Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Chess960: Seeing the strategy from the first move

I played SP121 today and could see a clear strategy from the first move. I looked up the Chess960 database and any other database of human players I could find, to see if others could also see this strategy that seems to me to be very obvious (but I have played more than two thousand Chess960 games already).

SP121: Can you see the obvious strategy here?

 Here are the central features of the strategy that either side can play:
  1. Kingside castling is very likely since it will take too long and the queen will be too restricted, to make queenside castling plausible.
  2. With two heavy pieces on the queenside (Q+R), pushing the b-c pawns seems very likely.
  3. The titular bishop pair in the center of the board will have very clear roles on this occasion, they will work in tandem to sit on the queenside and take aim at the kingside, working in cooperation with the queen to form powerful diagonal batteries.
  4. The side that first makes this strategy a serious threat, will create more weaknesses anywhere on the board, even if all the bishops are neutralised.
The titular bishop pair  can be quite difficult to assign roles to since neither bishop can efficiently be fianchettoed. However, when the king and queen are sitting on the extreme ends of the back rank opposed to each other, the strategy I have described here becomes much more obvious. See also my analysis of SP505 by clicking on the label (titular bishops).

Incredibly, no player in the database even up to 2000 rating, has seen this very obvious strategy. I wonder why? .....Hint.

Enjoy 960!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Chess960: Anand's dubious opening in the Chess960 World Championship 2007

In the last moments of the 2014 candidates tournament featuring Anand and Aronian, I thought I would look at a game played by these two greats in the 2007 Mainz world Chess960 championship.

What I found slightly shocked me I have to be honest!

In a rapid game of Chess960 where there is still plenty of time to play a reasonable opening, Anand started out in a dubious fashion, giving a lot of hope to all us Chess960 patzers out there!!

SP535: Anand (white) first move - Wch. Mainz Rapid 2007
1.c4 ... g6. A dubious first move by white, since it slightly weakens king safety, and black can apply pressure immediately with 1...g6 (with d5 to come). White probably didn't want to play d4 or e4, since the former comes under fire after g6, and the latter blocks white's own bishop on h1. However, d4 and e4 still seem like better moves, since they are centralizing and allow a more rapid development (develop more pieces at once), without compromising king safety at all.

SP535: Anand (white) second move - Wch. Mainz Rapid 2007
2. d3 ... d5. A dubious second move by white, since it is passive, giving black the chance to play aggressively with d5/Qa4+. A better move would have been 2.Nc3 which takes control of d5 and prevents what black now tries...

SP535: Anand (white) third move - Wch. Mainz Rapid 2007
3. cxd5... Qa4+. White seems to accept that Qa4+ is coming, but there were alternatives. One energetic but dubious alternative was 3.Qa5...dxc4, 4.Qd5+...Nbd7, 5.Qxc4 ... Nb6.

SP535: Anand (white) fourth move - Wch. Mainz Rapid 2007
4.Kd2 (forced). White will never castle, will have to move his king again to free the c1 bishop and the only compensation is that black cannot easily develop his knights to c6 and e6

If one of the greatest players of all time can play a Chess960 opening like this, there is still hope for all us patzers out there! 

I do have to say in Anand's defense, he actually won the game despite this opening! 

Another point in Anand's favour is that incredibly, Houdini-4 evaluates this position at 0.00 even at depth 22!

Enjoy 960
PS) if you want the PGN for this game, download the database of all Chess960 games here.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Chess960: Car crash openings part 4

A Car Crash Opening is any opening where the game is over before the tenth move because the loosing side is asleep at the wheel - enjoy the ride!

Mostly I stuff up beyond the 10th move somewhere. However in the tradition of the "Car Crash Opening", the end must come on or before the 10th move. So here is the fourth classic car crash opening played by me where each move I played is a perfect instruction on how not to play the Chess960 opening.
1. Ne3!? I'm thinking "c'mon man no way you are blocking your center!"
Now it's time to move. I notice these things about the position:
  • Bishop next to king - potential checks on the king
  • Queen next to king - red hot diagonal tactics on the king possible
  • Chivalry knights - danger if they are allowed to move forward
  • Fork on e2 against queen and rook
  • Both rooks are undefended
Now I'm blowing my brain cells on the first move! I play a move that breaks all the theories of first opening moves.
1. ...e6?! What the?!?! Doesn't develop any pieces at all and opens lines against the king. I was thinking that I wanted to set up the pawn structure e6/d5/c5....
2.d3!? I'm thinking "c'mon that is way too passive!"
2. ...d5!? I start to enact my secret plan of e6/d5/c5
3.Nxd5! What the !?!? you must be kidding
3. ...exd5?? Played instantly thinking my opponent is on drugs
4.Qg5+...f6 Blocking the bishop but what the heck
5.Qxd5+ Qd7 Surely something can be done about this coming car crash...
6.Qxg8...Ne6 I can trap the queen tell me I can trap the queen?
7.Qxh8 Black resigned. I can't castle and the queen escapes via h7
Here is the tragedy step by ugly step:

Aaaggh. Crash! (Good fun)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Chess960: Memorable moments in Moscow and America

Thanks to Mark Weeks highlighting the Fischer Random tournament in Moscow last weekend, I found a great quote by Emanuel Lasker at the Chessvibes reporting of the event.
"Education in Chess has to be an education in independent thinking and judgement. Chess must not be memorized, simply because it is not important enough. ... Memory is too valuable to be stocked with trifles." - Emanuel Lasker
It's not so much the memory that is too valuable, but the investment in time. Even a genius like Magnus Carlsen has still spent a major portion of his life memorising vast amounts of opening variations. He has the memory capacity to do that, but it was the investment in time that is questionable. Sure he has been rewarded for it by becoming the world champion, but think of the thousands of almost-as-good-players that aspired to it as well and spent just as much time memorising opening moves without the same result.....
This brings me to the points Hikaru Nakamura has made over the last few weeks. In an interview after the Zurich tournament this year, Hikaru said:
"In general I like reading a lot, book on just about everything. I'm also quite interested in languages, and spend a lot of time studying Italian and French. Sometimes I'm into hiking. Maybe I have too many interests, and that's why I'm not so good at chess. I just try to enjoy life as much as I can"
Sounds logical to me! Rather that than sitting in front of a computer studying the latest Livebook database findings for the latest fashions in chess opening fads.....
An interesting interview in America by Hikaru on Chess960 here:
Question - Do you think there will ever be a time in the future when Chess960 is a serious competitive chess format? Do you feel it does a good job of shaking up the theory-heavy metagame for more "casual" observers?
Hikaru - "I think chess960 is great as it is simply pure intuition and understanding without theory or computers. In my opinion, a lot depends on the trends. For example, at the moment everyone is playing the Berlin Defense which has severely reduced the number of games with 1.e4 If this trend of attempting to "kill" the excitement continues, it is hard to believe 960 won't take over at some point. However, if we start seeing a lot of deep preparation and exciting games in in the Najdorf or Dragon, then I think the scope of normal chess will continue for a very long time"
Why isn't chess960 as popular as normal chess yet?
Do you like it more than regular chess?
"I've answered this before, but I think it depends on which openings and which styles of normal chess dominate in the coming years. Chess960 is not as popular mainly because there is less financial incentive and because normal chess is still quite alive. For the most part, I do like chess960 more."
A really special Fischer Random interview in Russia translated here:
Translated by Google: E.SUROV: What is the prospect of Fischer chess and the statement "to replace it (chess)?"

A.DEVIATKIN: I have to say that I - a supporter of the Fisher chess and, therefore, perhaps be a little subjective. The question itself is really quite categorical: replace or not? Actually, why replace chess, why cancel and switch to the classic Fischer chess? Here, rather, we are on a parallel system of competition, about how to organize more and more tournaments in Fischer chess....

S.GRIGORIANTS: Even most fans of Fischer chess do not say that something needs to be replaced. Of course, everyone likes classical chess....and they can coexist and not interfere with each other, rather complement each other.

A great week for Chess960 "Fischer Random Chess". Actual games in Moscow, and at least some discussion in America.
Enjoy 960

