24 March 2009

Comments on Chess960 Opening Theory

Since the only difference between chess960 and traditional chess is the starting position of the pieces, it's natural that discussions on chess960 tend to focus on the opening phase of the game. Here are a few recent remarks.

In Chess960 Opening Theory, Tom Chivers commented,

Of course you're right, that comparing all 960 positions to each other makes most sense. I still think that in deciding which are fair (or fair enough) for human play, then chess circa Greco might be a fair enough benchmark, but I suppose this really is a minor side issue.

The question of theory is interesting. I think 959 meaningful new theories is unlikely and indeed rather takes the point of the game away. However, I'm not unconvinced new opening principles might not be plausible. For instance: in positions where the queen starts in the corner, is it usually best to develop her via a fianchetto, by moving the a or h pawn, early or late, via the back rank, etc? Ie, do the new features of the 959 start positions also lead to new opening principles? Who knows!

The approach to chess960 opening theory using the 'Queen starts in the corner' concept seems promising and I'll cover that in a future post.

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In Chess960 World Championships, reading_is_dangerous wrote,

Hi! I'm new to chess960, having always resisted his apparent strangeness, until I played my first move in a game I created myself on Facebook after winning another game of classical chess. I thought, "This is getting boring, choosing a certain line, playing it while hoping to stay with the book, sometimes actually checking the book..." Etc. Then I saw the option "Chess960" and I decided to give it a try at last.

The fun began right away. "Look at this position! You can do this, you could do that..." Etc. Nothing to do with any book. My mind was free to play again. Ah! The pleasure of nameless opening moves!

This is how I came to your page. I like what you do. The questions, the analysis, that's all very interesting! But don't take it too far. We (!) don't want 959 new opening books!

There's little to fear here. No one is suggesting that 959 new opening books is feasible. The math doesn't support it:

   960 opening positions
x Two sides to consider
x Several possible moves per start position
   ---
= Too much to prepare

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A comment by Mark Crowther on opening theory in traditional chess caught my attention. The context was his wrapup report on Linares 2009.

With a few scares along the way and the advantage of a favourable tie-break Alexander Grischuk took first place from Vassily Ivanchuk by virtue of winning more games than the Ukrainian (their head to head results were two draws). In an interesting comment to Jesus Boyero in Marca he said: "The truth is that a few years ago I came to hate chess, I spent months studying the Petroff Defence and couldn't find a refutation." He seems to have recovered his enthusiasm since.

I, in fact, more or less shared the same view, there was a period where elite chess was incredibly depressing to watch. The Petroff is a terrible blow for anyone who plays 1.e4 with the idea of winning and it is lousy chess to watch. At the moment all main lines lead to well known drawish positions and black is further rewarded in that white now generally play inferior variations in order to keep some pieces on and some interest in the game.

This problem hasn't gone away, it's just fortunate that many of the leading players simply became bored of getting half points this way. The kind of chess you play when you use the Petroff as black is presumably not the reason why you came to love the game and get good enough to turn professional in the first place. These things go in cycles and just as this opening is not as prevailant anymore it is also possible that white will find a way to get more promising positions eventually. It is interesting that Viswanathan Anand didn't even bother trying to find an answer to Kramnik's Petroff and Ruy Lopez and simply changed to 1.d4. • Introduction to The Week in Chess, 9 March 2009 (TWIC 748)

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Not everyone is convinced that chess has a problem with opening theory. Here's how one correspondent expressed it in a private email to me: AL wrote,

I interact with many club and tournament players and I have yet to hear anyone express a preference, or even an appreciation of, chess960. In my entire life I have only seen one live game where players try to play chess960. It appears to have been only noticed by postal players who fear 25 moves of book. There may be a chance of chess960 in postal play, but in over the board play, there is still no need of it. It's a laughable idea to anyone other than a few grandmasters with awesome memories. In the future, when less people will put the time in to even try to memorize 25 moves, there will be no need of it.

If chess960 ever becomes a popular recreational past time I will be shocked indeed. I bet you couldn't find 100 Americans now who have ever played the game. It is only of interest to the highest rated players, who would probably be just as well served challenging each other to blindfold chess.

No one is suggesting that anyone should abandon chess, so there is no argument here. Even as chess960 gains in popularity, traditional chess will always have plenty of fans. After all, contract bridge has been popular since the first half of the 20th century, but whist still has its adherents.

1 comment:

Mike Rosa said...

Hmhm, looks like somebody missed a little tournament in the middle of germany, where the best players of the world meet regulary to play this nasty game. Here's the list of all:
Chess960 World Ranking