Monday, July 25, 2011

Chess960: "Square one"

I don't think anyone is reading this blog now, except for some spambots, which find and read this blog with a lot of interest including the notorious "toothwhitener" spam-bot. Whatever and whoever reads this blog in the future, thank you and sincerely best wishes to you. All the work to help educate on Chess960 was not wasted even if just one person reads this blog and get's something from it. Here is a little "anthem" for Chess960 by Coldplay. It is off their second album "X&Y" and the track is called "Square One". It's is a great contemplation of what Chess960 is.

"Square One" by Coldplay (courtesy of
You're in control, is there anywhere you wanna go? 
You're in control, is there anything you wanna know? 
The future's for discovering 
The space in which we're traveling 

From the top of the first page 
To the end of the last day 
From the start in your own way 
You just want somebody listening to what you say 
It doesn't matter who you are 

Under the surface trying to break through 
Deciphering the codes in you 
I need a compass, draw me a map 
I'm on the top, I can't get back 

The first line on the first page
To the end of the last page
From the start in your own way 
You just want somebody listening to what you say 
It doesn't matter who you are 
It doesn't matter who you are 

Is there anybody out there who is lost and hurt and lonely too 
Are they bleeding all your colors into one? 
And if you come undone as if you've been run through 
Some catapult, it fired you, you wonder if your chance will ever come 
Or if you're stuck in square one

Monday, July 18, 2011

Chess960: How to practice it - part two

Eh Chess960 people. I started a thread on how to practice Chess960 a few weeks ago and so thought I'd continue the idea today. Here are some ideas on how to quickly read a Chess960 start position which is particularly useful for blitz or rapid chess games. The steps below do not take long to do once you practice them!:

Step 1: Find the knights quick attack points on the opponents 7th rank. I already explained how to do that here: Recognizing the 7th rank knight attack points by pattern. Essentially you look at the 7th rank squares one square displaced from your knight.

The 7th rank green square equivalents are attack-able in two moves.
The yellow squares in three moves.

Step 2: Ask the question "are there "Chivalry Knights" in the start position? To help remind you, Chivalry knights exist in two forms NxN and NxxxN. If so then here is how to quickly determine the pawn moves you should be very skeptical and cautious about playing:

SP257 Chivalry Knights: Make these pawn moves and you will leave holes!
The way to quickly find the dangerous pawn moves, simply see the two red squares in your mind relative to the position of the chivalry knights. Here is another example:

SP160 Chivalry Knights: Make these pawn moves and you will leave holes!
If there are Military Knights on the board or any other combination of knights, you can skip this step to save time. Why is that? Because only the Chivalry knights can occupy two holes on the 5th rank left by one bad pawn move, such that from the 5th rank, the Chivalry knights then double attack a 7th rank square!

Step 3: Is a bishop next to my king? If so, then prepare for a diagonal attack!  A very simple check is to ask this question! Then you will be ready to plan for the diagonal attack before it comes:

SP253: Bishop next to the king!
The most critical situations for a diagonal attack on the king is when the bishop is both next to the king, and the king is either on the C, D or E squares. On those squares, the king can be open to attack in many complicated ways. However the relative position of the bishop directly next to the king, is the biggest give away. Note that the traditional start position is one example because the bishop is next to the king and the king is on the e-square.

Step Four: Is there an undefended edge pawn? If there is, then have a quick think about how much of an issue that could be. Usually the edge pawn is not an issue unless there are pieces underneath it or adjacent to it that are undefended. In those cases there can be some tactical problems but even then, with some simple preparation, most of the tactical plays on the edge pawn do not work

Putting it all together:
Here is an example of putting the above steps 1-4 into practice:

SP262 Blitz Game: Where are the critical points?
  1. The knights can quickly hit the 7th rank at B, D, F if the opponent allows.
  2. The position contains chivalry knights so be cautious about playing d2-d4 or b2-b4 because either one of those pawn moves potentially leaves two outposts for the chivalry knights on the your 4th rank on A, C or E.
  3. A bishop is next to the king and the king is on one of the squares C, D, E so watch out for a diagonal attack!
  4. There is an undefended edge pawn and there is an undefended rook underneath it, so watch out for an attack on it.
Having done those four steps, the most critical analysis of the start position is already done. Now comes the time to make a move!

