Tuesday, August 7, 2012

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)

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