28 October 2017

The Seeds of Defeat

In a recent post, Engine Trouble ('Talk about a disastrous tournament!'), I listed five factors in a particularly poor result:-
  • Strong opponents
  • Insufficient engine power
  • Too many games
  • Fast time control
  • Too many vacations

Although none of these factors is exclusive to chess960 -- they can apply equally to the traditional start position -- at the end of that post I mentioned another factor that is exclusively chess960:-

I had several pairs of games -- the same start position against the same opponent playing White in one game and Black in the other -- where I reached uncomfortable positions in both games after 10-15 moves. That means there is something wrong with my approach to chess960 openings.

A few years ago, in May/June 2015, I wrote a series of five posts where I looked at five painful losses:-

The second post in that list ('Passive vs. Active') counted '[four] extenuating factors in the string of losses'. These match the first four above. Back in 2015, vacation didn't play a role, so at least I'm consistent with my excuses. Another characteristic of 'Losing Streak' was that 'in all five games I had Black'.

Looking at the more recent series of losses (+0-9=1, horrors!), I noticed two games with Black that I lost without a fight. The diagrams below show both games after the castling choices have been made. That is the point where the same techniques used to analyze traditional chess also apply to chess960.

In the top position, the players have castled to opposite sides. You can almost count the nine individual moves that have been made by both players to arrive at their respective positions. The game continued with a typical strategy for castling on opposite sides: both players launched a Pawn attack against the castled King. White eventually achieved an overwhelming attack while Black achieved nothing. After another 20 moves, Black resigned.

In the bottom position, White hasn't castled, but the King is in no particular danger. Black's King, however, is threatened by the Bishop on the long diagonal and the two Rooks on the open g- and h-files. These combined forces eventually won a Pawn, during which the Black Pawns on b5, c5, & d5 became increasingly vulnerable. The game lasted another 25 moves.

Since both games are essentially lost at the diagrammed position, an error must have been made before the diagram was reached. But where? In the third game of 'Losing Streak' above, analyzed in the post titled 'Imperfect Understanding', HarryO weighed in with a series of comments. The first comment was 'every move you played in the opening lacked initiative'. While that was undoubtedly an oversimplification, it still contained a big grain of truth. My approach to playing a chess960 opening with the Black pieces is:-

  • Pay attention to the intermediate goals of piece development, of the fight for the center, of King safety, and of keeping a healthy Pawn structure;
  • Avoid the quick, tactical knockout; and
  • Give the move back to the opponent to see what comes next.

In the two games shown above, I failed with the goal of King safety. It took more than 20 moves to realize this for certain, but the seeds of defeat were already planted in the diagrammed positions. At what point should an early fight for the initiative play a role?

21 October 2017

Three Chess960 Developments to Watch

The first development is potentially the most likely to fuel an increase in chess960 interest. Last week, in Chess960 battle: Nakamura vs. Carlsen?, Chessbase.com informed,
In February 2018, there may be an unusual exhibition match held between Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura, playing chess960 (also known as Fischer Random). The competition is planned for the Hening Onstad Art Center in Baerum, Norway. It's funding is not yet fully secured, but Carlsen's manager is confident.

This relates to a blog post from this past summer, First the Non-routine News, (July 2017), that quoted Twitter: 'There are serious plans to organize a FischerRandom / Chess960 World Championship in Norway next year!'. As I reported a few months earlier in GM Blitz Battle PGN (March 2017), the same players met earlier this year in an event that included chess960: 'Chess.com report on the final match, Carlsen - Nakamura [...] Nakamura would go on to take 2.5/3 in the three iterations of chess960'.

The second development is an evolution of that GM Blitz Battle, another event organized by Chess.com: 2017 Speed Chess Championship Schedule, Results, Information (May 2017, but kept up to date as the matches are played). The final match will take place end-December:-

The 2017 Chess.com Speed Chess Championship features 16 of the world's best chess players in an innovative eSports bracket tournament. [...] Each 2017 Speed Chess Championship match will feature 90 minutes of 5/2 blitz, 60 minutes of 3/2 blitz, and 30 minutes of 1/1 bullet chess. One chess960 game will be played in each time control at the end of each time period.

The third development stems from a post last week on my main blog, Understanding Lombardy, where I wrote,

It turns out that the fastest way to understand Lombardy is to study his book, 'Understanding Chess: My System, My Games, My Life'.

Early in the book (p.21), Lombardy observed,

Sadly, Nimzovich died at 48, far too young for a chance to expand on his thinking and summarize that thinking into a true system, for his first work (My System, 1925) can hardly be considered a "system", but rather a collection of interesting games in which Dr. Nimzo offers advice on strategy and how to recognize and avoid mistakes. Yet his thoughts provided a foundation towards advancing chess strategy, even to my recommendation of the super-version of Fischer Random Chess!

This passage is significant for two reasons. First, I've often thought that Nimzovich would have been a brilliant chess960 player, given his penchant for unusual openings and deep strategical concepts. Second, given Lombardy's claim that 'I was Bobby's only chess teacher from [end-1954], and right through Reykjavik', any further thoughts on Fischer and chess960 are bound to be relevant. I'm slowly making my way through the book and will report any further discoveries on this blog.