Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Non-Random Chess960 Trial Game 6: SP408

The PGN database for these trials is here.

This time we are going to work through the first ten moves of some of the SP's Mark found in this post to be possibly dangerous for black. First up is SP408 = RBQNBNKR.

This SP is really "diabolical" to quote Mark. White's first move 1.d4 has so many good things about it including:
  1. Develops two pieces at once
  2. Claims territory in the center
  3. Threatens d5 which closes down black development options
  4. Although undefended, black cannot attack it with without a compromised development
  5. The pawn does not hinder any of white's other pieces in the slightest
Black on the other hand has no such luxury. As Mark put it:
"First, the minor pieces don't coordinate well. The Knights are competing for the same square on the e-file and the Bishops have no obvious optimal deployment. Second, the weak e-Pawn, which is not easily defended, is easily attacked by the Knights. Third, the castling option is limited; the King has to stay on the h-side."

The question is what can black do about 1.d4? At first we followed the CCRL database (see "cool links" top right). One possibility is for black to build a dynamic safety net around his king thus:

SP408 "The Diabolical SP" Hypothetical: 1.d4...c5!?

The variation above is now scored at almost 0.00 by Houdini-2c. This is where it get's interesting. Mark has decided to forget about the CCRL database altogether and play by gut feel! So we have the situation 1.d4 d5!? a symmetrical opening and not one engine in the CCRL database even considers this move. Houdini2c scores white's lead at almost half a pawn.

After the almost automatically good move for white 2.c4 Mark finds what I think is the needle in the haystack 2....Ned6!? that saves blacks position at least for longer. Studying the continuations after this move, I found this surprising line that actually does produce the possibility of long side castling for both colours!

SP408 Hypothetical: Long side casting both colours is possible!

Now at move 7 in the real game, clearly white has all the initiative (see below). I played 6.e3 which is strictly not a developing move but it sure is a positional move. This actually has given black a free tempo and here at move 7 Mark actually uses it!

SP408: 7...b6, what does it achieve?
The move is sure got me both interested and a bit stumped for now. 7...b6 seems not to aid development and the c5 pawn doesn't need protecting yet. Also, a tempo is lost if later ...b5 is necessary. Perhaps it's a case of black not having a better move? Here is Mark's thoughts on it:

...A useful move that prepares various a-side deployments, strengthens the c-Pawn, and leaves Black's options open.

After this move I played 8.Qc2 a very simple developing move that also waits to see what black does. White doesn't want to castle yet in case the h-file opens and doesn't want to move the e1 bishop until the c3 square is cleared. Notice the important feature that white has, a free clearance square or intermediate square on e4 to park a knight so that the c3 square is cleared. This is typical Chess960 stuff where we need a free square so that our position can be improved.

So now we have:
7....b6 8.Qc2 Nd6

Again another interesting move by black. I think if black would have played 8....Nxg3 the opening of the h-file would have been a fairly serious problem for black since white is just continuing development and pressuring the king side.

However now after 8...Nd6 I'm studying the crazy possibility black has of playing ...h5/h4/h3!? and potentially developing the rook to h5 as well as disturbing white's kingside! Take note that the edge pawn rush is a very common feature of Chess960 when a knight sits on Nb3/Nb6/Ng3/Ng6 and get biffed by the edge pawn. The pawn then marches on to undermine b2/b7/g2/g7 in concert with a bishop or queen on the long diagonal! But that is not the reality in this SP.

Here is a special milestone reached in this trial game, black has played ...f5!?, a really interesting move to say the least. How can such a move work with black's b8 bishop blocked in while all white's minor pieces are aiming at the king.

SP408 black continues to play actively!

Here is one way that ...f5!? proceeds:

SP408 white insists on attacking g7

After 12...f5 I castled g-side. Mark's immediate comment was "...I was surprised to see White castle. I expected h2-h4 at some time, using the h-pawn to disrupt the h-side". I then tried the idea of a4/b3/Bb2 to keep long term pressure on the long diagonal.

So here is the final position reached in this trial:

SP408 End of trial at move 16

My own thoughts are that black has defended amazingly well. It is remarkable that both black's rooks have had to transpose to the 7th rank so early in the game. I think the difficulty is that although black's piece position is compromised, white has only created one weakness when two are needed. Mark's comment at the end of the trial were:
"...The Bc3 is certainly a better piece, but the difference between the two positions is probably nothing more than the difference between these two bishops"

Lastly, please see the comments to this blog for the details of what we were thinking move by move in this trial run at the very difficult SP408 where white calls all the shots and black is very much in the hot-seat.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Non-Random Chess960 Trial Game 5: SP468

The PGN database for these trials is here.

This SP is part of 108 SP's that feature the combination of a rook, a king and a queen in the corner, leaving most of the opposite side of the board to the minor pieces and a lone rook. Learning the overarching concepts of these SP's will mean that at least 1 in 10 games of Chess960 are covered!

There are so many possibilities in this SP I can only start by analyzing what Mark and I chose for our trial. Please see the comments to this post for a detailed discussion of the reasons we played what we played, as well as some of the interesting variations at the bottom of this post.

