26 December 2020


On my main blog I've been keeping track of the TCEC engine vs. engine tournaments. Last month, in Stockfish Wins TCEC Cup 7; CCC GPUs Back (November 2020), I reported,
The [TCEC] '!next' plan says, 'next FRC2 testing and FRC2 ~1.5 weeks'. When was FRC1? As far as I can tell, it was more than six years ago. [...] I'm looking forward to reporting on FRC2 for [my chess960] blog.

Two weeks later, in TCEC FRC2 Underway; CCC 'Currently Uncertain' (November 2020), I reported,

After 'Sufi Bonus 3', the [TCEC] ran a chess960 event, dubbed 'FRC2'. It started with 16 engines in four 'Leagues' (A to D), followed by eight engines in two 'Semileagues' (1 to 2), followed by four engines in a 'Final League', followed by two engines in a 'Final' match. The 'Final League' is currently underway.

Another two weeks passed and in TCEC S20 Underway; CCC Less Uncertain (December 2020), I reported,

In the FRC2 Final League, LCZero and Stockfish finished first and second to qualify for the 50-game final match. Stockfish beat LCZero +8-0=42.

The first of the three posts above linked to Stockfish, the Strong (July 2014) on this blog, plus two other followup posts based on FRC1. FRC1 was held three and a half years before AlphaZero made waves with its revolutionary AI/NN technology, soon to be followed by Leela Chess Zero (aka LCZero / LC0). The chart below overviews the different events that made up FRC2. The top portion of the chart flows upward; the bottom portion flows downward.

Source: TCEC Wiki

The semifinal event, dubbed 'Final League' in TCEC nomenclature, had Komodo representing the traditional engines that competed in FRC1, Lc0 and AllieStein representing the AI/NN generation of engines, and Stockfish representing the even newer NNUE generation. I haven't decided if I'm going to spend time looking at the games from FRC2. We already have years of engine experience documented in the CCRL datasets (see the right sidebar under 'Resources') and I'm not sure what can be gleaned from the latest TCEC experiment.

19 December 2020

Wesley So's Strategies

A couple of months ago a new resource appeared on my radar: The Ascent - Wesley So's Fischer Random Strategies and Tactics (chessable.com). GM Wesley So has been seen on this blog many times, most notably in So Beats Carlsen in FWFRCC Final (November 2019; 'FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship').

Chessable is a newcomer here, although it's merited several mentions on my main blog. The first post was Chessable and 'Game Changer' (February 2019), followed some time later by 'Smart Is the New Sexy' (September 2019), where I linked to 'Chessable joins the Play Magnus chess24 family (chess24.com)'.

The Chessable price for the recent 'Wesley So's Fischer Random Strategies and Tactics' is more than I care to pay for a resource of unknown quality. After a few searches on the site -- 'chess960' returns nothing, 'chess 960' returns everything headed by two relevant courses, 'random' returns only the two courses -- I found a second course at Short & Sweet: Fischer Random Chess [FREE] (chessable.com, also by Wesley So). I can't argue with 'Free', so I started the course and hope to have more to say in a followup post.

28 November 2020

Chess960 Movers and Shakers

Last week's post, The Norwegian Connection, featured Eric van Reem's two part podcast interview with GM Jonathan Tisdall, where part 2 was subtitled 'Let's talk about Magnus and chess960'. At the end of the post I promised,
I'll cover van Reem's second chess960 podcast in another post on this blog. The invited expert was GM Andrey Deviatkin, another chess960 mover and shaker.

If you haven't already listened to the podcast, here's the link:-

  • 2020-11-03: #9 GM Andrey Deviatkin, 'Let's talk about Chess960' • 'In this episode Eric talks to the Russian grandmaster Andrey Deviatkin. Andrey decided to quit his chess career a couple of years ago, because he wanted to try something else: Chess960. But why did Andrey stop playing "traditional chess"? He said: "I understood that chess has become an absolutely different game from the one I have played in my childhood and youth. The computer has changed it dramatically. I have been working hard to become a chess grandmaster, but now my interest is over". Enough to talk about in this episode!'

A few minutes into the discussion, the two chess960 experts address one of the nagging controversies:-

07:25 EVR: 'What is the correct name?' [lists several names for chess960] • AD: 'I thought a lot about it. Maybe my best answer is that, at some point, maybe five or ten years [from now], we'll just call it chess. The game we're playing right now will be called old chess or traditional chess or something like this.'

GM Deviatkin has been seen several times on this blog. For the most significant post, see 'The Essence and the Rules of Chess' (June 2017). That quote is his title, and the post went on to give his full Facebook entry, starting with:-

Seen on Facebook: 'From time to time, I receive requests for chess coaching...' (facebook.com/andrey.deviatkin)

The rest of the Eric van Reem podcast is more than 40 minutes of discussion about chess960. It touches on many of the issues facing chess960 today, most of them even more important than the name.

21 November 2020

The Norwegian Connection

Remember Eric van Reem? Although it's been a few years since I last mentioned him on this blog (use the search box on the right navigation column to find specific posts), he's long been one of the movers and shakers in the small, but expanding, world of chess960.

