28 December 2019

Non-random, Non-castling

Former World Champion Vladimir Kramnik has an idea: Kramnik and AlphaZero: How to Rethink Chess? (chess.com; comments). It started with a commonplace observation:-
The increasing strength of chess engines, the millions of computer games and the volumes of opening theory available to every player are making top-level chess less imaginative.

GM Kramnik approached Demis Hassabis, the CEO of DeepMind, with an idea:-

We tasked AlphaZero with exploring a variant that prevented either side from castling, trying different opening moves from both sides. The outcome was beyond our expectations!

A few days later Chessbase jumped at the concept in Vladimir Kramnik proposes an exciting chess variant! (chessbase.com; comments), supplemented with a video from ChessBase India, No-Castling Chess - Vladimir Kramnik suggests an exciting variant! (youtube.com). We know from a post last year, Purported Problems with Chess960 (April 2018), that Chessbase is faced with an existential threat from chess960. We've also seen on this blog that Kramnik is no fan of chess960:-

Retaining the traditional start position (SP518 RNBQKBNR) and changing only the castling rules, resets theory so that chess fans can continue to run their engines and memorize calculated variations, thereby gaining an edge on an opponent in the next big game.

Ten years ago I explored the history of the castling rules in a series of posts:-

Perhaps AlphaZero or one of its many descendants could explore the castling ideas that were abandoned centuries ago. Or perhaps Kramnik's no-castling idea could be applied to chess960. In that case, there is no need to retain Fischer's restriction that the King starts between the two Rooks. Then we're back to basic shuffle chess with its roots in Bronstein, Benko, and a host of other inventors. That makes far more than 960 start positions, a number I might calculate another time.

If Kramnik's idea is meant to retain engine analysis and memorization of opening variations, the same objective could be accomplished by switching to SP534 RNBKQBNR. This has the additional advantage of retaining most of the patterns and plans that arise from SP518.

Thinking up new ideas is the easy part; convincing other people of their worth is the hard part. When moving on from over-analyzed SP518, a statement of primary objectives would avoid hidden agendas.

21 December 2019


I'll come back to that acronym 'FWFRCC' in a later paragraph. For now let's just note that the first 'F' stands for FIDE and the second 'F' stands for Fischer. In 1975, FIDE forced Fischer to abandon his title of World Chess Champion, and 44 years later used his name against his will.

Although WFRCC would be more in line with Fischer's thinking when he was alive, let's not use that as an excuse to avoid admiring a tournament that lasted six months. First I had a couple of posts that surveyed the origin and the structure of the tournament.

FWFRCC means 'FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship'. I would rather have seen 'World Chess960 Championship', but the people that pay the piper can call it whatever they want. I covered the many phases of the complicated tournament in ten posts.

Dare we call the tournament the first FWFRCC? Will there be a second? Let's have a big round of applause for the many people who played a role in making the event possible.

23 November 2019

2019 FWFRCC Final Live

In the previous post, So Beats Carlsen in FWFRCC Final, I promised,
I couldn't find a summary of the final scores in the two semifinal matches, but there are plenty of reports from other sites to sift through. I'll cover those in a follow-up post.

We're lucky to have a visual record of the matches. From Youtube's Chess.com channel:-

Wesley So vs. Magnus Carlsen: Fischer Random Chess Championship 2019: Game 2 (1:52:49) • '[Published on] Nov 1, 2019'

The description said,

Wesley So faces off against the 2018 Fischer Random Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen. At this point in the match the score was 1.5-1.5 after a draw in the first game.

Five of of the six broadcasts of the games between So and Carlsen were published on the Chess.com channel. Here are links to the videos including the game above:-

As for other chess news sites, here are a couple of references that lead to daily reports on the games:-

That's already a wealth of material on the 2019 FWFRCC ('FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship', in case you've just joined), but there's much more. First question: where are the game scores?

16 November 2019

So Beats Carlsen in FWFRCC Final

In last month's report on the 'FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship' (FWFRCC), Quarterfinals of FWFRCC Completed (October 2019), I ended with a Chess.com headline:-
2019-10-06: Caruana, So, Nepomniachtchi Headed To World Fischer Random Semifinals (chess.com; GM Jonathan Tisdall)

Those three players were joined by Magnus Carlsen. I pieced together the following infographic from subsequent Chess.com reports, which are listed below the chart.

The results in the bottom half of the chart are from the two final matches. In the following reports I couldn't find a summary of the final scores in the two semifinal matches, but there are plenty of reports from other sites to sift through. I'll cover those in a follow-up post. Following are GM Jonathan Tisdall's reports on the semifinals:-

And here are GM Tisdall's reports on the final matches:-

Congratulations to GM Wesley So on gaining first place in this long, difficult event.


Later: Re 'I couldn't find a summary of the final scores in the two semifinal matches', the official site has a summary: frchess.com/results. After the scores of the semifinal matches, I added an overview of the time controls to create a second infographic.

The seven images in the two infographics could be rearranged to present a more coherent picture, but I'll leave it like that for now.

26 October 2019

2019 Champions Showdown Live

Live! From St. Louis! It's Chess960! For more about the event, see last month's post 2019 Champions Showdown, St. Louis.

