25 December 2021

The CCRL Is Unreliable (Not!)

I currently have 21 posts in the category Showing posts with label CCRL. One of those posts lists six early posts from my main blog making a total of 26 posts (21-1+6) for that label. Only one of those posts was written in the five years since I restarted this chess960 blog, indicating that the CCRL (see the right navigation bar for a link) has declined in importance for me. In recent years I rarely consulted it for opening advice.

This month I started a new eight-game (four different start positions) event and decided to take another look at the CCRL data. One of the games, SP777 QRKBBNRN, is pictured below.


For the game where I had white, I chose 1.Nhg3 as the first move, and the game continued...

1.Nhg3 [x89] b5 [x2] 2.e4 [x12]

...reaching the position in the diagram. The numbers in brackets ('[]') are the number of games in the CCRL file for SP777, out of 378 games total. After Black's first move, only two CCRL games remained, but the number increased after White's second move, thanks to a simple transposition of White's first and second moves.

The first block of text in the image, statistics calculated by SCID, shows Black's moves after 2.e4. The numbers are terrible for White -- in the 12 games, White scored only 25%. When I first saw the stats, I told myself, 'This line is unplayable!', but couldn't see any other reason why it shouldn't be played. It's the most logical move in the position.

The second block of text shows some basic info about the 12 games, listed in chronological order. The last two columns are the most interesting. The WLD scores total +2-8=2 (25%), but the last column shows the 'Length' (number of moves) for each game. Of the 12 games, only four lasted longer than 15 moves.

The first game, Hiarcs - Movei (played 2006), ended '1-0' after Black's 6th move, when the opponent's are still developing their forces. The last game, Stockfish - Dragon (played this year), ended after White's 15th move with the comment 'Black wins by adjudication', although the position is at best unclear.

My conclusion? The CCRL statistics are completely misleading and can't be relied on. My own SP777 game hasn't yet reached the 10th move, so I can't say anything else, because it's still in progress.


Later: Re 'Of the 12 games, only four lasted longer than 15 moves', after I wrote the post, I realized I had made a serious error. SCID doesn't know anything about chess960. When it encounters an illegal move, it stops processing the game. For chess960 games, most castling moves look like errors, so SCID stops. Thus the low move counts.

For the first three games in my list, the real plycounts were 99, 511, and 122, where the number of 'moves' in the game (more accurately called 'move pairs', i.e. a move for White plus a move for Black) would be half that. This reminded me of an equally serious error I made on my main blog in the first few months of chess960 blogging, when I miscalculated CCRL statistics:-

My conclusion now? (1) I'm the one that's unreliable, not the CCRL; (2) I shouldn't blog on Christmas day, the date of this post; (3) I should be careful when I find a simple answer to a complicated question.

Re the original observation, 'The numbers are terrible for White -- in the 12 games, White scored only 25%', I'll have to look at it again. The game that provoked the analysis has reached the 17th move, so it is still too early to comment.

18 December 2021

Chess940 in 'Chess Life'

Chess960 finally makes the cover (sort of) of a major chess magazine and what happens? They spell it wrong!

I knew this was going to happen. It was just a question of time. Not everyone is comfortable with Roman numerals, and of those who are, not everyone knows what 'L' stands for.

I already flagged one example in 2020 Champions Showdown, Lichess (September 2020), from the well-respected Leonard Barden of The Guardian. If the dean of chess journalism can blunder like this, anyone can.

What am I talking about? The built-in confusion between 9LX and 9XL, of course. The image above is from the table of contents (TOC) of the December 2021 Chess Life (CL). The small print says,

[Page 36] COVER STORY • MY AMERICAN TOUR • GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave [MVL] on his victory at the 2021 Sinquefield Cup and his tie for second place at the 9XL Showdown.

That text was repeated in the introduction to the ten page article, making it a double blunder. To make matters worse, '9XL' sounds like a fast food menu item -- 'I'll have one no.9, Xtra Large, hold the mayo.'

I suppose I should stop waving my arms around and just be happy that chess960, aka FRC, aka 9LX, etc. etc., featured in two full pages of the MVL article. Earlier this year I covered the '9XL Showdown' event in two posts:-

There was one encouraging development in the MVL article. In that second post, 'Live', I noted,

Just as they did for past events, the 9LX organizers used a non-standard numbering system to identify the start positions (SPs).

This was fixed in the MVL article, where he discussed three of his chess960 games, vs. GMs Mamedyarov, Caruana, and Nakamura. MVL wrote,

At the Showdown, the players were given 15 minutes before the rounds to analyze the new starting positions with each other. I often looked at variations with Levon Aronian and Fabiano Caruana. To be completely honest, this kind of preparation is often just blindly groping around, but sometimes you find one or two ideas that work.

The Frenchman, currently rated world no.12, once posted a piece on his blog My Chess960 Debut (mvlchess.com), which was at the 2018 Champions Showdown at St.Louis. I covered the event on this blog in Champions Showdown, St.Louis (September 2018). In his blog post, MVL observed,

The idea of "confining" players, without computer access, one hour before the games, was very interesting. In this friendly atmosphere, allowing the players to get acquainted with the position and analyse together, generally by pairs, was worthwhile. [...] Analysis of a brand new position was clearly adding some spice to our daily routine. First of all, by depriving us of the morning prep burden... But also because we rediscovered the pure analytic work, as it was done by the Ancients, before the computer era!

It's been alomost two years since I last mentioned a CL article on this blog; see An Alternative to a 'Boring, Mind-Draining Process' (January 2020). Let's hope the next opportunity won't take another two years.

27 November 2021

The Engine Iceberg Looms Larger

Last week's post, An Engine Iceberg (November 2021), looked at runtime data from 'TCEC C960 FRC3', which I covered on this blog in March 2021. I wrote,
Since the data covers only the first move of 25 SPs (50 games) out of the full set of 960 SPs, it's obviously just scratching the surface. Suppose we had data for the first few moves of all 960 SPs from many different engines played over a long period of time. What might we learn from this?