For the last couple of months he's been producing a podcast, Let's talk about chess (letscast.fm), where he has already featured important segments on chess960. One interview, split into two parts, was introduced in:-

  • 2020-10-03: #4 GM Jonathan Tisdall (part 1), 'Let's talk about chess in the 80s' • 'In this fourth episode Eric talks to Jonathan D. Tisdall. Jon (born 1958 in Buffalo, New York) is a chess grandmaster (title awarded 1993) and works as a freelance journalist. An American citizen by origin, he became Irish and later Norwegian. He was Norwegian Chess Champion in 1987, 1991 and 1995. Combining chess with his job as a journalist, he often attends major chess events. [...]'

The chess960 discussion appeared a few days later:-

  • 2020-10-05: #5 GM Jonathan Tisdall (part 2), 'Let's talk about Magnus and chess960' • 'In this fifth episode of the podcast, Eric continues his conversation with three time Norwegian champion GM Jonathan Tisdall. In the previous episode, Jon told us some great insider stories from the eighties and in this episode, Eric and Jon talk about the current state of affairs in the world of chess, the popularity of online chess, chess960 and other variants. [...]'

Chess960 is mentioned a few minutes into that fifth episode:-

12:40 JT: 'For the very top players I can see why they're big fans of chess960. It's not for 99.99% of us, but for the very top players.'

We can quibble with the statement 'It's not for 99.99% of us', but this isn't the right time. The podcast continues,

13:30 EVR: 'Are you a fan of chess960? You just mentioned it and you've commentated on it. Do you personally like it? Do you play it yourself?' • JT: 'I don't play anything myself these days but, yeah, I really like it. It's just so liberating to see people -- world elite -- happy to predict the first two moves, sometimes thinking at move one.'

The chess960 segment lasts eight minutes. At one point GM Tisdall mentions an interview he had with GM Carlsen, perhaps the most famous Norwegian in the world today:-

It hasn't come out yet and I can't say so much about it. Magnus is a huge fan of chess960, much more so than I thought.
After that, the subject changes to the recent variants proposed by AlphaZero, a subject I covered on my main blog in Nine Chess Variants (September 2020). English excerpts of the interview with GM Carlsen appeared later in:-

Both articles use the term 'Fischer Random', so that's the key to zero in on the relevant paragraphs. There is much more to the interview than chess960, which is to be expected when World Chess Champion Carlsen starts promoting chess in general. In some way, both chess and chess960 are part of the same landscape in contemporary chess.

I'll cover van Reem's second chess960 podcast in another post on this blog. The invited expert was GM Andrey Deviatkin, another chess960 mover and shaker.

31 October 2020

Chess960: USA, Russia, Turkmenistan

We have a fifth Saturday this month, so let's have an extra chess960 post on this blog. A few months ago, Blogger.com, the service that I use to maintain the blog, changed its user interface. One of the improvements was a new look for its reporting of statistics.

Five years ago I wrote an article titled Fischer Chess in the Year 2015, where I included a chart showing countries of origin for visitors to this blog. The image below shows similar in the form of a pie chart.

'Last 12 Months'

While I was preparing this chart, my first question was about the third country on the list: 'Where's Turkmenistan?'. I quickly learned that it's on the eastern side of the Caspian Sea, opposite Azerbaijan on the western side. My second question was: 'Why Turkmenistan?'. This I was unable to answer -- not even a clue.

As for the other countries, the position of the U.S. and Russia as no.1 and no.2 confirms the chart from 2015. Given that 45% of visits to the blog are from those two countries, there is plenty of room for an increase in the percentages of other countries.

24 October 2020

Lost in Lichess Links

Last week's post, Chess960 Opening Meta-theory, featured a video from NM Caleb Denby. The post mentioned,
Three links in the video's description (right-click the embedded video for its Youtube address) point to the games on Lichess.org.

While I was working on that post, I couldn't determine how those three links led to more information about the event in which they were played, the 2020 Champions Showdown. I still can't find a path, but I did find more info about the event itself and the games that were played. From Lichess.org (lichess.org/broadcast):-

It turns out that all three games explained by NM Denby were played on Day 3, the 'Final Day'. The Nakamura - Svidler game on that page has a tag that points to NM Denby's link, plus a couple of tools that point to other paths (lichess.org/study) for the same game.

What I'm missing now is a higher level page that points to days 1 through 3, although the 'Day 3' page does link to the first two days. While I was working on this current post I noticed that many of the chat comments were about finding games, e.g.:-

Why is the interface so bad that you need some random guy to post a link so you can find the games?

Why indeed? Anyway, I started to note similar lichess.org/broadcast links for the two previous editions of the Champions Showdown -- 2018 & 2019 -- and will post them when I think they're ready. Lichess is a-maze-ing!

17 October 2020

Chess960 Opening Meta-theory

After the videos featured in last month's post, 2020 Champions Showdown Live (September 2020), another video is worth special attention.

Openings in Fischer Random?! | Chess Openings Explained - NM Caleb Denby (59:58) • 'Streamed live on 14 Sep 2020'

The description said,

National Master Caleb Denby looks [at] the biggest opening successes and disasters from 2020 Champions Showdown -- Chess 9LX, a Fischer Random Chess (also known as Chess960) event. Learn to identify weaknesses in the opening position.

