30 April 2022

ChessBase CKO

Last month an intriguing comment appeared against an old post on my main blog, A Database of Chess960 Start Positions (December 2008). It said,
I'm looking for a key file (*.CKO) to use with base of games chess 960 with ChessBase 14.

Since the last time I used ChessBase software was, well, never, I first had to decipher the request. What's a *.CKO file?

I already knew that ChessBase management is no fan of chess960; see Purported Problems with Chess960 (April 2018) for the nitty gritty. If that isn't convincing, the user manual for Fritz 18 has a little more than one page out of 425 on Fischer's greatest invention, titled '3.2.10 Chess 960'. The space in front of '960' pretty much guarantees that it will never be found in any normal search. The page instructs you to 'pick a number for one of the predefined Fischer-Random positions', i.e. no built-in random position generator. After that,

Games you have played against the program are saved in the file Autosave-960.cbh in the users folder. Saved Chess 960 games in a database are given with the number of the predefined position with which they were played.

Back to *.CKO files, the best explanation I could find was ChessBase Support - Details : A tip for Full Analysis. It starts,

The function "Full analysis" on Fritz & Co produces a complete analysis of one or several games, including variations, textual commentary and even opening references. The analysis also contains indications of games which were played with that opening system.

For 'indications of games', I understand 'references to games' from another Chessbase database. The explanation continues,

With the help of a large reference database the program is able to classify the opening played in the game, integrate recent games for comparison and indicate the position at which the game being analysed diverges from opening theory.

How does that work?

If no openings key is present in the database you have defined as your reference database, the program cannot produce a reference. [...] If there should be no openings classification, the program automatically offers to classify them by means of a pre-existing key. [...] An openings key always has the file extension *.CKO.

Bingo. A chess960 CKO file would somehow index the 960 start positions. I also found references to a Chessbase CPO file ('positions, openings'). This might serve the same purpose for chess960 as a CKO file, although actionable information on this filetype was even sparser than for the CKO extension.

Will ChessBase someday offer a CKO/CPO solution for chess960? Maybe, but I wouldn't bet any money on it. If the company doesn't see a need to offer a random position at the start of a chess960 game, it won't see a need for more sophisticated functionality.

23 April 2022

A Slippery Slope

It's been a while since I featured a video on this blog. For the previous video post, An Underused Resource (June 2021), I wrote,
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.

Here's another video, this time from YouTube's Chess.com channel.


No Human Would Sacrifice These Pieces! (16:35) • '[Published on] Feb 24, 2022'

The description said,

Join NM @James Canty III as he breaks down a thrilling Computer Chess Championship [CCC] Chess960 Blitz game full of sacrifices and tactics between Dragon and Rubi!

I don't agree with everything that NM Canty says about the game, in particular the opening, but I'm not sure I could do any better. Explaining games between top engines is a slippery slope even for world class grandmasters of the human species. As viewers of the same species, we want to be entertained and this video delivers.

26 March 2022

Facebook to Lichess to ...

In the previous post, More from Google Search on Chess960 (March 2022), I wrote,
A resource from Facebook.com, 'Fischer-Random Chess (Chess960/FRC)', crept into the mix. I'll look at that page another time.

Since there's never a better time than the current time, let's go a little deeper. First, I'll repeat that link, Fischer-Random Chess (Chess960/FRC), which leads to a Facebook group. Most of the 'Discussion' posts consist of links to tournaments on Lichess. I found a notable exception at 'AS Mastur shared a link; 9 March [2022] at 16:33':-

Written by someone who obviously knows a lot about both chess and chess960, the blog post links to HarryO's 'Chess960 Jungle' blog (also on the right sidebar here) and to this 'Chess960 (FRC)' blog. It also introduced me to two resources that I hadn't seen before:-

  • 960 Brilliancies Project (lichess.org)
  • Nine-Sixty (netlify.app) • 'Guide to 960: Helping you find your way in 960 since today', apparently by the same writer behind the 'Ultimate Guide'.

I'll look at those last two resources another time. Down the rabbit hole once again...

19 March 2022

More from Google Search on Chess960

Once in a while I like to feature some curiosity from a Google search on chess960 noticed during recent explorations. Here's a list of relevant past posts:-

In the post behind that last link, 'A Googly Gadget', I mentioned,

One curiosity I've noticed is that those two reference pages (both on m-w.com) rarely show up in the search results at the same time.

For the last six months, Google has frequently been displaying both reference pages together, as shown in the top portion of the following image (above the '***'). For good measure, it often includes a link to this blog, also shown in the image. Sometimes the three resources are shown bunched together, but in this case a resource from Facebook.com, Fischer-Random Chess (Chess960/FRC), crept into the mix. (I'll look at that page another time.)