To keep it short, Mark played a fantastic defensive move at move 3 which surprised me because the knight blocks the dark bishop. The move left my plan to attack the d-file long term, in tatters:

SP468 move 3: black plays a fantastic defensive move:

White now starts to get confused about long term objectives. Had Mark not played the move above, I would have exchanged pawns, attacked the rook on a8 and put my own rook on the d-file to attack a future backward pawn on d7, a long term weakness.

My attention as white now swung over to try and develop the queen ASAP. In order to escape black's dark bishop attacking the queen across the long diagonal, I decided to develop the queen along the h-file. Mark on the other hand, chose to develop the queen in it's most efficient way, simply playing ...g6.

SP468 move 8: two different approaches to developing the queen!

The problem here is that black's queen has more scope even if white's position is more flexible generally. Black now finds a second spectacular defensive move temporarily entombing my queen, which once again left me speechless because I was not expecting it:

SP468 move 9: black's next fantastic defensive idea

Mark's play as black deserves a lot of study, particularly the moves I have shown above. He deliberately leaves his g6 pawn backwards and this could be an important theoretical point who knows!  The rest of the game we played up to move 20. I found a fantastic double pawn sacrifice to activate my rooks, where I tried to lever my more active rooks up onto the 7th rank and in some lines to attack the backward g6 pawn, but I could find nothing solid that really compensated for the material loss of the pawns. Here is the game up to where we concluded it:

SP468: The opening as we played it
Just to finish up, here are some bizarre lines I found while we were playing this SP!

SP468 hypothetical no.1 - The horses bolt the paddock!?

And another..
SP468 hypothetical no.2 - A hyper accelerated center attack!?

And another..
SP468 hypothetical no.3 - The bishop fianchetto to f3!

And another...
SP468 hypothetical no.4 - The Bishop and Queen play cat and mouse!

And another!
SP468 hypothetical no.5 - The g-pawn goes for a long walk!

And another!
SP468 hypothetical no.6 - the great g-side implosion!

And another!
SP468 hypothetical no.7 - is the g4 attack Mark is talking about?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Non-Random Chess960 Trial Game 4: SP959

The PGN database for these trials is here.

Mark and I have finished up our non-random trial of the 'barbecue' BBQ SP's with SP959. Depending on how you number the first position in Chess960, the very first position in all of the 960 starts is a BBQ or 'barbecue SP', but is also the very last! Now in retrospect having studied them in detail, I think they have their wonderful place in the Chess960 repertoire for sure! I first assumed that there would be no way that black would have time to castle at all, that his king would be stuck in the corner, but I was wrong. I also thought that the game would have too few options, but essentially I was wrong about that as well, if you take out the first few moves as almost "inevitable". Note that I have played the 'barbecue' gambit 2.b4 with a reasonable game in our previous trials.

In the sample opening we played through below, the feature is that not only do we have a broadside bishop attack on the king, but the king is on the c-side and thus castling long could leave the kings safety even more exposed than in SP000 (SP960). That said, Mark made the classic mistake that all Chess960 players of this age including myself make, and this is to confuse in one's mind, the c-side from the g-side. Mark based all his early thinking on the plan to castle short, but that just so happens to be on the extreme opposite side of the board! Amazingly, it turned out fine in any case.

SP959 Nf3 variation: What are white's castling intentions?

Here are my thoughts on SP959:
These 'barbecue' SP's are actually surprisingly stealthy start positions because it turns out that all three castling options are possible, castling c-side, g-side and not castling at all, stealthy because neither side want's to reveal what their castling intentions will be until the last minute, for obvious strategic reasons. We also noticed that with some solid principled play, black maintains strong fighting chances. That said, the pressure is definitely on black to play solidly! This confirms an educated "guess" about Chess960, that there are roughly 50 start positions that have to be studied in detail and memorized so that black specifically knows how to play them.

Here are Mark's comments playing as black:
"..The pieces from the d- to h-files develop naturally. The big question is what to do with the RKR.....Good observation that many chess960 SPs offer three castling options for both sides. SP518 (the traditional start), with the King starting in the center, offers only two, with a few exceptional variations where a King doesn't castle. If I wanted to play it safe, I would move 10.Bf4, but I'm ready for a fight...Move 10.Qf2 prepares O-O and defends against 10...Re8 with a tactical trick. That's ten moves for me, but the game is just getting started. White can't claim any advantage and it will be a tough battle ahead."

I will leave it to someone else to work out what Mark meant by "10.Qf2 defends against 10...Re8 with a tactical trick". In our trial, Mark and I accidentally had been playing by book up to move 6 from the CCRL 40/4 FRC database where Mark deviates from Baron170 by exchanging knights. The game that we were accidentally following includes a stunning but curious migration of white's king and a double rook lift to the second rank! What was the computer thinking?

SP959: Baron170 migrates the king from g1 to b1 starting move 22

Finally, here is a further sample of a hypothetical line in this opening. In some Chess960 start positions, the game proceeds almost as if it is playing itself (where the moves are so natural as to be inevitable). Normally, once this inevitable position is reached, then things get interesting. To complement the above opening system where in the resulting game the king manually migrates laterally across the board, here is a hypothetical variation where white castles kingside?!