Thirty seconds into the clip, NM Denby (current FIDE standard rating 2110) explains,

There are two main opening topics that I'm going to focus on tonight, that are accentuated in chess960. First, you'll oftentimes find a lot of very early pressure or attacks on a specific weak point in the position. Players will identify a starting weakness in the initial position that they're given and will base their opening play around it.

Topic number two that I want to focus on is the idea of being left with one bad piece. This is something that often happens in chess960. Players are able to develop almost all of their pieces, but then there seems to be one piece that gets left behind. That can be detrimental to the entire chess position.

That first topic should be automatic for the initial assessment of any chess960 start position (SP). The second topic seems obvious enough, although I don't remember having explored it in any previous posts on this blog. I thought immediately of the traditional start position (SP518 RNBQKBNR with its weakness on f2/f7) and of something GM Karpov once wrote -- and I'm paraphrasing -- 'In every opening (most openings?), Black has to accept a weakness in the development of one of his pieces'.

In the first half of the video, Denby looks at three games from the 2020 Champions Showdown, two of them using the same SP. His examples show how vigilant both players must be during the first few moves. Three links in the video's description (right-click the embedded video for its Youtube address) point to the games on Lichess.org. Around 32:00 into the clip, Denby continues,

I want to switch gears now and go from these wonderful chess960 games to looking at some regular chess openings and how these ideas manifest from the real initial position in chess.

Did he say '*real* initial position'? The examples are from well-known SP518 opening variations and at this point I lost interest.

The first comment to the video was from HarryO of the Chess960 Jungle blog (see the link in the right sidebar): 'As far as I know this could be the first ever lecture on chess960 openings. Thanks.' HarryO ought to know! The first reply to his comment was: 'Lets hope it's the last. Chess960 was introduced to bring skill not preparation back to the games. Sadly chess has degenerated into a memory test.' I can't agree with that sentiment. Chess960 opening theory is meta-theory : how to tackle the analysis of a new, previously unseen SP. There is no memorization required and any analysis of a specific position is to discover that meta-theory.

On top of the sudden switch from chess960 to SP518, there were a few other aspects of the video that were mildly annoying. The first was the Youtube announcement that 'Live chat replay is not available for this video.' I've seen it on other videos, so why is it missing here? The second was Denby's frequent knuckle cracking. These are minor complaints and I have to agree with HarryO's overall assessment: 'Thanks!' I hope it is the first of many such videos, if not by NM Denby, then by other competent players.

26 September 2020

2020 Champions Showdown Live

Last year we had 2019 Champions Showdown, St. Louis (September 2019), followed by 2019 Champions Showdown Live (October 2019; video). This year let's follow 2020 Champions Showdown, Lichess (September 2020) with a video.

2020 Champions Showdown | Chess 9LX: Day 1 (4:26:23) • 'Streamed live on 11 Sep 2020'

The description of the clip, brought to you by the Saint Louis Chess Club, starts,

The world’s top grandmasters battle online from September 11-13 in Fischer random chess. World Champion Magnus Carlsen, Garry Kasparov, World #2 Fabiano Caruana, and more, compete in five separate Chess960 matches. Join GMs Yasser Seirawan, Maurice Ashley, and WGM Jennifer Shahade for the move-by-move.

For days two and three, see

on saintlouischessclub.org/blog. As usual with embedded videos, right click the video to find the original page on Youtube.

19 September 2020

2020 Champions Showdown, Lichess

For nearly a decade, the Saint Louis Chess Club has been a leading supporter of chess960. Last year we had the 2019 Champions Showdown, St. Louis (September 2019), the fifth St.Louis chess960 event covered on this blog. This year we had the 2020 Champions Showdown: Chess 9LX (uschesschamps.com; August 2020). That press release started,
The top international chess superstars are set to battle online from September 11-13 in Championships Showdown: Chess 9LX hosted by the Saint Louis Chess Club. Champions Showdown: Chess 9LX will feature the world’s top grandmasters including legendary World Champion Garry Kasparov, the reigning World Champion Magnus Carlsen, and World Number 2 Fabiano Caruana. The matches will be played in Chess 960 style, also known as Fischer Random, with a $150,000 prize fund.

Because of the difficult travel conditions during the worldvide coronavirus pandemic, the event was held online using Lichess: Carlsen, Kasparov, Nakamura, Firouzja and more battle it out on Lichess (lichess.org/blog; September 2020). That Lichess blog post started,

A pair of amazing tournaments will be taking place in the next week on Lichess with a combined $400,000 prize fund. Featuring World Champion Magnus Carlsen, former World Champion Garry Kasparov, and many other Super GMs: Vachier-Lagrave, Caruana, Nakamura, Aronian, Svidler, Firouzja, and more. We will get to see Carlsen and Kasparov play their first competitive game since Magnus was 13 years old.

The anonymous post went on to describe the first 'amazing' tournament as 'what is *uninspiringly* called "Chess 960" on Lichess', and the second as 'the *archaic* form of chess that includes the same starting position in every game'. The asterisks ('*') are mine. Does someone have an axe to grind?

