30 September 2008

Chess960? I'm Hooked!

I won my first game of chess960 (see Shall We Play Fischerandom Chess?) as Black in 13 moves. The game ended so quickly because my opponent castled on the wrong side and was caught in a vicious attack. The diagram shows the start position.

Start Position 787

Here's the PGN, courtesy of SchemingMind.com:

[Event "Chess960"]
[Site "SchemingMind.com"]
[Date "2008.08.19"]
[Round "-"]
[White "roscoe"]
[Black "bemweeks"]
[Result "0-1"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "brqknrnb/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/BRQKNRNB w KQkq - 0 1"]
1.b3 f5 2.f4 Ngf6 3.d3 Nd6 4.Qd2 O-O 5.O-O-O b5 6.Ngf3 c5 7.Ne5 g6 8.N1f3 c4 9.dxc4 bxc4 10.Nd4 Qa6 11.Nxc4 Nxc4 12.Qc3 Rfc8 13.Qh3 Qxa2 0-1

Some observations from the first game (and a few moves of a second game):-

  • Having to think from the first move -- and I don't consider choices like 'Shall I play 1.e4 or 1.d4 this time?' to be real thinking -- is a refreshing change from the well worn opening paths of traditional chess.

  • The castling option requires more thought than in traditional chess. We learn very early the tradeoffs between O-O and O-O-O, but the standard guidelines aren't sufficient in chess960.

  • Many of the traditional positional guidelines -- develop quickly, watch the center, Knights before Bishops -- still apply, but have a new set of nuances.

  • The position starts to look like traditional chess after both sides have developed a few minor pieces and have castled.

I'm already hooked after one game!

29 September 2008

Another Post on Chess.com

My third post on Chess.com -- The Conquest of Weeks -- used their tool to embed full games in blog posts. Like just about everything else I've tried there, it worked perfectly.

One small glitch I noticed was the use of the title in the URL. For my previous post, the title 'Kicking Chess.com's Tires' created a URL with file name 'kicking-chesscoms-tires'. On my latest post, the title 'The Conquest of Weeks' resulted in a URL with file name 'title6'. This appears to be because I first saved the post with a temporary, place-holding title (the unimaginative 'Title'), which generated the URL on that first save.

28 September 2008

Chigorin -> Romanovsky -> Kotov

At some point during the last few months, my posts on the Soviet School morphed into a series of posts with label Ratings. While rummaging through various references, looking for a suitable subject to get back on topic, I ran into this quote from Kotov and Yudovich's 'Soviet School of Chess', in the chapter titled 'Main Features of the Soviet School' and section titled 'Positional Intuition' (p.105):-

Dr. Tarrasch, as we have already noted, tried to lay down a series of rules to be followed in setting up positions. His object in formulating and popularizing these rules was to establish what he called the 'modern' theory of chess.
Life itself, however, refuted Tarrasch's dogmatic laws such as, for example, 'a Knight at the edge of the board is always poorly placed', 'a Knight for a Bishop is always an advantageous exchange', etc.
Chigorin, and later Alekhine, always insisted that the specific features of each position had to be taken into account, that concrete variations should be examined and calculated.
Soviet players have taken the road indicated by Chigorin, for only this approach to chess leads to genuine creative thinking and competitive success. The older generation of masters, who were the link, as it were, between Chigorin and the younger generation, trained the young players to apply the specific view of positions.
When, for example, Alexander Kotov felt in 1936 that he had reached a dead-end in the solution of positional problems, Romanovsky advised him to analyze the splendid games of the Chigorin vs. Tarrasch match, and, by studying the notes of the two grandmasters, elucidate the difference in their views on chess and the superiority of Chigorin's creative approach.
The Chigorin - Tarrasch match was played in 1893. Never having studied any of the games in the match, I decided it would be worth another detour from the main topic. In addition to clues on the foundation of the Soviet School, the match offered a sharp clash of differing styles and was played between two leading challengers for the World Championship in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

27 September 2008

About.com's New Chess Guide

About.com has a new chess guide: Edward Scimia.

All my material ... gone forever ... :-( ... Anyway, congratulations to Ed!

