Monday, November 23, 2015

Chess960: The more the better? part 3

This is a continuation of the discussion of Basque Chess960 that was had *here* and *here*. In Basque Chess960 each player simultaneously plays one board as white and the other as black. I've played it a few times and think that it is a wonderful way to play Chess960 and really makes sense because it eliminates any differences in advantage that the white player has.

I found that it is even possible to play Blitz Basque Chess960 because two games are not that difficult to keep a track of - our brains seem to be pretty good at seeing in double! If anything, I found that Basque Chess960 actually maintained or improved the quality of my blitz play because I could not stop to think - it forced me to play instinctively. Stopping to think in Blitz can often make your play worse not better.

With that in mind, I was surprised that the two commentators at the Showdown in Saint Louis 2015 exhibition match between Hikaru Nakamura and Fabiano Caruana were intrigued by the Basque Chess960 idea too. Here is a transcript of their thoughts as they were commenting game one of the Chess960 competition:

Jennifer Shahade: "I really wish that we had Basque Chess for Fischer Random don't you? So that we could see how Fabi would tackle playing white (in contrast to Hikaru)"

Yasser Seirawan: "Oh that would be intriguing for sure"

Jennifer Shahade: "I think in Fischer Random it really makes a lot of sense, because you get to show....cause it's to easy to say after the game 'hey white just has an edge in this particular Fischer random'. But if you play Basque Chess960 you have to show it from both sides"

Basque Chess960 is a lot of fun, equalises fairness 100% and you get twice the game for each start position. You can also play it against the computer if you set up two Winboards side by side on your screen.

Enjoy 960

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Chess960: Showdown in St. Louis - Fischer Random Style

I'm in the middle of transcribing the Chess960 portion of the video recording of Hikaru Nakamura playing Fabiano Caruana in Chess960 (Fischer Random) at the recently concluded Showdown in St. Louis 2015.

Here is an interesting idea that the commentators mentioned during game one of the Fischer Random portion of the event, as to why Chess960 has been slow on the uptake.

Jennifer Shahade:  "Obviously Fischer random is just perfect for somebody like Nakamura he really loves the game. I really like it too. Why do you think it hasn't begun to be even more popular Yasser?"

Yasser Seirawan: "You know one of the things, I've spoken to a lot of my colleagues on this very question. One of the things is a lot of my colleagues feel it has to do with amateur players. That is to say amateur players are so vested in their openings, they want to see players playing the French defenses and their Sicilian dragons and they know those openings so very well, they want the players to play their favourite openings and favourite defenses. Instead, when the players are playing a game of Fischer random, then a lot of the amateur players say "gee I don't know this position, I don't know what's going on". A lot of the professional players like Fischer Random and would like to see more Fischer random events. Its sort of like the organizers are hearing from the amateurs "no don't do it we want them to play OUR openings, OUR defenses". Its kind of an intriguing idea right?"

Jennifer Shahade: "It is strange because normally you hear amatuers complaining about how much opening analysis there is but when push comes to shove they like it in a sick way."

Yasser Seirawan: {laughs}

If that is the case that amateurs are actually the ones holding up the progress of Chess960, we just have to wait for critical mass to occur when finally the amateurs make the switch to 960. According to the Chess960 popularity counter *here*, we have probably got another 20-30 years to go until the tipping point occurs. Popularity is steadily rising, but there is still a long way to go.

In the mean time, remember that Chess960 is not here to replace Chess, just be a viable loved alternative to chess and be its equal.

Enjoy 960.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Chess960: When the queen comes out early

Found a brilliant example of a start position where the queen can come out with attack as soon as the second move. The amazing thing is that there is no way to attack her and she is immediately putting pressure on the opponents position:

SP169: Queen out on move 2!

White starts with the Birds Opening System 1.f4 except here this opens a line for the queen to come straight out into the middle of the board. White follows up with the strong move 3.c4!? which achieves multiple things:
  • Immediately attacks d5
  • The d5 pawn is pinned against the undefended d8 bishop
  • If black tries to attack the queen to gain tempo with something like c6/Bb6, white plays c5!? blunting the attack and preventing the corner knight from being able to develop.
  • White has not really neglected king safety because of O-O/Bf2 combination.
I haven't seen such a clear example like this before for bringing out the queen early with no cheap way of counter attacking her. Black has plenty of options, but it is an amazing little start position #169 that's for sure! It all stems from the pin on the d5 pawn against black's dark bishop.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Chess960 puzzle no.17

Should white be freaked out by white's attack here? I found myself ruminating over this question during a game. I realise that this does not even look like a Chess960 problem any more but when you think about it, how else could black's knight have reached d6 without it being Chess960? The point is that Chess960 does throw up different versions of classic chess mid-game themes.