For more objective reporting, I could have turned to any of the major chess news services, which reported on all three days of the chess960 event. I'll go with Chess.com, because it has also supported chess960 since the early days and because the reports were by Peter Doggers, one of the top chess journalists in the world.

That last report included a final crosstable, which is reproduced here.

I'll come back to this event in another post to look at games and videos. For the second year, the format was called Chess 9LX and tagged with a 'TM' symbol, as if it didn't have enough names. Another top chess journalist, Leonard Barden of The Guardian, has some trouble keeping the many names straight:-

I added '9LX' to the list of names on the header of this blog, but will hold off on '9XL'. I might have to list it anyway if the misnomer ever catches on with a wider audience. Maybe I should 'TM' it.

29 August 2020

'Chess960 Castling First Move'

Don't you hate it when you search for some topic on the web and the results point back to your own thoughts? That happened to me while I was trying to follow-up the previous post Three Sad Stories (August 2020). I wrote,
SP242 (CAI): In this game, 1.O-O-O is possible on the first move, which is what White played. I don't often do this because I like to keep my choice of castling open for as long as possible. The second diagram shows that I eventually castled ...O-O. This is called 'castling into an attack', after which I got crushed. [...] A deeper look at castling on the first move might be a good angle.

Below is a screen capture of the results that Google returned.

Google search on 'chess960 castling first move'

That first text box is from my 'Chess960 1-2-3' page Chess960 Castling Patterns Explained. It says,

An unusual aspect of chess960 is that castling is sometimes legal already on the first move of the game. This happens when the King and Rook are initially positioned on their target files, but with the King on the Rook's square and the Rook on the King's square.

In fact, that particular 'Chess960 1-2-3' page is the *only* '1-2-3' page, a project I started in 2014, then abandoned because I couldn't get a grip on it. Maybe I should give it another shot.

After that statement of fact -- 'castling is sometimes legal already on the first move' -- more interesting are the consequences of first move castling. The second link in my screen capture leads to Castling on move 1 in Chess960 (chess.com; April 2011). The questions posed there are:-

There exist various Chess960 positions where it is possible to castle right on the first move. Will you do so? Is it good or bad? Is it a waste of tempo or will it help you protect the King and make your position good.

Some of the comments are worth repeating. My own remarks are after the separators ('•'):-

'In this position [SP439 RNBNQKRB], I wouldn't castle because after castling, a first few moves need to be done to have some kind of protection near the King. thus it's a waste of tempo.' • Instead of 'a waste of tempo', more accurate might be a 'a misuse of tempo'. The move accomplishes something, but other moves might accomplish more.

'You're essentially conceding your opponent first move, and removing your own ability to castle. The opponent will now know exactly where to aim his forces. Always a bad idea.'

'I would do it for style.' • I've seen this stated elsewhere as: 'Castling on the first move is cool! I do it every chance I get.'

'There should be no situation where castling would be the best first move, because there is no situation where this couldn't be done on the second move, regardless of what Black does.' • A good point that I've never considered. Why use the first serve to deliver a lob?

'I think a Pawn move staking out the center should be preferred to castling. Having said that, White can probably get by with castling on the first move. But if White does not start by castling, Black should definitely not do so as this would put him two tempi behind in staking out a claim in the center.' • Another good point.

So the reasons for not castling outweigh the single reason in favor of it ('It's cool!'). The question 'Where will I castle?' is one of the main considerations in evaluating any chess960 start position and in choosing a first move. Many of the previous posts on this blog, all of them in the category 'Posts with label Castling', deal with first move castling. It might be useful to identify them.

[For another example of me struggling with my own public thoughts, see A Quotable Quote (July 2019). For more on snippets, see How Google’s featured snippets work (support.google.com).]

22 August 2020

Three Sad Stories

I used last month's post, Taking Inventory of Games Played (July 2020), to select some of my own games for further analysis. In that post I wrote,
My third tournament was the preliminary stage of a three stage cup tournament where I finished +6-0=2. In the semifinal stage I finished +1-3=4. Since those three losses were the first on LSS, I'll start with them.

The following chart shows the start position for each game ('SP') and the position at which the King positions have been established, usually after castling. That's the point where a chess960 game starts to resemble a game using the traditional start position (SP518 RNBQKBNR). The code in parentheses (e.g. 'CAI') identifies my opponent (I'm not going to give their names). I had Black in all three games.

(Can be expanded to WIDTH=800)

SP242 (CAI): In this game, 1.O-O-O is possible on the first move, which is what White played. I don't often do this because I like to keep my choice of castling open for as long as possible. The second diagram shows that I eventually castled ...O-O. This is called 'castling into an attack', after which I got crushed.

SP388 (NOV): In this game, both my opponent and I castled at the same time. The Bishop on the b-file is more dangerous than the Bishop on the c-file. White has managed to exchange the dark-squared Bishops, leaving himself with the more dangerous Bishop. The game lasted 40 moves, but White eventually overwhelmed the Black King and Black had no counterplay.