Step Five: What pawn move to make?
The opening pawn moves are a big aspect of the art of Chess960. There are many choices and possibilities for both sides. Sometimes it is even better to play out a knight first (but not often!). Mostly it is best to play a pawn move followed by a knight move, then followed by another pawn move. For a more detailed discussion of the pawn moves, see:

Enjoy 960

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Chess960: Dysgenic Strategies

I think there is a legitimate new strategy in Chess960 that does not appear nearly as often in Chess. It is the art of deciding when your own position is so twisted up, that the only option is to mutually twist it. Sometimes a Chess960 player will experience a sudden brain cramp that both players are simply not prepared for. The idea is so bad and so dysfunctional, that rather than causing an instant resignation by the brain cramped player, the position devolves into a strange and completely unworkable position that neither player can respond properly to any longer. Thus the brain cramped player is spared from defeat by the art of the "Dysgenic" draw. Unlike a stalemate, a "Dysgenic" draw occurs when the players can still make moves, but the position is so unworkable that any moves would be utterly pointless.

In Wiki the definition of Dysgenics is:

Dysgenics (also known as cacogenics) is the study of factors producing
 the accumulation and perpetuation of defective or disadvantageous genes and traits
 in the offspring of a particular population or species. - 

As is often the case when I stumble across a definition in Wikipedia, the description is so good and accurate of the Chess960 equivalent, that I simply cannot add or improve the definition. All I can do is to recast it in terms of Chess960:

Dysgenics960 (also known as cacogenics960) is the study of factors
 the accumulation and perpetuation of defective
or disadvantageous moves and positions
 in the offspring
of a particular population of start positions. - HarryO

Here is a classic example of how a "cacogenic" position emerges in Chess960:

SP247 Black to move: The penultimate moment of devolution
Here playing as black in a blitz game, I was so cramped up and the start so poorly coordinated that there was little contribution that I could make except to devolve the position. I came to the brain cramped conclusion that NxN/Nc5 would probably be ok. Therefore in this brain cramp state I proceeded with the plan, but faltered (thankfully) before the final moment of execution. Here is that moment:

SP247 Black to play: The Dysgenic Strategy
By sheer random luck without any degree of thought at all, I stumbled upon a new Chess strategy. Nc5 was a terrible idea, and so instead the game went on:
7)      ... Nd7!  The dysgenic strategy begins
8) g5   ...       White wants to keep black twisted and depraved by preventing Nf6. At the time I thought this was a very good idea by white and secretly congratulated them silently but with muttering under the breath. 
8)      ... g6    Black decides that because there is nothing that can be done about the mangled position on the c-side, then simply continue development.
9) Qc3  ...       White is forced to protect d5 (Qb4 or Qd2 do not work)
9)      ... f5    Knowing that en-passant on the f-pawn is not an option for white, the idea is to try and devolve the position more generally via an old hedgehog strategy that is now cast as a dysgenic strategy.
10) Ba3 ... Qg7!   Black has successfully devolved the position!

SP247 White to play: Draw due to dysfunction
Ok so what has black achieved in this dysgenic strategy?
  1. All black's minor pieces are totally bound up unable to move and ineffective! In that sense the position is very beautiful!
  2. Black's queen is boycotted from any useful play except to block the bishop. In that sense the position is very beautiful!
  3. White is suffering from high level mutual dysgenic dysfunction! In that sense the position is very beautiful.
The game was drawn here in this informal game and I sincerely respect my opponent for this! They were such a better player than myself in this blitz game that they could see that there was no point in continuing. Just look at this one single bizarrely devolved continuation:
11.c6?! bxc6 12.Rxb8 Nxb8 13.Bb2 Qd7 14.Qb3 Na6 15.c4 Nc5! 16.Qa3 Ne4! Beautiful but totally crazy.
White is in a kind of a "zugswang" situation but with the distinction that they can move, but that there is no point in moving. This is the essense of the dysgenic strategy in Chess960!