2019 Champions Showdown | Chess 9LX: Day 1 (4:31:52) • 'Streamed live on Sep 2, 2019; starts at 9:10'

On Youtube's Saint Louis Chess Club channel, the description explained,

This Champions Showdown consists of four rapid and blitz chess960 matches. See what happens when back-rank pieces are scrambled and opening theory is obliterated! Join GMs Yasser Seirawan, Maurice Ashley, and WGM Jennifer Shahade for the move-by-move.

If you want links to watch all four days -- I know I do -- here they are, including the first day again:-

And if that's not enough, the same channel offered more commentary on chess960:-

How am I ever going to find the time to watch all of this?

19 October 2019

Quarterfinals of FWFRCC Completed

Let's see -- where were we the last time I reported on the 'FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship' (FWFRCC)? That post, Phase Three of FWFRCC Completed (September 2019), was dated last month and explained,
What happens next for the six knockout winners? The first event in the following chart, 'Quarterfinals Stage 1', says, 'Six winners of the knockout qualifiers join Nakamura and Caruana'. [...] The three top players from [those] quarterfinals will join Magnus Carlsen in the four-player semifinal.

Chess.com published a video preview of the quarterfinals.

8 of the World's Best Fischer Random Players Will Battle for Glory and $$$ (1:31) • '[Published on] Oct 3, 2019'

The description of the video started,

The Fischer Random Quarterfinals start October 4th! Eight of the world's top Fischer Random players will battle for a chance to move on to join Magnus Carlsen in Oslo for big $$$ prizes.

For each of the three playing days, the same site published reports by GM Jonathan Tisdall, the American/Norwegian reporter introduced in last month's post on the knockout phase.

  • 2019-10-04: FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship Quarterfinals Kick Off (chess.com; ditto for the next two links) • 'Day one of the quarterfinal produced four match-winners [Nakamura, Fedoseev, Caruana, Nepomniachtchi], who advance to the third and final day of the stage. Day two is the Lazarus round, when the four losers fight to claim two return tickets to the event. The final day will see three players eliminated and the three survivors advancing for the live, over-the-board event in Norway.'

  • 2019-10-05: Second Chances In World Fischer Random Chess Quarterfinal • 'The four losers from day one of the quarterfinals squared off for a last shot at continuing towards the World Fischer Random title. This unusual route to the semifinals has been adopted to create three semifinalists from this stage of the event -- because "defending champion" Magnus Carlsen will join the competition to make up the fourth finalist.' [Winners: Firouzja and So]

  • 2019-10-06: Caruana, So, Nepomniachtchi Headed To World Fischer Random Semifinals

Fide.com also published a report on the quarterfinals, with an overview of all matches, including the winners, the opponents and the scores.

Fischer Random Championship: So, Caruana and Nepomniachtchi advanced to the semis (fide.com)

The official Schedule says the two semifinal matches will take place 27-29 October, followed by a rest day before the final three-day match (plus a match for third place) starts 31 October 2019.

28 September 2019

2019 Champions Showdown, St. Louis

September was one of the best months ever for chess960. On top of the latest action in the FWFRCC (that stands for 'FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship', as in my previous post Phase Three of FWFRCC Completed), we had the 2019 Champions Showdown: Chess 9LX (uschesschamps.com). What's 'Chess 9LX'? It's '9' plus the Roman numerals 'LX', i.e. '60', but the less said about that the better.

This is the fifth chess960 event from the Saint Louis Chess Club that I've covered on this blog. The others were:-

As for a summary of the 2019 event, here's a screen snapshot from the official 'Chess 9LX' site. The selection of the start positions followed the same procedure as for the 2018 event, which I quoted in the corresponding post.

The chess news sites covered the 2019 event in depth, although I imagine it was more for Kasparov's participation than for chess960. Here's the coverage by Chess24.com:-

In the first decade of the century, Mainz was the geographical center of chess960. In the second decade, it's been St. Louis. After the third decade starts in a few months, will the focus expand to new localities?

21 September 2019

Phase Three of FWFRCC Completed

Last month I covered the knockout phase of the 'FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship' (FWFRCC) in two posts:-

The posts included the Chess.com reports on the first three of the six individual knockout tournaments. Chess.com subsequently issued reports on the last three of the tournaments :-

The three reports on the winners were filed by GM Jonathan Tisdall. Old timers might remember that then-IM Tisdall reported for the USCF's Chess Life on the Kasparov - Karpov World Championship clashes of the 1980s.

What happens next for the six knockout winners? The first event in the following chart, 'Quarterfinals Stage 1', says, 'Six winners of the knockout qualifiers join Nakamura and Caruana'.


GM Tisdall also prepared a preview of the remaining events:-

The report starts with a plug for the Norwegian sponsors of the series of events:-

The time has come to book your ticket to watch the live stages of the FIDE World Fischer Random Championship. The venue for the semifinals and final will be Norway's Henie Onstad Art Center, located just outside Oslo. The city previously hosted the remarkably successful pilot event, the unofficial title match between Hikaru Nakamura and Magnus Carlsen in 2018.

It continues with details for the three days of quarterfinal matches. The three top players from the quarterfinals will join Magnus Carlsen in the four-player semifinal.

