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?


  1. I thought we could start out with:

    SP464 = BBRNNKRQ

    This SP is similar to the barbecues except that it features the cluster of "KRQ" or "KQR" or "QKR" as the only possibilities. The SP's with these clusters normally end up with almost all the minor pieces on one half of the board with only a rook interposed between them! They are worth experimenting with because there are quite a few of them:
    BB combination = 6
    RNN combination = 3
    KRQ combination = 3

    6*3*3*2 = 108 or roughly 10% of all games

    The other feature is that normally all the pawns on the second rank are defended. In a very few of these SP's, either an a-pawn or d-pawn is undefended but never any other pawn.

    The SP464 I have chosen IS one of the few with an undefended d-pawn. Perhaps I should have chosen SP468 = RBBNNKRQ which has no undefended pawns and is more representative of these series of SP's.

    I'm exhausted from writing up this blog, so I'll play my move as white tomorrow.


  2. Subscribed. It's OK to change SPs if you prefer to play the other one. - Mark

  3. Thanks Mark. I've switched back to SP468 = RBBNNKRQ.

    The big challenges in this SP is what to do with the queen.

    1. Nf3

    ...I looked c4, d4 even e4 but came to the conclusion that they commit me too much on how I'm going to develop the bishops that have so many possibilities. They can even develop via a2/b2/a3! The other issue is that d4 encourages symmetry.

    The problem I have with 1.Nf3 is that it blocks the queen on the long diagonal, the very piece that is most problematic to develop!

    If you play 1...d5 there is a possibility that I could break all rules of chess and play 2.Ne3!? Surprisingly, that can actually increase my chances to play d4 or e4 later!

    Check out the hypothetical line on the main page where my knights bolt the paddock!

  4. I considered 1...O-O, but decided there's no reason to rush castling...

    1.Nf3 c5

    ...A flexible move that develops, watches the center, and leaves most options open. - Mark

  5. Having never played 1.Knight games before (not in my style), I've really struggled here. The problem with 1.Nf3 is that it doesn't do anything. It attacks e5, but you are not going to contest that square anyway (you don't need to).

    1.Nf3 c5 2.c4

    ...the only response I could find that justifies Nf3, because by incredibly good fortune, black will struggle to develop the light bishop because of a single gambit line white has.

  6. I didn't like anything I looked at, but there comes a time when you have to move...

    1.Nf3 c5 2.c4 b6

    ...What an awkward SP. - Mark

  7. Hi Mark, there are some spectacular fireworks possible in this SP depending on the first few moves (see the accelerated center attack on my blog).

    When you played 2.c4 I thought it was a very good move because it answers my odd first move 1.Nf3 so well...

    I fished around with my computer for quite some time until a simple tactical "device" made itself obvious....

    2.c4 struggles because of a tactical gambit line that involves the a8 rook, the c6 square and the feature of this SP that the bishops can transpose to the c3/f3/c6/f6 squares without being directly attack-able by a knight, and therefore remain on the long diagonals. In traditional chess, the bishops must sit on b2/g2/b7/g7 to stay on the long diagonal. I think that could be a useful "finding".

    Another feature in common with the barbecues, is the "under achieving" e-pawn. These are pawns that are ineffective and even dangerous to move. They appear to be lazy soldiers or even conscientious objectors!

    1.Nf3 c5 2.c4 b6 3.d4

    ...develops a bishop and threatens to dominate the center and fragment black's c-side.

  8. Correction to my comments above...

    1. c5 struggles I should have said, because of the a8 rook a tactical gambit line etc...

  9. Another tough move. I had a hard time deciding between 3...Nc6 and the move played...

    2.c4 b6 3.d4 Nd6

    ...Like the RKR setup in the extreme barbecue games, the KRQ in the corner requires special care. I imagine KQR would also be a challenge. - Mark

  10. Wow Nd6 is creative because it maintains some initiative. We are now about to enter into a huge tactical minefield for many many moves. I'm amazed at how this SP and it's brothers and sisters causes so much tactical heat without the major pieces getting actively involved!

    2.c4 b6 3.d4 Nd6 4.dxc5

    ...keeps it simple and adds a ton of pressure on black which in practical play would cause a big time deficit.

  11. Minor pieces get involved in hand-to-hand combat in a way the major pieces can't, because Queens and Rooks are too valuable to sacrifice for a few Pawns...