SP959: White castles kingside?!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Non-Random Chess960 Trial Game 3: SP000 (or SP960 depending on who you talk to)

The PGN database for these trials is here.

This start position was chosen by Mark and I because visually it represents an extreme example of the BBQ series where both bishops and the queen aim at a king that is effectively trapped on the king side! We tried to see just how bad the situation is for black.

SP000 Barbecue Xtreme Gambit (barbecue as in BBQ)

Here are my comments playing as white:
I thought that white was going to quickly go on the attack, but I didn't expect black to play the neat defensive moves ...Nf4/Bd6 and also to play the developing move ...h5. I also am now beginning to question the idea of the barbecue gambit which seemed to work pretty well in trial game no.1

11. Nd3 ... e6
12. Nxc5 ... Qxc5
13. Ne3 or even Nxg7!?
or possibly:
11. Nd3 ... h4!?
12. Nxc5 ... Qxc5
13. Ne3 ... e6 (unclear)
or possibly:
11. e4 ... e6
12. Ne3 ... Qc7
13. Nf3 ...

The way I approached this as white was:
  1. Start with a threat. Ne3 threatens e7 and g7
  2. Quickly open the bishops but with a move order that discourages ...c5
  3. Play the 'barbecue gambit 2.b4 in order to take total control of the center exploiting black's lack of incentive to play ..e6.
The way I feel that black replies to this approach is:
  1. Move the absolute bare minimum of pawns necessary to develop
  2. Use white's non-developing tempo wasting moves to re-deploy the minor pieces into solid defensive positions that also enable counter attack
The thing that really struck me in this SP is just how much pressure black is under, yet with some very principled and level headed play, black survives and even has a chance at some initiative. In order for this to happen, black must think outside the square! (and play carefully). Here are the standout moves by black:
  1. ...Ne6/Nf4/Ng6! which is possible because white did not defend the f4 square.
  2. ...Bd6/Bc5! which is possible because white wasted tempo recapturing on b4
  3. ...h5! begins to develop the h8 rook
We stopped the game at move 10 because we are trying to play through non-random Chess960 openings in this ongoing trial, but I would love to know what Marks intends after 11.Nd3.

Here are Mark's comments playing as black:
That game demonstrated that there is no forced path to an overwhelming advantage, although Black faces multiple problems and has to play carefully...

At move 10:
10....h5. If Black can liberate the Rh8, there is no need to castle. Also looks to ...h4, opening White's King position. This game is far from decided and all three results are still possible. - Mark

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Non-Random Chess960 Trial Game 2: SP393

The PGN database for these trials is here.

Here is the second opening played according to the Non-Random Chess960 rules invented by Mark Weeks. As black I decided to see if slowing down the activity in the opening would help my chances to reach complete equality by the mid-game phase, by going for the titular bishops in the middle of the board, an easy king side castling option and a queen in the corner. According to Mark's system of non-random placement, this actually gives black a bit more control over the setup (4 choices) verses white's two choices.

The sequence we used to arrive at SP393 was:
  1. Mark put down a bishop on d1
  2. I put down a bishop on e8
  3. Mark put down two knights on c1 and f1 instead of using his queen placement option
  4. I put a queen on a8
  5. The position was filled in with rooks and king

SP393 Bishops in the middle (Titular bishops)

Here are my comments on the opening:
The titular bishop start positions are more likely to be high-level positional studies. The tactical opportunities are less significant relative to making the right moves in order not to create long term positional problems. I really like them, but the titular bishops starts do feel quite awkward!

Basically after 1.d4 b5 I simply missed 2.a4! The move just didn't occur to me because I'm still conditioned to see traditional opening pawn moves. The move a4 is a really important move for Chess960, because the idea doesn't occur in the traditional opening. I thought that Mark's reasoning for playing a4 was because it requires black to respond either immediately or soon after. Any response slightly worsens black's position while at the same time there is no possibility of white's position being worsened. At the same time, black's response whatever it is, provides white with more information about how to proceed....In fact, it turned out that Marks reasoning was simpler and more concise (see below). 

Unfortunately, 1....b5 set forth a chain of events where white simply contests the a-file and always remains ahead on tempo, initiative and position. Although black's drawing chances are still reasonable, It became a very compromised situation for black and quite unpleasant.

So to liven it up and break out from being a slave of white's intentions, I decided on the idea of O-O/Ng5/f5!? The idea is really nice from the point of view that black get's a temporary initiative, but it doesn't work all that well as Mark showed in the game.

Here are Marks comments:
At first I rejected 2.a4, because I preferred to develop my minor pieces. Then I realized that both of the obvious plans -- playing for a quick e2-e4 -or- playing to develop the Bishop on the a8-h1 diagonal -- allow Black adequate counterplay. Then I returned to 2.a4, because it interferes with Black's counterplay. Tactically, it addresses the variation that you played...

