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.