SP953 (KOE): Note the 'RKR' formation on the abc-files. In this game, neither player castled and the second diagram shows the position just after Black has escaped a check by moving the King; White's King didn't move until the endgame. In the diagram, both players have a Knight en prise and the game became tactical. I was outplayed in the complications.

Three games tell three sad stories about my play. In each game I apparently went wrong before 20 moves had been played. Is there anything I can learn here?


Later: After I wrote the post, I discovered a couple of old posts where I had already discussed two of the games:-

That leaves SP242 (CAI) as the main candidate for any further analysis. A deeper look at castling on the first move might be a good angle.


Even later: Re 'That leaves SP242 (CAI) as the main candidate for any further analysis', it looks like I've been there, done that as well:-

There really is nothing new under the sun -- at least for this blog.

15 August 2020

2020 Vision in Biel

What was the biggest chess960 news in July? We saw three reports from three top chess news sources, all dealing with the start of the 2020 Biel tournament, all dated 19 July 2020. I took one excerpt from each report, illustrating three different aspects of the event.

Chess24.com (Colin McGourty) • Harikrishna wins Chess960 as over-the-board chess is back in Biel

Harikrishna won the Chess960 warm-up at the Biel Chess Festival, but the big news is that the 53rd edition of the festival is happening at all. It’s the first top-level international event to take place since the Candidates Tournament was halted midway while Europe went into lock-down. The world is far from back to normal – as Salem Saleh being unable to travel and replaced by Arkadiy Naiditsch testifies – but with plexiglass screens between the players and other measures in place there’s rapid, classical and blitz chess ahead.

Chessbase.com (Carlos Alberto Colodro) • Biel: Naiditsch to replace Salem, Harikrishna wins Chess960 event

Many times it has been suggested for the World Championship matches to play the rapid tiebreakers before the start of the event. The idea is for players to know in advance whether they need to go all-in under given circumstances during the classical games. In Biel, this idea has been implemented, with the added bonus of using a format that has gained a second wind lately -- Chess960.'

Chess.com (Peter Doggers) • Harikrishna Wins Biel Chess960 As Plexiglass Separates Players

Did you notice that all three reports used the name chess960? I wonder why that is.

25 July 2020

Taking Inventory of Games Played

In last month's post, No Quitting Here!, I decided,
According to my records, I played 92 games on Schemingmind, most recently in 2016. I played another 136 games on LSS, where I currently have a half-dozen games underway. With more than 200 games under my belt, I have plenty of examples to choose from -- wins, losses, and draws -- most of which were analyzed fairly deeply while they were being played. All of the LSS games were played with the help of an engine, so I'll start with those. After 12 years of playing chess960, I still don't understand much about its opening theory, making it a logical area to focus on.

So here's the plan: I'll continue to post twice a month. One post will be to keep up with any news; one post will be to learn something about opening theory. Maybe I'll eventually discover how to avoid running into a lost position.

I gathered together all of my LSS games and loaded the PGN header tags into a database. Of the 136 games, four are still in progress. Of the other 132, all were played using a specified start position -- one game as White, one as Black -- against the opponent. My record as White was +36-10=18, as Black, +36-17=11. Those counts don't add up to 66 games, because two opponents defaulted both games before playing a move.

In my first tournament, I finished +8-0=0; in the second, my score was +6-0=2. My third tournament was the preliminary stage of a three stage cup tournament where I finished +6-0=2. In the semifinal stage I finished +1-3=4. Since those three losses were the first on LSS, I'll start with them.

Note that I'm not focusing on losses because of excessive modesty. I generally understand why I won a game. I often don't understand why I lost. Since the objective here is to increase my understanding of chess960, I'll concentrate on the losses. As for the draws, I always play my games until the result is crystal clear. My draws can continue for many moves until the game goes from a probable draw to a theoretical draw like a tablebase position. That makes them less interesting for analysis, but I might recall a few exceptions.

18 July 2020

Posts with Label 'FIDE'

It's always problematic to resume blogging after a vacation and I could have skipped this post using that vacation as an excuse. I'll use it instead to create a new category:-

Many of the most recent posts in the category, like FWFRCC Wrapup (December 2019), were on the subject 'FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship'. The oldest posts, like Who Needs FIDE? (February 2014), were distinctly anti-FIDE. The first post in the category points to a resource on my main blog, Chess960 Rules Formalized by FIDE? (March 2009). Are there other relevant posts on that blog? Maybe I'll save that research for another vacation.

27 June 2020

No Quitting Here!

In last week's post, Chess960 on Playchess.com, I responded to a quote from IM Sagar Shah with:-
Sagar Shah says, 'That's the thing in chess960. If you're not careful you can quickly run into a lost position.'

Since I'm something of a specialist for running into lost chess960 positions, I should document some of my most painful experiences. But which games should I choose? There are so many of them.

If I had any common sense I would stop this chess960 blog here and now. It's been five years to the day since I signalled my first attempt to quit in Whispering a Fond Adieu! (June 2015; 'Bye for now! - Mark'). I managed to stay away for 18 months, then came roaring back with 'Everyone I Know Plays Chess960' (January 2017). The title of that post was a quote from GM Peter Svidler where the complete thought was, 'Everyone I know plays chess960 with great pleasure.' Copy that!

