this blog from 2010 are now present and accounted for. See the 'Chess960 1-2-3' tab at the top of this page for the results.

10 May 2014

Chess960 1-2-3 2010H1

A number of factors -- Mother's Day, unexpected visitors, and (especially) multiple technical problems -- conspired against me this weekend and prevented me from doing more than half the time period covered by the previous post: Chess960 1-2-3 2009. Once again, click the tab at the top of this post to see the results.

03 May 2014

Chess960 1-2-3 2009

Continuing with Chess960 1-2-3, I added blog posts through the end of 2009 to the index. To see the results, click the tab at the top of this post.

26 April 2014

Chess960 1-2-3

My previous post -- Static Blog Pages, Chess960 Version -- wasn't just about correcting an interface to Chesscube. It was also about providing a framework for my next project, an 'ebook' (for lack of a better term) covering chess960. I'm tentatively calling it 'Chess960 1-2-3', where '1-2-3' refers to three stages of chess960 progress: Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced.

First I developed a list of topics that applies to each of those three stages: Introduction, History, Castling, Theory, and Notes. Then I went through the early chess960 posts on my main blog -- up to the point where this current blog took over -- to see if they fit into the 1-2-3 structure. Finally I created a new page, Chess960 1-2-3, which incorporates all of the above.

A single index page is a long way from an ebook, but it should evolve over time. Because it's a static page, a link will appear at the top of every post on this blog.

05 April 2014

Static Blog Pages, Chess960 Version

After writing the post on my main blog about Static Blog Pages, I had some ideas about how to apply static pages to this chess960 blog. The advantage of static pages is that, like the right sidebar, they appear on every blog page.

First I fixed the tab at the top of this blog which said 'ChessCube Chess (Test)'. It has been there for three years but has never worked properly. I created an external page on my own domain with the same content that was behind the tab. Then I made the tab point to that page and renamed the tab 'ChessCube'. Now it works properly, but lacks additional info the metainfo needed for the search engines.

As for the other ideas to use static pages, they involve creating a structured guide to chess960. All things in time.

29 March 2014

Chess960 Database, Part III

After I wrote the previous post, Chess960 Database, Part II, HarryO commented,
The Chess960 Jungle database has increased to over 1700 games. The database is still useful even if it is small. Seeing the games of top players primes people with the confidence to give 960 a go.

It's a good point, so I counted the different names on the database.

The chart on the left shows the 25 players with the highest number of games. At least half of the top-10 are strong GMs whose names are immediately recognizable.

Third on the list is a surname shared by two players, one of whom (Matthias Kribben) played in both ICCF and Mainz. Sixth on the list isn't Laszlo Szabo, the one time World Championship contender who died in 1998, but again a number of players with the same surname, most of whom played on LSS.

For the link to Chess960 Jungle, see the right sidebar.

22 March 2014

Chess960 Database, Part II

Continuing with last week's Chess960 Database, I ended the post with the promise of a followup:-
A few years ago I assembled a similar database. The next step will be to compare my games with those from Chess960 Jungle and see if I have anything to contribute to the newer collection. There is also the important subject of whether or not such a database is useful for more than its historical overview.

I first collected games in August 2009, but don't seem to have blogged about it. All of those games were from the annual Mainz events, which I blogged about in Chess960 @ Chess Classic Mainz (2001-2008), and CCM9: Nakamura, Grischuk, and Rybka (2009).

Comparing my database with HarryO's, I discovered he was missing one event -- the 2004 Svidler - Aronian match -- and promptly forwarded it to him. The other events in our collections matched very well. I noted a few differences where he chose to exclude certain games. His first rule, 'Human ELO 2000+', excludes engine competitions, of which there were five at Mainz:-

2005; CCM5 - 1. Chess960 Computer WCh; 63 games
2006; CCM6 - 2. Chess960 Computer WCh; 90
2007; CCM7 - Livingston Chess960 Computer WCh; 21
2008; CCM8 - Livingston Chess960 Computer WCh; 34
2009; CCM9 - Livingston Chess960 Computer WCh; 34

His last rule, 'Simultaneous exhibitions where the games last at least 30 moves', limits the number of games from two early simuls:-