After 10. Be2 f5 I would probably continue 11.Bd2. Black is falling behind in development and any Knight exchange on e4 gives White the f2-f3 lever. In my opinion, White is now playing for a win and Black is playing for a draw. The move 1...b5 was perhaps not the best....

Non-Random Chess960 Trial Game 1: SP384

The PGN database for these trials is here.

A truly wonderful first trial of the Non-Random Chess960 rules invented by Mark Weeks. We only played ten moves but there was so much in those ten moves it felt like a whole game was played. I actually love the idea for a formal set of rules that allow players to choose their start position. It has these benefits:
  1. Players have an element of control over the setup they want to see. 
  2. White tries to create an active setup
  3. Black tries to equalize the setup as much as possible
  4. Players are already thinking about the position and the type of opening they want to play, as they decide on the start position
  5. It seems to encourage "principled" choices that cause players to feel that there is more meaning in the position
  6. Players over time will begin to try and pick their favorite piece structures that they are comfortable with. For example in the game below I got the "BBQ" fragment, and Mark got a very favorable setup with the knights that counter all of the threats of BBQ.
  7. Over time, players will start to choose more extreme setups, just for the sake of it!
  8. Chess960 start positions evolves over time, over the years.
The sequence we used to arrive at SP384 was:
  1. I put down a bishop on b1 (hoping Mark would put one down on a1)
  2. Mark put a bishop down on a1 (as hoped!)
  3. I put down a queen on c1 (creating the BBQ attacking setup against the kingside)
  4. Mark put down a knight on e8 and f8 protecting the vital squares around the king (a great choice)
  5. The setup was then completed with rooks and kings

SP384 Barbecue Gambit (Barbecue as in BBQ)

Here are my comments on the opening:
Wasn't happy with 1.c4 because I felt it was not active enough and I came to realise that black has many ways to play. Many of the symmetrical lines that emerged from it seemed unexciting, but there could be something in the details that I missed. So I threw the position out of symmetry with 2. b4!? and the resulting opening was fantastic. It was complex, full of amazing variations and there were lots of things that could go wrong for black without accurate play. 

The other thing that really struck me about this opening, is that I studied it with Houdini and was amazed at how the engine seemed unable to grasp the full features of this SP and it would not have played most of the moves I chose. When the evaluations are really close, the engine basically just plays any old move and some of it's choices seem pretty dubious.

I think the gambit is totally sound! It is based on the idea that with bishops in the corner, the opposite wing comes under attack with the edge pawn if the edge pawn is backed up by a rook. However firstly the center needs to be secured, and that is what happened. A thing I never realised with SP384 before, is how solid a white pawn is on d5 if it can get there! It is automatically backed up by a rook, opens up the long diagonal and closes the long diagonal for black. The critical feature in SP384 is that moving the e-pawn to e6 doesn't develop any pieces and this is why white can play d5 and stabilize it long term.

This opening proves to me that bishops in the corner are great fun if the players really try to play for activity. It is great to break symmetry if there is an idea that works, and in this opening, all my play as white was beautifully coordinated. Black's play was extremely solid and there were a number of interesting possibilities for black. At the end of move 10, it feels to me like black is out of coordination with a rook on h6. Incredibly with the kings on the g-file, black could theoretically have castled queen-side after 8....Qc7 but it could well be dubious.

Here are Marks comments:
...Black continues to make White work to recapture the Pawn. The Black King is not in any particular danger and ...b5 threatens to smash White's center. As for the non-random aspect, it was an excellent experiment from which I learned several things. First, the BBQ family of SPs is crucial to the soundness of chess960. Second, specifying the start squares requires more thinking about the pros & cons of pieces starting on certain squares. In the random version, I take for granted what I'm given and work from there. In the non-random version, I find myself going back to the initial square selection and comparing the alternatives. Third, you're a very creative chess960 player (not that I had any doubt)

Friday, August 3, 2012

Chess960: two move ideas no.13

Lucky 13 in the two move ideas series features a classic development pattern for a queen in the corner when a queen on h3 is safe from attack:

SP465 black to move: try to see white's ideas

Enjoy 960
Hint: b4 reserves a square for Nb3 or Bb3
White develops the queen to h3 intending g4 at some stage
and the queen attacks d7 and can move laterally on the 3rd rank

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Chess960: two move ideas no.12

I was playing Mark Weeks in the first trial of the Fischer-Bronstein Non-Random Chess960 Project. We decided on SP384 which includes one of the ten BBQ 'Barbeque Openings' plus their twins. My first move as white was a reflex reaction and I quickly came to dislike the move because it is too quiet for my liking. So to liven up the position, I played the 'Barbecue Gambit'. If you are interested in these two move ideas, you will see the similarity between this gambit and idea no.9.

