Monday, February 24, 2014

Chess960: I played SP518 for the first time in years

Today, I finally reached SP518 (the standard chess position) after three and a half years of working through the Chess960 positions starting at position 001. Still have got a long way to go to reach SP960! I play Houdini or Stockfish twice for each SP, once as white and once as black, with no time controls, and vary the depth according to how much trouble I feel I am in and always start at depth 24 because it only takes the computer a couple of minutes. I also complement this with Chess960 blitz, Chess-tempo online tactics training and studying human Chess960 games.
Playing the good old classical chess position SP518 for the first time in years, by accident, I played the French Defence Exchange Variation as black, and the Scotch Game as white. So to celebrate the arrival at SP518, I got one of the most enjoyable positions I have ever seen:
SP518 white to play: find the only move that equalises
First question is, what is this knight fork called? It is more than a relative fork, it is not an absolute fork, it is not a royal fork and it is not a special absolute fork! So what is this fork called when the knight forks both rooks and queen all at the same time?
To cut straight to the chase, the equalising move is......h6! Black needs to guard the back rank and watch for the queening pawn and there is never enough time for black to capitalise on the triple fork. Black cannot play Qf7?? or Qh7?? they are both total disasters. If ...Qf6, Ne4 counter attacks the queen. So the queen puts up a fight with ...Qe7, h7+...Kh8, Bd4+...Nxd4, Qxd4+...Qf6 0.00
What a great way for white to un-fork himself from a three way relative special fork attack!
I'll probably not play SP518 again for many years, and so will have a game to remember fondly as I move on through the delight of Chess960, starting next with SP519.

Note that in the compilation database I have made available to the Chess960 community here, I decided to include the SP518 games because even though they were all cancelled when the players realised that by random chance they had rolled the standard chess position, remarkably, in over just one thousand high quality human games, it appears to have happened four times! So I have left them in the database. I suspect that the reason SP518 rolled itself that often in what is only a 1-in-960 chance, is that there must have been a bureaucratic stuff up during the tournament.
Enjoy 960

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Chess960: The search for improvements to chess have been doing a series of posts on variants to chess, but as yet continue to post very little on Chess960. Why? Chess960 is played and enjoyed by people around the world as a great complement to standard chess. The very software Chessbase sells supports Chess960 fundamentally. Just yesterday there was Chess960 competition in Russia featuring Russia's top players and had online coverage yet there was no comment from Chessbase? Chessbase-12 software recognises Chess960 starts and correctly sorts them by number. It can also do database searches of Chess960 games by number as well. Fritz-12 can even build an opening Chess960 library!
So why do Chessbase post so little on 960 then? ** (see below for my own speculation)
Well, at least their readers speak louder than they do....
In this Chessbase article "Computer resistant chess variants" the author makes this claim:
Thankfully, this was challenged by one of Chessbase's own readers!
Thank you hpaul, I could not have said it better myself.
**(WARNING-speculation only): The reason I think that Chessbase is quiet on 960, is that they are building support behind the scenes for adding just one or two extra 960 start positions annually or bi-annually to the FIDE regulations, rather than randomising all 960 starts. The official claim would be that this allows players to study a new start position and give them scope to pre-arrange their strategies off the board with creative study, freshen Chess and increase interest in the sport.
But actually,
this FIDE change suits the business model of Chessbase much better than Fischer Random Chess960 does. Their LIVEBOOK technology plays a critical role here. They effectively have a monopoly control of Livebook technology and would make a lot of money as FIDE players driven by competitiveness, would need to subscribe to Livebook and pay DUCATS for computer resources, to analyse the hand picked FIDE Chess960 annual or bi-annual starts. The question I ask is why do we want technology and memorised openings to dominate our sport more than it already does?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Chess960: Bishops in the corner do not have to exchange off!