For this current post I repeated the exercise on the final match of the CCC C960 Blitz Championship (October 2021). I wrote,

In the final match Stockfish beat Dragon +10-1=589. Yes, more than 98% of the final games were drawn.

I loaded the PGN for all 600 games into my database and ran a preliminary analysis. There were two small surprises.

The first surprise was that the data for individual moves was not the same for both the TCEC and the CCC. Here are examples for the first move of the first game in both events.

TCEC: 1. e4 {d=36, sd=36, mt=147236, tl=1657764, s=81363821, n=11979602252, pv=e4 Nb6 Nb3 e5 g3 g6 Ne3 c6 f4 exf4 gxf4 f5 exf5 gxf5 Bf2 Qf6 c3 Nd5 Bc2 Nxe3 Qg1 Ne6 Bxe3 Bc7 O-O-O O-O-O Nd4 Bf7 Rf1 Bh5 Rde1 Nxd4 Bxd4 Qf7 b3 Be2 Rf2 Bg4 Kb2 Rxe1 Qxe1 Rg8 Qf1 Bb6 Bxb6, tb=0, h=99.9, ph=0.0, wv=0.26, R50=50, Rd=-11, Rr=-1000, mb=+0+0+0+0+0,}

CCC: 1. d4 {+0.45/32 9.6s, ev=0.45, d=32, pd=g6, mt=00:00:09, tl=00:04:55, s=148396 kN/s, n=1415409674, pv=d4 g6 e3 d5 g4 c6 c4 dxc4 f4 g5 fxg5 Na6 Nf2 e5 Bxc4 Nb4 Na3 exd4 Qf3 Be7 exd4 Qxd4 O-O O-O Bb3 Ne6 h4 Qg7 Be3 Nd5 Ne4 Nxe3 Qxe3 h6 Nc4 hxg5 Ncd6, tb=0, R50=50, wv=0.45}

Fortunately, the important 'wv' and 'pv' fields are available for both events. Any other fields I decide to use might require some sort of conversion.

The second surprise was that the CCC start positions (SPs) were not repeated for a second game, colors switched, between the engines. Instead, a new SP was assigned to each game. The left table in the following chart shows that some SPs were nevertheless repeated up to five times.

In addition to the six SPs shown in the table, 24 SPs were repeated three times and 90 were repeated twice. I assume that the SPs are chosen randomly for both the TCEC and the CCC, perhaps with the exception of SP518 RNBQKBNR, but I know from past investigations that several bad algorithms are in use elsewhere; see Start by Placing the Bishops (September 2017) for examples.

The center table in the chart shows the number of times a certain first move was chosen across all 600 games. For example, the initial moves 1.a4 and 1.b3 were both chosen 19 times. Just as in SP518, advancing a center Pawn two squares (1.c4, 1.d4, ...) is the most popular opening strategy. Although any single SP has a maximum of four initial Knight moves, sometimes only two or three moves, all eight moves are possible across the 960 SPs.

There are a number of questions for further exploration. When is the advance of an edge Pawn -- 19 x 1.a4 or 5 x 1.h4 -- desirable? I suspect these are position where the Queen starts in the corner behind the Pawn. Why the large difference between the counts on the two edge Pawns? Perhaps this is because of castling O-O/O-O-O considerations. Also worth noting is that O-O/O-O-O was never chosen for the first move.

The rightmost table in the chart gives a rough distribution of initial 'wv' values, i.e. what value did the engine calculate for its first move? These are truncated values, e.g. the CCC 'wv=0.45' shown above is counted in the table as 'wv=0.4'. I could have used roundoff and a bar chart to display the counts more accurately, but I ran out of time.

One big question presents itself here. Why are there so many 'wv' greater than 0.5, but so few decisive results during the match? I also need to determine if Stockfish and Dragon calculate values in the same statistical range. I doubt that they do.

The three tables in that chart lead to many questions and few answers. I'll take this up again some other time.

20 November 2021

An Engine Iceberg

In the previous post, CCC C960 Blitz Championship (October 2021), I wrote,
Given that engines' evaluations for every move are available in the event's PGN game scores, perhaps there is something to be learned about the 960 different start positions. That investigation would make a good follow-up post.

Make that two good follow-up posts. The first post was on my main blog, Evaluating the Evaluations (November 2021), where I concluded,

Now that I have a tool for rapidly evaluating the engine evaluations, what can I do with it? The first task will be to put it to work on the 960 start positions used in chess960.

The second post is this one. I had already downloaded a few PGN files from recent engine vs. engine events, so the first question was which one to use. I decided to continue with the games from an event that I covered earlier this year in another post on this blog, TCEC C960 FRC3 (March 2021). At that time I noted,

Except for an occasional CCRL game, I can't remember ever looking at an engine vs. engine chess960 game. Is there anything to be learned from such an exercise, or is the play of the engines beyond comprehension?

TCEC FRC3 was a 50 game match won by KomodoDragon over Stockfish on a final score of +2-1=47. The seven mandatory tags in the PGN header for the first game look like this:-

[Event "TCEC Season 20 - FRC3 Final"]
[Site "https://tcec-chess.com"]
[Date "2021.03.14"]
[Round "1.1"]
[White "KomodoDragon 2671.00"]
[Black "Stockfish 20210226"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]

I loaded the file into my database, added the concept of SP, and produced the following chart. It covers the first 22 games of the match. Each start position (SP) was played twice, where KomodoDragon always had White in odd-numbered games. In a match between humans, this pattern would risk giving an advantage to one of the players, but in games between engines, it's harmless.

The last two columns show the first move, as chosen by White, and the value ('wv') calculated by the engine for that move. I could have also shown the principal variation ('pv') calculated by White, but that wouldn't add much to an initial understanding of the data. The same data is available from the PGN file for all moves by both sides in a game.