2003; CCM3 Chess960 Simul - Leko; 20
2003; CCM3 Chess960 Simul - Svidler; 20

There was another Mainz simul that he might have overlooked, perhaps because it was the only chess960 event organized in the final year of the Mainz series:-

2010; Simul - Kosteniuk; 20

The Mainz events are certainly missed, but there's no need to lament about the past. HarryO is right to include LSS correspondence games, and he might want to consider ICCF games, where the pool of active players is probably stronger than for LSS. I mentioned the site's chess960 activity once in Correspondence Chess Ratings and Chess960. As for other correspondence sites -- Chess.com is a popular example -- I don't know if the percentage of strong players is high enough to merit their inclusion.

Finally, we come to the question of how useful such a database is. With a little over a thousand games in the collection, it can't serve for any sort of opening preparation into one of the 959 non-traditional starting setups. The CCRL, with 100-150 examples per start position (SP) is also not particularly useful, because the positional thinking required in the opening is not the engines' strong point.

For a long time to come, the value of a chess960 database is going to be its de-facto record of chess960 competitions. This alone is enough to justify the effort involved in maintaining it. Imagine how much poorer chess history would be if the traditional chess games played prior to the great 1851 London tournament had never been recorded and saved.

15 March 2014

Chess960 Database

After an important digression for the Moscow tournament first mentioned in Chess960 Live on the Small Screen, it's high time I returned to another topic from that same post: HarryO's Chess960 database - Compilation of games 2001-2014 [chess960jungle.blogspot.com].

I downloaded the PGN file from Chess960 Jungle, loaded the header data into a regular database, and counted 1066 games. The image on the left shows the count of games per year.

The games through 2008 are all from Mainz, while those from 2009 are from Mainz and LSS. After 2009, the games are all from LSS except for the 2011 Kings vs Queens event in St. Louis, and the 2014 Moscow tournament.

A few years ago I assembled a similar database. The next step will be to compare my games with those from Chess960 Jungle and see if I have anything to contribute to the newer collection. There is also the important subject of whether or not such a database is useful for more than its historical overview. I'll have more to say about these topics in a future post.

08 March 2014

World Champions on Chess960

One of the resources I discovered while working on the previous post, More from Moscow 2014, was the Russian Wikipedia page Chess 960; (that link is for the ru.wikipedia.org page fed to translate.google.com). As usual with computer translations, the text is 75% comprehensible, 25% nonsense, but the meaning still shines through. Unfortunately, the automatic translation stopped at the beginning of the most interesting section, 'Professional opinions about chess players Fischer', so I fed the rest paragraph by paragraph into the translator. Here's what I got.

[Start of translation]

Professional opinions about chess players Fischer: Opinions of professionals and amateurs of chess Fischer random chess expressed different - from enthusiastic to extremely negative. But the most well-known players refers to them as is evident from their statements, at least cautiously optimistic. There were criticisms of the features of the rules. For example, some players were unhappy professionals random selection starting position for each game, and they expressed offers to hold tournaments chess Fischer, in which the initial position was chosen to be one for the whole tournament, and detects and reports the players in advance (for a few days or weeks before the tournament). Such rules would allow pre-prepare for the tournament, reducing the time spent thinking about opening moves. At the same time, the effect of the failure of opening theory would remain - for a short time to undertake a full analysis of the position can not be willy-nilly would confine common basting.

Anatoly Karpov:

Do "Fischer Chess" future is hard to say. Now hold separate tournaments rules Fischer. The idea is, but how it will be received in the future is hard to say because there are pluses and minuses.

Plus quite obvious: at the time of computers Fischer tries to get away from home training and believes that in this way he removes the importance of a set of a team working with computer

Actually, to "Fischer Chess" prepared especially not necessary. Endgame positions and endgame knowledge and "Fischer Chess" can also be used with even greater success. But as the opening theory, there is, of course, everything is broken. And here the basic principles - who understands better and faster and decides who intuition who are better prepared for battle. Therefore do not need to prepare especially, the main thing - to be in excellent condition, to head to work, legs, hands moving.