26 September 2008

Alberto Murillo, Salinas Chess Coach

A video report from KSBW starts, 'Organizers say they want to build a chess movement and give kids in Salinas an early and realistic alternative to turning to drugs and gangs.'

Salinas Students Play Chess (2:55) • 'A program aimed to keeping kids off the streets is teaching them how to play chess.'

Murillo: 'I wouldn't be here right now if it wasn't for chess. Chess helped me through school, it helped me get into college, and I know it could help other students, too.'

25 September 2008

Famous Unplayed Moves

Digressing from 18 Memorable Games, while staying on a related topic, a thread from rec.games.chess titled 1971: GM Taimanov vs. GM Fischer, the great Qh3 obsession caught my attention. The first post in the thread used the phrase 'famous chess moves never actually played' on the diagrammed position.

Taimanov played 20.Nf3 after 72 minutes thought. In Great Predecessors IV (p.387), Kasparov wrote,

Fischer later stated that 'Taimanov missed a win with 20.Qh3', but he did not give any concrete variations. That is how myths are born! Let us try to figure out what in fact Taimanov missed.

Taimanov analyzed 20.Qh3 extensively, but Kasparov was not convinced by his analysis. The 13th World Champion wrote, 'The tension Taimanov created that day exceeded his chess capabilities.'

1971 Candidates Match (game 3)
Fischer, Robert

Taimanov, Mark
(After 19...Kg8-h8)
[FEN "r1bq1r1k/2p3b1/1pR4p/3nppN1/8/1Q6/PP1BB1PP/5RK1 w - - 0 20"]

After 20.Qh3, Kasparov gave two long variations:

  • 20...Rf6 21.Bc4 f4 22.Qf3 Bb7 23.Rxf6 Nxf6 24.Nf7+ Kh7 25.Bd3+ Kg8 26.Qxb7 Qd4+ 27.Rf2 Ng4 28.Qxa8+ Kxf7 29.Qc6 Qxd3 30.Qxc7+ Kg6 31.Qxb6+ Kf5, 'regaining the material and easily maintaining the balance'

  • 20...Nf6 21.Bc3 f4 22.Qh4 Bb7 and now either, 23.Rd1 Qe7 24.Re6 Qc5+ 25.Kh1 Rae8!, or 23.Ne6 Qd7 24.Rxc7 Qxe6 25.Rxb7 Rxa2 26.Bf3 Nd5 27.Bxd5 Qxd5 28.Rxb6 Kh7, 'with equality'.

On the first variation (20...Rf6), I found the tactical trick 32.Bc3 Nxf2 33.Qxf2 Qb1+ 34.Qf1 Qxa2 35.Qd3+ Kg5 36.h4+ Kf6 37.Qd6+ Kf5 38.Qd7+ Kf6 39.Bxe5+ Kxe5 40.Qxg7+, when White keeps an extra outside passed Pawn. On the second variation (20...Nf6), the kibitzers at Chessgames.com (link below) found a move not given by Kasparov: 23.Re6, when both 23...Qd5 24.Rf2 Rxa2 25.Rxe5 Ra1+ 26.Bf1 and 23...Kg8 24.Rxe5 hxg5 25.Rxg5 look good for White.

In both variations, White keeps winning chances. Did Kasparov overlook these shots or is there an improvement?

To play through the complete game see...

Mark Taimanov vs Robert James Fischer, ct(1/4) 1971

...on Chessgames.com.

23 September 2008

Impediments to Chess960 Acceptance

SP518: This is the number of the start position (SP) that corresponds to the standard chess setup (RNBQKBNR). It has an entrenched, vested interest behind it, starting with the segment of the chess publishing industry that specializes in opening material.

If you're interested in the numbering of Chess960 start positions, Wikipedia has a good explanation. The Starting Position Generator is also worth a look, although getting it to work correctly takes a little trial and error. If you have trouble, the visual lists of FRC Starting Positions should help.

Substandard online resources: Almost every online resource dedicated to Chess960 that I've looked at has something wrong with it. The most common problem is that the material hasn't been updated in some time. Is this a symptom of an overall lack of interest in Chess960? The technical resources are also unreliable. For example, the 'Starting Position Generator' mentioned above, looked good at first, but turned out to be buggy; it returns the same start position for both SP786 and SP787, and doesn't recognize the valid string corresponding to SP787 (BRQKNRNB).