Since the data covers only the first move of 25 SPs (50 games) out of the full set of 960 SPs, it's obviously just scratching the surface. Suppose we had data for the first few moves of all 960 SPs from many different engines played over a long period of time. What might we learn from this? I would want an answer to that question before spending too much effort collecting more data.

30 October 2021

CCC C960 Blitz Championship

There's one more idea left from the recent post, Crossover Ideas from my Main Blog (October 2021):-
Review the recent CCC chess960 tournament • The semifinal finishes this weekend. Can we expect a final? Short answer: Probably.

Change that 'Probably' to 'Yes'. In the most recent post in the ongoing TCEC/CCC engine saga, TCEC Cup 9, CCC C960 Blitz Final : Both Underway (October 2021), I continued,

In the 'Chess960 Blitz Semifinals', Stockfish finished a point ahead of Dragon as both engines qualified for the final match. Only one game of their 40-game [semifinal] minimatch was decisive, with Stockfish winning. Lc0 lost three games to each of the two engines, winning none. The other three engines were far behind.

In the final match Stockfish beat Dragon +10-1=589. Yes, more than 98% of the final games were drawn. Earlier this year, in TCEC C960 FRC3 (March 2021), I reported,

In the 'FRC 3' final, KomodoDragon beat Stockfish by a score of +2-1=47. A 94% draw rate echoes the sort of result we expect from a traditional chess match (SP518 RNBQKBNR) between engines.

Note that the CCC's Dragon and the TCEC's KomodoDragon are the same engine. It's also worth noting that Stockfish switched to NNUE evaluation last year, while Dragon is also an NNUE engine, as I noted a year ago on my main blog in Komodo NNUE (November 2020). Is the high percentage of draws because they both use the same technology for evaluating positions?

The following chart shows the result of the CCC semifinal round. Stockfish and Dragon finished 1st and 2nd, ahead of 3rd place Lc0 and three other engines. I know the black background makes the chart hard to read, but the individual game results, especially the losses in red, are clearly discernible.

Stockfish didn't lose a single game during the event, while Dragon lost only one game, to Stockfish. As mentioned above, both engines beat Lc0 three times, which itself lost only a single game to the three engines in the bottom half of the crosstable. The bottom half is a sea of red.

Given that engines' evaluations for every move are available in the event's PGN game scores, perhaps there is something to be learned about the 960 different start positions. That investigation would make a good follow-up post.

23 October 2021

GM Carlsen's Online Chess960

Continuing with last week's post, Crossover Ideas from my Main Blog (October 2021), the second idea was to 'Review Carlsen's chess960 activity':-
So far I've identified two chess960 events for the [Carlsen] TMER. Were there others? Short answer: Yes.

The TMER is Magnus Carlsen's Tournament, Match, and Exhibition Record (2000-), currently up-to-date only through summer 2018. The two chess960 events were tournaments played on Lichess:-

GM Carlsen played using the handle DrNykterstein (lichess.org). From there we find three more events. The first was another 'Titled Arena' tournament, although he played only five games:-

The others ('Fischersjakk'!) were restricted events: 'Must be in team Offerspill Sjakklubb':-

Although the Lichess events are missing, the TMER records three other chess960 events, the last two currently marked 'In preparation':-

2018-02 Fischer Random Rapid/Blitz 2018; Baerum NOR
2019-10 World Fischer Random 2019; Hovikodden NOR
2020-09 Champ Showdown 9LX 2020; Lichess.org INT

All three have been covered on this blog. The last two 'In prep' events were:-

The 'Champions Showdown' is worth special mention because it was played on Lichess, but doesn't show up on the DrNykterstein account. If we follow a page for the three day event...

...we see that Carlsen played on the account of STL_Carlsen (lichess.org). The other players in the elite event also played under 'STL' (St.Louis) names. Before playing on Lichess as DrNykterstein, GM Carlsen had another account, DrDrunkenstein (lichess.org). There are no chess960 games recorded on that account.

16 October 2021

Crossover Ideas from my Main Blog

Since this is a month with five Saturdays, I get three opportunities for a chess960 post. By coincidence, I have exactly three ideas for those posts.

1) Add CFAA posts to the download tag

A few months ago I created New Label 'Download' (August 2021), to keep track of posts with a download, most likely a PGN file. Before starting this blog I used my main blog 'Chess for All Ages' to write about chess960. Were there any posts on that blog to add to the 'Download' label? Short answer: No.

2) Review Carlsen's chess960 activity

Again referring to my main blog, I've been building a reference for World Champion Magnus Carlsen's playing record over the past three years. The most recent post was Carlsen's TMER 2019-21, 'Online = Y' (October 2021), where TMER stands for 'Tournament, Match, and Exhibition Record'.

So far I've identified two chess960 events for the TMER. Were there others? Short answer: Yes. A post on this blog, Carlsen Wins Lichess Again (March 2019), discussed one chess960 event and pointed to a previous event, neither of which is listed on the TMER. While researching those two events, I discovered a third. This needs more work.

3) Review the recent CCC chess960 tournament

Another recent post on my main blog, TCEC Testing Cup 9; CCC C960 Blitz Semifinal (October 2021), refers to Chess.com's ongoing 'Computer Chess Championship' (CCC), where the latest event is the 'Chess960 Blitz Championship'. The semifinal finishes this weekend. Can we expect a final? Short answer: Probably.

I'll come back to Carlsen's chess960 activity and the CCC chess960 tournament in the next two posts scheduled for this month. I expect both of those posts will lead to new ideas. That's life in the chess960 blogosphere!

25 September 2021

2021 Champions Showdown, Live

At the end of last week's post, 2021 Champions Showdown, St. Louis (September 2021), I finished with a promise:-
I'll continue the report on the 2021 event in a follow-up 'Live' post.