    3.d4 Nd6 4.dxc5 bxc5

    ...The alternative 4...Nxc4 doesn't work. - Mark

  12. Agreed, 4.Nxc4 did seem to be a mistake. It would have produced some mind boggling variations continuing on through to move 20 at least.

    I've played this SP once before and so I have a familiarity with it born from painful experience....

    What I've noticed with these SP's is that because all the minors are on one side of the board, pawns develop and exchange off and it can leave the minor side almost "stripped down" like a bush fire with nothing but minor pieces scattered about! Then what happens is that the whole "value" of the bishops is fundamentally changed because they have so much room to operate...

    Furthermore, with the KRQ combination still un-activated, the bishops value sky rockets against the lone rook on the weak side of the board where it becomes an open target....

    In these SP's, I think the valuation of rook and bishop becomes highly dependent and haphazard. The release of the queen is a defining moment and when that happens, everything suddenly changes because there are undefended squares all over the place that she can use.

    The main problem I see with the position as it stands now, is that because we have RBB and not BBR, you have given my queen an escape square at h3, one which you do not have the luxury of having because your bishop is blocked but mine is not.

    She can escape along the diagonal if there is no opposing bishop, but in this situation on the board now, if you play g6 to release her, I can still fianchetto the bishop against her via Bc1/d2/c3 and incredibly you cannot kick me off that square with a knight (the Bc3/Bf3 feature I've noticed before). However since you have moved g6, now you must move h5 in order to escape the queen via h6, which is a waste of tempo?

    So with this SP RBBxxxxQ there is almost no way for the queen to safely develop for a very long time, but she can get out quicker if the opponent lets her. Switching it to BBRxxxxQ and suddenly both queens always can escape via the h-file to h3/h6 which is undisputed.

    All the engines really struggle with queens in the corner but Houdini the least, because of their less dynamic evaluations. Firstly they don't understand how to develop the queen, and secondly because the bishops value sky rockets but the engines don't see it, their whole evaluation system goes haywire.

    3.d4 Nd6 4.dxc5 bxc5 5.Bd3

    ...protects c4 but critically keeps the bishop on the b1-h7 diagonal preventing black's queen from an easy escape.

    (Note that this is only my analysis and therefore subject to many many inaccuracies and errors in judgement and I could be completely wrong!!)

  13. Here's one strategy for handling the Bc1 vs Qh8 scenario: Black waits until White commits to one diagonal, then takes the other. There are alternative strategies. No one ever said chess960 was easy. Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

    4.dxc5 bxc5 5.Bd3 Ne6

    ...Developing another minor piece and returning the ball to White. - Mark

  14. Good point. Another way is to shield the long diagonal attack on the queen with your own pieces.

    Love the way you have kept initiative at the expense of the isolated edge pawn. I think your d-pawn is now my primary long term target.

    Love the way that you seem to be pointing to the general idea in the xBB or BBx games that you can put the knights out in front of the center pawns, because those pawns only activate later.

    4.dxc5 bxc5 5.Bd3 Ne6 6.Nc3

    ...thought for a long time here because your last move was very solid. Nc3 simple development volleying the ball back at black and keeping many options open.

  15. Another tough move, again ignoring tried and true principles known from SP518...

    5.Bd3 Ne6 6.Nc3 Bb7

    ...Develops another minor piece and tempts White to overextend, or is it a bluff? - Mark

  16. Yes a beautiful bluff Mark! Ne5...Ke8 actually works! What is the Ne5 going to do out in the open with no backup or targets?

    What an amazing SP this is. Check out the "g-side implosion" hypothetical on my main blog.

    The variety that crop up in such a short number of moves is really special and for a grand-master who can see many moves ahead, even they are going to get confused because there are so many confounding variations.

    5.Bd3 Ne6 6.Nc3 Bb7 7.h4

    ...waiting no longer - the queen needs to develop. Now after a bit more heavy lifting, white will attempt to deconstruct black's position.

  17. Developing the last minor piece doesn't work, so Black turns his attention to the Queen...

    6.Nc3 Bb7 7.h4 h5

    ...The more I looked at 7...h5, the more I was convinced it was the only move. Even so, it's good enough. - Mark

  18. 6.Nc3 Bb7 7.h4 h5 8.Qh3

    ...just continue with concrete development until more ideas emerge. One thing for sure, I will not castle c-side unless you let me, because the situation over there is too unstable.