Garry Kasparov: According to Garry Kasparov at chess Fischer has a future, mainly because they give a person a more equal position to play with the computer - the computer will not be able to rely on accumulated centuries debut base. Nevertheless, the ex-champion predicted major upheavals when introducing new chess.

But my main comment is new chess - a dream Losers ! After all, everyone thinks about Losers honors that he crams the book and why it's best estimates . Those who are just too lazy to learn the theory , do not realize that the so -called " Fischer Random Chess " sharply increase the gap between the very strong and chess grandmasters just strong. After all, today a certain alignment between these players is because they are approximately equal the opening stage . Each learned his option and may, at its "own territory" fight successfully even with the world champion.

Vladimir Kramnik: Vladimir Kramnik offered his version of reducing the effect of home preparation and analysis of individual computer systems debut: the draw debuts at which the initial position of the classical random, but also with certain restrictions that exclude obviously dubious beginning, given the first few moves. Then the players play as usual. About chess Kramnik Fischer said:

I played a little bit in the "Fischer - rand ." Of course, this is completely knocks opening preparation . But the problem is that you lose some games harmony . It is difficult to explain it in words , but when the starting position elephant standing on h8, the knight on g8 rook on f8, then lost sense of aesthetics of chess. By the way , I asked players - many have the same feeling that something " is not " somehow ugly ... And fans are accustomed to the beauty of interaction figures under normal initial position .

Therefore, if we want to clean up the opening preparation , it seems to me to toss a successful exit . In this case study of the theory began to go in a more general way: hardly a chess player would be forced to study hard variants with a large number of branches anywhere in Benoni protection simply because they can not remember . Rather, people will learn debuts with a positional point of view: the general plans , strategy. Unlikely to be a lot of parties where chess 25 moves spend one minute. This will cause more people to play the board .

Boris Spassky:

To chess Fischer positive attitude, because it's the same rules of the game, you just freed from theory and doing. By the way, the idea of gently reorganize classical chess were also to Fischer. What can I say, if my uncle called: let's change places with elephants and horses, all will be fine. Fischer, however, there are a number of ingenious inventions - a clock, for example. Generally, it is in contrast to the current champions, always fighting for the quality of play.

Mark Taimanov:

Perhaps " Fischer Chess " - the panacea for computer dominance in the game, return to the improvisational creativity. With classic chess nothing happens, nothing will happen as with the story. Lovers , as before, will enjoy the works of the great masters , studying the games of past years ... And it will , of course , a little different game. Offer Fischer overcomes monstrous zakompyuterizirovannost debut stage , overcome routine. Do you like to play two famous grandmasters and 26 stroke repeat everything they recorded in the files of your computer? This is - what? Fighting ? Creativity ? Now chess theory develops polushazhkami somewhere between 20 and 25 strokes . No new policies , no new ideas , no new systems ... Innovation will begin the game of chess with the 2nd course , not the 26th. But, as I imagine , somewhere in the course of 12 starts regular chess game chess on ordinary laws. I think Fischer Random Chess - Chess XXI century!.

[End of translation]

I was surprised to see that all of the comments were at least mildly supportive of chess960. Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised. The anonymous authors of the Wikipedia page have no incentive to include negative comments.

As for Taimanov's comment about 'monstrous zakompyuterizirovannost debut stage', when I split the long word into two, I got 'zakompyuteriz ation'. That makes a little more sense.

01 March 2014

More from Moscow 2014

Let's have another post on the 'Chess960 Training Tournament', Moscow 2014. At the time I wrote last week's post, Chess960 Live on the Small Screen, I didn't have much information about the event, but it created a small buzz that is well worth noting. One of the main web sources of chess news in Russia is the aptly named Chess-news.ru. The site had two reports in English.

I copied the final crosstable, shown below, from that first report.

The same site had more reports in its primary language, available to non-Russian speakers like me through the magic of translate.google.com. I list all reports because the most interesting remarks are often in the comments.

The site also conducted a follow-up interview with two of the participating GMs.

Of particular interest is a discussion of the poll results that 'Fischer Chess Won't Replace Classical Chess'.