For the last month, the two reference pages on m-w.com have reverted to appearing alone, with the other page nowhere to be found. I have no explanation for why this flip-flop occurs.

The bottom portion of the image shows an ad that appeared this past week on my weekly search for chess960. The link behind the ad went to Chess 960 - Chessable.com, a not very interesting comment dated 2017. I suppose the real purpose of the ad was to display the four Chessable links under the text snippet, which itself has nothing to do with chess960. Despite this disconnect, it's good to see a major commercial site in online chess bidding on the chess960 keyword. Another old post on this blog also featured a Google ad:-

  • 2017-05-20: Play Chess960, Not War • 'Seen on this blog in the Google Adsense space on the right navigation bar. ... Under the title 'PLAY CHESS NOT WAR', former President Obama of the USA plays chess (or chess960) with President Putin of Russia.'

I doubt that anyone would run that ad -- or a similar ad -- in today's political climate. Putin's invasion of Ukraine strikes too close to any playfulness intended by the ad.

19 February 2022

Quantity Chess

Ever since I started playing chess many moons ago, the year 2021 was the first year that I didn't play a single game using the traditional start position (SP518 RBNQKBNR). I didn't plan it like that; it just happened.

Every once in a while I encounter a reminder about why I no longer enjoy playing SP518. A few days ago it arrived in the February 2022 issue of Chess Life, in a book review titled 'Strong Coffee : GM Gawain Jones stirs the pot with his Coffeehouse Repertoire' by IM John Watson. The review started,

Of late we are seeing numerous opening repertoire books and electronic products by strong players. Most of these recommend variations within a particular White or Black opening, for example, a Caro-Kann Defense repertoire or a tome on "Beating the Sicilian." That’s difficult enough, but a few brave authors have taken on the more ambitious task of presenting a complete repertoire for White from the very first move, or a repertoire for Black versus all of White’s first moves.

You can imagine that with the increasing depth of established theory, such an undertaking has become an extremely daunting one. In his recent Coffeehouse Repertoire books, GM Gawain Jones presents a deep repertoire with 1.e4, and it takes two volumes and 1000 pages to complete the chore.

A thousand pages! Sounds like a lot, but what do I know? The review continued,

These are pages of the dense analytical detail that Quality Chess books are known for, with limited verbal explanation. That might seem excessive, but in fact, Jones can be commended for his efficiency. Quality Chess has already published two even lengthier multi-volume works devoted to repertoires with 1. e4. GM Parimarjan Negi’s brilliant and original five-volume series clocks in at 2280 pages (so far: he hasn’t even written about 1. e4 e5 yet!). And GM John Shaw’s three-volume Playing 1.e4 series consumes 1472 pages.

Finally, I should mention that GM Justin Tan’s recent book 1.e4! The Chess Bible (out from Thinkers Publishing in 2021) takes up the same challenge; so far, his first volume takes up 462 pages, to be followed by two more of presumably similar length. Such books are not for the faint of heart.

Let's summarize that:-

  • GM Gawain Jones; 1000 pages
  • GM Parimarjan Negi; 2280 pages, 'so far: he hasn’t even written about 1.e4 e5 yet'
  • GM John Shaw; 1472 pages
  • GM Justin Tan; 462 pages, 'to be followed by two more [volumes] of presumably similar length'

That totals more than 6000 pages ... just 1.e4. I have copies of ECO -- Chess Informant's 'Encyclopedia of Chess Openings' -- that I bought in the 1970s and that I still use occasionally as an easy reference. Here are page counts and year of publication for ECO's five volumes of the first edition:-

  • A: 1979, 476 pages
  • B: 1975, 398
  • C: 1974, 348
  • D: 1976, 404
  • E: 1978, 464

That makes less than 2200 pages covering all of White's first moves, starting with ECO A00's 1.h4? and 1.g4? (the '?'s were GM Bent Larsen's evaluation at the time). ECO volumes B and C covered all the 1.e4 responses.

Back to Jones, Negi et al, at whom are these books aimed? IM Watson suggests,

I should make clear that the two volumes of 1. e4 Coffeehouse Repertoire are ideally suited for experienced players or truly dedicated students. Many lower players will find the theoretical demands burdensome, and there’s very little verbal handholding of the "Why am I playing this move?" variety.

No verbal explanations? Sounds like pure engine analysis. As I write this, and as you read it, dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of super strong chess engines are crunching the data on the suggestions made by the four authors, attempting to render their conclusions obsolete and thereby gain a single point (1.0) in a game against their operator's unsuspecting adversary.