  19. Yes, the difficulty castling to either side has been an ongoing theme in this game...

    7.h4 h5 8.Qh3 g6

    ...Continuing with the move I intended to play after 8.Qh3. The Queen has great scope on the a1-h8 diagonal. - Mark

  20. Yes g6 looks good! I think I stuffed up giving you this option...But I could not solve the problem of the "queen and bishop playing cat and mouse" (see my main blog). The bishops can only fight the queen on two out of three diagonals! I've never struck this dilemma before.

    7.h4 h5 8.Qh3 g6. 9.Bd2

    ...I will kick your queen off the long diagonal and take it for myself if it kills me!

  21. A strange game keeps getting stranger...

    8.Qh3 g6 9.Bd2 f5

    ...Prevents g4. - Mark

  22. I totally agree Mark. After 7....h5 I scratched my head for ages trying to work out what is going on in this SP!

    Before I play my next move (you have completely thrown me with ...f5!?), could we take a moment to talk about what you meant "prevents g4?" I could understand if you meant "prevents e4".

    In the main blog I've found an incredible variation (hypothetical no.7) that I think might explain what you meant but only if I play both e4 and g4!

    I'll play my next move in a day or two after I understand your last move a bit clearer. If you would not have played ...f5, I was considering Nd5/Bc3 type scenario because I think it is fine to leave my b2 pawn undefended.

    I'm amazed at the problem your military knights have! You need the d-knight to defend your bishop on b7 in some lines and you need your e-knight to defend from Qxd7 in other lines.

    It's almost like before you played ...f5, what other alternative was there that actually works?

  23. There's not much Black can do against White's plan of grabbing the a1-h8 diagonal, so Black must find active play elsewhere. Sooner or later, most likely after O-O-O, the move g2-g4 will be White's primary threat to open the game and activate the h-side pieces. Now it will be harder to do that. The move e2-e4 doesn't bother me, because it loosens White's central position, creating weaknesses.

    I could have also mentioned that ...f5 creates a safety square on f7 for the King. The move ...f6 is less effective because it blocks the long diagonal before White is threatening anything and it does nothing against the g2-g4 threat. - Mark

  24. Thanks for that analysis Mark. The position on the board right now is one of the most special positions I've ever seen. Thanks for the move ...f5 it's an incredible move, completely threw me and it also does so much work.

    As soon as I understand this position I'll make a move. At the moment it's simple a case of O-O or O-O-O. Each of them throw up a thousand fascinating lines with white always maintaining initiative but black fighting on. Both kings become exposed, but it's a question of how to attack, defend and manage king safety. The tactics are breathtaking at times.

    I think this position is well worth a write up on the blog. The analysis will be difficult because you have to cut to the essence of the situation.

  25. Well here's the thing. Basically you have found a great defensive play with ...f5/Ne4. Those two moves do so much that I think I have to play more actively than castling either side. It depends on the details of the endgame but I'm no expert.

    So, if you play Ne4 very soon, it's BNvBB.
    But, if I play Nd5 I think it will be BBvBN.

    How open is the game for two bishops? Probably better to have a BN combo.

    The main thing is that I have to use a device to activate my queen since you have closed it down with ...f5. That device is to park a minor piece on g5 and allow my queen to slide across to Qe3/d3.....

    8.Qh3 g6 9.Bd2 f5 10.Nd5!?

    ...I could find no way to create a winning endgame if I castle followed by 10....Ne4.

    So enjoy taking my pawn on b2!

    Since this is the last move of the trial, I'll do a write up and you get to pick the next SP.


  26. With all of the pieces still on the board, it's too early to weigh the nuances of endgames...

    9.Bd2 f5 10.Nd5 Qxb2

    ...Rather than start another game, I propose we play another ten moves in this game, to see how things turn out. After that I'll take a break. I have a new tournament of traditional chess (SP518) starting in a few days and I need to concentrate on those games. - Mark

  27. No probs Mark best wishes and enjoy the tourne. I think I went a bit "nuts" with my last move for the very reason that I knew we wern't going to play on and so "over cooked" the R&D just to see what could hypothetically could happen and forgot the basics in the meantime.....

    I doubt my last move was a good idea but never-the-less!

    9.Bd2 f5 10.Nd5 Qxb2 11. O-O

  28. Yes, one of the dangers of the format that we're using is to play with an eye on the cutoff point. I wanted to continue playing to make sure I wasn't leaving Black in a lost position. That means we're both unsure about what's happening, which is the sign of an unclear position...