Yes, chess960 continues to be a great pleasure for me. I started playing on correspondence servers in 2008 -- Chess960? I'm Hooked! (September 2008) -- and am still hooked. According to my records, I played 92 games on Schemingmind, most recently in 2016. I played another 136 games on LSS, where I currently have a half-dozen games underway.

With more than 200 games under my belt, I have plenty of examples to choose from -- wins, losses, and draws -- most of which were analyzed fairly deeply while they were being played. All of the LSS games were played with the help of an engine, so I'll start with those. After 12 years of playing chess960, I still don't understand much about its opening theory, making it a logical area to focus on.

So here's the plan: I'll continue to post twice a month. One post will be to keep up with any news; one post will be to learn something about opening theory. Maybe I'll eventually discover how to avoid running into a lost position.

20 June 2020

Chess960 on Playchess.com

After three straight months looking at chess960 videos for the month's kickoff post...

...I was happy to find another streamed video based on commentating an event, this one from ChessBase India.

Big Chess960 event | Live Commentary by IM Sagar Shah | Sponsored by Buddhibal Kreeda Trust (2:17:59) • 'Streamed live on May 23, 2020'

More about the tournament can be found in Fischer Random tournament on 23rd May 2020 on Playchess (chessbase.com; May 2020):-

After the successful online event on Playchess in April the Buddhibal Kreeda Trust (BKT) is back with another tournament. The tournament has a prize fund of 35000 [Indian Rupees] and is a Fischer Random (Chess960) tournament. [...] It will take place [...] in the "Thematic Chess" room on Playchess.com. Entry is FREE for GMs, IMs, WGMs and WIMs.

I was surprised to see this event for a number of reasons. First, the Playchess.com site has been conspicuously absent from the sites holding online chess tournaments during the coronavirus lockdowns. I've been following this development on my main blog, e.g. The Switch to Online Chess, posted a few weeks ago.

Second, I hadn't been aware that Playchess.com offered chess960 games. The online play service is supported by ChessBase, which two years ago came out strongly against chess960. I documented their objections in Purported Problems with Chess960 (April 2018). If their change of heart happened later, I suppose it's another example of 'money talks and nobody walks - they run'. The video description repeated some of the info in the Chessbase.com article and added,

A big Chess960 event [...] has the participation of some of the biggest names in Indian chess - Adhiban, Sethuraman, Karthikeyan, Aravindh Chithambaram, S.L. Narayanan, Praggnanandhaa and many others. IM Sagar Shah will be providing you with live commentary for the event.

At about 13:40 into the clip, Sagar Shah says,

That's the thing in chess960. If you're not careful you can quickly run into a lost position.

Since I'm something of a specialist for running into lost chess960 positions, I should document some of my most painful experiences. But which games should I choose? There are so many of them.

30 May 2020

Seirawan, Nimzovich, and Chess960

In the previous post, Commentating Chess960, I listed two teams of chess960 commentators who handled responsibilities for high level events last year:-
  • Yasser Seirawan, Jennifer Shahade, and Maurice Ashley (in St.Louis)
  • Yasser Seirawan, Daniel Rensch, and Sopiko Guramishvili (in Norway)

The common member of both teams was GM Yasser Seirawan. He is the strongest of the five players, having twice reached the candidate stage of a World Championship cycle: 1985 Candidates Tournament and 1988-90 Candidates Matches. In his prime he was one of the ten best players in the world.

I discussed game two of the Norway event, the FWFRCC final, in the 'Commentating' post. In the video for game three, at around 17:20 into the clip, there was a brief discussion of 'Bad Bishops':-

YS: As Evgenij Ermenkov said, 'How could a Bishop ever be bad?'
DR: I thought Nimzovich said that -- your favorite, Nimzovich.
YS: No, no, he's not my favorite. [Everyone laughing]
DR: Would Nimzovich have been a good Fischer Random player? [Pause; YS thinks] Why don't you write a blog about that on Chess.com? Coming your way soon!
YS: Coming your way soon!

A few years ago, in Three Chess960 Developments to Watch (October 2017), I mused,

I've often thought that Nimzovich would have been a brilliant chess960 player, given his penchant for unusual openings and deep strategical concepts.

I started snooping around Chess.com, hoping to find a blog post by GM Seirawan on Nimzovich and chess960, but came up empty-handed. I found plenty of material by lesser lights explaining why Nimzovich wasn't Seirawan's favorite player, but that's a more suitable subject for my main blog than it is here.

I also took another look at Nimzovich's book 'My System'. Excluding a chapter titled 'The Isolated Queen's Pawn and Its Descendants' (IQP), all 15 chapters of the first two parts are just as relevant to chess960 as they are to chess starting from the traditional initial position. The IQP chapter might also be relevant, although my own experience is that the structure -- which can occur on the d- or e-file -- appears far less frequently in chess960. How many other classic chess textbooks are so relevant to chess960?

23 May 2020

Commentating Chess960

After two posts on the videos from the 2019 Champions Showdown, St. Louis -- Problem Pieces (March 2020), and Spectating Chess960 (April 2020) -- I decided to tackle the videos from the FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship (FWFRCC). The final matches of the FWFRCC were held in Norway a few months after the St. Louis event.