24 August 2019

Phase Three of FWFRCC Compressed

Last week's post, Phase Three of FWFRCC Underway (FWFRCC = FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship), showed a schedule which was not current. I suppose there was a conflict with the forthcoming 2019 World Cup at Khanty-Mansiysk, because the current round of FWFRCC qualifiers will now finish before the World Cup starts. The corrected schedule is shown below.

Schedule (frchess.com; revised)

In the intervening week since the last post, two more of the six qualifiers were held. Here are the Chess.com reports:-

By the time the next post on this blog appears, the last three events will have been played. The final knockout stage will take place from early October through early November.

17 August 2019

Phase Three of FWFRCC Underway

What's happened in the four weeks since I posted Phase Two of FWFRCC Underway (July 2019), where the long acronym stands for 'FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship'? After 'Phase Two', which brought titled players into the competition, Chess.com issued a report FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship Heats Up, which said,
The Fischer Random action speeds up even more as the first knockout bracket begins on Sunday, Aug. 11. The tournament is the first of six consecutive weekly knockouts with identical formats of 16 players each, including two invited top-grandmaster players per bracket.

The following chart shows the dates for the six weekly knockouts. The note 'TBD' against each date means the start time of each event was not known at the time the chart was completed.

Schedule (frchess.com)

The first knockout event was announced a few days later in Nepomniachtchi, Harikrishna Headline First [FWFRCC] Knockout Qualifier (chess.com):-

The first of six knockout qualifiers will be hosted on Chess.com this Sunday, Aug. 11, featuring some of the strongest players in the world including GM Ian Nepomniachtchi and GM Pentala Harikrishna who will headline a pack of sixteen players vying for their chance to qualify for the next phase, the live quarterfinals.

GMs Nepomniachtchi and Harikrishna are currently ranked world no.7 and no.22 for traditional chess. The result of that tournament was officialized in Nepomniachtchi Qualifies For [FWFRCC] (chess.com):-

Russian top GM Ian Nepomniachtchi outlasted 15 opponents to reach the quarterfinals of the 2019 [FWFRCC], defeating GMs Zhamsaran Tsydypov, Sam Sevian and Pentala Harikrishna and the untitled Yurii Marinskii, in a stacked field.

The report included live video commentary by GM Aman Hambleton. I'm not sure what 'stacked field' means, but it must be something good.

27 July 2019

Random Resources

A new video from Chess.com's IM Daniel Rensch explains the basics:-

Chess.com has also released a short puzzle test:-

That's a great idea, but it could be split into at least two puzzle series: 1) Do you know the castling rules?, and 2) Tactical devices that never arise from the traditional start position. Both of those ideas are easily expanded. Also worth a look is:-

  • Chess960 Dice (indiegogo.com; 'Chess based on talent not memory!')

HarryO of Chess960 Jungle, points out:-

Harry says, 'You announce "The NO LOOK 1.e4!" with your hands raised in the air'. One of the comments points to another sequence in the video where GM Nakamura plays 'The NO LOOK 1.c4!':-

From the 1978 Karpov Gambit in the Open Variation of the Spanish Game to "I didn't even look at the board." Thank you, Bobby Fischer!

I can't tell if 'Thank you, Bobby Fischer!' is sincere or sarcastic.

20 July 2019

Phase Two of FWFRCC Underway

Last month's post, Titled Players Join the FWFRCC, reported on the second phase of the biggest chess960 tournament ever held, where FWFRCC means 'FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship'. Although other variations of that awkward acronym are in use, that's the one I pulled from an early page announcing the event, and that's the one I'll continue to use.

The plans call for six days of play, two tournaments per day, 7 players qualifying per tournament. Half of the 12 tournaments have been held, with the results available at World Fischer Random Championship: Qualified Players. The page mentions, 'The last four [sic] FIDE World Fischer Random Titled Qualifier events will take place on August 4.' The full schedule is shown in the following image.

Schedule (frchess.com)

Some well known players have already qualified, like chess960 specialist GM Andrey Deviatkin in the third event, and former FIDE World Champion Ruslan Ponomariov in the fifth. Chess.com, the host for the online events, doesn't require players to use their real names as identifiers, making it often problematic to recognize specific players. It does, however, require titled players to prove their identity. By the time of this blog's next report on the event, the third phase 'Knockout Qualifiers' should have already started.

22 June 2019

Titled Players Join the FWFRCC

Two months after I posted Roadmap for a World Championship (April 2019), the first phase -- "Open Qualifier" Phase : For Non-Titled Players -- has finished. The results are available at World Fischer Random Championship: Qualified Players (chess.com).

Eight days of qualifying events, with four events per day and five players qualifying from each event comes to a total of 160 players qualified for the next phase. That 'Qualified Players' page showed that many players finished high enough to qualify more than once, when their second qualifying spot went to someone a little further down the list. Did any players qualify more than twice?

I loaded the list of qualified players into a database and created the chart shown on the left. It shows that there were nine players who qualified at least three times.

My database counted only 157 names, instead of the 160 I expected. Maybe there was a glitch in my procedure, maybe there was another reason, but my overall numbers should be accurate enough.