Unlike some, I actually like all four bishops in the corner. Mark Weeks has also talked about this in the Myth of the Corner Bishop. To quote Mark from his own post:
"The only real disadvantage of the B:a/h setup is when both Bishops start in the corner. When this happens, all four Bishops are facing each other on their long diagonals. The order in which the Bishops are developed becomes a subtle tactical dance where a player's fast grab of one diagonal cedes the other diagonal to the opponent. Furthermore, a premature development of the Bishops can lead to them all being swapped off in the opening for a Bishopless middlegame. A player who wants to avoid this must block the diagonal before developing the Bishop, but this gives the opponent the opportunity to develop first on the same diagonal. And so the dance continues"

The reason I like bishops in the corner, is that both sides can play can and mouse, which I think of more as a subtle strategic dance as they hide their castling intentions from each other. If either side can provoke evidence of castling intention prematurely, the other side can castle to the opposite wing and launch an attack.....well at least in theory!

Here is a classic example. Note how both sides play all their moves to deliberately hide castling intentions, until one side cracks. In this example it is white that cracks, and is then promptly punished for it when black offers a sacrificial pawn.

SP515: Who will reveal their castling plans first?
So don't believe the gossip out there spread by some anti-Chess960 people, that bishops in the corner produce boring games. There are ways to prevent bishop simplification from happening and to even create opposite wing castling scenarios. However computers usually can't see that deep into the game to appreciate the cat and mouse that is going on, so computer examples of bishops in the corner games are not valid.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Chess960: A lesson in methodically exploiting structural weaknesses

At Mainz 2001, Adams took a win with a very good display of patient technical exploitation of blacks structural weaknesses. For me the lesson of how Adams carry's through the methodical build-up of pressure is excellent, yet an even more important lesson is how black should avoid creating unnecessary structural weaknesses in the first place.

SP811: Adams takes a win

The standout lesson for me is that Leko probably should have avoided creating a weakness on e6 at move ten with more dynamic and creative play:
A creative alternative to 10...d5

Monday, February 17, 2014

Chess960: Leko's amazing bishop

I'm hoping to work my through all the competitive ELO 2000+ games of Chess960 listed in my Chess960 compilation database
Here is one of the first ever competitive games of Chess960 played at Mainz. It features a really nice Chess960 opening idea by Leko.
SP934: Just watch Leko's amazing dark bishop win the game

 The stand out moves for me were:
  • 4.Bb2!? - Leko decides to put his bishop on the long diagonal despite that it will be blocked by the d4 pawn and that he already had spent a tempo releasing it along the c1-h6 diagonal! The point is that white will have to play e3 to release the light bishop (Leko cannot play e4), and so the dark bishop would have been trapped in any case. With the dark bishop on b2, it plays a defensive role keeping control of the dark squares around what Leko realises, is very likely to be a queenside castling system.
  • 27.Bd2! - Leko finds the best move that engines only find at depth 17. Black is totally lost because of the mating configuration b4/Qc5+/Bf4+. Notice that it features that amazing Leko dark bishop!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Chess960 database - compilation of games 2001-2018

DOWNLOAD HERE (Courtesy of and

 Here is my own compilation of all human Chess960 games played since Fischer Random Chess was invented, according to these criterion:
  1. Human ELO 2000+
  2. Over the board competition preferred
  3. No blitz games
  4. Online tournaments at long time controls but not correspondence
  5. Simultaneous exhibitions
There are a lot of famous players in this database, including games by Anand, Aronian, Svidler, Nakamura, Carlsen and Kasparov!

The compilation remasters the original pgn games still available from around the web, repairing them by hand so that they are fully replayable in software that recognises Chess960.

The standard I used for the remastering is Chessbase 12 and it's interpretation of Chess960 PGN format and start position numbering. 

THE FORMAT IS NOT UNIVERSALLY ACCEPTED and the database will not load in some software. The difference is in the [variant] tag. Chessbase use a space between Chess and 960. Here is an example: [Variant "chess 960"]. 

Some databases omit the space. Other databases use a different variant tag altogether. Winboard uses [Variant "fischerandom"].

I think it should be:
[Variant "chess960"]

But that doesn't work in my chessbase software!

Here are some tips for people who want to search the database:
  • If you want freeware that can import the database, winboard works. If you want a Chess960 specific version of winboard you can download a modified winboard app from this blog that can import the database and display the games with the official Chess960 number in the title bar (plus more).
  • If you are using Chessbase you can search by the official Chess960 number if you first convert the PGN into native Chessbase format.
  • If you are using Chessbase you can sort the games by their official Chess960 number if you first convert the PGN into native Chessbase format.

The sources I used to compile the database were:

If you think I missed any games, please let me know!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Let's crowdfund the first ever Chess960 simultaneous

WARNING, I've had an idea.....