    10.Nd5 Qxb2 11.O-O Qg7

    ...Brings the Queen to safety and protects the e-Pawn. Where will White find compensation for the sacrificed pawn? - Mark

  29. Good point. With a ten move limit, there are just a few experimental objectives possible. For example:

    1. When does the opening become truly unclear where even the initiative is gone? (when is this objective reached?)

    2. When it is truly unclear, can we make moves by principle? (when is principled play no longer possible?)

    If we ever do a write up on this SP in our busy lives, we must not let slip the opportunity to study the 9)...f5/Ne4 defense black had. I was surprised by ...f5, but when I saw the next move for black, ...Ne4 I became shocked at how shut down I was.

    10.Nd5 Qxb2 11.O-O Qg7 12. Rb1

    ...a completely "principled" move, taking the open file with the correct rook.

    As a possible hint, I have glimpsed a way forward for black with computer assistance, where that reserve army on d7/e7 get enlisted with initiative! That would be the critism of my play, that I did not focus on that reserve army especially d7 and that now I have two isolated pawns while you do not! You will notice that instead of keeping the d-file open giving me access to undermine that reserve army with a rook, I now have totally blocked the d-file up instead!

    The absolutely wonderful thing about the position at move 10 was that there was great ambiguity (and still is to some extent) with regard to what is better, bishops or knights in this position? Ultimately we have to ask that strategic question don't we?

  30. The move might have been 'principled', but the notation wasn't. Do you mean 12.Rab1 or 12.Rfb1? - Mark

  31. Very funny and sorry about that Mark! :-)


  32. I figured that was the move you meant, but it's better to be certain. Re the objectives, for me it was at first to test the non-random method of choosing an SP (it worked).

    Now we are examining a few problematic SPs to see if they are playable for both sides. So far I see no problems, but I couldn't leave the current game after just having accepted a positional Pawn sacrifice...

    11.O-O Qg7 12.Rab1 O-O

    ...Black finally connects the Rooks. I don't think Black could castle O-O before White committed to the same side. - Mark

  33. Been thinking about what I mean by "principled". The definition is a "visual" opening move with very little calculation required, and after the move is played, the fundamental evaluation has not shifted for either side one way or another. My last move 12.Rab1 is an example....

    The other contrast to "principled" is a tactical move. This is one where the opening move requires a deep degree of calculation and there is no alternative but to calculate it deeply in order to achieve ongoing equality.

    Before I make my next move, according to the board as I see it, you could not have connected your rooks up yet. You should still have a bishop on b8...

    If it turns out that we do have different boards, well we can have a laugh about it!

    Check out the picture on my main blog to compare the position that I see on the board at my move 13.

  34. I confirm that we are working with the same position. The Bishop on b8 won't be there for long. - Mark

  35. It's a fascinating position isn't it? The way the minor pieces are interacting in and around the center squares is really special!

    11.O-O Qg7 12.Rab1 O-O 13.Bc3 if Nd4 then 14.e3

    ...finally white get's the long diagonal back with initiative. I'm going for a better position and will attempt to get both rooks onto open files. However Houdini and Stockfish think that I'm playing it wrongly. Perhaps I am!

  36. I would say that a 'principled' move is one that adheres to the positional requirements of the moment. Sometimes the engine suggests a move that is inherently anti-positional, e.g. it wins a Pawn but opens a file against its own castled King. I always look for something else...

    12.Rab1 O-O 13.Bc3 Nd4 14.e3 Bxd5

    ...Forced? - Mark

  37. Is this a case of different shades of meaning in words?

    A move can be "principled" as in adhering to requirements that incorporate the knowable future. The choice therefore is principled.

    Or "principled" as in following a clear principle, but where the future cannot readily be known or calculated as a result of the principle.

    So in SP518 1.Nf3 is principled because it is optically and positionally sound but completely unclear unless you have millions of games in a database to compare with.

    I certainly take your point and it's a good one and makes the most commonsense.

    According to the engines the only other choice was 14....Nxf3+!? It seems to work but not as well. I think you chose it exactly right because now I probably loose my bishop pair that I actually wanted to keep!

    The next phase is really tricky because I go down potentially two pawns but hope to claim at least one back and the remaining material deficit compensated with highly active rooks.

    We'll see.

    15.exd4 (forced)

  38. The choice was 15...Bxc4 or the move played...

    14.e3 Bxd5 15.exd4 Nxc4

    ...Both lead to nearly identical positions where the difference is in Black's minor pieces. - Mark

  39. 16.Rfc1!? almost all lines white is totally reliant on the implied attack on black's queen to create enough time to satisfactorily reorganise. White is down two pawns but black is yet to complete development.