One Chess.com player, KokeFischer of Chile, qualified nine times, while two others, from Brazil and the USA, qualified four times. Are players from the 'New World' more interested in chess960 than players from the rest of the world? Maybe, but I suspect it has more to do with the start times of the four events favoring certain time zones.

So what's next? The rules (see the 'Roadmap' post for links) call for a '"Play-in" Phase : For Eligible Players', aka 'Qualifying Stage 2'. Specifically,

  • The 160 qualifiers from the 'Non-Titled Open Qualifier' stage will join titled players at this stage.
  • Players will register for tournaments they are eligible to play.
  • Players will compete in a 10+2, 9-round Swiss tournament based on the set qualifying schedule, with the top 7 finishers from each winning eligibility to purchase entries into the Knockout Qualifier Phase.
  • The total number of qualifiers from this phase will be 84 players.

The Schedule page (frchess.com) tells us when this will take place. First, here's the phase that has already completed:-

  • 2019-04-28: Open qualifiers begin • Non-Titled Players. Occurs 32 times to qualify 160 Players. 10+2. Top-5 to Play-in Qualifier.

The next phase starts a week from now:-

  • 2019-06-30: Play-in qualifiers begin • Eligible Players. Occurs 12 times to qualify a total of 84 Players. 10+2. Top-7 to Knockout Qualifier.

As for the rest of the tournament, here's the schedule. This is, of course, subject to change:-

  • 2019-08-11: Knockout qualifiers begin • 84 players + 12 Invited Players. 15+2. Two game mini-match. Winner of each 16-Player Bracket to QF.
  • 2019-10-04: Quarterfinals stage 1 begins • 6 winners from the Knockout Qualifiers join Nakamura & Caruana.
  • 2019-10-06: Quarterfinals stage 2 begins • 2 losers bracket winners join the 4 QF Stage 1 winners in a series of different time controls.
  • 2019-10-27: Semifinals begins • 3 QF winners join Magnus Carlsen for a semifinal with a series of different time controls.
  • 2019-10-31: Finals begins • Championship and Third-place matches begin with a series of different time controls.

Some of that doesn't make much sense -- e.g. '2 losers bracket winners' -- but it should all become clearer as the individual events arrive. The finals start on Halloween. Best costume wins a special prize?

15 June 2019

Playing the FWFRCC

For the second time in my life I played in a qualifying event for a World Championship. The first was an ICCF correspondence event, which I documented in a post on my main blog, WCCC29SF14 (July 2007). The second was a preliminary event in the 'FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship' (FWFRCC). So far I've posted twice on this chess960 blog about the tournament:-

Until a couple of weeks ago, I hadn't even thought about playing in the tournment. My online ('live!') playing days ended 15 years ago, except for a few hours of chess960 that I documented on this blog in How I Spent My Free Day (March 2011). Blitz has never been my strong point and there are always other things to do. So how did I end up playing in the FWFRCC?

While I was working on the previous FWFRCC posts, I came across the page 2019 Fischer Random Open Non-Titled Qualifier - Chess Club (chess.com), and tried to join. A few days later I received the message

I can't let you into the Fischer Random club as you are not registered. If you wish to play in the open qualifiers and receive a free diamond membership please pay to register at frchess.com.

I hadn't understood the purpose of the club, but fair enough -- I paid my five dollars at frchess.com and became a member of the club. I started poking around the club's page and noticed comments from other members saying things like 'This is my chance to participate in a historic event!' They were right. Here I am maintaining a blog about the subject and I hadn't even considering playing in the first large scale C960/FRC tournament ever held.

Nine rounds at 10 minutes per player per game comes to at least three hours per tournament. Given per-move increments and organizational lags, that's probably closer to four hours. Finding a block of four consecutive, uninterrupted hours for an online tournament is not easy for me, even though there were four start times every Sunday. Last Sunday my wife was gone for the entire day and I knew if I didn't play on that day, I might not get another chance.

How to prepare for the tournament? In the days when I played FIDE-rated OTB events, my pre-game preparation was to run through tactical exercises. For chess960, I added choosing the first move as White from a random start position. I would have liked to do the same exercise with Black -- after being given White's first move -- but I don't have a tool to do that.

I also wanted to play in a preparatory tournament, in order to become familiar with the time control and the Chess.com interface, but I couldn't find a suitable event on Chess.com. I settled on playing a few games against their computer: Play Chess960 (Fischer-Random Chess) vs the Computer (chess.com). In the first game I blundered a minor piece, in the second I blundered a Queen, and I knew if I didn't want to finish the FWFRCC with a 0-9 score, I would have to improve my concentration. I decided I would play in a neutral setting, away from my office and all of the associated distractions.

I went into the tournament with a 1600 rating assigned by Chess.com. In the first game I was paired as White against a 2200 player. Although I avoided blundering, I spent most of the game on the defensive and finally lost on time in an unclear endgame. In my second game I checkmated my opponent in nine moves and was freed from the stigma of a 0-9 result. After five games I had a score of +2-3=0. I had been playing for exactly two hours, which averaged out to 24 minutes per game. It was supper time, the dog was begging to be fed, I was also hungry, and since I hadn't planned for these circumstances, I reluctantly decided to withdraw from the tournament. My final result ('bemweeks') is shown in the following chart.

