Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Chess960: The chess clock - when it should start ticking

Typical for me, I go onto a forum, passionately request something, use too many words, loose everyone's attention, and at the same time they don't understand what I am proposing (whatever: my intention is good!). I can sense that there is an opportunity to do something unique and special that not many people have been thinking about as they develop Chess960. I am not the only one to think it. Here is Mark Weeks on the subject:

"I'll close this post with another plug for Chess960 Jungle. HarryO wrote this week about The chess clock - when it should start ticking. It's an important subject that's given short shrift in the implementation of online chess960. I imagine that most chess960 software developers are building on an existing implementation of traditional chess and reuse the same clock specifications that have been developed for the traditional game. The considerations for chess and chess960 are, however, a world apart in the opening phase. 
In traditional chess you're basically on autopilot for the first few moves because you've seen the start position thousands of times. In chess960, you're on your own from the very first move. It is fundamentally unfair to let White consider the first move without using clock time, then start the clock for Black as soon as White has moved. You could say that the unfairness applies to all players 50% of the time, but if you're playing a chess960 game for an important prize and you happen to have Black, that 50% argument doesn't help you. I could say a lot more about this last topic, but the Sicilians beckon. Maybe next week..."

The simple request is that at (and also more generally), white's timer should start counting down at the beginning of the game. Here is my forum post on it where I did not seem to get my point across (according to the one reply I got): [feature request] Chess960 clock change

Here is the critical point from that request:
  • White's clock should start counting down the instant the Chess960 board is displayed to both players and they are ready to move (real life or internet)
  1. Because white has a natural initiative advantage at the start of the game as well as having a tempo advantage. The compensation for that is that white should have to pay with time.
  2. The problem is made worse because if white's clock is stationary while white thinks through his first move, it will also be stationary while black makes their first move. White's time only starts to be penalized after two whole half moves have already been played.
  3. Black only has a marginal chance of being able to plan a response to white's first move while white is thinking. If white plays an unexpected first move, black must recalculate from scratch while white has no such uncertainty. White has played their move and can already begin to calculate all black's replies with much greater probability of correct calculation at zero time penalty.
  4. Theoretically a Chess960 game is already a blend between a very high level mid-game scenario AND an opening phase at move zero and thus the player with the move should be paying for that on their clock (as if the game were already in progress when the players arrive at the board at move zero :-)
What are the benefits?
  1. For the first time in the history of Chess there is a chance to compensate black for being down in initiative and tempo! It is not much compensation, but at least it is something. It will shift the odds of white winning slightly back into black's favor, and that is a good thing.
  2. It will make Chess960 more exciting because it will give black better chances to win.
  3. It will cause interesting first move clock strategies: white might choose to play the first move quickly on the belief that his black opponent will suffer on the clock on their first move. White might choose to play slowly on the belief that concrete analysis of the opening will cause undeniable benefits that black will not be good enough to counter, even if it has cost more time.
What are the issues?
  1. Black would get too much advantage? People say that there is possibly a high level Zugswang in Chess960 and white suffers by playing at all! But I think that is just not true to any practical degree.
  2. It would cause confusion because white is not used to the clock ticking on the first move? Yes that is true, but any change always causes some turmoil initially. It will quickly settle down once people get used to it.
  3. At this early stage in Chess960's evolution people are so unskilled at it that it puts too much pressure on white and will discourage people from Chess960? That may be true initially, but only for the white player! The black player will like it. But over a reasonably short period of time the balance of the result table will naturally re-emerge according to the reality of white's initial initiative and tempo.
  4. It could cause a clock synchronization issues across networks in internet play? That may be true, but there must be a reasonably creative technical resolution. It just needs a bit of clever thinking.
If you agree with my thoughts, could you help me to convince ChessCube by supporting me on the request forum? The issue could possibly repeat itself if start implementing their Chess960 live code. It would be a tragedy I think if were to leave white's clock stationary at move one - thanks

No comments:

Post a Comment