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


  1. Hey Mark
    Before we start we better check that SP000 = BBQNNRKR. Surprisingly, in my studies so far of this sp, it is actually fairly quiet to begin with if I move a pawn first. I think the fundamental reason is that the rooks are backing up ineffective pawns on f4 and h4 rather than backing up center pawn, as it was in our other barbecue trial.

    1. Ne3

    ...developing and threatening to hit two weak squares in black's camp, e7 and g7. The argument here is a bit the same as our previous titular bishops game 2.a4. By playing Ne3, I loose nothing, and whatever you play gives me information on how to proceed with advantage.

  2. Yes, that's the position I've been looking at. The BBQ on the a-side attack the RKR hunched together on the h-side. On top of that, the f-Rook interferes with castling O-O. If there are positions where Black is in trouble from the start, this must be a candidate.

    I've seen at least one list of SPs that started numbering from SP001, with all the positions matching the standard convention except this one. It was assigned SP960...

    1.Ne3 Nf6

    ...The Knight develops to a natural square where it addresses White's threats against the e- and g-Pawns. Other moves I looked at were 1...Ne6 and 1...c5. They both look satisfactory, but I prefer the text. - Mark

  3. Two opening knight moves! That is fairly rare from my experience.

    1.Ne3 Nf6 2.b4

    ...Preparing to play the Barbecue Xtreme gambit. The idea that I'm increasingly enjoying as white in the BBQ's is to prevent the symmetry of c4/c5/b3/b6 by isolating the edge pawn if necessary. The simple observation is that the queenside edge pawn is almost inconsequential for large slabs of the game. By the time it does become a factor, I hope to have a significant lead as white such that it doesn't matter.

  4. Black doesn't have a large choice of plans...

    1.Ne3 Nf6 2.b4 b6

    ...Sooner or later this is a necessary move. I don't think the immediate issue with moves like 2.b4 (and 1...b5 in our previous game) is the Queenside edge-Pawn. It's the hole on a4 (a5 in previous game) and, to some extent, a3 (a6). - Mark

  5. Ah yes thanks for reminding me that much of what is so attractive about chess960 are the "holes" as much as the pieces!

    Looks like you were right Mark. The "Barbecue Xtreme" SP looks a difficult challenge for black. However I could be wrong, but I think that possibly the only way to make it difficult is the opening I've played. Wonder if you have seen one variation where the knights exchange on d5 and white plays Bxg7! at just move 8.

    1.Ne3 Nf6 2.b4 b6 3.d4

    ...White expends his free tempo on a non-developing but effective move, on the theory that black will have to return the tempo on an ineffective move at some point.

  6. Yes, the pressure is palpable here. I'm also seeing themes similar to the first BBQ game...

    2.b4 b6 3.d4 Ne6

    ...The text and 3...c5 were the only moves I looked at. Black has to play actively to keep from being overwhelmed. - Mark

  7. Mark, I'm not sure but I think your last move deserves a "!". For a while I honestly feared that we had found an SP that is lost for black, but that is because once again I'm blinded by traditional chess because I didn't consider the possibility of Ne6/Nf4 and even Ng6.

    2.b4 b6 3.d4 Ne6 4.c4

    ...white continues to heap on the pressure with simple moves.

  8. I think it's too early to assign punctuation. For one thing, it clouds objectivity...

    3.d4 Ne6 4.c4 c5

    ...Continuing to seek counterplay with active moves. - Mark

  9. 3.d4 Ne6 4.c4 c5 5.d5

    ...continuing on the "barbecue xtreme gambit" which is an interesting variation on our other BBQ game. White's game has been so simple, in a real game black would surely be in time trouble?

    This is why I think most people are wrong about Chess960. There is plenty of memorization in it. Top players will have to remember the key variations in say 40 or 50 SP's? The memorization workload is probably no different to traditional chess in terms of quantity.

  10. After playing two BBQ positions, I'm starting to think that it's the Bishops and Queen that determine the character of the opening play. I'm not even sure I know what that means, but if it's true then there are 96 basic positions = 48 doubled. Studying those 48 positions might be enough to master the chess960 opening...

    4.c4 c5 5.d5 Nf4

    ...The alternative 5...Nd4 isn't attractive. - Mark

  11. Ok, when I look at Chess960, I'll think of the start in terms of BB's and Q's a bit more. Perhaps in following trials we could experiment with BB and Q arrangements to tease the idea out a bit.