The Saint Louis Chess Club has videos for all three days, three rounds per day. Here's the video for the first three rounds.

2021 Champions Showdown | Chess 9LX: Day 1 (4:10:36) • 'Streamed live on Sep 8, 2021'

The description informs,

The world’s top grandmasters battle from September 8-10 in a Fischer random chess round robin. It's Chess960: see what happens when bank-rank pieces are scrambled and opening theory is obliterated! Join GMs Alejandro Ramirez and Maurice Ashley for the move-by-move.

Here are the links for all three days, including the first day, embedded above. '2021 Champions Showdown, Chess 9LX, streamed live on':-

Just as they did for past events, the 9LX organizers used a non-standard numbering system to identify the start positions (SPs). See this page to convert to standard numbering: Chess960 Start Position Converter for Chessgames.com (m-w.com). Here are the nine SPs from the event (using standard numbering):-


The PGN game scores were distributed with TWIC 1401. I've extracted them to m-w.com/c960/blog, hoping that some day I'll actually be able to play through them.

18 September 2021

2021 Champions Showdown, St. Louis

Remember chess 9LX™? That's the Saint Louis Chess Club’s name for chess960 so they can slap 'TM' on everything, as in Rex™ Sinquefield™, NIH™. Joking aside, the club has become one of the most ardent supporters of Fischer's greatest invention.

Last year we saw the second edition of the club's signature C960 / FRC / 9LX event hosted at an online venue because of the covid pandemic. I covered it in two posts: 2020 Champions Showdown, Lichess (September 2020) and 2020 Champions Showdown Live (ditto). This year the event returned to 9LX's spiritual home in St. Louis.

The official home page for the event appears to be 2021 Champions Showdown: Chess 9LX (uschesschamps.com). That's where we find the crosstable shown below.

A striking aspect of that chart is that the two players who finished last, GMs Nakamura and Svidler, were both World Champions at 960's first spiritual home in Mainz. See, for example, Chess960 World Championships (January 2009) on my main blog, and No Place for Chess960 (February 2011) on this blog. I'll continue the report on the 2021 event in a follow-up 'Live' post.

28 August 2021

New Label 'Download'

Last week's post, TWIC's Chess960 Data 2017-21 (August 2021), mentioned four chess960 events covered by TWIC. It turns out that I covered all four in posts on this blog:-

Of those four events, I provided PGN game scores for only one, the 2018 Carlsen - Nakamura match. TWIC provided PGN for all four. In addition to that, I've provided PGN for other events; ditto for TWIC. To help identify any overlap, I created a new category to catalog my posts having a related PGN file: Showing posts with label Download.

If I take the time to identify editions of TWIC that had chess960 PGN files, I'll be able to catalog the overlap. Watch this space.

21 August 2021

TWIC's Chess960 Data 2017-21

On my main blog I've been using TWIC data (from 'The Week in Chess' by Mark Crowther) to catch up with Magnus Carlsen's record after his last World Championship match. In a recent post, Carlsen's Events 2019-21 (August 2021), I wrote,
[Carlsen's] games were spread across 77 different events, of which 34 were played face-to-face and 43 online.

In that post, plus the next in the series, Carlsen's Online Events 2019-21 (August 2021), I discovered that TWIC had distributed Carlsen's chess960 games from two events:-

(Face-to-face) World Fischer Random 2019; 14; 2019.10.27; Hovikodden NOR
(Online) Champ Showdown 9LX 2020; 9; 2020.09.11; lichess.org INT

The number after the name of the event -- 14 in the first line -- is the number of games that GM Carlsen played in the event. I'm mentioning all of this mainly because Crowther is on record as being firmly in the influential camp whose mantra is 'Chess960 isn't for me!'. See, for example, The Week in Chess960 (December 2013), where I quoted him saying,

If [chess960] is the answer then it's time to take up a completely different game.

If I had been paying closer attention, I would have noticed that Crowther had already distributed Carlsen's chess960 games even earlier. See Carlsen's PGN 2017-18 (October 2018), where we find an entry for 'Fischer Random Rapid/Blitz 2018; Baerum [Norway]'.

Although I discovered the Crowther/chess960 connection by researching Carlsen's games, TWIC has also distributed the games for events where Carlsen did not participate. An example is Champions Showdown 9LX 2019 (theweekinchess.com; September 2019).

It's unusual for high-profile, anti-chess960 personalities to change their minds. Unusual, yes, impossible, no.

31 July 2021

Chess960 1-2-3, New Update

While preparing my previous post, Don't Neglect the Corner Queen (July 2021), I needed to locate on older post on the corner Queen. Although I had a couple of ways to do that, I found it quickly using the page Chess960 1-2-3 : Index to Blog Posts.

I haven't updated that index since Chess960 1-2-3, April 2015 (April 2015), and decided it might be useful to bring the resource entirely up to date. After cataloging the posts since April 2015, I counted 120 of them. That's too many items to treat in a single session, so I'll add them to the index as time permits.

24 July 2021

Don't Neglect the Corner Queen

A few years ago I wrote a post Activating the Corner Queen (September 2013; SP180 NBBRNKRQ), where I concluded,
Black was always in command and eventually won. The early activation of Black's Queen was the deciding factor.

I was reminded of that post in a pair of games that I recently played at the same time and that both ended disastrously for my opponents. I was White in both games.

The position at the top is from a game that started with SP201 QNRBBKNR. Black played the inconsistent sequence 9...Qa7, followed immediately by 10...b6. This left the Black Queen out of play just as much as in the start position. I played 5.b4 and 6.Qb2, followed later by 17.Qd2, where the Queen joined an attack building against the Black King. The diagrammed position, where Black resigned, shows all White pieces participating in the attack.

The position at the bottom is from a game that started with SP495 QRNKNRBB. Black's Queen never moved and Black made no effort to develop it by moving either of the Pawns that blocked it. I played 1.b4, activating the Queen on the first move. Although the Queen didn't jump into the game until 19.Qg7, setting up a killer mating net, it participated in the tactics throughout.