I documented the videos from the Norway event in 2019 FWFRCC Final Live (November 2019). Writing about the St. Louis event in 'Problem Pieces', I noted,

The commentators -- Yasser Seirawan, Jennifer Shahade, and Maurice Ashley -- did a thoroughly professional job explaining the ebb and flow of the games. The chess960 opening is the most challenging phase to explain, so I paid particular attention to the experts during the early moves.

The commentators in Norway were Yasser Seirawan, Daniel Rensch, and Sopiko Guramishvili, and I could have said exactly the same about that team. Two years ago, in Purported Problems with Chess960 (April 2018), I quoted Frederic Friedel of Chessbase saying,

Commenting on a [chess960] game [is like] conducting a guided tour of an art gallery that you are visiting for the first time.

Friedel's remark has been echoed in other settings, using other similes, as an argument against chess960. It's high time to add it to Top 10 Myths About Chess960 (May 2012).

For some reason, a video for game one is missing for the 'FWFRCC Final Live', so I started with game two. The commentators concentrated on the game Wesley So vs. Magnus Carlsen, ignoring the other game, Nepomniachtchi vs. Caruana. They can be excused for doing that because the So - Carlsen duel evolved into a gripping tactical battle, where So sacrificed a Rook for an attack that eventually settled into a better endgame. It was as dramatic as a chess game can be.

The commentators worked their way through the tactics without the aid of an engine, just like the players were doing. They also handled the opening without the assistance of an opening database. I've often said that opening databases aren't really useful in chess960, although I imagine that might change as the number of recorded games between world class players increases.

Kudos to the three commentators, five if you include the St. Louis event. Chess960, aka Fischer Random, is in the hands of capable guides. We're not talking about art galleries here, we're talking about intellectual struggles at the highest level.

25 April 2020

FIDE FRC Minutes

In yesterday's post on my main blog, Minutes of the 90th FIDE Congress, I predicted,
The following chart extracts the table of contents (TOC) from the two documents. [CHART] That chart will serve as a reference for a couple of posts on my other chess-related blogs.

It might be a surprise to many that chess960 played a non-trivial role in the minutes, giving me plenty of material for this Chess960 (FRC) blog. A few months ago I reported on the FWFRCC Manifesto (February 2020; 'FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship'):-

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'.

Now we have the minutes of that 'extraordinary' event. First, the General Assembly:-

90th FIDE Congress; FIDE Extraordinary General Assembly; Abu Dhabi, UAE; 28th February 2020; MINUTES • 1. FIDE President address [...] Mr. Dvorkovich said we also had the pilot project for the Fisher [ugh!] Random Championship, which last year was a mixed experience. We tried to show that we want to use new formats. The first stage of this championship was completely open to everyone in the world, even to amateur players. Now we are learning from the experience of this pilot project. It is important that we should start rating the Fisher [double ugh!] Random Championship.

Ignoring the two references to 'Fisher' -- while at the same time providing another reason why 'chess960' is a better name than 'Fischerrandom' etc. -- that is an 'extraordinary' vote of confidence from the world's top chess official. The discussion continued the next day at a more selective meeting.

90th FIDE Congress; FIDE Executive Board; Abu Dhabi, UAE; 29th February 2020; MINUTES • 8. Miscellaneous [...] 'Mr. Dvorkovich focused on the Fischer Random Chess Tournaments, which consisted of two phases: online (where everyone was eligible to participate) and in presence (with top players). He said that actually more players were expected to participate to the online phase, which means that there was not enough promotional activity for the event. He expressed his optimism about the possibility to learn from this experience and improve the work related to the organization of this event.

It is also necessary to identify the form for the rating system of this competitions, both online and in presence. In this context several suggestions were received. Another issue to deal with is represented by the anti-cheating measures that should be applied to these championships. Mr. Dvorkovich added that the next Fischer Random Chess Tournaments will be held in 2021.

FIDE activities regarding the organization of Fischer Random Chess Tournaments were approved.

Mr. [Nigel] Short said that the rating for the Fischer Random Chess Tournaments was discussed also during the Congress in Batumi. He believed it is an urgent issue, since ratings are a very important part in motivating the players.'

I covered the initial discussion about ratings last year in FIDE Chess960 Ratings (January 2019). As for the statement that 'the next [FIDE] Fischer Random Chess tournaments will be held in 2021', the year 2022 will see a new FIDE election. Will FIDE's support for FRC continue if Dvorkovich is not re-elected?

18 April 2020

Spectating Chess960

After the previous post on Problem Pieces (March 2020), I went back to the same video for Day 1 of the 2019 Champions Showdown Live (October 2019), and continued watching. I was hoping to find more nuggets of general advice similar to 'Problem Pieces', but the commentators were instead focused on the tactics specific to the game they were following.

The format of round one (Day 1) through round three (Day 3) was two rapid games followed by two blitz games, all games in each round having the same start position (SP). Even though I've been playing chess960 since 2008, I was impressed by how entertaining the Showdown games were. There was no explanation of the subtleties of the Najdorf Variation through move 15, no referring to a database of previous games to discover where the first original move was played. There were just some of the top chess players on the planet slugging it out from the first move in positions that have never been explored.