Fischer Random Championship Non-Titled Open Qualifier 25

I lost another game on time when I had a won position, so it's clear that my play was too slow. The time control doesn't allow for spending additional time on the first few moves, which are the most difficult in a game of chess960. If I want to improve my result, I'll need to practice. It's that simple.

The $5.00 I paid for entry entitled me to two tournaments. Tomorrow is the last Sunday of qualifying events, starting at 8 AM, 12 noon, 4 PM, and 8 PM, all U.S. Pacific time. Since I live in central Europe, that translates to 1700, 2100, 0100, and 0500, my local time. Given other commitments, the only realistic possibility for me to play is at 0500 Monday morning, but even that is not so realistic. Since I would again have to withdraw after only two hours, it looks like I'm out of luck.

Kudos to Chess.com for organizing a terrific series of events. I was worried about running into some aspect of their interface that would prove to be a blocking factor, but everything worked as I expected. The site has been a strong supporter of chess960 for ten years. Without that support we might not be anywhere near a FWFRCC. Thanks, Chess.com!

25 May 2019

A Difficult SP Revisited

These days the posts on this blog are overwhelmingly news oriented, but once in a while I like to look at a real chess960 position. A few months ago, in A Stockfish Experiment (February 2019), I wrote,
At first glance, there doesn't seem to be a high correlation between the Sesse results and the CCRL results. The first position where there is agreement between the two sources is [SP868] QBBRKRNN. I once discussed this position in 'A Difficult SP for Black' (April 2013). By coincidence, I'm currently playing the position in a pair of correspondence games and hope to have more to say about it in the future.

The two games have finished, so the future is today. For easy reference, here's a link to the original post: A Difficult SP for Black. Already on the first move, White threatens a smothered mate on the third move. In that post I noted,

Black has two methods of meeting the difficult challenge posed by 1.Ng3.

Those two methods were:-
1...Nf6 2.Nf5 Rg8, and

Both of the latest games used different methods of defense, as shown in the diagrams below. The top diagram is my game as White. The game started with the first line above, but instead of 2...Rg8, Black played 2...Nh5, guarding the sensitive square g7. This looks like a natural move, so why didn't I consider it six years ago? I looked at my notes from that game and recalled that the move appeared only infrequently on the CCRL database, which is a record of engine-vs-engine games. Even today on the CCRL, after hundreds more games have been added for SP868, the move 2...Nh5 has not been tried very much. Why not? Either there is a tactical refutation or the engines have a built-in bias against moving a Knight to the a-or-h files. I couldn't find a tactical refutation.

The game continued 3.b3 f6 4.d4 c6 5.Nf3 d5 6.c4 Bxf5 7.Bxf5 g6 8.Bc2 Nf7, after which I castled 9.O-O. I had the initiative for most of the game, but it turned out to be insufficient. The game eventually ended in a draw after about 60 moves, with an unavoidable tablebase position on the horizon.

The bottom diagram is my game as Black. Here I was attracted by the idea of sacrificing a Pawn with 1...Ng6. The move had been played three times on CCRL with a score of +0-3=0, all wins by Stockfish as Black. A Pawn sacrifice is also the idea behind 1...g6, but is either sacrifice really playable? I spent a few hours analyzing the various continuations after 1...Ng6, and concluded that it was no worse than the alternatives. The game continued 2.Nh5 f6 (diagram) 3.c4 d5 4.f4 Nh6 5.f5 Nh4 6.Nxg7+ Kf7 7.Ne6 Ng4 8.Rf3 Bxe6 9.fxe6+ Kxe6. This might be the first game I have played where my King was on its third rank before the 10th move. Even more curiously, it turned out to be safe there. I eventually equalized and the game was drawn on the 55th move.

That makes two games, two draws, and two more ways to handle 'A Difficult SP for Black'. The two new methods are:-
1...Nf6 2.Nf5 Nh5, and

Good thing the SP is more complicated than it looks. Even one chess960 position lost from the first move would mean trouble for Fischer's greatest invention.

18 May 2019

Youtube Resources for FWFRCC

A few weeks ago I posted Roadmap for a World Championship (April 2019), about the '2019 FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship' (WFRCC? or FWFRCC?). After that post appeared, Chess.com released a slick video.

World Fischer Random Chess Championship 2019 (1:35) • 'Published on May 9, 2019'

The description said,

For the first time ever, a world chess championship has a truly open qualification system! Are you a Fischer Random genius?

The description used a couple of Youtube tags that should be useful for locating more about the event or the underlying games. I added a third tag for completeness:-

As long as I'm covering Youtube resources, let's add a video showing the first FWFRCC qualifier: Chess960 Championship Open Qualifier (youtube.com; MaxTheChessKid; 'Streamed live on Apr 28, 2019'). Max isn't a 'Fischer Random genius' and even stumbles over the castling rules in his first streamed game, but the video provides a good record of the look-and-feel of the qualifying event.


Later: A few days after I posted the above, Chess.com provided a list of World Fischer Random Championship: Qualified Players.

[Here] is the full list of non-titled players who've qualified for the first-ever Fischer Random World Chess Championship.

