05 May 2009

Pyramids and Dropouts

One of the attractions of chess960 is that the real thinking starts from the first move of a game, rather than from the end of a player's prepared opening repertoire. A drawback is that, to consider the idiosyncracies of the assigned start position, more thinking time is required on the first move of the game.

Correspondence (aka turn-based) play fits very well with chess960 because it allows ample time to consider the first move. SchemingMind.com is a correspondence chess site that, in addition to standard chess play, offers many chess variants, chess960 included.

Scheming Mind has two tournament formats that are unlike the round robin or Swiss formats found on most correspondence (and crossboard) play sites. The first format is an informal event that the site calls Chess Pyramids. [NB: Although most SchemingMind.com pages are available to members only, membership is free. If you are not a member and want to follow the links, just sign up first!]

Pyramids are continuous competitions where players challenge each other, the results of these matches will determine what level of the pyramid they are on. There is usually a single pyramid leader (less frequently 2-3 players on top level), then - the lower the level, the more players. Therefore the pyramid shape and competition name.

The second format is a more structured event called Dropout Tournaments.

Dropout tournaments are a hybrid between the Swiss and the Knockout format. Three dropout tournaments are held annually on SchemingMind, in Standard Chess, Chess960 and chess variants. These tournaments usually last for up to two years, and the winners of these tournaments are considered to be the site champions in their specialty. Scoring: For each game, players will be assigned MALUS-Points (MP) as follows - win: 0MP, draw: 1MP, loss: 3MP. Points are added over all rounds. Elimination: After each round, players with scores equal or greater than the dropout threshold are eliminated from the tournament (the dropout threshold is normally six, but may vary for specialized tournaments).

The first dropout tournament started in 2006 and finished in 2008. The winner of both the first (2006) and second (2007) dropout tournaments was a Canadian player nicknamed doodledandy. Here are crosstables for the two events.

Scheming Mind is ably managed by Austin Lockwood, who has given me permission to present games from the site championships on this blog. The first game is between the eventual winner of the 2006 event and the player I featured in an earlier post titled Chess Tiger, after his nickname.

Start Position 361

The full game score is given below. I've appended a few notes for players who have never played through a chess960 position.

[Event "2006 Chess960 Dropout Tournament, Round 4"]
[Site "SchemingMind.com"]
[Date "2006.12.04"]
[Round "4"]
[White "doodledandy"]
[Black "Chess Tiger"]
[Result "1-0"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "nrkbbrqn/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/NRKBBRQN w KQkq - 0 1"]

1.f4 f5 2.Ng3 Ng6 3.d3 Nb6 4.Bd2 d6 5.e4 e6 6.Nb3 Ba4 7.Be2 Ra8 8.O-O-O Bxb3 9.cxb3 Kb8 10.Kb1 fxe4 11.dxe4 e5 12.f5 Nf4 13.Bxf4 exf4 14.Nh5 g5 15.fxg6 hxg6 16.Nxf4 Bf6 17.Bg4 Qh7 18.Ne6 Rf7 19.Qe3 1-0

The most salient features of the diagrammed start position are the Knights in the corners and the Bishops on the center files. It's not completely clear which side will be more suitable for the castled Kings. Castling O-O-O can be prepared quickly, but the King is not in any immediate danger and castling O-O might eventually be feasible.

1.f4 f5: When a Rook starts on a center file (the c- to f-files), the advance of its corresponding Pawn is often a natural move. In this position, the advance of the f-Pawn opens diagonals for the Queen and a Bishop, just like the move 1.e4 (1...e5) in traditional chess. The Pawn on a7, en prise after the first move, is protected by the tactic 2...Nb6 and 3...Ra8.

2.Ng3 Ng6: When a Knight starts in the corner, a jump to b3 (b6, g3, g6) is a natural move. Within a few moves, both players will develop the other Knight to the b-file.

3.d3 & 4.Bd2: White prepares e2-e4.

6...Ba4 & 7...Ra8: It's not clear what plan Black has in mind here. Perhaps he was assuming an exchange ...Bxb3 would be answered by axb3. Then the Black a-Pawn, supported by the Rook, will get play on the a-file.

8.O-O-O, 9.cxb3, & 10.Kb1: White counteracts Black's plan by recapturing with the c-Pawn and using the c-file to mount an attack on the Black King. The Rook on a8 will be out of the game for a long time.

At this point the game looks like it could have evolved from the traditional start position, when well known middle game principles apply.


Tommyg said...

I just recently played my first game of FischerRandom or 960 Chess against my chess engine last week. It was a lot of fun. The question I have is whether or not playing 960 chess would be helpful to one's normal chess playing?? It seems to me that it would. Do you have any opinions on that?

Mark Weeks said...

It's definitely helpful. Since you are faced with a new position in every game, it forces you to think about the position starting with your first move. In traditional chess (SP518), you can play from memory for a number of moves, depending on the depth of your opening repertoire. - Mark