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