Lack of playing software: I haven't located any free software capable of analyzing Chess960 positions, although some commercial software, which I haven't tried, is available. The problem is to handle castling. Once both sides have castled, any chess playing software can handle the analysis. The lack of software could be a blessing in disguise. Computer analysis is largely responsible for the slow strangulation of creativity in the chess openings.

22 September 2008

There's Gold in Them Thar Chess Photos!

Curious to see if there had been any recent eBay auctions for Soviet Era Photos, I searched auctions that closed over the past few weeks. Along with a few dozen photos of the type I was interested in, I found several photos of other chess champions that had sold for hundreds of dollars.

For example, the first entry in the screen capture -- 1924 Photo NY International Chess Tourney Lasker Jubow -- says that there were 7 bids, and the winning bid was US $630.00. Another photo (not shown) titled 'Genuine cuba chess Capablanca signed young photo' sold for $1,136.00. The search I used was items found for: chess photo (completed listings, sorted by descending price).

21 September 2008

Why Live Ratings Aren't Helpful

After returning from a vacation, one of my most pleasant tasks is to catch up on chess news. Along with a spate of new stories, the time lapse offers new angles on old stories. Over the past three weeks, the ICC Newsletter offered these feature stories on the Bilbao Grand Slam Final.

  • Topalov Tops - but Carlsen Numero Uno! • 'But just a point behind there lurks the young 17-year-old Norwegian ace Carlsen, who not only has his eye on the top prize but also Anand's World #1 spot! Although Carlsen lost to Topalov, in the opening round he beat Levon Aronian followed by Teimour Radjabov in round four - and he has now grabbed the unofficial #1 spot in Hans Arild Runde's virtual live ratings at http://chess.liverating.org/.' (6 September 2008)

  • Topalov Still Tops - Now Ivanchuk Numero Uno! • 'No one said being #1 was easy. And, after successive defeats, young teenage sensation Magnus Carlsen found out the the hard way by being replaced both as tournament leader in the $570,000 Bilbao Grand Slam Final and #1 on the virtual live rating list.' (13 September 2008)

  • Topalov of the World! • 'The rating surge took Topalov to the top of Hans Arild Runde’s virtual live rating list - and with the official cut-off date for FIDE’s October list falling a few days after Bilbao, this mean Topalov once again tops the official world rankings to be published next week.' (20 September 2008)

For years I've wanted to see the list of world's top-10 chess players featured in leading periodicals. FIDE's ranking, calculated at the beginning of every trimester, isn't dynamic enough to capture attention, but a ranking system that changes based on the result of a few games lacks credibility. Why do I say that? Just try to answer the question 'Who's world no.1' -- first for tennis, then for chess -- without giving details. Better would be a method that strikes a balance between the extremes set by FIDE and by Liverating.org.

05 September 2008

Photos from the Bilbao Grand Prix Slam

There are lots of photos on Flickr from the Bilbao Grand Prix Slam. This one shows the players in the sound proof glass playing cabin called the aquarium.

chessbilbao26 © Flickr user otxolua (Josu Garro) under Creative Commons.

For more from the same series, see chessbilbao For more from another photographer, see Final de Maestros del Gran Slam - Bilbao 2008.

04 September 2008

Fischer - Benko, CT 1959

The next game in 18 Memorable Games is game no.11 in My 60 Memorable Games and no.57 in Predecessors IV. The PGN is given below, along with punctuation added by the two World Champions. Two moves worth a closer look are 6...Qb6 and 15...gxf6.

[Event "Candidates Tournament"]
[Site "Yugoslavia"]
[Date "1959.??.??"]
[Round "10"]
[White "Fischer, R."]
[Black "Benko, P."]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B57"]

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 6.Bc4 Qb6 {GK: !?} 7.Nde2 e6 8.O-O Be7 9.Bb3 O-O 10.Kh1 Na5 11.Bg5 Qc5 {BF: !; GK: !} 12.f4 b5 13.Ng3 b4 {BF: ?} 14.e5 {BF: !; GK: !} 14...dxe5 15.Bxf6 gxf6 {GK: ?} 16.Nce4 Qd4 17.Qh5 {BF: !; GK: !} 17...Nxb3 18.Qh6 {BF: !; GK: !} 18...exf4 19.Nh5 f5 20.Rad1 {BF: !; GK: !} 20...Qe5 21.Nef6+ Bxf6 22.Nxf6+ Qxf6 23.Qxf6 Nc5 24.Qg5+ Kh8 25.Qe7 {BF: !} 25...Ba6 26.Qxc5 Bxf1 27.Rxf1 1-0

To play through the complete game see...