Let's think for a moment what white's options are:

SP247 White move 12: A sublimely dysgenic hedgehog position

What are the features of this position:
  1. We have a beautiful mirroring of Q/B constructs on the long diagonal. Now it is white that has essentially duplicated black's dysfunctionality because if you notice, all the features of black's position are present in white's, just that white has a little bit more space to expand on the dysfunction of the position. But the point is that this is never and singularly not what white intended! :-)
  2. White's rooks are blocked as are black's
  3. White's knight has no purpose as does black's
  4. White's "suffragan" bishop in the corner is a truly suffering with pointlessness as is black's!
Here is one comical variation in this position (among many) for white:
12.Ba1 Qe7! 13.Qa5+ b6!  14.Qxa7 Rb7! 15. Qa8(o) =
12.Qd2 b6!  13.cxb6 Nxb6 and white helps black to unbind =
12.O-0 h6!  and now black has chances against the king
12.a4  Qe7  13.Ba3  f4!  14.Nf1  O-O  15.Nd2 Qf7 and black is better

SP247 White move 12: A sublimely dysfunctional hedgehog position!
12.h4 b6!  13.cxb6 Rxb6(o) 14.Bb4 c5! 15.dxc5 QxQ =
12.Qd2 O-O 13.c4   Qf7!    14.h4 Rd8! 15.h5 b6! 16.hxg6 hxg6 17.cxb6 =

Warning to anyone trying to unravel this dysfunctional dysgenic strategy by black.
Do so at your own risk! This position could well represent one of the quickest
and genuine clear demonstrations of chess960
dysfunctional draw strategies ever seen...
the dysgenic draw.

Enjoy 960

Monday, July 11, 2011

Tricky Tricky Chess960 - part 3

Well SP941 "The Bacrot Catastrophe" continues it's amazing journey. In the past both here and at I've been referring to this position as a "brutal" position based on what happened with Etienne Bacrot in 2005 based on this starting position. Thankfully Mark over at Chess960(FRC) Chess960 Chaos has checked out the position as well as a commentor "Ichabod" on that blog. The point is that we are all using engines of various kinds to nut out this amazing position up to 20ply deep but black does have good chances to draw in this position and counter attack at the slightest slip up!

The reason I'm posting is that I think that Ichabod is onto something with 1.....e6!? in SP941. Here is the framework of the defense as I see it:

SP941 White on move 3: The Ichabod Defense (modified by me)
If you look at this position closely, you will see that white actually no longer has any really standout moves! The position has quietened down immensely. White can consider d4 and there are continuing issues:
3. d4!?  ... Nd6!?
4. Ng3 ... f5!?  Black's f5!? is good now (knight outpost on e4)
5. e5  ... Ne4

White has moves like c5 but where does that actually lead to?

What do I think are the standout features of 1....e6!?
  1. The absolutely wonderful thing that 1....e6!? does is to allow ...c5 later on. The pawn move...c5 is an important play for black at some stage because it contests the center and stops all white's so called "brutal" opening tactics.
  2. 1.....e6!? actually stops white from intruding along the h3/c8 diagonal against black's rook
  3. 1....e6!? actually supports ....d5 in some lines
  4. Naturally it develops both the dark bishop (only in theory) and the queen (only in theory)
What do I think are the standout features of 2....Ng6!?
  1. It plays to theory which is nice! (a pawn "free move" then a knight if possible)
  2. The g6 knight has a flight square on e5 in some lines
  3. The g6 knight contests a bishop on f3 via the strange outpost Nh4!?
I think the critical point about the "Ichabod" defense is that black must try really hard not to play ....f5?! at any stage. Why is that? Well not only does it suggest a backward pawn for black at some future point. If you look at the diagram, ...e6 blocks black's light bishop hmmmmm. However!, black's light bishop has a beautiful escape path via h6/Bh7 which is an attacking move against white's king! Therefore simply black should try not to impede this attacking option as ....f5 does. I realize that all the engines including mine all suggest ....f5 for black at some stage but in his position I think the engines are almost entirely useless except to help seek out gross errors. The position is actually perfect for the trained Chess960 human eye both on attack and defense and that is why Aronian as white absolutely drank up this start position (he would have also beaten the engines as well in this start position I think).

