28 January 2023

The Unusual World of Chess960

If the previous post was about The Fascinating World of Chess960 (January 2023), then this post is about the other side of the coin. Here are a few topics I've noted in the recent past that don't fit in with any other discussions.

FRC Human Openings

While the most recent TCEC Superfinal ('S23 Sufi') was underway, the TCEC announced upcoming events as:-

!next • Now !Sufi * FRC human openings bonus?, Subfi, ...

I reported the Sufi results in TCEC S23, CCC19 Rapid : Stockfish Wins Both (November 2022), but made no mention of the subsequent FRC bonus. Curious what the title 'human openings' meant and finding no explanation in the usual places, I followed my standard procedure on the event's PGN: I downloaded it to my PC, loaded the headers into a database, and ran some simple queries.

I discovered that 48 games were played and that they included only the following six start positions (SPs). The numbers in parentheses show how many times each SP was played.:-

  • BRKRQNNB (x2)
  • NQRBKRBN (x6)
  • NRKQBRNB (x12)
  • NRNKBRQB (x12)
  • QRBNKBRN (x10)
  • RNBBKQRN (x6)

A year ago I ran a similar analysis and recorded my findings in TCEC FRC4 Unbalanced Books (January 2022; 'Is there a correlation between 'unbalanced books' and the degree of scrambling?'). The same question could be asked again, but first I checked whether there was any overlap between the 'unbalanced books' SPs and the 'human openings' SPs.

I found one position on both lists: SP317 NQRBKRBN. Four games from a year ago plus six games from the current exercise makes enough games for further exploration.

'Nyuk, Nyuk' from NIC

Seen on the cover of New in Chess 2022/8 (newinchess.com; New in Chess): The woman on the left, wearing a 'Random Fandom' t-shirt (nice; I love it!), says, 'They call it chess960'. The man on the right, with chess pieces tatooed on his arm, says, 'Oh wow, that's a lot!' Wait until he discovers chess960-squared, aka DFRC.

Google returns three times more references to 'Fischer Random' in the magazine than it does to 'chess960'. I suppose NIC respects the preference of its contributors. Follow the money?

Google Gets Its Wires Crossed

I recently noticed a real mystery in Google search. The home page for this C960/FRC blog showed up in the results for a search on 'chess960' with the following description:-

Chess960 (FRC) • 'It is played in the Chess 960 or Fischer Random format. Created by Bobby Fischer in the late 1990s, Chess 960 shuffles the pieces on the home rank, with 960 ...'

That's all very nice, except I didn't write it. I never split the word 'chess960' into two parts and I try not to capitalize it. Why not? Because the word 'chess' hasn't been capitalized in a long, long time. As for 'created in the late 1990s', everyone knows that it was created by Fischer in the early to mid-1990s and announced in 1996.

So where does the description come from? Apparently from 2022 Champions Showdown - Chess 9LX (uschesschamps.com):-

What is Chess 9LX? • Chess 9LX is a tournament hosted by the Saint Louis Chess Club. It is played in the Chess 960 or Fischer Random format. Created by Bobby Fischer in the late 1990s, Chess 960 shuffles the pieces on the home rank, with 960 representing the number of possible starting positions. Players will not know the order of the home rank until 15 minutes before each round.

Thanks, Google, but please note that I have nothing to do with writing copy for the Saint Louis Chess Club. I could also mention that the moniker '9LX' is an aberration, but I won't. To the Saint Louis Chess Club: Please note that I haven't plagiarized your text.


There are a few more remarks I could make on minor points, but that's enough for this post. The first rule of chess960 is the same as the first rule of chess: 'Just have fun!'

21 January 2023

The Fascinating World of Chess960

Last month's post, Christmas Eve (December 2022), wasn't just about creating a new category for Posts with label MW's games (that's me). It was also about switching to a different online service for playing chess960.

I recorded my first game of chess960 in a post on my main blog, titled Chess960? I'm Hooked! (September 2008). The PGN embedded there says the game was played on SchemingMind.com (SM), a site for correspondence chess that is particularly strong in its support of chess variants. I continued playing there until 2016.

A few years after getting hooked, I started playing on another correspondence site, The Lechenicher SchachServer (December 2012; LSS), for reasons explained in that post. I continued playing on both SM and LSS until 2016, when I ran into a problem on SM and decided to leave. To make a long story short, SM has a no-engine policy, but makes little effort to enforce it. LSS allows engines for most of its events and I preferred the clarity of LSS.

I continued playing on LSS until last year. I was playing chess960 in a couple of multi-stage events, where success in one stage promotes a player to the next stage. As the two events were winding down, the site announced the next stages. Unfortunately for me, the start of both events coincided with a pair of two-week vacations that I had been planning for some time. Since LSS events allow only two weeks of vacation on a fixed number of days for a game (no increments), I was faced with an immediate time deficit in all new games. I decided to skip the next stages, essentially taking a year off from serious play.

As my active games gradually came to a conclusion, in my free time I started using an engine to analyze my old correspondence games from the pre-engine, pre-chess960 era. I was amazed that my moves were generally approved by modern engines. I could often recollect the reasoning and emotions behind my moves and realized that using an engine had turned me from a chess player into an engine operator. After 14 years of playing chess960, I hadn't gained much insight into its subtleties, because I was essentially playing what the engine instructed me to play, often without understanding why.

I decided to switch to a site that didn't allow engine use. SM was out because it doesn't enforce its policy. Then I remembered Chess.com, which has a good reputation for vigorously enforcing its no-engine policy, even if it leads to controversial decisions. I had played a few games of chess960 there in 2009-2010 and more recently in 2019, an experience documented in Playing the FWFRCC (June 2019).

I switched to Chess.com in May 2022, playing one or (maximum) two games of correspondence chess at a time. What a difference! Where my last years with LSS involved struggling against players with far more powerful engines than I was using, at Chess.com I was using my own head to play real chess against other players doing the same. After all, that's what had attracted me when I first started playing chess so many years ago.

So far I've played about a dozen games on Chess.com, never once tempted to use an engine. I also know full well that if I do use an engine and am caught, I will lose the premium membership that CEO Erik gave me when I was writing a review of the site for About.com in mid-2008.

That's the background for a series of posts that I plan to write for my games on Chess.com. There are several aspects to be covered:-

  • Insights from my games
  • The correspondence play interface
  • Game review tools
  • The site's custom anti-cheating measures
  • And more...?

I'll wander through these topics in future posts, some of them on my main blog. Thanks to both SchemingMind and LSS for the terrific support of chess960 throughout the years. May they continue to introduce keen chess players to the fascinating world of chess960.