The first 'qualifier event' had 163 players, although the numbers have been declining since then. So far, 16 events have taken place, with another 16 to be played. The rules say, 'The total number of qualifiers from this phase will be 160 players from 32 qualifiers.' If a player qualifies from two different events, the additional place goes to another person.

27 April 2019

Roadmap for a World Championship

The previous post, Summer Is Coming, started with intermittent reports of a 'Fischer Random World Chess Championship in the fall of 2019'. It continued,
This was confirmed in an announcement about 'The Fischer Random Chess Championship 2019' (frchess.com), which included a press release, 'Chess.com Announces FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship' (ditto).

In the week since that post, more detail about the event has emerged:-

  • 2019-04-20: The World Fischer Random Chess Championship is now officially recognized by FIDE (fide.com) • 'The International Chess Federation (FIDE) has granted the rights to host the inaugural FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship cycle to Dund AS, in partnership with Chess.com. And, for the first time in history, a chess world championship cycle will combine an online, open qualifier and worldwide participation with physical finals.'

Given Fischer's longstanding opposition to FIDE when he was alive, it's not clear how the world organization can use his name or assume ownership of his idea to 'grant the rights' to a World Championship. I'll leave that discussion to any parties that might have a legitimate claim.

The FIDE announcement also included links to PDF versions of a 'Press Release' and 'Regulations'. A few days later, Chess.com chimed in:-

The qualification process outlined in the second link, the 'Information Guide', is long and complicated. Its basic segments are shown in the following chart.

(Expands by 50%; see the 'Information Guide' or 'Regulations' for an even larger version.)

The three boxes in the top row define three distinct phases:-

  • "Open Qualifier" Phase : For Non-Titled Players
  • "Play-in" Phase : For Eligible Players
  • "Knockout" : 84 Players + 12 Invited Players

The 'Knockout' phase leads to 'Quarterfinal' (QF) matches that will eventually culminate in a 'Final' match. The first 'Open Qualifier' event starts tomorrow, 28 April. These organizers aren't wasting any time!

20 April 2019

Summer Is Coming

During the few short weeks since my previous post, Carlsen Wins Lichess Again (March 2019), the world of chess960 has been bustling with activity. First it had a mention in Lupulescu Wins Reykjavik Open Among 8-Way Tie (chess.com):-
Romanian GM Constantin Lupulescu won the Reykjavik Open with the best tiebreak in a group of eight players finishing on 7/9. The 15-year-old Iranian GM Alireza Firouzja was second. Firouzja had won the European Fischer Random Championship on the rest day. [...] On the rest day, Firouzja had won the second European Fischer Random Championship. This way, he became the first qualifier for a very strong Fischer Random knockout tournament organized in Norway in October, about which Chess.com will be publishing information very soon.

This echoed news from a year ago, when I posted three times about the event:-

Back to the 2019 Reykjavik Open, we had related news about Meetings in Oslo (fide.com):-

FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich visited Oslo, Norway and met with the representatives of the Norwegian Chess Federation on April 9th on his way home from his trip to the ongoing Reykjavik Open Tournament. [...] The first couple of meetings addressed issues related to the possibility to organize the official Fischer Random World Chess Championship in the fall of 2019 in Bærum, Oslo, and then a discussion regarding the World Championship match in 2020, where Stavanger will be the candidate city for Norway.

This was confirmed in an announcement about The Fischer Random Chess Championship 2019 (frchess.com), which included a press release, Chess.com Announces FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship (ditto):-

The World Fischer Random Chess Championship is now officially recognized by FIDE and will start on Chess.com. This historic event will feature an online qualifying phase on Chess.com, beginning April 28, and is open to all players. The finals will be held in Norway this fall, with a prize fund of $375,000 USD.

The timeline for the tournament is shown in the following chart.

From Frchess.com

We should see many posts on this blog about the series of events which will span more than six months. What about a follow-up to last month's 'Carlsen Wins Lichess'? If it happens, it won't be soon; Titled Arena Returns (lichess.org):-

After two very successful 960 events, it is finally time to play some proper chess. Position 518, where the starting piece positions actually make sense. The latest editions have been won convincingly by the Doctor. Will he be victorious yet again, or is time for a new king to rise and take the throne? Winter is coming.

Play some proper chess? Positions that actually make sense? Winter is coming? Someone needs to take a deep breath.

30 March 2019

Carlsen Wins Lichess Again

Thanks to an extra weekend this month, I can report on another Lichess Chess960 event. I covered the first event in a pair of posts:-

The announcement of the second event came a few days after that second post:-

  • 2019-03-18: Chess960 Titled Arena Returns (lichess.org) • 'Given how well received the previous Chess960 Titled Arena was, we're bringing it back for round 2. As with last time, the control will be 2 minutes + 1 second increment to give everyone a chance to get used to the unfamiliar positions. The tournament duration will also be 3 hours, and thanks to the donation of last month's first place prize we have a bumped prize pool of $1500!'

Note that last sentence: 'thanks to the donation of last month's first place prize'. That makes Carlsen -- World Champion in traditional chess, where the big money is -- an unofficial sponsor of chess960 events. Thanks, Magnus! The event took place at Chess960 Titled Arena Mar 2019 (lichess.org). The results were summarized at:-

To honor the top three players, I once again captured a picture of the winners' podium.

