24 June 2017

A Concrete Publishing Proposal

My previous post, 'The Essence and the Rules of Chess' was a call for action by GM Andrey Deviatkin to raise the popularity of chess960 [aka 'Fischer chess']. It ended,
There've been no serious progress with chess960 popularity for quite a long time. But even if the change might be invisible, the potential energy of Fischer chess has been growing. And the appearance of just one rich enthusiast or serious sponsoring company can become the last straw and cause the real breakthrough like the domino effect. The situation can change very quickly and drastically.

When I first saw the GM's Facebook post, I jumped in with a comment on what I think is the number one problem facing widespread adoption of chess960. (To protect the innocent, I've changed the names of the commenters to their initials.)

MW: To make real progress with chess960, someone has to solve the publishing problem. It renders obsolete every opening book ever published as well as many middlegame books. Only endgame manuals survive (and you know what many players think about studying endgames). What sort of books will the chess publishing sector produce? They are the natural enemies of chess960.

The phrase 'natural enemies of chess960' might be strong, but I'm not sure it's wrong.

PL: Databases would also be largely obsolete.

PL is the Peter Long of Peter Long on Chess, who writes extensively on the web. When people talk about chess databases, they often mean Chessbase.

SN: We aren't suggesting migrating from chess to chess960. What is being proposed is gradual diversification.

PL: I believe the solution here requires drastic action!

The series of comments ended with several concrete proposals.

AD: Firstly, in my opinion, the number of opening theory manuals is already excessive, to say the least. Secondly, I don't believe that chess960 will just kill the theoretical topics and not bring about any of new ones. Why so if it's in fact a much richer game? I can easily imagine books and videos on 'How to handle starting positions with bishops in the corners', 'Queen in the corner', 'To castle or not to castle', 'Flank-based development of the rooks', 'Preventing a bishop from being locked' etc etc.

MW: While I agree that there are too many books on openings, people write them, people publish them, and people buy them. I believe they are the most popular genre in chess literature today. Chess960 has been known for almost 21 years -- a full generation -- and there is almost no literature: zilch. One problem is that it defies classification; you can't start analyzing position no.1 and continue through no.960, because you learn nothing useful from the exercise. The furthest I have seen anyone get is around no.250, about 25% of the total start positions. • Here's a challenge for you. Taking your example 'Queen in the corner', develop an outline for a 150 page book.

I didn't get an answer to that challenge, but I didn't expect to get one. It's a tough problem that can't be answered in 25 words or less. If it were easy, someone would have already published such a book. I gave my challenge some further thought. A Queen in the corner can be developed in three ways:-

  • Along its file.
  • Along its diagonal.
  • Along the back rank.

'Along its file' breaks down to three further cases. Let's say the Queen is on a1. To develop along the file requires pushing the a-Pawn. It can be pushed to a3, to a4, or beyond. The choice depends on (a) whether Bishops are sitting on f8, g8, or h8; and (b) whether White intends to castle O-O-O.

'Along its diagonal' has two main cases: whether a Bishop is sitting on h8 or not.

'Along the back rank' depends on what pieces are sitting to the immediate right of the Queen and whether White intends to castle O-O-O.

Any further subclassification requires looking at how the other pieces are arranged at the start of the game and becomes an analysis of specific start positions. Since that is neither feasible nor useful, a better next step would be to gather game examples of the types of Queen development (from both a1 and h1) and show how the games evolved for both the White and the Black players.

Since the problems of development are most important in the first 10-15 moves of a chess960 game, an analysis of specific examples needs only to be carried out until the middlegame is reached. What I'm thinking of here is a sort of move-by-move analysis showing how the specific features of the position translated into a choice of plans and of moves within those plans. And let's not forget that some examples will inevitably involve bad plans and bad moves. To fill 150 pages in a book (that's an average size for the opening books I have at hand) would take something like 40-50 examples.

Note that one-eighth of the 960 start positions (SPs) have a Queen on a1 and the same number have a Queen on h1. That makes 240 SPs to be considered. I know that some people would prefer to exclude all of these positions from being chosen as an initial SP, because they are so foreign to the traditional start position (SP518 RNBQKBNR), but I'm not one of those people.

A few years ago I worked out A Framework for Chess960 Opening Theory (April 2009). A 'Queen in the corner' is one of the 19 discrete examples in the framework; I labeled it 'Q:a/h'.

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