SP384 Barbecue Gambit: black to play
Trace back the moves and
try to see white's ideas

Enjoy 960
Hint: if ...cxb4 then in no particular order d4/Qd2/Rc1/Ne3/d5/h4.
White plays for activity on the diagonal and kingside,

 hoping to recover the pawn later,
or to gain tempo if black plays
...a5 down the track

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Non-Random Chess960 Trial

Here is the database of our computer assisted games so far, including comments:

Mark Weeks our main blogger on Chess960, posted an idea for selecting Chess960 start positions non-randomly by player agreement. Here is his post Fischer-Bronstein Chess960. Here is a proposal to Mark Weeks or indeed any other fan of Chess960:
  1. We play through a number Chess960 openings up to move 10 (was 15) and stop the game then
  2. We play through the games via comments on this blog computer assisted or not, swapping colors each game and I will publish the start position and the moves here on this website.
Interested Mark or anyone? 

The benefit of doing this is we get to see how diverse the Chess960 positions are, and play through any particular start positions that interest us. I am trying to find out what opening ideas black has in some difficult starts that can redress any imbalance there might be. We cherry pick particular SP's to trial as we continue to explore Chess960.

We play the SP like we are playing a real game and we use computers where necessary. We stop the game as soon as it has evolved into a situation where we feel that black's chances are sufficient to conclude that the SP is reasonably well balanced. So games usually don't go for more than twenty moves.

If something goes wrong and black looks loosing, afterwards we will try to understand what went wrong. Since we are not playing to win a game, we freely disclose our plans to our opponent and the broader community as we go. This has the benefit of also being useful as move comments for future reference.

So the more people to help all the better! There are no move time limits and sometimes it takes days before we play the next move.We are building a database of these trial runs as we go and I try to summarize what happened for each trial in my blog, depending on how much time I have.

What I personally have noticed is that playing detailed Chess960 openings as we do here and sharing our ideas, helps improve my play more generally.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Chess960: two move ideas no.11

The unusual idea here by black is that it is fine to drop not just one development tempo, but two! The ultimate reason why is that white's opening is active, but focused too greatly on the king-side wing where the advanced pawns are not restricting black. This allows black to recover the lost tempo.

SP463 white top play: trace back the moves and try to see black's ideas

Enjoy 960
Hint: black shuts down the long diagonal
black is free to play f5 because of gxf5...g6
black intends ...d5/Nd7/Nd6 plan

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Chess960: two move ideas no.10 - the pawn walk!

To celebrate reaching the 10th Chess960 opening idea, here is an original idea that I don't think is seen in traditional chess. It features two pawns that walk by each other on the e-f street like two pedestrians on a foot path that walk past each other!

The idea originates because of the limitation of idea no.9 in the same starting position, that seems to lead nowhere. So white instead tries something more radical:

SP463 white to play: trace back the moves and try to see black's idea!

Enjoy 960
Hint: black plays a bold development (1.e4...f5!)
White is not worried by (...Qh5+/Ne2)
white refuses the pawn capture to try and restrict black
Black then walks the f-pawn 2....f4!
exposing white's e-pawn with initiative!

It is black who now restricts white's development

Chess960: two move ideas no. 9

In this starting position featuring the primary patriarch bishops, white decides to develop them instantly. The idea is that the bishop combination is so powerful, that they do not need to move to be already developed!

SP463 black to play: try to see white's ideas

Enjoy 960
Hint: white thinks the opening is dynamic,
but black continues ...Nc6/gxf5/g6 without problems

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Chess960: two move ideas no. 8

Here is another great idea courtesy of game I found on onlinechesslessons.net this time between two super GM's Aronian and Nakamura. The amazing idea is to actually block the bishops in the corner with your own pawns in a cat and mouse attempt to delay exchanging off the bishops in the corner until just the right time:

SP451 white to play: try to see black's ideas

Enjoy 960
Hint: black has managed to discourage white from moving either c4, d4 or e4.
If 3. d4!? white blocks the a1 bishop on the long diagonal allowing black to play 3 ... f5!
If white instead plays 3.e4?! the light bishop on h1 is trapped for a very long time.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Chess960: two move ideas no. 7

Thanks to onlinechesslessons.net I came across a really interesting bishops in the corner game played between Sergei Movsesian (2771) vs Viktor Bologan (2702). White has played out the queen early and black's response was 2....Ne6 preventing any problems later if Nxc7#. However black had another idea that Viktor did not choose:

SP451 white to play: try to see black's ideas

In the actual GM game, white's idea was to continue the long lasting stress on black's weak kingside and simultaneously push for control of the center to make it difficult for black to develop the knights. Black doesn't want to exchange off the bishops because this would prevent castling later. Black decided to develop the knight to e6, but this invites white to start a center pawn push via e3/d4 threatening to biff the centrally developed knight. So what can black do? There are various options but there is one very interesting idea that needs a bit of analysis!

Enjoy 960
Hint: ...Rh6 attacks the queen and the h2 pawn and the rook is developed and safe.
Note: the concept is that if white has wasted a developing move with Qh3, black is entitled to waste one as well!

Chess960: online chess lessons and the irony of Mr Botvinnik

Discovered some good quality discussion on Chess960 theory over at http://www.onlinechesslessons.net. My favorite article is control the center or not? because it contains two wonderful grandmaster quality games with all bishops in the corner. Who knows, this site might be a good place to learn how to play Chess960!