I could go on and on about this start position, but I'll finish with an amazing exchange sacrifice line that I found for black in this start which highlights the incredible exchange sacrifice possibilities that exist in Chess960:

SP941 The Ichabod Defense: Black counter attacks! (Well done black!!!)
After seeing that variation it is clear to me now that Chess960 is the future of Chess! Maybe not this generation but in another one or two! It is incredibly beautiful, very exciting, wonderfully imperfect, completely bizarre, endlessly fascinating and a simple yet complex game that endures for life time without needing technology to play. Not only that, but Chess960 encourages both types of players, the one's that like to research and memorize, as well as the one's that like to fly by the seat of their pants and get creative.

Enjoy 960!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Chess960: Opening Puzzle No. 6

I kid you not this puzzle came from a blitz Chess960 game less than ten moves old. The solution is actually quite clever and therefore I missed it! (Note that the chess engines take quite a few seconds to find this idea and if you wind the position back a couple of turns along it's forced line they take a lot longer):

SP244 Black to move: find the only winning move

The answer obviously involves how to catch the white bishop in the most efficient way.
Solution is given somewhere on this page. Enjoy 960!

1.       ... Ba6! and white is lost
2. Nxc6? ... Rc8
3. Ne5   ... Qe7 -/+ (white's bishop will fall)
2. c3    ... Rc8
3. f3    ... Qe7
4. fxe4  ... QxB -/+

In other words Ba6! clears the c8 square for Rc8 and preventing blockage of the 7th rank so that white's bishop can be captured by the queen. At the same time Ba6! prevents any quick exit plans for white's queen and is actually a developing move. All other solutions fall back to mediocrity. Note that white's last ditch effort to capture a pawn with Bxb6 does not work because it gives a free developing move to black with ...NxB.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Chess960: The start position number - when it should be displayed

It is great news for Chess that thankfully it looks very much like the Chess960 clock timer debate is settled after a long effort to promote it. At the latest look on YouTube at what ChessCube are doing with Chess960, it looks like the chess clock begins ticking on white's first move now. Also we have other new live Chess960 sites such as the innovative E-Chess960 that has implemented the chess clock correctly as well.

Now moving onto I pray that they will one day finish the code for live Chess960. If they implement the chess clock so that white's time is stationary on the first move, I think we now have enough strength of popularity to conclude that the implementation of the clock would be a bug that needs to be fixed.....

Ok moving on from the chess clock finally! The next issue is that as yet no Chess960 site on the planet (that I yet know of) display the start position number along with the chess start position at the beginning of the game. Why is this wrong?

