21 March 2015

Know Your Competition

Recently seen on KingpinChess.net [Kingpin]: Arimaa, Computers and the Future of Chess by Andy Lewis.
Anyone for a variation on chess? • Is chess played out? This concern has been voiced periodically over the history of the game, and the challenges has never been more profound: over-refinement of opening-theory; perfection of endgame technique; super-abundance of draws at top-flight level; and (most recently) dominance of chess computers. To best ensure the future survival of the game, the great and the good have, over the years, proposed a number of variants to the rules of chess.

For example:
- Randomizing the starting position (Fischer)
- Adding extra pieces (Capablanca and Seirawan)
- Pawn-division (Regan)
- Redefining stalemate as victory (Short).

That is a good start, but the monologue then turns shrill.

Although not without academic interest, there is one problem which each of these chess simulants suffers from: it's just not as good as the real thing! We know it. And their inventors know it too. This is amply demonstrated by the lack of enthusiasm shown even by their originators. If you feel that your chess-variant is worthy of interest, then, by all means, start a web-site, develop a smart phone app, get sponsorship, organize a tournament, re-write endgame theory, publish a book of studies. But, if these are too much trouble for you, then, for heaven's sake, you might at least play the game yourself!

>>> Tinkering with the rules of chess is like adding a harmonica or a ukulele section to a classical orchestra: it's pointless. And sounds awful. <<<

This is all an introduction to an essay on Arimaa, which is not a topic for this blog. That last sentence about 'tinkering' leaves me baffled. It's structured like a quote, but I couldn't find the passage anywhere else. More interesting for this blog is the list of four variants. I needed help on the third and found it on Chessbase.com: Ken Regan's Tandem Pawn Chess by Kenneth Regan.

Properly speaking, chess960 isn't a variant, it's an evolution, since chess is a subset of chess960. Back to the orchestra analogy, let's try filling in the blanks: 'Chess is to chess960 as ... is to ...'

1 comment:

GeneM said...

'Chess is to chess960 as [checkers circa 1830] is to [checkers circa 1900]'.

Indeed the analogy is nearly identical. The opening phase of checkers (draughts) became so deeply understood that the majority of the checkers community agreed to change the rules: now a variety of start setups are forced on the two players. (This is done in the form of requiring different opening moves, but that does not change the essence.)

The old rule is still used sometimes, but the title of World Checkers Champion that today carries the most prestige is definitely the newer start setup rule.

- - - - -

Also, an excellent anti-draw idea is to extend the duration of the draw offer. This affects nothing on the chessboard and nothing that is pure and sacred about traditional chess.

Currently the draw offer I receive expires with my very next move: "expire-after-1" of my moves.
The rule could be changed to "expire-after-2". This would discourage draw offers in positions that still have legitimate life.
The receiver of the offer could safely make a risky but complicating move, and he might be rewarded with a poor move made by his opponent who offered the draw. If the opponent makes a strong reply instead, the receiver can then accept the draw.