Robert James Fischer vs Pal Benko, Yugoslavia Cand. Tourn. 1959

...on Chessgames.com.

02 September 2008

'Ruining Chess with Prearranged Games'

Several years ago, when I was working on a page for the 1992 Fischer - Spassky Rematch : Highlights, I noted the following:

A Memorable Press Conference: On 1 September 1992, Fischer gave his first press conference in 20 years. [...] He accused Kasparov and Karpov of playing "prearranged" matches, and accused Karpov and Korchnoi of the same. Spassky supported the opinion by pointing out the finish of the 19th game of the 1990 match in Lyon.

The full quote by Fischer from the press conference, repeated by GM Larry Evans in Chess Life, was, 'These criminals Karpov and Kasparov have been ruining chess with immoral, unethical, prearranged games, and are the lowest dogs around.' (CL, November 1992, p.56)

At the time the match was played, and for years afterward, I completely misunderstood what Fischer was saying. I thought he suspected that the two Ks had somehow colluded before their games, agreeing on which moves would be played and what the result of the game would be. The reason for their doing this, as I understood Fischer's thinking, was to scrap the scoring system of a fixed number of wins and an unlimited number of games to determine the World Champion.

Fischer had fought to introduce this system after becoming World Champion in 1972 and had prevailed. All of the candidate matches in the cycle leading to the 1975 match were playing using Fischer's scoring system. The system was abandoned after the first K-K match (see 1984 Karpov - Kasparov Title Match), which went to 48 games before being cancelled.

It wasn't until recently that I realized that when Fischer said 'prearranged', he was referring to the practice of preparing opening variations before the match, then playing moves during the game that had been discovered during the pre-game preparation. While Fischer had himself prepared this way in his heyday, the method of preparation had subsequently gotten out of hand with teams of seconds and computers working on the problem of anticipating and upsetting the future opponent's opening repertoire.

Little mention was made at the time of the 1992 match, but Fischer also said during his press conferences that he was working on a method of play where a game started with the pieces shuffled on the back rank. According to Wikipedia's page on Chess960, Fischer formally announced his new way of playing on 19 June 1996, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, almost four years after the start of the 1992 match. This would eliminate the problem of 'prearranged' games.

Stories relating to important games decided by pre-game opening preparation crop up frequently. I'll cover some of them in future posts.

01 September 2008

Soviet Era Photos III

The last month has been a real bonanza for collectors of Soviet era photos. The latest batch is being offered by the same seller that I mentioned in Soviet Era Photos, i.e. Show only: Items from seller bulkcover.

The description said, 'Press photo by M.P***** (cannot read). Dated 1970. At the game GM L.Lindjel (??) and GM M.Botvinnik (USSR). Sized about 14.2 x 11 cm. Retouched for the press publishing. In fine condition.'

I chose the photo because of the unusual spelling 'Lendjel', which is probably GM Levente Lengyel. Chessgames.com has the game twice, once with 'Laszlo Lengyel' playing White...

Laszlo Lengyel vs Mikhail Botvinnik, Yugoslavia 1969

...and once with 'Levente Lengyel' as White (follow the link in the first comment). The Chessgames.com player pages for the two Lengyels are also a mess. The opening is classified as 'Modern Defense: Queen Pawn Fianchetto (A40)', but it looks like a King's Indian, or maybe a Benoni, to me. That's an unusual number of errors for Chessgames.com, which is usually reliable.

Lengyel won the game. I couldn't find a crosstable for the event, but Glenn Giffen's page on Mikhail Botvinnik says that the ex-World Champion finished '7th +5=7-3 after Polugaevsky, Matulovic, Gligoric, Ivkov & Lengyel'. That might be Polugaevsky sitting behind Botvinnik in the photo, but I don't recognize his opponent.