In the traditional start position (SP518 RNBQKBNR), the Queen is well placed to enter the game as circumstances dictate -- via either of two diagonals, up the file (often to the second rank), or occasionally sliding along the back rank. When the Queen starts in the corner, it is badly placed and requires special attention.

In both diagrammed games, White was virtually playing with an extra Queen, a significant advantage for any player. It can't have been pleasant for either of the opponents.

26 June 2021

People Also Ask About Chess960

Last week's post on this blog, An Underused Resource (June 2021), led to a post on my main blog, Key Moments in Video (ditto), where I looked at a recent development in Google Search. This week's post is about another, older feature in Google Search.

A simple search on 'chess960' yields a list of about four questions which result in additional questions -- apparently unlimited in number -- after expanding any of the original questions. Shown here is the list for chess960.

And here is the same list using numbered bullets:-

    People also ask:-
  1. Why is Chess960 not popular?
  2. Why is it called Chess 960?
  3. Is Chess960 better than chess?
  4. Is Chess960 the future of chess?
  5. How do I get good at Chess960?
  6. How popular is Chess960?
  7. How many positions are there in Chess960?
  8. Will chess ever be solved?
  9. Is castling a real chess move?
  10. Is it good to play Chess960?
  11. Do people play chess 960?

The two questions about popularity (no.1 and no.6) link to further resources, and I imagine that most (all?) of the other questions also lead to other resources. Some of the questions are about fact (no.2 and no.7), others are opinion (no.3 and no.4; I say 'Yes!', but I'm obviously biased).

One curiosity is that almost all references to chess960 use the uppercase form, 'Chess960'. Almost no one does this for 'chess'. Here's a similar list for a search on 'fischer random chess':-

    People also ask
  1. How do you play Fischer Random Chess?
  2. Can you Castle in Fischer Random Chess?
  3. What does Fischer mean in chess?
  4. Why is it called Chess 960?
  5. Who is the greatest chess player of all time?
  6. What does FF mean in chess?
  7. Can a rook be called a castle?
  8. Can pawns move backwards?
  9. How many times can we check in chess?
  10. Why is Chess960 not popular?

Question no.6 had me stumped, so I expanded it. 'FF' apparently means,

A fairy chess piece, variant chess piece, unorthodox chess piece, or heterodox chess piece is a chess piece not used in conventional chess but incorporated into certain chess variants and some chess problems.

What does that have to do with chess960? We may never know. When I get a chance, I'll take a closer look at Google's 'People also ask' feature on my main blog.

19 June 2021

An Underused Resource

For many reasons, we don't see too many instructive videos about chess960 -- small expert base, difficult thinking process, small subscriber base -- so any time a good video comes along it's worth featuring. This clip, from Youtube channel 'Chess on the Brain with NM David Bennett', does a good job of instructing.

Chess strategy explained with Fischer Random on lichess.org (3:53:56) • 'Streamed live on Sep 28, 2020'

The description says,

No opening theory, just pure chess strategy & tactics with Chess 960 / Fischer Random Chess. I aim to provide as lucid / honest an explanation as possible of my thinking process and the ideas behind the moves rather than just streaming live games.

The games were played at time control '3+3' (three minutes per game plus three seconds per move). NM Bennett spends much of the three minutes explaining the first moves, then gets into time pressure, then plays quickly to avoid time forfeit. All in all it's good entertainment and debunks the frequent criticism -- dare we call it a myth?-- that chess960 is too esoteric for expert commentary.

There is more chess960 material on the same channel, including some videos in Spanish. None of it has as high a view count as it merits.


A second reason for featuring this video is that it popped up on Google search with the following annotation.

I had never seen 'key moments in this video' before and will take a closer look on my main blog. The 'key moments' here aren't really key; I would prefer the start times of each of the live games, but I'm not sure it's possible to do that.

29 May 2021

Chessgames.com Converter Cleanup

In last month's post, Chessgames.com Start Position XREF (April 2021), I created a Chessgames.com SP Converter and finished with an action:-
My cross-reference is crude and lacks the HTML tags that make a proper web page. I'll improve it as soon as I can and, at the same time, integrate it into my other chess960 resources.

While doing that I renamed the page 'Chess960 Start Position Converter for Chessgames.com'. As for integrating it into other chess960 resources, how much attention should be given to a resource that is fundamentally misleading? I decided that only the minimum is necessary.

This is a good time for a general reminder that although a chess960 start position has eight pieces, only five pieces are necessary to determine the new position. After placing the Queen, Bishops, and Knights (NB: Bishops first!), the position Rook-King-Rook is automatically determined.

22 May 2021

Updated Database of SPs (2021-05)

According to the previous post in the category, Updated Database of SPs (2015-06), it's been nearly six years since I last updated my database that cross references posts to start positions (SPs; see posts from the years 2000-2002). Even after such a long time, I had slightly more than 20 references to add. That's mainly a comment on how little analysis there is on this blog.

I suppose I can do better than that, but there are so many other chess960 angles to explore. At two posts a month, how much ground can I reasonably cover?

24 April 2021

Chessgames.com Start Position XREF

In last week's post, SP864, Reddit, Chessgames.com (April 2021), I wrote,
Chessgames.com: I [...] discovered that the book was structured as an introduction to chess960 from several angles. Unfortunately, it had a big problem. The start positions used Chessgames.com numbering which is non-standard.

I also said,

I've mentioned the Chessgames.com pitfall many times on this blog, but the problem needs a more permanent warning.