E.SUROV: We have just summed up the survey, which took place at our site. The vast majority - about 70 percent - is skeptical about the future of chess Fischer. Anyway, to the formulation, in which we asked about this, namely: "Replace ever Fischer Chess conventional chess?". Say no. Andrew, how do you comment on these results?

A.DEVYATKIN: I have to say that I - a supporter of the Fischer chess and, therefore, perhaps be a little subjective. First, it seems to me that 70 percent still can not be called by an overwhelming majority, an advantage. And secondly, the question itself is really quite categorical: replace or not?

Actually, why replace chess, why cancel and switch to the classic chess Fischer? Here, rather, we are on a parallel system of competition, about how to organize more and more tournaments chess Fischer. But in any case there will be those who will say that they are for the classics. One can hardly say that they ever completely replace each other, that is on the earth there will be no person who would like to play in classical chess. This is unlikely to happen.

The big news here is that 30% of the respondents believe that 'Fischer Chess *Will* Replace Classical Chess'. I wouldn't have expected more than a single digit number. I do agree, though, that it's not a zero-sum proposition. Traditional chess and chess960 can co-exist side-by-side forever. There are still people who play chaturanga, aren't there?

I contacted GM Deviatkin (that's how he spells his name using the English alphabet) and asked him about the organization of the tournament.

I was also one of the main organizers. The tournament seems to be the first serious Fischer chess event in Moscow ever, although I'm not 100% sure. It could be a Swiss tournament had the regulations been set (and invitations been made) earlier. The time control was 20+10 which sometimes seemed too short, because the very first moves in Fischer chess are of great importance and can take half of one's time!

Anyway, the Moscow event ran very smoothly, it was anything but boring, the participants looked happy, and I hope this is just the beginning. Most likely, in 2014 we'll have more events like this one in Moscow.

The start position was chosen by the arbiter before each round using Fritz (New game -> Chess960). Maybe it would be an improvement to give the players a few minutes to think over a new position after the drawing of lots. White's clock was started before the 1st move.

I'm sure that 20 min per game isn't really much, even if we give additional minites, start clocks after White's first move, etc. My initial idea was to give players at least 30 min per game (with increment), but then the tournament would be too long, and we could use the venue only for two days.

There were also a few reports on the main chess news sites;

Fide.com? Maybe I was wrong a few weeks ago when I asked Who Needs FIDE? To be continued...

22 February 2014

Chess960 Live on the Small Screen

While writing this post I'm watching my first live crossboard (OTB) chess960 games, direct from Moscow: Indoor training rapid chess tournament (chess-results.com; title by Google Translate). I tuned into the event just as the last round was starting and captured the moment in the following screenshot.

The start position in all games was SP190 NRNKRBBQ, and the screenshot shows the first move from a game between GMs Grigoriants and Deviatkin. The players' were placed first and third before the game with a one point difference, so the game will be important for the final standings.

It turns out that SP190 was seen in another important game, Nakamura vs. Aronian at Mainz 2009. My post for that game linked to a previous post with a photo of the two players from the same game.

I mentioned GM Deviatkin on this blog near the end of last year -- the last time was The Week in Chess960 -- and he's featured in another post that I haven't finished yet. I'll try to contact him for any thoughts on the Moscow tournament.

Meanwhile, the game Grigoriants - Deviatkin just ended in a draw. In a parallel game, GM Grachev won as Black. Since he was placed second going into the last round, he appears to have tied GM Grigoriants for first place. I expect the final standings to be posted shortly on chess-results.com. Whether or not I got it right, congratulations to the winners.


Over on Chess960 Jungle, HarryO is posting furiously for the first time since summer 2012, and recently released a Chess960 database - compilation of games 2001-2013. I'll take a closer look at that resource in a future post.

15 February 2014

Shall We Organize Chess960 Tournaments?

Continuing with my previous post, Who Needs FIDE?, where I wrote,
If the chess960 community is serious about the future of their game, they should not rely on FIDE or on any other traditional chess federation, just as they should not rely on the chess publishing industry to advance interest in chess960. The entrenched chess interests have too much at stake to humor the upstart.

The post earned a few good comments, one of them on another post, It's Not About Short Draws, where GeneM made several remarks that deserve a response. First, there is the question of ratings.