    If you decide to play 16....cxd4 we are in for some serious weirdness including one fascinating scenario of Q v 2B+3P (material equality).

  40. I looked at 16...cxd4, which helps White activate his game...

    15.exd4 Nxc4 16.Rfc1 Bf4

    ...The struggle for the initiative continues. White's Rooks are more active, but the Queen is out of play. - Mark

  41. dxc5 is pretty easy to rule out because Ne5 shields your queen safely. White should do something about a potential attack on both rooks if ...Na3. It seems we are in the middle of a very long tactical line here!

    17. Bxc4 if ...Bxc4 then 18.dxc5

    ...the part that amazes me about the next 5 moves is that in almost every variation on my computer, the reason why white can temporarily drop not just 2 pawns but even 3 pawns! because of your backward g3 pawn that you weakened after ...f5, and that I can pressure on the long diagonal and 7th rank against your king

  42. The choice was 18...Qh6 or the move played...

    16.Rfc1 Bf4 17.Bxc4 Bxc4 18.dxc5 Qf7

    ...The Queen is more active on f7. - Mark

  43. A major discovery and I think this is not just my imagination, is that you have discovered a principle of Ches960. In games where the major pieces are concentrated together, a backward pawn (g6) is much less a weakness than it would otherwise be.

    I'm now going to play by theme. All my initiative is in fact already gone long ago. Basically the way I see it, white is now trying to get at the g6 pawn from the opposite side of the board. White is also trying to contain the reserve army d7/e7 and white is trying to release the queen. As far as the g-side is concerned the only activity white has is to harass the backward pawn g6 somehow.

    19.Ne5 if ...Bxe5 then 20.Bxe5 if ...Bxa2 then Rb7

    ...continues the theme of activating the rooks much faster than black, at the expense of inconsequential material loss... (*I think*)

  44. I'll take the first 'if' move, but the second isn't forced...

    18.dxc5 Qf7 19.Ne5 Bxe5 20.Bxe5 Rac8

    ...That's 20 moves, Harry, making this the longest opening we've investigated. The position is still terrribly unclear.

    As I mentioned earlier, I'm going to take a break here. I have a stack of SP518 games to research and, since chess960 has made me bolder in my choice of SP518 openings than ever before, I have some unfamiliar positions to play. - Talk to you soon, Mark

  45. Knock, knock! Anybody home here? The Chess960 Jungle has been unusually quiet since our last game. My SP518 games are well under way now. One of them is on move 21 and we're just getting out of theory. If you're interested in picking up where we left off, give me a shout. - Cheers, Mark

  46. Hi Mark
    That would be great Mark. I'm happy that you are still enthusiastic for the great game and after our trials I've continued on private studies of Chess960 with some new techniques. My problem is that I'm not a Youtube kinda guy and don't even have a mic and camera to broadcast my love of Chess960.

    At one stage I thought all my workload problems were over because Chessbase-11 software has internet publishing built in, but not to blogs! The publishing tools have to go to dedicated websites because they are in javascript which these blogs don't accept.

    So the problem for me has been how to efficiently publish what I am finding and enjoying with Chess960 not wasting my own time since my readership is almost completely non-existent (although one day that might change - perhaps when I am dead who knows? :-)

    I think you're own blog is fantastic and you know how to weave the line between delivering good information in the old fashioned text/graphic format, while minimising your own work load at the same time.

    For now I'll finish the write up for the last trial we played, and start up a new place holder for the next trial SP. I'd be particularly interested in playing the first 10 moves of the danger SP's you found in your "waving the yellow flag" post.

    Cheers, Harry

  47. Yes, I had the same idea about the yellow flag SPs. For these new games I will study the CCRL collections to determine why the engines are getting into trouble. Choose the first SP you want to play and take White. Then give me a nudge via this post when you have a new post set up. - Mark

  48. I've finished the write up for this trial game. You might like to take a look at the first few paragraphs just to go down memory lane!

    I've set up the next placeholder and played my first move.
    Cheers, Harry

  49. I look at the blogging as more of a public diary than anything else. It helps me keep track of where I've been and what I've done. If anyone else is interested, that's an additional benefit.

    If chess960 ever does become popular, it will probably be a double edge sword. A lot of the fun today is being able to explore ideas that no one has looked at before. Once more people start to look at the same material, it will become harder to be original, like investigating traditional chess openings starting at move 20. - Mark