To make progress, I created a cross-reference (aka XREF) between standard start position (SP) numbers and Chessgames.com numbers. I uploaded the cross-reference to my own site as a new page:-

I tested the cross-reference on a discrepancy documented in a previous post, Champions Showdown, St. Louis (September 2018), where I wrote,

I noticed one anomaly that I don't understand. The official site's 'Results' page noted the start positions and their numbers for each round, but the numbers don't correspond to the system that I'm familiar with. For example, it gives the first day using 'Position 598: NQBBRKRN'. I prepared the following table for this post, where the first column is the round number and the second column is the numeric start position:-


Indeed, the chess960 standard number SP309 is the equivalent of the Chessgames.com non-standard number 598. Another unsuspecting soul had fallen into the Chessgames.com trap.

My cross-reference is crude and lacks the HTML tags that make a proper web page. I'll improve it as soon as I can and, at the same time, integrate it into my other chess960 resources.

17 April 2021

SP864, Reddit, Chessgames.com

In the few weeks since since my previous post, I've received three noteworthy messages worthy of separate posts. I'll list the messages here according to the order in which I received them.

SP864: The first message was a comment by Andrey D. to my most recent post, TCEC C960 FRC3, (March 2021):-

You might be interested in knowing the solution for Black in a particularly difficult SP we once discussed.

In fact, there are two 'particularly difficult' SPs that are related by switching two pieces. I'll reference them via my 'Database of SPs'. The first is:-

The second is:-

I include a second link for SP868 because I haven't updated the database since I wrote the post two years ago. At the end of this post, I've attached a substantial portion of Andrey D.'s comment in PGN format. It's an important discovery.

Reddit: The second message was an email. My email address can be found on my profile linked in the top right of every page in this blog ('View my complete profile'). The message said,

Maybe you could share some of your articles on /r/chess960, which is pretty much dead.

I replied,

Please feel free to link any of my blog posts on Reddit.

If I could find the time, I would be more proactive than that. The Reddit topic is at chess960 related topics (reddit.com). The world needs a public forum to discuss chess960/FRC.

Chessgames.com: The third message was also an email. It had two PDF attachments that were introduced with:-

It is a pleasure for me to have carried out this humble book with the 960 initial positions, obtained from the page chessgames.com, making screenshots of the 960 positions and diagramming them in the "DIAGTRANSFER" software and placing them in my book. It is in Spanish because I am from Argentina.

I used Google Translate to understand the Spanish and discovered that the book was structured as an introduction to chess960 from several angles. Unfortunately, it had a big problem. The start positions used Chessgames.com numbering which is non-standard. I last saw this a year ago in a post about the '2019 Champions Showdown', Spectating Chess960 (April 2020):-

Day 4 started with a curiosity. The first start position (SP784 BBRQKNRN) was the twin of the position on Day 3 (SP175 NRNKQRBB). [...] 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.

I've mentioned the Chessgames.com pitfall many times on this blog, but the problem needs a more permanent warning. A good place to mention it would be my page Chess960 Start Positions (m-w.com). The page appears in the results for various searches and gets a fair amount of traffic. A table converting between the two numbering systems might also be useful.


Some GM analysis:-

[Event "SP864"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "????.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "W"]
[Black "B"]
[Result "*"]
[Annotator "Andrey D."]
[SetUp "1"]
[PlyCount "0"]
[FEN "bbqrkrnn/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/BBQRKRNN w - - 0 1"]

1.Ng3 c5
  ( 1...f6 )
  ( 1...Nf6 )
  ( 1...g6 )
2.Nh5 f6 3.Nxg7+ Kf7 4.Nh5 Ng6 {This counter-intuitive gambit is in fact very logical upon a closer look; note that White's only piece [pawns included] that has moved so far is his h5-knight which will be forced to retreat soon. Meanwhile Black has already played ...c5 and ...Ng6, and is now intending ...d5 followed by ...Qg4! and ...Nf4!, gaining further tempi. The semi-open g-file can also be used rather by Black than by White [especially if the latter castles h-side].} 5.Nf3 d5 6.b4 b6 7.bxc5 d4
  ( {Morphy-style! However simple} 7...bxc5 {was also fine for Black.} )
  ( 8.Bxd4 Rxd4 9.Nxd4 Qxc5 {and one of White's knights will be lost} )
  ( 8.cxb6 {ignoring development altogether} 8...Bxf3 9.gxf3 Qh3 {with a number of threats for the sacrificed material.} )
8...Qg4 9.Ng3 Nf4 {the roles are now reversed and it's White who has to play Rg1, because if 10.0-0? then 10...d3! 11.cxd3 Nxe2+ 12.Nxe2 Bxf3} 10.Rg1 bxc5 11.Qxc5 e5 {And Black, who has a very strong initiative for two pawns, went on to win in a long and absolutely crazy fight!} *

I wouldn't be surprised to find a similar line for SP868.

27 March 2021


On my main blog, where I've been tracking the world's two foremost, ongoing engine vs. engine competitions, the most recent fortnightly post, TCEC FRC3, CCC Rapid 2021 : Both Finals Underway (March 2021), noted,
FRC3 [Fischer Random Chess 3] has reached the final match, where Stockfish and KomodoDragon are tied with one win each after 29 of the 50 games have been played. The following chart from the TCEC Wiki shows the different stages of the event.

Here's the chart mentioned in the quote, taken from TCEC FRC 3 (wiki.chessdom.org):-

I ended the post on my main blog saying,

After the final match finishes, I'll have more to say about the tournament on my chess960 blog. I covered the previous edition in TCEC FRC2. In that event, Stockfish beat LCZero +8-0=42.

At the time I wrote the referenced post TCEC FRC2 (December 2020) -- which incorporated the same TCEC flow chart shown above -- the TCEC treated chess960 as a second class citizen, reported only in a section of the TCEC Wiki's home page. Since then, the main page section has been promoted to a separate page, TCEC FRC 2 (wiki.chessdom.org), which announces,

Though at the time advertised as [a] Bonus event, the TCEC Fischer Random Chess will as of now be a regular part of seasonal events.