I realise that apparently Vlad Kramnik has been quoted somewhere that he doesn't think that bishops in the corner is very good (but I doubt that he actually played many bishop in the corner games). It should be said that Kramnik was the last and most successful product of the Botvinnik school which focused on an opening analysis system that is completely useless for Chess960. Ironically, Botvinnik was known for his use of the bishops on the long diagonals and in Chess960 you get plenty of that fun!

It is interesting how Bobby Fischer the inventor of Chess960, ended his chess career and went underground right during the era of Botvinnik chess education in Russia....

The only player from the old Botvinnik school that I know of that has ever shown any interest in Chess960 is Anatoly Karpov but Karpov was not really a complete product of the Botvinnik school as were Kramnik and Kasparov. Here is a interesting clue:

"Curiously, Mr. Karpov, whose style, many believe, resembles Mr. Botvinnik's, has suggested that Mr. Botvinnik never understood him and once questioned Mr. Karpov's underlying ability with the comment, "The boy doesn't have a clue about chess, and there's no future at all for him in this profession."
(courtesy NY Times 1995)

The Russian GM's that really enjoy Chess960 are usually not from the Botvinnik camp. What about Peter Svidler? He's really interesting to compare to Vlad. Why does Svidler like Chess960 and Vlad not? I think it's possible that Svidler was not totally exposed to the Botvinnik school while Kramnik was.

I do wonder how our appreciation of Chess960 depends on our past and what ideas we were exposed to as children.

Enjoy Chess960

Friday, June 1, 2012

Chess960: two move ideas no. 6

Here black equalises by realising that the e5 square is completely safe for the queen. The idea even accelerates kingside castling. Black's idea is very similar to idea no.3 in this blog:

SP37 white to play: try to see black's ideas

Enjoy 960
Hint: dxe5, Qxe5, f4?! Black also sees that a1/b2 are weak squares
Note: there is a big difference between 1.d4...e5 and 1.f4...e5. This is because after 1.f4 and a pawn exchange, black's queen on e5 is no longer safe from white's threat Nb3/d4.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Chess960: Chess education in the 21st century thanks to Mr Botvinnik

I grew up in an isolated part of the world that had no history or culture of playing chess. None of my family played chess or were even vaguely interested, none of my friends played it, nothing at school, no chess training colleges and the internet was only used for academic and military purposes. So I had to learn it from dusty old books, some of which I still cherish today.

Let me say something up front. I'm not a fan of the Botvinnik school! Personally I think the Botvinnik system of chess education is a curse upon chess and we will have to wait at least another couple of decades until the old fashion/imperialist/science oriented approach to chess education is finally out of the system. Unfortunately Kasparov and Kramnik are products of the Botvinnik school and as such are still supporters of it.

The Botvinnik system is responsible for the corrupt idea that it is good to study just a few Chess openings to very great depth. It has industrialised chess education. Yes it has been a great success, but it has been too successful because it has turned chess into a nerdy memory intensive male dominated game. Chess960 led by Bobby Fischer is actually a reaction against the Botvinnik approach I think.....

And here is the irony. I'm actually interested in computer chess just as Mr Botvinnik was! I started Chess too late when I was twenty years old after seeing Chessmaster 8000 in the shop window of the local game store. The love for Chess began.....better late than never. However reading theoretical books and combining it with a poor chess engine is not a good way to learn!

The problem was that the programmers did not properly dumb down Chessmaster and it would not emulate typical human tactical blunders. So I never really had it etched into my vision to see the typical patterns of tactical opportunity. Once I started playing real people, I wasn't seeing the typical tactical blunders that they and I make on a regular basis.

For me the journey has been to learn how to code in C++ and learn how to compile software, just so that I could materialize the engine I was always looking for as a young adult. Although these days with the internet there is not much use for a training chess engine, it's been a project.

This Stockfish960 training engine I've modified is almost the completion of everything I ever wanted in a training engine and it could not have been possible without the generosity of time of a community of people. I've had to hybridize the skill level concepts of Houdini and Stockfish to do it.
  1. It plays decent 960 openings for a couple of moves
  2. It makes decent tactical blunders to learn from
  3. It's struggles like a human in complex sharp tactical positions
  4. It improves like a human in quiet positions
  5. It absorbs time on the clock much like a human
  6. It allows active chess to be played against it
  7. It improves it's play just enough so that the endgame is a challenge for learning
  8. It's skill level advances so that you know where your limits are
  9. It will resign when the position is lost and it will accept a draw
The problem with the major engines out there today are these:
  1. Houdini patronizes the player by playing it's move instantly
  2. Houdini limits the depth but does not improve in the endgame much
  3. Houdini plays a lot of odd blunders that a human wouldn't make
  4. Stockfish weakens it's play positionally, but not so much tactically
  5. None of the engines play a decent Chess960 opening
The two issues that I still have to work on in Stockfish960 training engine are these:
  1. Very occasionally due to random chance, the Stockfish method for worsening the positional evaluation of the engine means that the engine might play a couple of non-human looking moves. It's a real challenge to remove these when they do happen because it is not a simple problem to perfectly simulate mediocrity with an engine.
  2. Houdini is absolutely brilliant at developing the queen in Chess960, but the Stockfish engine is wanting in that area. That will be a challenge to improve and hopefully the open source developers of Stockfish will address this issue one day. However for the purposes of chess960 training, it's not a big issue.
Anybody want to start an anti-Botvinnik revolution? 