Top Reasons why the Chess960 start position number should be displayed at the start of a game:
  1. It is dignified to give human players an additional memory cue for the position. In traditional chess (SP518), a player has at least a couple of memory cues. They have the position itself and a long tradition of naming each and everyone of the opening variations. We may not realise it, but the name of the variation acts as a memory retrieval cue for the position. In Chess960, we have no such additional memory cue! Players are left staring at the board with virtually no additional hooks to fall back on to trigger the retrieval of memories that can aid them.
  2. A three digit SP number from 000-959 acts as a memory retrieval cue. In this modern age, we are all familiar with pin numbers, credit card numbers, phone numbers and the like. A simple three digit number that represents the start position on the board is a huge memory retrieval bonus to help players to gain confidence in the position. At the moment, this generation of chess players have not studied Chess960 and so they have no memories of the start positions. However that will not always be the case! In future generations, players will have studied the Chess960 positions and will have memorized a small subset of hyper-critical openings that simply must be committed to memory. An example is SP941.
  3. Humans recall memories by having as many retrieval cues as possible. Basically we humans have a huge long term memory store. However that memory store is neurally networked and retrieval is non-linear. Memories are retrieved most efficiently, when there are multiple pointers to a memory store in that neural network. For example I remember where my car is in the car-park, because I remember the rough position of my car in the car-park visually, as well as the number of the car-park lot itself. The more retrieval cues the better.
  4. There will be a small set of Chess960 positions that have to be committed to memory. Some Chess960 positions are so critical in terms of tactical complications, that the basic responses will have to be memorized particularly for the black player. From an ongoing systematic study of these critical positions, it probably only a few dozen such positions.
  5. In Chess960, memorization is laterally spread rather than longitudinally deep. Because there are small subsets of critical start positions that need to be memorized in Chess960, players will memorize variations laterally across a subset of positions rather than longitudinally deep in one position as we do in traditional chess. Therefore the overall memory burden is no greater than traditional chess. In fact I can predict already that in future generations of Chess960 players, the total quantity of memorization that we now see in traditional Chess (SP518) will be exactly mirrored in Chess960. There will be great benefits in memorizing certain start positions. However, this practice of memorizing openings will never be at the expense of general creative over-the-board opening play as we see today in traditional chess, because the memory task in Chess960 is so monumental that conceptual thinking in the opening will always be the dominant mode of thinking.
  6. Chess960 encourages both types of human memory: declarative and procedural memory. In this generation of traditional chess, we have wrongly come to the conclusion that in Chess960 there is no role for memory. This is totally incorrect. In this generation we are over-burdened with declarative memory where we rote memorize the chess opening tree and so can declare what the next best move is simply by retrieving it from memory. In Chess960 however, we have newly found emphasis on procedural memory. This type of memory assists creative thinking because conceptual chunks of information on how to play the opening are memorized, rather than specific declarative moves. So Chess960 is for all types of players. It is good for those who like to memorize and for those who like to focus on creativity. It is simply that at this early stage in Chess960's history, we need more players playing it and thus more analysing of it so that the theory gets written, and the players that like to memorize have something to memorize....
So here is my plea to Chess sites like E-Chess960, ChessCube and, please include the SP number with the start position at the beginning of a Chess960 game. It is the dignified thing to do for us human players, but as yet hardly anyone is doing it. My own memory is about as good as a bucket with a hole in it, however I can tell you this for sure, if I ever have to face SP941, I will know by rote memory the critical opening variations! If I were only to see SP941 as a chess position on the board without the number, my ability to recall these critical facts would be greatly reduced.


PS) as a starting point for the standard numbering scheme in Chess960, see:
How Chess960 numbering works

Chess960: Knight attacks on the 7th rank

For me personally, knight tactics are my weakness. This is simply because I never drilled myself in knight tactics problems at chess school. The exact equivalent is a musician that simply must drill themselves in practicing the twenty four major and minor scales fluidly and effortlessly. Without this drilling, in practice I am open to knight tactics almost all the time.

The situation is made worse in Chess960! Why is that? Well it is because almost 50% of all Chess960 game are made up of the Chivalry and Military Knight Combinations that often can attack undefended squares on the opponents 7th rank very quickly either alone or in tandem with the other knight. These knights always do so by exploiting outposts on the opponents 4th rank that are left by incomplete coverage during the opening phase.

So in blitz Chess960 games, here is a simple little pattern recognition tool that I use to instantly work out where the opponents weaknesses on the 7th rank will be relative to a quick knight attack exploitation.

Quickest Paths to the 7th Rank (always via holes in the 5th rank)
The picture above shows the quickest routes that the knight can take to attack the 7th rank.
  1. The green squares can be attacked by the knight in two moves
  2. The yellow squares can be attacked by the knight in three moves
  3. Note how the knight MUST exploit 5th rank outposts in order to hit the 7th.
The diagram above is a bit confusing so here is a nice simple version of it that I use during blitz games when I am facing Chivalry or Military Knight combinations particularly:

Handy and quick diagram of 7th rank attack squares
The green squares are 7th rank attack-able in two moves
The yellow squares are 7th rank attack-able in three moves

So very quickly at the start of a Chess960 game let's say we have a couple of Chivalry Knights on the board. Here is how I analyse it:

What 7th rank squares are attack-able by the knights in two moves
 and which in three moves?
To work out which squares are attack-able in two moves, imagine the green squares displaced one diagonal from the knight and then transform that to the 7th rank. Do the same for the squares that are attack-able in three moves but project from the squares immediately above the knight.

