22 February 2020

FWFRCC Manifesto

Last year's post, FWFRCC Wrapup (December 2019), was far from being the last on the 'FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship' (FWFRCC). First we had An Alternative to a 'Boring, Mind-Draining Process' (January 2020), and now we have a connection I covered on my main blog in Spectating the 90th FIDE Congress? (February 2020).

What does the 90th Congress have to do with chess960? The announcement for the 2020 FIDE Extraordinary General Assembly Agenda and Executive Board Agenda (fide.com; January 2020) listed Annex 8.3, title: 'Fischer Random Chess'. Although the annex is undated and unsigned, it's important enough to present in its entirety:-

The FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship

Chess has existed for over 1500 years, and is played by over 600 million people, globally. Chess has a position in modern culture and unique values no other sport or activity can muster. At the same time, chess needs to balance between respect for the classic beauty of the game, and simultaneously look for ways to innovate chess in order to stay relevant for new players, media, commercial partners, and the general public. Fischer Random, also known as Chess 960 [sic; chess960], is highly relevant as one of FIDE’s selected tools to innovate the sport.

The FIDE Management Board has decided to develop Fischer Random (FR) as a new addition to the existing formats of chess. The goal is for FR to coexist with the existing formats, to attract potential and existing players in a new way. This is to be done in partnership with the entrepreneurs who made FR relevant again. They have developed and organized both a show match named "The Unofficial Fisher Random World Championship" in 2017 with Magnus Carlsen as the winner, and the first official FIDE Fischer Random World Fischer Random Chess Championship in 2019, with Wesley So as the winner.

Promotion

In order to broaden the awareness and interest for Fischer Random in general, and particularly the FRWCC amongst potential players, potential audience, potential sponsors and general media, the relevant committees in FIDE and organizers will cooperate tightly. The key elements to create positive interest and attention for FR are:
- Establish rating
- Make sure there are tournaments to participate in
- Launch campaigns targeted towards players, organizers, and chess sites to create positive interest and awareness for the concept of FR.

Global distribution and participation

The WFRCC [NB: that's FWFRCC without the leading 'F' for FIDE] cycle is based on the same concept as the classical cycle. In theory, you can come in from the street, and qualify for a seat in Championship. But, in the FR cycle, the qualifying tournaments, open for anyone, are hosted online. In the first Official Championship, 94 nationalities were represented in the qualifying rounds. The online part secures easy access and a low threshold for anyone who ever dreamt about participating in a Chess World Championship.

The concept of FR is not to take players away from classical chess. The goal is to widen the range of interesting ways to play chess for existing players, as well as broaden the scope for ways for children to get interested in chess.

The first official championship was not without flaws, and there is room for improvements. That is why both FIDE and its commissions shall work closely with the organizers to secure a fair and smooth competition.

The following elements for developing an accessible, popular and global World Championship cycle are already established, and will be formalized in tight cooperation between FIDE and the organizers:

Finance and commercial rights

The organizers, the limited company Dund AS, owned by Jøran Aulin-Jansson and Arne Horvei, are appointed by FIDE as the exclusive organizer of the WFRCC Cycle for 2021 and 2023. This includes all and exclusive rights, including but not limited to sponsorships, transmission and other commercial agreements. Dund AS will pay to FIDE a fee of 20% of the prize fund raised for the championship.

Cycle structure

The FIDE World Fischer Random Cycle is to be organized with finals in November 2021 and November 2023. Based on the interest and attention after these two cycles FIDE, in partnership with the organizers, are to evaluate, and discuss if the Fischer Random World Championship Cycle should continue every second year, or go over to annual cycles. Each cycle will consist of both online qualifiers, and over the board finals.

Online qualification

The first steps of the online qualifiers are to be open to all chess players around the world, regardless of rating and experience.

FIDE is working for the online qualification tournaments to be hosted on several platforms. This will both help with the global awareness and interest for the Championship, and it can help to motivate the online platforms to host Fischer Random tournaments throughout 2020.

Involving different, and competing sites with potentially big differences in technology, anticheating systems, and reach, will require FIDE and the organizers to develop a set of specifications. Online platforms that comply with these specifications are welcome to host Open Qualifying tournaments on their sites. This will require good planning and dialogue with the platforms, in order to keep good control over anti-cheating, timing of tournaments, and number of participants that are to be qualified from each platform.

Time control

It is decided that Fischer Random games shall be rated under the time control for Rapid format. Which type of Rapid time control, both for online games, and for over the board games, will be discussed more in detail.

There are so many talking points here that I don't know where to start. I'm sure I'll come back to it in future posts.