In response to this post from Mark Weeks "Who Needs Fide?"
We crowd-fund the first ever Official Chess960 Simultaneous between Hikaru Nakamura and the Chess Tigers club in Germany. The event is held some time this year before the next world championship match. Hikaru's manager is contacted to find out what the minimum attendance fee would be so that we have a funding target.
Just imagine how wonderful it would be to see Hikaru in a Chess960 simultaneous competition! Suddenly we would have a wealth of openings to study!! The Chess960 players in Germany would be good enough and plentiful enough to make it at least a bit of a challenge for him!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Chess960: The Bishop Sweet Spot

Here is the start of series of posts on what I call "the bishop sweet spots" on the chessboard, which are squares that allow the bishops to come out and be active, yet avoid being exchanged off. Usually in the opening we are trying to avoid changing the strategic quality of a position by exchanging a bishop for knight before the opening has had a chance to evolve (the bishop might be needed). The bishop sweet spots are not really outposts, because they are not solid enough to be called an outpost. They are just important squares in the Chess960 opening system, that need to be considered.
From classic standard chess (SP518), a very well loved and well worn bishop sweet spot is on b5 and it's mirror on g5. As we all know, the knight gets pinned and the bishop can sit on it's sweet spot for a long time, creating some important thematic tactics:

The Classical Queenside Bishop Sweet Spot (b5)

Finding the sweet spot is really easy. Look for any SP where a bishop and knight are separated by a minimum of three squares, triangulate vertically, and the bishop sweet spot will be three ranks directly above the knight.
Triangulating to find the Bishop Sweet Spot

In summary, the general definition of the bishop sweet spot is:
Classic Bishop Sweet Spot:
  1. The start does not contain Military Knights
  2. Bishop and knight separated by at least three squares
So, what are the benefits of the bishop sweet spot?
  1. The sweet spot square allows a bishop to sit without being attacked by another knight
  2. A bishop on a sweet spot does not have to waste tempo relocating
  3. Since the bishop is actively placed, it can create tactics striking the enemies back row
  4. Finding a safe square to place pieces helps with rapid, coordinated development
  5. Gives the bishop a chance to transition to a different diagonal
  6. If the enemy tries to kick the bishop off the sweet spot, this can be at the expense of pawn structure
Here is a start that fails the bishop sweet spot test:
Military Knights mean the sweet spot can be attacked
Here are some examples of the many bishop sweet spots in Chess960!
SP007 - Classic Bishop Sweet Spot

Notice that when the bishop is in the corner, the bishop on its sweet spot (d5), attacks the position of blacks castled king (g8).
Variants of the classic bishop sweet spot:
Chivalry Knight Sweet Spot:
  1. The start contains Chivalry Knights
  2. There is still a space of three squares between bishop and furthest knight
SP007 - Chivalry Knight bishop sweet spot
Even when the chivalry knight sits in the middle, the bishop sweet spot can still not be attacked by an enemy knight.
Variants of the classic bishop sweet spot:
Monastic Knight Sweet Spot:
  1. The start contains Monastic Knights
  2. There is still a space of three squares between bishop and furthest knight
SP114 - Monastic Knight bishop sweet spot

Notice that the monastic knight variant is not as tactically strong as the classic bishop sweet spot because the bishop only ever hits a knight on the enemies back rank. However, the sweet spot might still be useful to use as a spot to temporarily locate a bishop to aid in rapid, coordinated development.
Finally, don't forget that the mirror version of the bishop sweet spot also exists and is just as powerful.
SP001 - The bishop sweet spot reflected on the queenside

Finally here is a sample game that demonstrates the bishop sweet spot quite nicely:
SP511 - White finds the bishop sweet spot!
White finds the c5 square to pin black's knight against the rook
Enjoy 960

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Chess960: Opening Puzzle no.12

Please don't hit me over the head with this next puzzle but enjoy it anyway!
SP510 white to play castling possible both sides:
What is white's best move here?

 Answer given below
In chess960, you have to know the castling rules very precisely.
Although blacks bishop is hitting the b1 square, the passage of
the king for queenside castling is unaffected by the enemies
possession of that square.

1.O-O-O hitting the d6 bishop in three ways