It turns out to be a nice puzzle because it can be broken down into individual problems that can  be independently analysed to arrive at a solution. The threat is black can aim all his big pieces down the f-h files in tandem with opening up the kings's safety - a standard hack attack.

SP076 Black to play - does black have a serious attack on white's king?

Answer bottom left hand corner of this page

Break the problem down into manageable chunks.
A) If ...f5 white plays e4 with a strong attack
B) if ...g5 white has the defense Bh4! followed by g3
C) if ...h5-h6 white has g3 stopping black's progress

A+B+C means white can safely proceed with a queen-side (c-side) attack
Answer: no!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Chess960: Playing Komodo-9 64bit

I decided to play Komodo-9 in a game of Chess960 because the consensus is that it plays natural human looking moves, which might be a nice way to practice Chess960 openings.

So I played Komodo-9 on SP456 - a nice easy number to remember!

Here is the situation at move 2:

SP456 White (Komodo-9) to play move 2

My first move as black was a very natural move that takes good control of the center. Komodo's first move f4 surprised me a little. I'm not sure if it is a good idea to commit to weakening the light squares on the kingside so early when there are better moves. f4 does threatens f5 at some point which would kick black's knight if I planted it on e6. However that is not a threat. I would instead play Nc6/Bd7 which opens up some nice lines on the light squares for my bishop against white's kingside. 

But now I really got a shock. Komodo-9 decides to play Qf2?! This cannot be a good move. There is no point playing out the queen so early while also blocking the dark square bishop in the process. Trying to defend f4/f5 so soon seems to be silly.

So I analysed what my other engine Stockfish thought of Komodo's move. Here is the result:

Stockfish at depth 22 thinks that after 2.Qf2?! Black should play ...Nd6 with a slightly better score -0.16. On the other hand, Komodo-9 at depth 18 thinks that black should play ...Nd6 but that white is slightly better at 0.14.

So after 2.Qf2?! we can see that Komodo-9 has issues playing Chess960 openings. Firstly, it is a slower engine than Stockfish when it comes to achieving the same depth. Stockfish got to depth 22 really quickly. Perhaps the depth of the calculation is really important in the Chess960 opening which favours Stockfish.

But Komodo's issue is not just depth, but also evaluation. There is no way in hell you can tell me that after 2.Qf2?! white is a bit better? Stockfish's evaluation of the position seems to me to be about right if not even a bit too conservative in it's favouring of black after 2.Qf2?! Nd6.

So I thought I would take a look at the CCRL 24-hour-a-day computer engine competition. In standard Chess Komodo appears to have the current lead. But in Chess960 the story is different. Stockfish is still the leader with a 50 point ELO rating higher than Komodo.

Well there you go. A little bit of engine trivia for you.

Enjoy 960

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Chess960: Puzzle no.16

Dear followers of this blog, enjoy this unusual puzzle. It requires an understanding of what a pawn island in Chess is. For more information see a definition Pawn islands (wiki). Often in Chess960 openings we try to avoid creating long lasting pawn islands because the isolated pawn or pawns are a long term target of attack for our opponent to exploit. There are exceptions of course!

In this position, both white and black have three pawn islands each.

White has three pawn islands (a-e),(f),(g-h).
Black has three pawn islands, (a-f), (g), (h).

Here is the puzzle,  the answer is surprising!

SP455 move 2 white to play:
If white captures the g-pawn, who will have the
greatest number of pawn islands before move 7?
White, black or equal number?
Solution given bottom left hand corner

Answer: White!
2. fxg5      white has three pawn islands, black two.
2. ...h6     no change, white=3, black=2.
3. gxh6 Qxh6 white=2, black=1
4. h3   Be5! no change
5. g4   Bh2  no change
6. Rg2  Qxh3 white=2, black=1

White has more pawn islands than black. If instead white tries 5.Nbc3 or any other move, white still has one extra pawn island than black.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Chess960: Puzzle no.15

SP535 White to play: find the winning move

Solution given bottom left corner

5.Nh6! winning the rook