GM DrNykterstein is Magnus Carlsen himself, while the 2nd and 3rd place winners were NM Janak Awatramani and GM Andrew Tang. GM Watneg, the 2nd place finisher in the previous Chess960 Titled Arena, finished 4th this time. Carlsen's performance was again streamed by Youtube's ChessNetwork, who left us a permanent record on his channel.

Chess960 Titled Arena ft. Magnus Carlsen as DrNykterstein | March 2019 (3:05:20) • 'Published on Mar 28, 2019'

The description of the video says,

This is a 3-hour bullet chess tournament, Chess960 Titled Arena, I provided commentary on while specifically observing World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen compete. Time controls are 2 minutes with a 1 second increment. This was the 2nd titled arena lichess held with the variant chess960, or fischer random chess.

On top of kudos to the commentator like 'Jerry, just got to say, your content is absolutely incredible', the comments point to key games in Carlsen's path to winning the event.

23 March 2019

More About Queens in the Corner

On my previous post, More about the Lichess Event, fellow chess960 blogger HarryO (see the sidebar for a link to his blog) commented,
What do you think of Magnus's style where if Queens are in the corner he will often play the edge pawn on the first move?

He was referring to the three hour video embedded in that post. I located two early instances of the corner Queen in the video:-

19:45 SP679 QRBKNNRB
26:45 SP772 QBBRKNRN

The following diagram shows the two positions plus GM Carlsen's first move as White.

The Queen in the corner is one of the knottiest problems to solve in chess960. I once focused on it in a post about A Concrete Publishing Proposal (June 2017) where I outlined the three ways the Queen can be developed.

There's another angle to the problem in that the rapid development of the Queen in many chess960 start positions leads to double-edged play. When one player develops the Queen while the other neglects its development, the first player often gets the initiative with a corresponding advantage. This challenges a basic principle of opening play that applies to the traditional position. I once ended a post, Make the Obvious Moves First (September 2012), with the observation,

Take, for example, 'Do not bring your Queen out too early'. I have played at least one game where early development of the Queen to the center was an excellent strategy.

Carlsen has taken the idea even further. There is no subtle maneuvering to slide the Queen along its back rank and jump out on a center file somewhere. He just pushes the Pawn in front of the Queen, then looks at what his opponent is doing before taking further action. Is this another example of 'Make the Obvious Moves First'?

16 March 2019

More About the Lichess Event

In my previous post, Carlsen Wins Lichess Chess960 Titled Arena (23 February 2019), I mentioned,
The tournament Chess960 Titled Arena #960feb19 finished just in time to make the deadline for this week's post.

A day later Youtube channel ChessNetwork released a video about the event. With more than 100K views and nearly 200 comments, the numbers speak for themselves.

Chess960 Titled Arena ft. Magnus Carlsen as DrNykterstein (3:08:03) • 'Published on Feb 24, 2019'

The description said,

This is a 3-hour bullet chess tournament, Chess960 Titled Arena, I provided commentary on while specifically observing World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen compete. Time controls are 2 minutes with a 1 second increment. This was the first titled arena lichess held with the variant chess960, or fischer random chess.

The comments help to locate the start of interesting games; for example, 'Eric Rosen's game at 45:31'. This game found a second path to Youtube, via the Eric Rosen channel: Playing the World Chess Champion in Chess960.

I played Magnus Carlsen (DrNykterstein) in the first ever Chess960 Titled Arena on lichess.org. The time control was 2+1. The game ended in an intense time scramble.

For more about the tournament, see Shaking Things Up in the Chess960 Titled Arena (lichess.org). Comments are at Forum >> General Chess Discussion >> Shaking... (ditto).

23 February 2019

Carlsen Wins Lichess Chess960 Titled Arena

While I was working on last week's post, A Stockfish Experiment, I noted an announcement for an upcoming tournament, Bonus Titled Arena: Chess960! (lichess.org):-
Due to the recent gain in popularity of the Chess960 (or Fischer Random) variant, we're hosting a bonus Titled Arena: Chess960 Edition! The Titled Arena has become among the world's strongest Bullet tournaments, and we're proud to now also offer a high quality Chess960 tournament to our players.

Many of you have also requested a longer time control during these titled events, so we're trying 2 minutes + 1 second increment this time. Moreover, to ensure that each player will get enough games with this longer time control, we're increasing the tournament duration from the usual 2 hours to 3!

The tournament Chess960 Titled Arena #960feb19 (ditto) finished just in time to make the deadline for this week's post. Here is a copy of the winners' podium.

For future reference, I also noted the links to the three winners' Lichess pages:-

'DrNykterstein' is better known as World Champion Magnus Carlsen. His Lichess page eventually leads to a list of all games he played during the event. Last year he won an unofficial Chess960 World Championship, which I reported on this blog in 2018 Carlsen - Nakamura (February 2018).

Second place Watneg is an anonymous GM, while third place went to Egyptian GM Bassem Amin. The game between Carlsen and Watneg can be found at GM DrNykterstein vs GM Watneg: Analysis board (lichess.org). To document the progress of the tournament, here are a number of tweets I picked off the Lichess Twitter page:-

Who said chess960 levels the playing field between experienced chess players?