According to the Wiki's history page, the move happened exactly a month ago:-

23:07, 27 February 2021 [...] (moved from Main page)

'Will be a regular part of [TCEC] seasonal events' -- that's one small step for TCEC, one significant step for chess960. The TCEC Wiki's 'FRC 3' page includes a chart showing the scores of the event's four stages.

A similar chart is now available on the Wiki's 'FRC 2' page. In the 'FRC 3' final, KomodoDragon beat Stockfish by a score of +2-1=47. A 94% draw rate echoes the sort of result we expect from a traditional chess match (SP518 RNBQKBNR) between engines. Will the TCEC FRC organizers be forced to dictate the chess960 opening variations, just as they do for SP518? Let's hope not.

Except for an occasional CCRL game, I can't remember ever looking at an engine vs. engine chess960 game. Is there anything to be learned from such an exercise, or is the play of the engines beyond comprehension? Watch this space; if not for FRC3, maybe for FRC4 or beyond.

[The title of my 'TCEC FRC2' post on this blog is nearly identical to the title on the TCEC Wiki, 'TCEC FRC 2'. To avoid confusion in future reports on the TCEC C960 events, I decided to change the title on this current FRC3 post.]

20 March 2021

From Sveti Stefan to Budapest

In the previous post, The Early Evolution of Fischerandom (February 2021), I finished with a question:-
From this we see that Fischer's early [chess960] activities were bunched into two time periods. The first period took place in 1992-1993, when Fischer developed the rules of his emerging invention. The second period took place in 1995-1996, when Fischer revealed his invention to the world. What happened in 1994 and after 1996? Looking at Fischer's other activities in those periods might help answer those questions.

Let's set a starting point at the end of the 1992 Fischer - Spassky Rematch; Sveti Stefan / Belgrade, IX-XI, 1992:-

1992-11-05: g.30, last game of 1992 match

Two of the links in the 'Early Evolution' post cover Fischer's subsequent travels. The first link is [Frank] Brady on Fischer Random (January 2011). There I wrote,

After the [1992] match Fischer stayed in 'Magyarkanizsa, in the northernmost reaches of Serbia, on the border of Hungary'. There he made the acquaintance of the Polgar family and, with their encouragement, later moved to Budapest.

The second link is Chessmaniac, Comments on Chess960 (February 2015):-

'Bobby Fischer's Pathetic Endgame', where the original by Rene Chun is subtitled 'Paranoia, hubris, and hatred -- the unraveling of the greatest chess player ever' (theatlantic.com, December 2002). The portion covering the birth of chess960 takes seven paragraphs, which I'll quote in entirety...

The map below shows the main points in Fischer's travels during 1992-93.

Europe Maps - Perry-Castaneda Map Collection - UT Library Online
see the map 'Eastern Europe (Political) 1993'

Budapest, in the center of the map, is circled. Southeast of Budapest, marked with an asterisk, is Magyarkanizsa [aka Kanjiza], on the border between Hungary and Serbia, not far from Szeged. The city south of Magyarkanizsa is Belgrade, which I haven't marked. Southwest of Belgrade, also marked with an asterisk, is Sveti Stefan, which is not far from Podgorica. In his book 'Endgame', Brady wrote (p.255),

1993-05: 'The Polgars, the royal chess family of Hungary, visited Bobby [in Magyarkanizsa] -- Laszlo, the father, and his two precocious daughters, Judit, sixteen, and Sofia, nineteen. Both girls were chess prodigies. (The oldest daughter, Zsuzsa, twenty-three -- a grandmaster -- was in Peru at a tournament.)'

Judit was also already a grandmaster. Zsuzsa [Susan] visited Bobby when she returned from Peru and convinced Fischer to move to Budapest. From there I'll continue the story in another post.

27 February 2021

The Early Evolution of Fischerandom

Last week's post, 'Presenting the Fischeramdon' (sic; see the last link in the list below), was the first post in nearly two-and-a-half years to shed new light on the early evolution of chess960. I started to wonder: How many other posts had I done on the early years of chess960? To answer that question, I first turned to a post from 2013 that listed earlier posts focusing on Fischer's activities. For easy reference, that 2013 post is pictured below.

2013-03-09: Remembering Bobby

Using the same format, here are posts about Fischer's activities during the 1990s:-

From this we see that Fischer's early activities were bunched into two time periods. The first period took place in 1992-1993, when Fischer developed the rules of his emerging invention. The second period took place in 1995-1996, when Fischer revealed his invention to the world.

What happened in 1994 and after 1996? Looking at Fischer's other activities in those periods might help answer those questions.

20 February 2021

Presenting the Fischeramdon

Spotted on Twitter: Las revelaciones de Miguel Ángel Quinteros, el ajedrecista argentino que convivió 25 años con Bobby Fischer (infobae.com). Google translates the headline as 'The revelations of Miguel Ángel Quinteros, the Argentine chess player who lived with Bobby Fischer for 25 years'. What sort of 'revelations' are we talking about?
It was Quinteros who assisted him in 1971 to beat Petrosian; in 1972 he was in preparation and then assisted him in the World [Championship] in Iceland. He was also the one who accompanied him to most of the Open, to Las Vegas and three months to Taxco (Mexico) in 1982; to Paris in 1995 to draw up the Fischerandom contract that was launched with singular success on 16 June 1996 at the Pasaje Dardo Rocha in La Plata at the request of the then governor Eduardo Duhalde.

I don't understand the references to the Open, Las Vegas and Taxco, so I'll leave that to the Fischer experts. I do understand the reference to June 1996, which I discussed years ago in Fischer Announces Fischerandom (October 2009). I don't understand the reference to Paris 1995, but I'll leave that for another time.

Even more important to the history of Fischer's invention, the article included a photo. It's reproduced below along with its translated caption.

'Fischer with Quinteros in La Plata, in 1996. He had come to present the Fischeramdon [sic], a chess variant where the pieces (except the pawns) could be placed in the opening in a random way to demand the creativity of the players.'