No calculation is required using this pattern recognition technique! You simply know that the diagonal squares to the knight are vulnerable to attack in only two moves! The beauty of this method is that if you exercise it, you quickly determine the undefended squares on the 7th rank as well. Here are a few points to note about the knights attacking the seventh rank:
  1. Only seven of the eight pawns can be attacked in either two or three moves. There is always one 7th rank square that cannot be attacked by either of the knight pairs.
  2. In the case of the Ceremonial Knight in the corner, the knight on it's own can never attack the edge pawn on the 7th rank effectively. This is yet another reason why the edge pawns tend to be the least concern when playing Chess960. Even in the case of the Chivalry knights in the corner, they cannot quickly attack the edge pawn either.
  3. The Chivalry knights can not only attack a 7th rank square in two moves, but they can attack it cooperatively. If the two knights hit such squares together, it can produce some really spectacular material losses, smothered situations and rapid check mates.
  4. Always scan your 5th rank (the opponents 4th rank) for outposts that your knights can exploit to attack the critical 7th rank.
Hope that helps you in blitz Chess960 games on or ChessCube where you have to think quickly in the opening.

Enjoy 960!

Chess960: What is the weakness of the Patriarch Bishops?

Considering that almost 50% of Chess960 games contain various versions of the Patriarch Bishops it begs the question, what is the weakness of these bishop pairs? They have some obvious strengths:
  1. The primary patriarch's are already developed once the pawns clear their path
  2. The attack paths are clearly defined but become less clearly defined as the bishop pairs move towards the centre
Ok so here is a summary of the primary weaknesses of the Patriarch's:
  1. The bishop pairs cannot defend each other
  2. The bishop pairs have no defenses against rank and file attack
  3. The bishop pairs have a floating 2x2 square of weakness displaced by one rank immediately above them
The last point is actually the one that has only really come into my experience lately. Here is a very rough example of what point three means:

SP240 Black to play: Exploit the Primary Patriarch's weakness
The green square is what I mean by the "floating 2x2 square of weakness" that the patriarch's have. It is particularly important in Chess960 because that square fundamentally affects the strategy of the patriarch games particularly the primaries (13% of all games).

Black's move that exploits the patriarch weakness is simply ... e6! White has inadvertently completely forgotten about consolidating the c-side. Without consolidation, black can gain access to the undefended squares above the patriarch's and combine checking and capture threats. Note that if white tries to back up b4 with a3, the a3 pawn falls after black plays ....Nb5/a5. So the example above is a good one to show where the primary patriarch weakness is in a practical setting. 

As a primary patriarch chess960 game unfolds, these basic questions arise:
  1. Are white's bishops aimed at the enemy king?
  2. If they are how is black going to build a fortress?
  3. Has a player neglected the 2x2 weak squares above the patriarch bishops?
  4. If yes, then the opponent has counter attacking chances on the patriarch's wing.
If you have read this far, then here is some insider information for you!
In Chess960 almost 50% of all games are Patriarch family games. So if you are in a Patriarch 960 game, be aware of counter-attacks on the side of the board that the patriarch's rest. If you can sure up your king defense against bishop onslaught, that is when the counter attack can begin. It relies on the attacker under-defending the 2x2 floating square of weakness that floats above the patriarch bishop pairs.

Enjoy 960

Chess960: Opening Puzzle No. 5

Ok here is an incredibly masochistic tortuous yet somewhat funny 960 puzzle. Sorry but once again it's pretty tricky! I missed it myself. The situation is that black's opening has not gone well due to a couple of serious oversights. Black is totally bound up unable to do anything and all his primary pieces are ineffective. The last defense black has against a mate in one and a dozen other issues are the Military Knights on the 7th rank.

SP243 Black to play (cannot castle): Find the only move with a chance to survive!

There are basically only two choices so enjoy the solution if you miss it! Notice that the correct solution is not only much better, but also much simpler!
(answer somewhere on this page)

1.                 ... Rb8??
2. Rd3!            ... Be5! (only move - white doubles on the d-file, exchange sac's 2R for Q+N and uses black's paralysis for a long slow mating line using the Q+N+2P)
3. b4 (only move)  ... Bd6  (only move)
4. e5              ... Nxe5 (only move)
5. Bxe5            ... Qd7!?
6. Qb5             ... Qxb5
7. Nxb5            ... Nc8
8. Rhd1 +- desperate stuff!