16 February 2019

A Stockfish Experiment

Last year, in the aftermath of the Carlsen - Nakamura chess960 match, Chess.com published an article, What's The Most Unbalanced Chess960 Position?. The essence of the piece was:-
Recently, the Norwegian "supercomputer" Sesse analyzed all 960 variations using Stockfish 9. At a depth of 39-40 ply for each position, which took about two to three hours each, its findings were published.

I downloaded the referenced spreadsheet and compared it with the data currently displayed on the CCRL (see link in the right sidebar). The results are shown below.

The first column shows the start position, followed by the Sesse evaluation in centipawns, followed by the CCRL overall percentage score for White and the precentage of draws. For example, the top row says that BBNNRKRQ was evaluated by Sesse at 0.57 (a little more than a half-Pawn), with a CCRL result of 51.0% in White's favor and 15.3% of games ending in a draw.

The chart gives the top-25 positions flagged by Sesse, down to a cutoff of 0.40. I could have added the numeric ID for each start position and will do so if I ever come back to the data.

At first glance, there doesn't seem to be a high correlation between the Sesse results and the CCRL results. The first position where there is agreement between the two sources is QBBRKRNN. I once discussed this position in A Difficult SP for Black (April 2013). By coincidence, I'm currently playing the position in a pair of correspondence games and hope to have more to say about it in the future.

As for the Sesse results, they confirm that engines just don't evaluate chess960 start positions particularly well. Long term positional considerations are not the engines' strong point.

26 January 2019

FIDE Chess960 Ratings

Believe it or not, a recent post about FIDE on my main blog, Spectating the 89th FIDE Congress (December 2018) is also relevant to chess960. Here are a couple of excerpts from the minutes:-
89th FIDE Congress; General Assembly; Batumi, Georgia; 3-5 October 2018; Minutes [...]

7.2. Qualification Commission. [...] Annex 10 is Proposal from Icelandic Chess federation for the rating of Fischer Random (Chess 960) Games.

Annex 10 can be found by following the links in the 'Spectating' post. It consists of a single page, pictured below. Titled...

'FIDE congress in Batumi 2018; Reykjavik, June 27, 2018; Fischer Random (Chess960) ratings - A proposal from the Icelandic Chess Federation',

...and signed...

'Gunnar Bjornsson, President of the Icelandic Chess Federation',

...the document starts:-

'The Icelandic Chess Federation proposes that FIDE will start to calculate Elo. rating points for Fischer Random Chess (Chess960) as soon as possible.'

After a few introductory paragraphs it continues, 'The Icelandic Chess Federation proposes the following' with four main points:-

  • 'Initially, there will be only one Fischer Random rating. It's possible to have a rating for all time limits; for Blitz and Rapid combined; or Rapid and Blitz separated.

  • 'Tournaments must be played according to FIDE Chess960 rules (Appendix F) and all other FIDE rules should apply.

  • 'Current FIDE ratings should be used as a base rating; the same system as was used for implementing FIDE Blitz and Rapid.

  • 'If this experiment goes well, it is possible to continue with more choices of time limits for Fischer Random Chess ratings.'

The mention of 'FIDE Chess960 rules (Appendix F)' probably refers to an old version of the rules. The current version is under 'Handbook :: E. Miscellaneous', Fide Laws of Chess taking effect from 1 January 2018 (fide.com), in a section titled 'Guidelines II. Chess960 Rules'.

A report on the meeting of the Qualification Commission (QC), FIDE Congress Update: Chess 960 and an Illegal Move Quiz (uschess.org), by 'International Arbiter and Organizer Grant Oen (US Chess FIDE Events Manager)', explains,

QC is perhaps the most relevant commission to many of our members, as it regulates over-the-board titles and title applications, and the rating of all FIDE-rated games.

The report devotes four paragraphs to chess960 and starts,

The most heated topic of the QC meeting was the discussion of introducing ratings for Chess960 (Fischer Random Chess) following a proposal from the Icelandic Chess Federation.

I'm not completely convinced that a separate international rating system for chess960 is justified at this time, but anything which gets people to talk about Bobby Fischer's greatest invention is fine with me.

19 January 2019

First Post, New Year

The first post on this blog for the year 2019 is an appropriate time to reflect on the chess960 activities of 2018 -- and what a year it was! Of the 24 posts I wrote during the year, I count four that were for top-level chess960 events:-

Should I retire the 'rare birds' series, last seen in (Not so?) Rare Birds, Summer 2017 (July 2017)? No, I'm a patient person, so I'll give it more time. I haven't seen any relevant announcements and all of the events mentioned above could have been one-offs.

Chess960 was dropped for Chess.com's 2018 Speed Chess Championship, where Hikaru Nakamura defeated Wesley So in the final. It never made much sense to include a single chess960 game in a tournament for traditional chess, although the exposure for chess960 can only have helped. As for 2018's '1st Chess.com Chess960 Championship', I note that it wasn't the '1st annual' event and I'll keep watching for any announcement of a '2nd annual' tournament.

Does a decline in top-level chess960 events mean a decline in the number of posts for this blog? Of course not! I might actually find the time to study some of the many top-level chess960 games that were played in 2018...