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.