GM: Mark is mistaken about FIDE’s source of strength: I believe it comes primarily from FIDE’s rating system.

MW: A rating system is important, but it puts the cart before the horse. You need tournaments before you need a rating system. Today there are few chess960 tournaments. Traditional tournaments were held for many decades before rating systems were introduced, because ratings are a refinement, not a prerequisite. The job can be outsourced to any rating agency. FIDE doesn't have a monopoly on the service.

Next, there is the raison d'être for chess960.

GM: Mark is unjustified in asserting that the goal of chess960 is to remove the effect of at-home opening phrase preparation. Yes that was Fischer’s goal, but Fischer speaks only for himself.

MW: Fischer spoke for more people than himself. His concern was the extensive use of computer-based preparation, where the players memorize variations calculated by an engine. This was not an issue until the 1990s.

Finally, there is the promise of partial progress.

GM: My main comment today is to urge Mark to switch to a glass-half-full perception from his glass-half-empty perception.

MW: Let's say that 'X' chess960 start positions (SPs) are 'authorized' for tournament use, where 'X' is one or two. The glass is neither half-empty nor half-full. It is (X+1)/960 percent full, where the '+1' is the traditional start position, SP518 RNBQKBNR. If someone wants to organize a tournament limited to one (nontraditional) SP, I'm all for it. Better that than nothing at all, but I'm not going to forget that the ultimate objective is full play in all 960 SPs.

HarryO flagged a post on his own blog with a concrete proposal: Let's crowdfund the first ever Chess960 simultaneous.

We crowd-fund the first ever official chess960 simultaneous between Hikaru Nakamura and the Chess Tigers club in Germany. The event is held some time this year before the next world championship match.

As for me, I was thinking about a more democratic option: running a tournament or series of tournaments on one of the online servers that support live (crossboard, as opposed to correspondence) chess960 play. There are three servers listed on the sidebar. Are they active? What would it take to organize a tournament on any or all of them? What would it cost?

Lots of questions, not many answers. I'll look at some of the details in future posts.

08 February 2014

Who Needs FIDE?

My previous post, It's Not About Short Draws, made me think about the FIDE presidential election, where Garry Kasparov has decided to go up against incumbent Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. Let's say Kasparov wins. What impact would this have on the acceptance of chess960 within the traditional chess community? The same question applies to an Ilyumzhinov victory.

The Kasparov quotes in the 'Short Draws' post make it clear what the 13th World Champion thinks. If chess960 has any future with him in charge, it will be a watered down version with one or two new start positions 'authorized' by FIDE. As for Ilyumzhinov, nothing has happened under his leadership since my post titled Chess960 Rules Formalized by FIDE, almost five years ago. Chess960 is not on his radar.

A few days ago, on my main blog, I posted Chess Leaks Like a Sieve, with links to various resources that document contractual shenanigans on both sides of the election. The business of FIDE is chess and it's possible to put a price on the number of delegate votes necessary to remain in charge of FIDE.

One of the resources I studied for the 'Leaks' post was an interview with Bessel Kok, Ilyumzhinov's opponent in the 2006 FIDE election: Bessel Kok: "The normal way to win Ilyumzhinov impossible and now". The original page is in Russian and Google Translate is far from perfect, but Kok's thoughts shine through the translation.

[FIDE] is a very dense structure, the main role played by the environment in which the incumbent president. Many people in the federation are serving on committees or commissions, they have a little money, they are touring the tournaments ... That's their life. A little travel, organize meetings completely senseless.

This does not mean that they are directly corrupt, profit can be anything: contributions to the tournaments, the judges, the hotel is lo ... very advanced system. And why would they take and give up now? Do they return to their wives and will sit at home? These little bureaucrats? For them, the meaning of life. It is very important to understand. Many people think that there is some big conspiracy.

Kok's professional career was spent at the head of several important telecom companies, so I'm willing to wager that he knows a thing or two about bureaucratic structures. Since chess960 isn't important to Kasparov, Ilyumzhinov, or FIDE's 'little bureaucrats', why should FIDE be important to chess960? One answer might be 'to have access to the national federations', since FIDE's power is based solely on its usefulness to those federations. Under FIDE election rules, it's one country, one vote.