GM Quinteros has appeared briefly on this blog before, the last time in the post Fischer and 'Wild Variant 22' (December 2013). That post is currently no.1 on 'Popular Posts (All time)' at the bottom of every page on this blog and often appears at the top of every page in 'Popular Posts (Last 7 Days)'. At some time in the past I discovered that it was not for its relevance to chess960, but rather for its discussion of the Fischer - Short ICC controversy in the early 2000s.

I never realized that GM Quinteros played a role in the early history of chess960/FRC. Perhaps that knowledge will lead to further historical discoveries.


Later: Re '[Quinteros] was also the one who accompanied [Fischer; ...] to Paris in 1995 to draw up the Fischerandom contract that was launched with singular success on 16 June 1996', I wrote, 'I don't understand the reference to Paris 1995'. I found three references in previous posts:-

  • Brady on Fischer Random (January 2011) • 'While in Budapest, Fischer also made the acquaintance of Andrei [Andor, Andre] Lilienthal, who arranged a meeting with FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov. [...] It's not clear from Brady's account when this meeting took place, but the February 1996 issue of Europe Echecs (p.22) gives a date of 15 December 1995.'

  • An Aborted Announcement (February 2012) • 'From The Week in Chess 51, 1 October 1995: "Bobby Fischer to present new chess rules' By Roberto Alvarez"'; I asked, 'What happened to that 1995 announcement? [...] Whatever finally became of the November 1995 plans'

  • Foraging the 'News Groups' (August 2013) • '1996-04-14: Bobby Fischer Announces New Rules of Chess [rgc]; April 1996 was after the first (tentative) formal mention by Fischer in November 1995, as I recorded in An Aborted Announcement, and the formal announcement in June 1996, Fischer Announces Fischerandom.'

I imagine that 'Paris in 1995' meant the meeting with Ilyumzhinov in December 1995. Fischer had one objective for the meeting: Fischerandom; Ilyumzhinov had another: getting Fischer to return to chess.

30 January 2021

Wesley So's Tactics

After with last week's post, So Explains So vs. Carlsen (January 2021), I continued with Chessable's free course 'Short & Sweet: Fischer Random Chess' by GM Wesley So. The third of the three chapters is titled 'Intro to Tactics'. It consists of a 17 minute video and 22 exercises, of which nine are covered in the video.

I watched the video and worked through the exercises. The top half of the image below shows the first position explained in the video. It is undeniably a chess960 position and illustrates a tactic that is not likely to arise in any opening from SP518 RNBQKBNR.

The bottom half of the image shows my score from the exercises. I aced the nine positions repeated from the video and had trouble with three of the new positions. In a couple of those positions, I wasn't sure why my move was inferior to the 'right' move, but using the 'Analysis Board', managed to see where I had gone wrong. In my original post about the Chessable courses, Wesley So's Strategies (December 2020), I said about the longer course,

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.

I'm still not convinced that the price is right, but the quality is definitely there. GM So has discovered and shared many of chess960's secrets.

23 January 2021

So Explains So vs. Carlsen

In last month's post Wesley So's Strategies (December 2020), I located a pair of Chessable courses -- one of them pricey, the other free -- and finished saying,
I can't argue with 'Free', so I started the [Chessable] course and hope to have more to say in a followup post.

I hadn't accessed Chessable since writing that post, but had no trouble finding the course again. After signing in, I received the following screen.

Using that as a start point, I accessed the course, repeated the first chapter '1. Introduction' to get my bearings, and started on '2. Wesley So vs. Magnus Carlsen'. That second chapter is an hour-long video presented by GM Wesley So, where he discusses the third game from his FWFRCC final match with GM Carlsen (see my previous post for more about the match).

The third game of the match used SP729 RKNBBQNR as the start position. Before making his first move, So offered a preliminary analysis:-

Looks at first to be a very peculiar position, because the White King is far inside the Queenside and there are no less than five pieces blocking his way if he ever wants to castle Kingside to g1. So he has to move five pieces away from the back rank before he is able to castle [O-O].

The King feels a little bit vulnerable being so far away from the Queen. All the squares in front of the White King are protected for the time being. However he doesn't feel as safe as in other starting positions because the White Queen is so far away.

Other than that the other pieces are pretty much in regular starting positions, the difference being with the Bishops in the center so it's not clear exactly which direction they should go.

I split that analysis into three paragraphs, because they serve as a useful checklist for a generic analysis of any start position:-

  • Consider the castling options
  • Weigh the King's safety
  • Note the position of the other pieces

The focus on the start distance between the King and the Queen was a new consideration for me, but the rest was familiar ground. One imprecision I noted was: 'All the squares in front of the White King are protected'. If we count the King as a protector, this is true of every start position. If we don't count the King, the g-Pawn in SP729 is not protected. After his introduction, So said,

I played the move 1.e2-e4, which in my view is the best move in the position.

He then went on to explain why he thought it was best, also considering other reasonable first moves. In the first half of the video, GM So discussed the first dozen moves of the game (out of 60 played), providing some astute observations on the evolution of the play. Although I didn't watch the second half, I assume that it was equally instructive, given (1) that a chess960 game eventually comes to resemble any game stemming from SP518 RNBQKBNR, the traditional start position; and (2) So's status as one of the best SP518 players in the world.

A forum discussion is attached to the course. One comment, titled 'So lazy', said,

Come on, this is sooo lazy. It's just the most basic explanation of rules and some not Fischer Random only tactics, nothing about strategy or any good principles.

Anyone agreeing with that comment is advised to stick with SP518. First learn the basics of traditional chess, after which GM So's commentary should make more sense. Since winning the '2019 FWFRCC', crushing GM Carlsen in the final match, he is considered the no.1 chess960 player in the world. This video shows why. I am one step closer to shelling out the bucks for the full, pricier course.