Enjoy 960

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Chess960: two move ideas no. 5

Here black has decided not to spend the time calculating the effects of symmetrical play after 1.f4 ...f5 and is not particularly inspired by 1.f4 ... Nb6. So instead of other possible replies to 1.f4 such as 1...b6 or 1...c5!?/Bb6 or 1...f6, black comes up with a nice harmonious gambit idea instead:

SP357 white to play: trace back the moves and try to see black's ideas

Enjoy 960
Hint: Bb6, Nc7, d5/d6, f5/f6 not in any particular order

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Knowledge is power or protection?

Over at Mark Week's blog I made an interesting but I think inaccurate comment that I thought Chess960 was struggling for these reasons:
  1. Ageing demographic in the western world nations and in China. The older community are reluctant to play Chess960 because it is new and different
  2. The ever decreasing young demographic is being drawn into the computer gaming mass market and therefore Chess960 is outcompeted
However I think that this is more accurate but not exactly correct either:
  1. The ageing demographic in the western world nations and in China is actually a good thing for Chess960. This is because the older demographic like Chess960 because it is less memory intensive and they can still play Chess focusing more on concepts and a life time of chess experience, rather than speed memory and prearrangement.
  2. The ever decreasing young demographic actually love traditional chess because they can utilise their young, sharp and speedy memories to great effect in the opening by using existing chess theory that is freely available especially in the internet age. Traditional chess is actually ideal to the young cohort (especially in youthful countries like India), because blitz chess is especially suited to memory prearrangement.
However I think there is even a better explanation, that is so simple, it is essentially Occam's Razor and I think is at the very heart of why Chess960 is slow on the uptake:

Knowledge is not power,
Knowledge is protection.

When we try to protect ourselves with knowledge, it appears like we are more "powerful" but actually what we do is to destroy diversity and simplify our lives in order to feel safe. But is that actually helpful to us?


Chess960: Angelic start positions, where is the devil?

Here is an amazing SP. Almost nothing white does causes any stress for black at all. It feels like black is in heaven because no matter what white does, black has got a perfect reply:
SP459: How does white light the fire in this position?

The features that make this SP so "heavenly" to play for black:
  1. After 1.g4 black can play by symmetry with no apparent suffering. The rooks are exchanged off and symmetry continues. When it finally breaks, black seems completely fine.
  2. The queen can develop to f4/f5 and then to a4/a5 without every being attacked or threatened.
  3. White does not have a starting move that comes to anything! a4?! b4?!
  4. White 1. c4 ... g5!
  5. White 1. d4 ... g5!
  6. White 1. e4 ... g5!
  7. White 1. f4 ... g5!
  8. White 1. g5 ... g5!
  9. White 1. Nd3 ... g5! Nc5 (mate #1) Nd6!
  10. As soon as the military knights develop, they simply get in the way of the pawn front line. But if the pawn front line is developed first, black develops more quickly than white can.
  11. Incredibly, all the mating attacks are easily extinguished including Nc3/b5+Qf4 attacking c7 mate#
Heaven for black?

Enjoy 960

PS) Ok have checked it in a bit more detail. This is actually a really slow and creepy SP. The techniques seem to be to advance the kingside pawns threatening to break through on that side. Develop the military knights NOT to c3/d3 but b3/c3 and both sides castle queenside. This gives white the option of d3. Then white slowly starves black of good moves (kind of a very high level zugswang approach) and incrementally improves their own position until black is forced to play a truly weakening move. The slow strangling of black is accelerated if white can threaten to break through the pawns on the kingside as a long term threat as a function of having one extra tempo.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Chess960: two move ideas no. 4

Here black has decided to play the opening actively with a beautiful pawn gambit idea that allows black a lot of freedom to develop quickly with the promise of a queen-side attack. You can notice the similarity of this idea with idea no.2 in this blog.

SP458 white to play: trace back the moves and try to see black's ideas

Enjoy 960
Hint: g6, h5, Bg7, Bg6, Nd6, O-O-O (not in any particular order)

The Art of Chess960

Hi there
No words required, just enjoy the symmetry that exists for a little while:

SP412 Move 5, black to play

Enjoy 960

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Chess960: two move ideas no. 3

In the first two moves, black has thought of a nice idea to equalize since the c5 square is safe. You can notice a similarity with idea no.1 in that there is no serious downside in developing a major piece early.

SP928 white to play: trace back the moves and try to see black's idea

Enjoy 960
Hint: Rxc5, b6, f6, Ne6, Qf7, O-O

Chess960: two move ideas no. 2

In the first two moves, black has found a beautiful gambit idea, because developing the queen early has no serious downside:

SP522 black to play: trace back the moves and try to see black's ideas

Enjoy 960
Hint: d5, Qxf5

Chess960: two move ideas no. 1

Considering that many Chess960 players don't speak English, here is the beginning of a series of diagrams that contain ideas from the first two moves that can be seen without using many words to describe them.