Speaking realistically, is there any reason to believe that interest in chess960 by the national federations is any greater than interest by FIDE? I suspect there is little interest and that talk about chess960 is just an annoyance for them, like flies buzzing around the room at one of their meetings.

If the chess960 community is serious about the future of their game, they should not rely on FIDE or on any other traditional chess federation, just as they should not rely on the chess publishing industry to advance interest in chess960. The entrenched chess interests have too much at stake to humor the upstart. What can be done to make independent progress? I have some ideas that I'll save for a future post. In the meantime I would love to hear what other chess960 fans think.

01 February 2014

It's Not About Short Draws, Garry

When the 13th World Champion talks, people listen. When he talks about chess960, I listen very carefully. Here are some of the things he's said, or that have been said about him, that I've noted in past posts on this blog.
  • Kasparov's Chess960 Proposal • GM Kasparov: 'I’m in favor of at least investigating doing one position per year from chess960.'
  • Why Not Announce Positions Beforehand? • GM Kasparov: 'I have always liked the idea of choosing a few decent positions. And, I don't think you need more than 15 to 20, out of the 960 possible random chess positions, many of which violate our sense for normal chess geometry.'
  • Not Everyone Likes Chess960 • GM Kasparov: 'As for Fischer Random or similar ideas, I'm very much in favor. Let's be very specific. Fischer Random in its purity is not such a great idea. It creates a mess at the chess board from the very beginning. Out of 960 positions, 95% are quite bad.'
  • Kasparov *Did* Play Chess960 • GM Shipov: 'I remember we played six games of Fischerandom chess, and there was no battle there at all! In completely unfamiliar positions, Kasparov's advantage over me was far greater than in normal chess.'

Kasparov recently visited the 2014 Tata tournament at Wijk aan Zee, where he conducted a press conference sitting next to Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam of New in Chess. The full session can be viewed on Youtube: Tata Steel Chess 2014 - Press conference - Garry Kasparov. At about 38:35 into the clip, ten Geuzendam asks him a question.

Q: When you became World Champion you created a revolution by the way you approached the game: big emphasis on preparation, you were incredibly well prepared. Now we have Magnus Carlsen and things have become slightly different. Where do you think chess is going at the moment?

A: Magnus' victory was very symbolic, and significantly, because four or five years ago, there was a big talk about chess being a drawish game. Sofia rules are very much a reflection of this fear because nobody believed that you can actually force players to go back to this fighting spirit. Magnus almost singlehandedly changed this perception.

I believe that the short draws are very much a psychological problem. The players feel that they are not obliged to play fighting chess. They have no responsibilities for the public and for the world of chess. The way Magnus played, and he's still playing, pushed them in this direction.

No one is talking any more about tournaments being too dull, too many draws. Look at this tournament [Tata] or look at any other tournament. The leader obviously influences the whole pack. The way he plays, it just offers us hope that -- without drastic reforms, this reshuffling of pieces in the opening position -- we still can go on for quite a few years with the classical chess and people can still enjoy it. I'm really grateful for Magnus for being such an inspiration for many players.

In this context, the mention of chess960, aka shuffling the pieces in the opening position, tells me that Kasparov believes it is intended to tackle the problem of short draws. While that might be a (welcome) side-effect, players are still free to agree a draw on the third move if they are so inclined (*). I really shouldn't be surprised by this. It's consistent with an observation I made in 'Kasparov's Chess960 Proposal'.

The purpose of [Kasparov's] suggestion seems to be letting professional players continue with the working methods they have used for decades -- preparing opening systems in advance, committing them to memory, and playing their ideas in important games against unsuspecting opponents.

The Sofia rules address the problem of short draws. Chess960 addresses the problem that the opening phase in chess is more and more about memorizing computer generated variations. It gives players a choice between studying opening theory (chess) or working things out themselves (chess960). The idea that chess960 is all about short draws is so prevalent that it deserves to be added to my list of Top 10 Myths About Chess960.

While I'm on the subject of GM Carlsen, I'll mention a previous post, Carlsen's First Chess960 Move? Perhaps he'll come back to it again some day.


(*) 'So inclined': Next Short Draw: 2750.