This way to the egress! It's clearly marked 'chess960'...

***

NB: None of this is meant to denigrate the efforts of Watson, Jones, Negi et al. John Watson is one of the best chess writers / book reviewers active today. The GMs are just trying to make a buck catering to a niche market while applying their expertise. That's the way it is for SP518 in 2022.

29 January 2022

TCEC FRC4 Unbalanced Books

In last week's post, TCEC C960 FRC4 (January 2022), I mentioned the use of 'unbalanced books'. Wanting to know more about them, I downloaded the PGN files for the last two stages of FRC4, where they were used, and analysed them. For the 48 games in the 'Final League' (i.e. semifinal) and the 50 games in the final match, there were 32 different start positions (SPs), distributed as follows:-
2 : 18 positions
4 : 11
6 : 3

The first column shows the number of times a position was used in a game. In other words, 18 SPs were used twice, and so on. Since each SP was played twice, each engine in turn taking White, this is the minimum. I once attempted to calculate how much each of the 960 SPs were scrambled relative to the traditional start position. The results were summarized in A Chess960 Almanac (October 2011).

Is there a correlation between 'unbalanced books' and the degree of scrambling? A preliminary analysis was inconclusive, but 32 different SPs is too small a sample to decide one way or the other. I hope we'll eventually get enough data to say for sure.

22 January 2022

TCEC C960 FRC4

In a recent post on my main blog, Stockfish Wins Both TCEC FRC4 and CCC16 Bullet Events (January 2022), I made three observations related to chess960:-
(1) 'Stockfish and LCZero tied for 1st/2nd in the [TCEC] FRC4 'Final League', a point ahead of KomodoDragon. Stockfish beat LCZero +13-9=28 in the Final.'

(2) 'A [TCEC] note mentioned, "!bookfrc • Final League and the Final will use unbalanced books [...] On the edge between draw and white win." For more info, see TCEC FRC 4, under 'FRC Book Generation'.'

(3) 'After FRC4, the site ran an event called 'S22 - DFRC Sanity Check'. What's DFRC? "!dfrc • Double Fischer random chess: The same as Fischer random chess, except the White and Black starting positions do not mirror each other. Double FRC has 921,600 (960*960) possible starting positions."'

The 'more info' reference in (2) was for TCEC FRC 4 - TCEC wiki (wiki.chessdom.org), where the nuts and bolts of the tournament are explained. I covered the previous event in TCEC C960 FRC3 (March 2021).

One welcome difference between FRC3 and FRC4 was the increased number of competitors in the 'First phase', comprised of four leagues. In FRC3, there were four engines in each league; in FRC4, six engines were planned, although only 23 engines started the event. After FRC3, I analyzed engine runtime data for the first time in a pair of posts:-

  • An Engine Iceberg (November 2021) • 'TCEC FRC3 was a 50 game match won by KomodoDragon over Stockfish on a final score of +2-1=47.'
  • The Engine Iceberg Looms Larger (ditto) • 'Final match of the CCC C960 Blitz Championship (October 2021).'

It might be useful to repeat the exercise for FRC4, although I should be clear on objectives for the exercise. What can be learned by looking at only a small, random subset of the 960 possible start positions?

The TCEC wiki page discusses 'unbalanced books'. It's an interesting concept, but perhaps too heavy on the human manipulation: 'following work is done by hand'; 'then (by hand and eye) I choose'; '[sequences] that don't look crazy to me'; 'eliminated lines that looked too drawish or too busted'; 'some looked too artificial, some looked a bit too similar to others'.

Traditional A/B engines have never been particularly good at evaluating the long term consequences of opening decisions. A comprehensive analysis extends well beyond their search horizons. Maybe the AI NNUE engines are better at this, but that hasn't been studied anywhere (that I know of).

A red flag goes up when I see a phrase like 'lines that looked ... too busted'. In the years of writing about and playing chess960, I haven't seen any start positions that were 'too busted'. To the contrary, Black always has resources to counteract White's various initiatives. Perhaps the researcher behind the analysis (Bastiaan) should make available his full analysis showing which positions were eliminated for which reasons.

Another phrase caught my attention: 'not a single position favours Black in my analysis'. This is what one would expect to see in a position between opponents having exactly the same resources, except one gets to move first. Otherwise we would talk about 'first move disadvantage' or 'zugzwang in the start position'.

As for DFRC (FRC squared? chess921.6K?), this is a new area for analysis. It's another example of Gene Milener's idea that I covered in Chess960 Phase Zero (November 2018). A first action might be to examine runtime data from the DFRC games.