1.      ... Rxa7 (only move)
2. QxR  ... Kc8! (only move)
3. Rd2  ... Nb8
4. Rhd1 ... Qc6 and black survives....just!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Chess960-SP233: Have some fun with the Titular Bishops

Firstly what are the "Titular Bishops". As per this blog on Naming the Bishop Pairs, the Titular bishops are a variant of the Patriarch family of adjacent bishops that cover almost 50% of all Chess960 games. According to the Wikipedia on Titular Bishops:

"titular bishop in various churches is a bishop
 who is not in charge of a diocese.
" - Wiki

Now that so perfectly represents the Titular Bishops in Chess960 that I cannot really add to it. The starting positions with the Titular's in them are very rare (only 6%) but when they happen, the game becomes very subtle. This is because in the case of these bishops, it is often much better to play d3 or e3 rather than d4 or e4. There is a huge variety of interpretations on how to play the Titulars, because they can operate in so many different ways according to theme. Let's hope and pray that if it is true that FIDE is considering a reduced set of Chess960 positions for the future of Chess, that they include the Titulars! They simply must do that in my opinion.

Ok onto an example of a great introduction to them that I stumbled across yesterday. I was playing as black and made a poor pawn "free move" to begin the game (please see Naming the Pawn Moves for the definition of "free"). White had started the game with 1.Nf3!? and only now I can see why. White has broken the general 960 opening principal of playing a "free" move before a knight for a good reason:

SP233: White breaks general opening principals in this Titular Bishop SP
Basically white has decided to implement a general plan very early in the game. The idea is that black will castle g-side and so white will combine the Titular Bishops to direct an attack on the g-side while simultaneously gaining space on the c-side and possibly deploying their knight against the g-side king, or morphing it into a unique knight outpost in the center that is possible in this SP, as I will show. I was completely thrown by white's first move and then reflexed what seems to be a naturally good move:


But d5 is not necessarily a good move in the Titular SP's for a number of reasons! At first it looks good because it gains space in the centre and free's both the queen and the light titular bishop in one move. But it actually leaves two great big holes for white's knights to jump into at e5 and c5 as I will show. Not only that, but 1...d5!? can also reduce the options of how to deploy the titular bishops most effectively.

Here is white's overall plan:
SP233: White's general plan after 1....d5!?
Notice how white get's two semi-permanent knight outposts at e5 and c5, simply because both white's knights are perfectly positioned to get to them there and because black's opposition pawn moves to the outposts f6 and b6 are unlikely to be played out. If black plays them out, they impede black's knights from developing (unless black can think up something else)

The game proceeded from here in a theoretical discussion thanks to Rybka4-960's help: 1. Nf3 d5  2. b4 Nb6 3. Nb3 Nf6 4. d3 e6 5. O-O Be7 6. Bd2 O-O 7. c3 h6 8. h3 (black is now running out of useful moves) Qd8 9.Bc2 Bd6 +/=

SP233 white to move: White's plan executed with best play both sides:
Black is not out of the game by any stretch! However although it is a matter of interpretation, white certainly has both the move and the initiative. The standout features for white are:
  1. Two possible outposts for the knights
  2. A potentially vicious g-side attack on black using the queen to support the bishops in the rear.
  3. A flexible ability for white to make progress on the c-side as well.
Notice the point about the Titular Bishop openings? There is not necessarily any gain to be made in playing the typical space gaining moves in the center as we try to do in so many other SP's. 

So here is the insiders information on playing the Titular Bishop openings: Get it out of your head that you need to make quick space in the center. In many cases you simply need to move a pawn out one square to free the Titular's effectively, and by so doing you give them more space to operate.

The Titular Bishop openings are a lot of fun! They are the philosophers openings because so much of their operation is a matter of interpretation! I wish their were more than just 6% of games with them included, but 6% is as good as it will ever get. Please FIDE, let the grand-masters of chess play these starting positions in opening competition one day ok?

Enjoy 960