    Well, I've learned something again. Nf4 might be ok! After all do I really want to play g3?

    4.c4 c5 5.d5 Nf4 6.Qd2

    ...the same queen move as last BBQ gambit!

  12. Once again the BBQ Gambit Accepted...

    5.d5 Nf4 6.Qd2 cxb4

    ...Keeps the center fluid and will gain a tempo if White recaptures. - Mark

  13. Mark big news in Chess960 here:
    You will see Chess960 mentioned in the second paragraph.

    Sorry, just a bit of a laugh!

    Well after the somewhat odd move Qd2 (achieving what exactly?) I better at least try to make a point with it:

    5.d5 Nf4 6.Qd2 cxb4 7.g3

    ...prepares a very interesting move order combination of solid pawn structure later, keeping the initiative, restricting a knight on g6, planning to double hit e7 (taking advantage of the weakness of black's e-pawn to move forward while white's e-pawn has no such disadvantage).

    In both the BBQ games I've been amazed and a bit humbled by how black struggles to play ...e6 to counter white's d5 that blocks the diagonal. However in this particular game, I'm really struggling to put into words exactly why ...e6 is not good for black. There are so many reasons and some of them appear to be tactical (like situations where ...e6 weakens d6 which allows Nd3/Nf5/Nd6)

    Probably all ineffective in the end, but for me, the ...e6 problem for black is really interesting in these BBQ's.

  14. The play against d5 (and/or c4) is always an option for later in the game. For now there are more pressing matters...

    6.Qd2 cxb4 7.g3 Ng6

    ...My move is practically forced. - Mark

  15. Yes I missed the simple logic that there is no point to play ...e6 right now anyway! Your Ng6 has completed a very honorable journey in defense of the kingdom!

    How'd the dentist turn out? Hopefully ok.... If it's any consolation I have receding gums and plaque buildup :)

    6.Qd2 cxb4 7.g3 Ng6 8.Qxb4

    ...claiming back the pawn with initiative. Unlike last BBQ, this time if I don't take back the pawn I feel like I have nothing left. If you want to exchange dark bishops, I hope that I still have enough left in the initiative department still.

  16. Dental appointment is scheduled mid-September to discuss the roadmap for further pain & suffering. Until then, I'm hoping that the problem will simply disappear into thin air...

    7.g3 Ng6 8.Qxb4 Bd6

    ...Black takes the lead in development and waits to see where White will place the Queen. - Mark

  17. ...Bd6 was a great move and I didn't expect it. I'm "conditioned" to hate bishops in front of pawns. However logic should over-ride this conditioning and looks like you have been able to apply it!

    7.g3 Ng6 8.Qxb4 Bd6. 9.Qd2

    ...keeps the possibility of bringing the queen over to g5. Black has played perfectly and my initiative has vanished like your toothache hopefully will. Looks like my barbecue gambit is sunk in the water and my whole approach to this SP will have to be rethought :(

  18. The Bishop in front of the Pawn is only temporary...

    8.Qxb4 Bd6 9.Qd2 Bc5

    ...Even so, the d-Pawn is happy to stay on d7 because it doesn't interfere with the development of any other pieces. When we block the d-Pawn (or e-Pawn) in the traditional setup, we are complicating development. That isn't the case here. - Mark

  19. What can I say about Chess960! It just tests us on so many levels. Our sense of aesthetics is confronted yet the aesthetics are still all there. Imagine that you are thinking 6 moves ahead, and you have to consider ...Bd6 in your mind then!

    8.Qxb4 Bd6 9.Qd2 Bc5 10. Nf5

    ...takes advantage of black's last move by preparing the future moves Nd3 and e4, and if black is not careful there is a wonderful trick Nh6! Still black cannot think about ...e5/e6.

    I'm starting to like the barbecue gambit again. After all what is black going to do now? If ...Re8 preparing to castle, Nd3 attacking the dark bishop.

    Since this is the last move, I'll do a write up of this opening from the perspective of your excellent defensive play using moves you don't see in traditional chess.

  20. If Black can liberate the Rh8, there is no need to castle...

    9.Qd2 Bc5 10.Nf5 h5

    ...Also looks to ...h4, opening White's King position. This game is far from decided and all three results are still possible. - Mark

  21. Thanks for the game Mark. I've posted the write up and set up the place marker for the next trial, SP959 RKRNNQBB where I am now to experience a potential "grilling" as black in a very difficult looking barbecue SP!