Monday, February 24, 2014

Chess960: I played SP518 for the first time in years

Today, I finally reached SP518 (the standard chess position) after three and a half years of working through the Chess960 positions starting at position 001. Still have got a long way to go to reach SP960! I play Houdini or Stockfish twice for each SP, once as white and once as black, with no time controls, and vary the depth according to how much trouble I feel I am in and always start at depth 24 because it only takes the computer a couple of minutes. I also complement this with Chess960 blitz, Chess-tempo online tactics training and studying human Chess960 games.
Playing the good old classical chess position SP518 for the first time in years, by accident, I played the French Defence Exchange Variation as black, and the Scotch Game as white. So to celebrate the arrival at SP518, I got one of the most enjoyable positions I have ever seen:
SP518 white to play: find the only move that equalises
First question is, what is this knight fork called? It is more than a relative fork, it is not an absolute fork, it is not a royal fork and it is not a special absolute fork! So what is this fork called when the knight forks both rooks and queen all at the same time?
To cut straight to the chase, the equalising move is......h6! Black needs to guard the back rank and watch for the queening pawn and there is never enough time for black to capitalise on the triple fork. Black cannot play Qf7?? or Qh7?? they are both total disasters. If ...Qf6, Ne4 counter attacks the queen. So the queen puts up a fight with ...Qe7, h7+...Kh8, Bd4+...Nxd4, Qxd4+...Qf6 0.00
What a great way for white to un-fork himself from a three way relative special fork attack!
I'll probably not play SP518 again for many years, and so will have a game to remember fondly as I move on through the delight of Chess960, starting next with SP519.

Note that in the compilation database I have made available to the Chess960 community here, I decided to include the SP518 games because even though they were all cancelled when the players realised that by random chance they had rolled the standard chess position, remarkably, in over just one thousand high quality human games, it appears to have happened four times! So I have left them in the database. I suspect that the reason SP518 rolled itself that often in what is only a 1-in-960 chance, is that there must have been a bureaucratic stuff up during the tournament.
Enjoy 960

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Chess960: The search for improvements to chess

Chessbase.com have been doing a series of posts on variants to chess, but as yet continue to post very little on Chess960. Why? Chess960 is played and enjoyed by people around the world as a great complement to standard chess. The very software Chessbase sells supports Chess960 fundamentally. Just yesterday there was Chess960 competition in Russia featuring Russia's top players and had online coverage yet there was no comment from Chessbase? Chessbase-12 software recognises Chess960 starts and correctly sorts them by number. It can also do database searches of Chess960 games by number as well. Fritz-12 can even build an opening Chess960 library!
So why do Chessbase post so little on 960 then? ** (see below for my own speculation)
Well, at least their readers speak louder than they do....
In this Chessbase article "Computer resistant chess variants" the author makes this claim:
Thankfully, this was challenged by one of Chessbase's own readers!
Thank you hpaul, I could not have said it better myself.
**(WARNING-speculation only): The reason I think that Chessbase is quiet on 960, is that they are building support behind the scenes for adding just one or two extra 960 start positions annually or bi-annually to the FIDE regulations, rather than randomising all 960 starts. The official claim would be that this allows players to study a new start position and give them scope to pre-arrange their strategies off the board with creative study, freshen Chess and increase interest in the sport.
But actually,
this FIDE change suits the business model of Chessbase much better than Fischer Random Chess960 does. Their LIVEBOOK technology plays a critical role here. They effectively have a monopoly control of Livebook technology and would make a lot of money as FIDE players driven by competitiveness, would need to subscribe to Livebook and pay DUCATS for computer resources, to analyse the hand picked FIDE Chess960 annual or bi-annual starts. The question I ask is why do we want technology and memorised openings to dominate our sport more than it already does?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Chess960: Bishops in the corner do not have to exchange off!

Unlike some, I actually like all four bishops in the corner. Mark Weeks has also talked about this in the Myth of the Corner Bishop. To quote Mark from his own post:
"The only real disadvantage of the B:a/h setup is when both Bishops start in the corner. When this happens, all four Bishops are facing each other on their long diagonals. The order in which the Bishops are developed becomes a subtle tactical dance where a player's fast grab of one diagonal cedes the other diagonal to the opponent. Furthermore, a premature development of the Bishops can lead to them all being swapped off in the opening for a Bishopless middlegame. A player who wants to avoid this must block the diagonal before developing the Bishop, but this gives the opponent the opportunity to develop first on the same diagonal. And so the dance continues"

The reason I like bishops in the corner, is that both sides can play can and mouse, which I think of more as a subtle strategic dance as they hide their castling intentions from each other. If either side can provoke evidence of castling intention prematurely, the other side can castle to the opposite wing and launch an attack.....well at least in theory!

Here is a classic example. Note how both sides play all their moves to deliberately hide castling intentions, until one side cracks. In this example it is white that cracks, and is then promptly punished for it when black offers a sacrificial pawn.

SP515: Who will reveal their castling plans first?
So don't believe the gossip out there spread by some anti-Chess960 people, that bishops in the corner produce boring games. There are ways to prevent bishop simplification from happening and to even create opposite wing castling scenarios. However computers usually can't see that deep into the game to appreciate the cat and mouse that is going on, so computer examples of bishops in the corner games are not valid.