25 January 2020

From van Zuylen to Benko

In the previous post, An Alternative to a 'Boring, Mind-Draining Process', I discussed an article from the January 2020 Chess Life. The same article had a short sidebar titled 'What is Fischer Random Chess?', which started,
Fischer Random Chess was publicized by the 11th World Champion, Bobby Fischer, in Buenos Aires in 1996. The foundation of Fischer Random chess had been laid two centuries earlier by Philip Julius van Zuylen van Nijevelt as a means of combating expanding opening theory, requiring players to rely on creativity rather than rote memorization and repetition.

We've seen van Zuylen once before in this blog -- More Arguments Against Chess960 (April 2010) -- where Dutch writer Tim Krabbé placed van Zuylen's idea on an equal footing with Fischer's idea. In fact, the two ideas have as much in common as an acorn has to an oak tree. Van Zuylen shuffled the pieces on the rank behind the Pawns, not even taking care to place the Bishops on different colored squares. It's an interesting idea, but it's not particularly difficult to imagine. Fischer invented a castling scheme that was comprehensive enough to make the rules governing the traditional start position (SP518 RNBQKBNR) a subset of his own invention. The intellectual leap between the simple shuffling and the complex castling was a real feat of imagination.

For more about van Zuylen, see Philip Julius van Zuylen van Nijevelt (wikipedia.org). That page includes a link to van Zuylen's book, written in French, where the shuffling idea was introduced. I haven't had time to study the book, but another page, La Superiorite Aux Echecs: The first chess book of endgame theory by van Zuylen van Nyevelt (chess.com/blog/introuble2), makes it clear that shuffle chess represents only a miniscule portion of its total content.

Jumping from the 18th century to the 20th century, the November 1978 Chess Life (CL; p.609) had a pair of articles on shuffle chess. The introduction to the first article, showing the opposing pieces in a strategic huddle, is pictured below.


'Pre-chess : Time for a Change' by GM Pal Benko
(Drawing: Nelly Kastelucci)

GM Benko wrote,

About ten years ago someone told me of another idea, which he said had come originally from Soviet grandmaster David Bronstein, certainly one of the most original thinkers in chess The idea is to begin with the sixteen pawns set up as usual, but with no pieces on the board. White's first move is to set any one of his pieces on any square along his first rank. Black then places any of his pieces anywhere on his own first rank.

Play alternates, each player placing another piece on his first rank. No piece or pawn may be moved until all the pieces of both sides are in place. To keep the game as close as possible to orthodox chess, Bishops must be placed on opposite-color squares and castling is permitted only if the King is on "K1" and at least one Rook is on a corner square.

That's certainly more sophisticated than van Zuylen's acorn, although still far from Fischer's oak tree. The rest of Benko's article was about a four game 'pre-chess' match with GM Arthur Bisguier. It was followed immediately by the second CL article, titled 'Pre-chess : For the Thinking Player' by GM Bisguier, who won the match. The two GMs' thoughts on their version of shuffle chess foreshadowed the thinking about chess960 more than two decades later.

18 January 2020

An Alternative to a 'Boring, Mind-Draining Process'

If, like me, you thought that last month's post, FWFRCC Wrapup, was the last on that subject, then you would be wrong. The January 2020 edition of Chess Life (CL) had a four page article by GM Robert Hess titled, 'So Showcase', subtitled, 'GM Wesley So goes on a winning spree at the first FIDE World Fischer Random Championship'. It started,
Between the U.S. Championship, five Grand Chess Tour events, the FIDE Grand Prix cycle, the World Cup, and the FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss, GM Wesley So hardly had any downtime in 2019. Breaks from tournaments are necessary: time is spent mending holes in the repertoire and diving deep into the weeds of openings to unearth a new variation.

Preparation often requires rote memorization of long series of moves, countless Berlin lines stored for future use. Many do not find this an enjoyable endeavor. The FIDE World Fischer Random Championship, then, was a nice reprieve from the typical drudgery required to be competitive at the game’s highest level.

Near the end of the article, GM So confirmed that sentiment.

[Wesley] So certainly wants to see the variant grow. To him it was "wonderful not having to memorize lines and go over and over the same material searching for a novelty somewhere. I have a good memory, but it is such a boring, mind-draining process." In Norway, not having anything to memorize, his daily routine consisted of solving chess puzzles, studying chess books, working on tactics over the board, eating well, and sleeping regular hours.

Between those paragraphs was a high-level summary of GM So's path to the title, including his crushing win over GM Magnus Carlsen in the final match. The following photo (photographer unknown) shows the playing arena in Norway's 'Henie Onstad Art Center'.


Caption: 'So emerged as the surprise leader after his day one matchup with GM Magnus Carlsen.'

Along with that article, GM Hess analyzed two games from the FWFRCC competition. The first was a Nakamura - Caruana game in the December 2019 issue of CL. The second was So - Carlsen in the January 2020 CL, game two of the final match.

For a chess magazine which has long emphasized American juniors and has lately been emphasizing American women, the chess960 articles were a welcome change. I wonder if there's any demand for more of the same.