Sunday, May 22, 2011

Chess960: How to practice it - part one

The thing about Chess960 is that there is no official way to practice it yet. That suits me perfectly because I started playing chess very late when I was twenty years old and so I have no entrenched investment in Chess that would have happened had I started very early. As soon as I became aware of Chess960, I simply dropped Chess altogether because the variety in the Chess960 openings is so much more enjoyable. I have played only Chess960 since, and have never looked back. Chess960 is truly a wonderful pastime because you do not narrow yourself down with unnecessary knowledge. Everything you do in Chess960 is enjoyable and the game is totally balanced in terms of skills and enjoyment in all phases from the opening to the middle to the end. There truly is little point in playing Chess when you can do everything that you can in Chess with Chess960 and win and loose just as much!

Here are my thoughts on playing Chess then how to play Chess960. Chess is a combination of these skills:
  1. Pattern recognition that flows on into an instinctive awareness of basic tactics (under-defended squares are especially important for Chess960)
  2. High level calculation when pattern recognition is no longer good enough on it's own
  3. Very vivid positional awareness (the true art)
  4. Memory skills
The only major difference between Chess and Chess960 is step four! Chess960 requires great memory skills just like chess. What is being remembered are chunks of familiar themes and clusters of piece structures rather than trees of opening lines. Chess960 can even name these chunks as I am beginning to demonstrate in posts like Naming the Knight Pairs and so Chess960 can develop huge volumes of theory based upon these categories, just as traditional chess has done with it's opening tree. People with exceptional memory will even remember specific lines.

So how do I specifically practice Chess960 in the absence of official theory? Here is the high level method:
  1. Learn a basic principal of playing the Chess960 chess openings. The standard chess opening principals are a good place to start.
  2. Study all the basic tactical principals of chess
  3. Study a core group of standard Chess games to get an idea about positional play
  4. Every endgame you get into, you later study with official theory (learn as you play)
Here is the specific "day to day" method that I use. The central point is that in Chess960, we have to be acutely tuned into analyzing the position on the board even at move zero. So the question is how do you truly analyse "position" when the positions in Chess960 are highly unusual at times relative to chess? At the same time there is no-one around in on the Chess960 scene that is readily available to help. Here's an introduction to how I do it:
  1. Practice through the Chess960 positions sequentially and each position both as white and as black. Literally start at 001 and end at 960 and then repeat. Each game is played on quick time controls but analysed in retrospect very slowly. You do this because it is the best way to develop your own ideas on the chess960 opening. If you play through the positions sequentially, the positions change only so much so that you can still compare them with the last position. It is a beautiful journey to take. Whole sequences of chess960 numbers share common patterns that you can study and learn from as they pass before you. It is like reading the most fundamental book on Chess that has ever been written! Do it! If you just randomly play Chess960 starting positions, your mind struggles to unify and formulate any principals that are meaningful to you. We need graduated progression to formulate ideas, and that is exactly what happens when you play through all 960 position sequentially. People think it takes too long to do this. But one journey through the 960 positions is not even two thousand games. Have a look at how many games people knock up in standard chess! It doesn't take much. Four quick games of Chess960 a day translate to an hour of actual game play followed by one hour of deep study afterwards. Two hours a day total time is all that it takes and you will have gotten through the 960 positions in approximately fifteen months.
  2. Practice tactical pattern recognition. In Chess960 knight tactics are the first priority
  3. Practice being tuned into the "moment" where a vivid awareness of position is developed
  4. Play a quick 960 game (my favorite for Chess960 is 15min games) preferably both as white and black.
  5. Then play through the quick game incredibly slowly afterwards with a chess960 engine. Ignore what you're opponent played. Just focus on what you played. The idea is that you are not trying to learn about the absolute nature of the position, but your own perception of the position. You use a chess engine to give you ideas on that (I'll explain more about that later). Even though the game is finished and regardless or whether you lost it or won it, you study the game in detail in terms of the position on the board comparing it to what you thought at the time, how long it took you to think it, and what you think about it in retrospect.
More on that last point next post. Essentially the art is how to lesson the amount of "blind spots" that are apparent in our mind both on tactics and positional understanding.

1 comment:

  1. You already have way more material on your blog than the chess960 book that I bought from Amazon. There were only one or two chess960 books available as I recall. Someone like you could fill a void in the market.