After watching Day 1, I skipped ahead to Day 4 where a different format was used. One SP was selected for four blitz games, followed by another SP for four more games, making eight games total for the day.

The results of the four matches for the first three rounds are shown in the following chart. The rapid games counted for two points, while the blitz games counted for one point. That meant each round had been worth a total of six points. The eight blitz games in Day 4 would be worth eight more points.

The chart shows that two of the matches were effectively decided, one was close to decided, and the fourth was a real tussle. GM Nakamura had come back from a 5-1 drubbing on the first day to trail GM Aronian by a single point. The commentators naturally focused on the Aronian - Nakamura match. The Caruana - Kasparov match had been the focus of attention in the previous rounds.

Day 4 started with a curiosity. The first start position (SP784 BBRQKNRN) was the twin of the position on Day 3 (SP175 NRNKQRBB). This meant that the initial piece development for SP784 repeated the considerations for SP175. The SPs would differentiate at the time of castling. • NB: After choosing the Day 4 position, TD Tony Rich called it 'SP779'. He was using the Chessgames.com Random Position Generator, which does not follow the standard numbering.

Before writing this post I hoped to gain additional insight into chess960 opening strategy, aka meta-theory. Instead I gained an appreciation for chess960 as a spectator. In Commentating the Opening in London (March 2013), I surmised,

This is exactly the attraction of Fischer's greatest invention. Everyone -- whether player or commentator or spectator -- is looking at the position for the first time ever, applying their own knowledge of chess to tackle a completely new chess position. Chess might not be a great spectator sport, but chess960 might well be.

Looks I got it right that time.

28 March 2020

Epaulette Mate

Here's an interesting idea found on Chess.com in a forum thread titled Chess960 Fool's Mate Variation. In the following diagram it's checkmate after 1.e4 b5 2.Qxb5# .


The thread eventually determines that there are two such RKR***** positions (plus two more *****RKR mirrors). Why two? The Queen must be on the f-file and a Bishop must be on the d-file, because a Knight on that file can block the Queen check. That leaves three squares still to be occupied. The other Bishop must be on the e- or g-file, leaving the last two squares for the Knights.

The thread doesn't discuss the related positions *RKR**Q* and **RKR**Q. In fact, these can't lead to the same mate, because the two Bishops must be next to the Rooks, which places them on the same color square.

All 960 start positions are subject to some sequence of moves -- similar to a 'helpmate' problem -- that leads to the shortest mate for that position. Which positions require the most moves?

21 March 2020

Problem Pieces

A few months ago, in 2019 Champions Showdown Live (October 2019), after linking to a number of videos from the 2019 Champions Showdown, St. Louis, I closed with a question:-
How am I ever going to find the time to watch all of this?

Today I decided to use this post to start the viewing, but first I stopped in to watch round four of the 2020 Candidates Tournament; Yekaterinburg (Russia). I hadn't been able to see the first three rounds and the fourth day was a rest day. Traditional chess is alive and well! The four games were so interesting that I spent most of my free time following the action. After three draws and another draw looming, I finally switched over to the video for a round from St. Louis:-

Streamed live on Sep 2, 2019; 2019 Champions Showdown | Chess 9LX: Day 1

Since chess is primarily a competitive activity, watching a game is more exciting when you don't know the outcome, but it's still interesting. The commentators -- Yasser Seirawan, Jennifer Shahade, and Maurice Ashley -- did a thoroughly professional job explaining the ebb and flow of the games. The chess960 opening is the most challenging phase to explain, so I paid particular attention to the experts during the early moves.


The diagram shows the start position for the first two rounds, i.e. eight games. At 18:50 into the video GM Seirawan said,

When you look at a chess960 position for the first time, you identify which pieces are problem pieces. I would identify Nh1 and Bg1. Which Pawn is the most vulnerable? Most likely the a2 & a7 Pawns [since they] are the only ones that aren't protected. Those will be the Pawns that the players first begin to attack.

I would have identified Na1 and Nh1 as the problem pieces. In fact, any piece starting in the corner, except a Rook, presents a problem. As for the Bg1, it is set to attack Pa7, making it more of an asset than a problem. But I won't quibble with the GM; his methodology is what counts.

P.S. Can we call SP366 the Leap Year position?

29 February 2020

Posts with Label 'News'

Is it "Today's news is tomorrow's history" -or- is it "Yesterday's news is today's history"? Whatever it is, after creating the category for Posts with Label 'History' (December 2010), I used it for both news and history, eventually accumulating exactly 100 posts.

Ten years ago, the number of history posts was greater than the number of news posts, but today those relative numbers are switched. To account for this, I created a new category Posts with label 'News' and moved 47 posts into it. The oldest post is Rare Bird Sightings (August 2010), and the newest is last week's post FWFRCC Manifesto (February 2020).

Let's hope that the year 2020 brings more news about Fischer's greatest invention. Let's also hope that it's good news. Contrary to the popular saying, no news isn't always good news.

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.


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.