SP785 black to play: trace back the moves and try to see white's ideas

Enjoy 960
Hint: e4, f5

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Chess960: If you love genetics you will love 960

I do not understand why more geneticists and scientists are not playing Chess960. They would love it. Buried in the sequence of all Chess960 positions, are clusters of thematic positions. Tonight I played SP456 a very easy number to remember! This SP has to be one of the most hideously complex positions in the whole set of 960. Why is that? Here is the position:

SP456: Complexity!

The diagram on the right shows where you will find the KQR sequence on the king-side in the set of Chess960 positions. The diagram is rotated to fit on this page so SP001 is top left and reads down then across. In the diagram you can just see where the dark splotches represent the KQR positions. There are only 18 of them! If you take the mirror of them RQK then there are 36 positions, but Chess960 is not actually symmetrical about the half way because of the castling rule, and so I'm reluctant to include the mirror positions.

The amazing thing about the KQR sequence on the kingside edge are these features:
  1. There are probably at least 12 possible pawn moves to start the game that are all feasible, and must be ruled out by merit. Incredibly, every single pawn is defended which is pretty special.
  2. The a-pawn is particularly effective in this SP. This is because it develops a bishop on a2, it is backed up by a rook already, and if it is pushed up the file a4-a5 it potentially biffs a knight on b6.
  3. The green lines show that the bishops are poised to make some deadly attacks on the KQR sequence and the pawn move a3 or a4 followed by Ba2 attacking black's queen on g8, is a surprisingly effective development sequence
  4. It is difficult to know how to develop the queen (so what's new!)
  5. King-side castling is a high probability, and so the other side of the board and the center become major themes
  6. All the heavy weight pieces are concentrated on one side of the board, leaving all the minor pieces on the other side, and a lone undefended rook. Thus the queenside is a minefield of potentially undefended squares and holes in the position if it is not properly secured.
  7. There is a possibility to rapidly push out the kingside pawns f5/g5/h5 and not even castle at all.
The thing about SP456 is this, because all the minor pieces are concentrated on one side of the board, the chess960 players have to achieve three important high level tasks:
  1. They must structurally develop the queen-side to secure it from possible long term structural weaknesses
  2. They must structurally develop the queen-side to best develop the minor pieces
  3. They should be mindful of the powerful attacks that reflect back at the king-side.
Objectives 1 and 2 above are actually competing against each other. Yes it is possible to build a beautifully secure pawn structure on the queenside, but then the minor pieces won't be developed properly. It's a compromise and a potential minefield.

Enjoy 960.

Note: Queenside means the same as it does for traditional chess, except that the queen is not actually on the queenside!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Chess960 & Double Chess960 for Winboard

Here is a modification of the wonderful Winboard software that I slightly modified to be more useful as a dedicated Chess960 application for single player verses engine training exercises. It includes a modified version of the latest Stockfish engine that plays better Chess960 openings.

A big thanks goes to the developers of Winboard and Stockfish, who have made their code open source for the rest of us to enjoy. I update the code from time to time with new ideas, so check back for the latest version.

Winboard-960 can be downloaded here:
For information on the Stockfish960Trainer engine, click *here*


 * Winboard Copyright 1991 by Digital Equipment Corporation, Maynard,
 * Massachusetts.
 * Enhancements Copyright 1992-2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006,
 * 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
 * Enhancements Copyright 2005 Alessandro Scotti
 * XBoard borrows its colors and the bitmaps.xchess bitmap set from XChess,
 * which was written and is copyrighted by Wayne Christopher.
 * The following terms apply to Digital Equipment Corporation's copyright
 * interest in XBoard:
 * ------------------------------------------------------------------------
 * All Rights Reserved
 * Permission to use, copy, modify, and distribute this software and its
 * documentation for any purpose and without fee is hereby granted,
 * provided that the above copyright notice appear in all copies and that
 * both that copyright notice and this permission notice appear in
 * supporting documentation, and that the name of Digital not be
 * used in advertising or publicity pertaining to distribution of the
 * software without specific, written prior permission.
 * ------------------------------------------------------------------------
 * The following terms apply to the enhanced version of XBoard
 * distributed by the Free Software Foundation:
 * ------------------------------------------------------------------------
 * GNU XBoard is free software: you can redistribute it and/or modify
 * it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by
 * the Free Software Foundation, either version 3 of the License, or (at
 * your option) any later version.
 * GNU XBoard is distributed in the hope that it will be useful, but
 * WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of
 * General Public License for more details.
 * You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License
 * along with this program. If not, see http://www.gnu.org/licenses/

Stockfish, a UCI chess playing engine derived from Glaurung 2.1
  Copyright (C) 2004-2008 Tord Romstad (Glaurung author)
  Copyright (C) 2008-2012 Marco Costalba, Joona Kiiski, Tord Romstad


Enjoy 960