30 December 2008

A Followup, an Error, and an Insight

In Theoretical Advantage in Chess960 Start Positions, I constructed a table showing chess960 start positions (SP) where the overall results appear to be extreme when compared to other start positions. Tom Chivers asked, 'do you have any interpretations of why these positions are the most/least violent?'. This was the same question I had after posting the analysis, so I'll tackle one of the SPs in this post.

Starting with the first position in that table -- SP024 NBQNBRKR -- I downloaded the PGN game scores from the source of the data (www.computerchess.org.uk) and analyzed the openings using chess software. Start position SP024 is shown in the following diagram.


Start Position 024

My first remark is that the number of games in the sample has increased from the 42 that I recorded in that earlier post to 46. That's an increase of four games in two weeks for just one of the 960 start positions. Computerchess.org.uk isn't standing still.

My second remark is that after analyzing the results for SP024, I realized that my calculations on the original table were wrong! The column '%White', taken from the source data, already included one point for a win plus one-half for a draw. This means that the overall percentage score for White in SP024 was not the 90.5% that I listed, but rather the 76.2% on the original data. I modified the original post to flag my error and to avoid misleading anyone else.

Believe it or not, I'm relieved to have made that error. An overall success rate of 90% for White from a specific start position would be a disaster for the acceptance of chess960. A success rate of 76% is bad enough. The current data, based on 46 games, gives 73.9% for White (+28-6=12), where the four most recent games split +2-2=0.

Looking at the openings used in the 46 games for SP024, I found that 19 started with the moves 1.Ne3 c5 2.d4 (or 1.d4 c5 2.Ne3, which is a transposition), where White sacrifices a Pawn on the second move. None of the sample games had Black accepting the sacrifice, because after 2...cxd4, the sequence 3.Nf5 Nc6 (forced) 4.Qg5, leaves Black with a bad game.

A close look at the initial SP024 position reveals that the e-Pawn is undefended, while the g-Pawn is protected only by the King. Both Pawns can be attacked in two moves by the Queen and the d-Knight (*). This is the SP024 equivalent of the Scholar's mate (1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 -- 3.Qh5 etc.) in traditional chess (SP518). When Tom Chivers observed in his comment that the dangerous start positions share the common feature of 'several Pawns unprotected and these can be easily attacked by the Queen and Bishop', he was on the right track.

Before tackling any other start positions, I'll redo my original table, but I expect the new results will be similar.

(*) - Is this an acceptable way to distinguish one Knight, the d-Knight, from its counterpart, the a-Knight?

29 December 2008

My Introduction to Blogging

About.com released its first blog tool, 'powered by Movable Type' at the beginning of July 2003, and switched to 'powered by WordPress' in April 2006. For a long time the blog archive

had every post on a single page, but eventually switched to a more sensible format with a separate page for each month.

The 'Internet Archive Wayback Machine' is an erratic beast. Some pages have dozens of entries for their archived copies, some pages have a single entry, and some pages have none. The previous link is a good example. Although the page /b/archives.htm existed for years, all of the pages returned by the Wayback Machine are clustered in the few months between December 2005 and March 2006.

In April 2006, About.com made a special effort to attract the attention of the blogosphere by releasing a new function that let me make a special blogroll and have it displayed on almost every page in my topic. Since I had been keeping an eye on the chess blogs since 2003, I liked the initiative and created a list of my personal favorites.

I updated the list monthly, eventually setting a limit of 21 blogs. For reasons that aren't important here, the URL of the list changed once and is documented in the following table.

During the first month of the new function, I wrote several pieces about the chess blogosphere.

After that initial flurry of activity, when I also started Chess for All Ages, I settled into a monthly look at the chess blogs

and kept track of them on an index

The second page of that two page index, covering 2006, is missing, and the only other post for 2006 I've been able to locate is

I'll add the other posts when I can.

28 December 2008

1.e4 e6 2.Qe2

In The Enigma of Chigorin, I counted five games at Hastings 1895 where Chigorin played 2.Qe2 against the French Defense. When commenting those games in the tournament book, what did his contemporaries think of this unorthodox move and what can we learn from their comments?


After 1.e4 e6 2.Qe2

Rd.6; Chigorin - Teichmann; 1-0; Annotator: Tarrasch

1.e4 e6 2.Qe2 Nc6 (I consider the best to be 2...Be7; 2...c5 is also good.) 3.Nf3 e5 (This gives an open game.) 4.c3 Nf6 5.d3 Be7

Rd.8; Chigorin - Blackburne; 1-0; Annotator: Steinitz

1.e4 e6 2.Qe2 (Mr.Chigorin considers this to be the strongest continuation in the French Defense. Having adopted it first in the match against Dr. Tarrasch, he has faithfully adhered to his innovation, and, especially in this tournament, with great success. It is difficult to pass judgment on such a move, but I am inclined to believe that its first effect, namely, of delaying the advance of the adverse Queen's Pawn (in which case White gains a move by 2.Qe2 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.Nc3 is at least neutralised by the restriction placed on his King's Bishop.) 2...b6 (The order of development which I would select for Black would be 2...c5 3.-- Nc6 4.-- d6 5.-- Nf6 6.-- Be7 7.-- O-O, after which ...d5 {will give the second player a strong attack.) 3.g3 Bb7 4.Bg2 Be7 5. d3 f5

Rd.11; Chigorin - Marco; 1-0; Annotator: Teichmann

1.e4 e6 2.Qe2 e5 (I do not think that this is loss of time; the position of the White Queen at e2 is, to say the least, no advantage for White.) 3.g3 Nc6 4.Bg2 Bc5 5.c3 Nf6

Rd.15; Chigorin - Tinsley; 1-0; Annotator: Tarrasch

1.e4 e6 2.Qe2 b6 (Stronger is 2...Be7 or 2...c5) 3.Nc3 Bb7 4.Nh3 Nc6 5.d3 Qe7

Rd.17; Chigorin - Albin; 1/2-1/2; Annotator: Pillsbury

1.e4 e6 2.Qe2 Nc6 3.Nf3 e5 (Bringing about an open game, with the White Queen indifferently placed.) 4.g3 Bc5 5.c3 Bb6

What can we learn from these games and comments? First, that the loss of tempo (e.g. 2...e5) is justified in order to take advantage of an antipositional move (2.Qe2). Second, that one way to combat an unorthodox opening move is to steer into a variation where the move is less useful (2...c5 transposes into a Sicilian). Third, that in spite of his move's eccentricity (2.Qe2 blocks the Bishop on f1), Chigorin was enormously successful with it (+4-0=1!). The advantage of an unorthodox opening is in getting the opponent to think for himself from an early move. A prepared opening repertoire loses its importance.

27 December 2008

Dragons and Concreteness

In Questions of Style and of Theory, I wondered (1) what was the earliest example of the ...Rxc3 sacrifice in the Yugoslav Variation of the Dragon Defense, and (2) how Kasparov categorized Fischer's style.

Unfortunately, I didn't phrase the question very well at Chess.com, and while I got three nice examples of Dragon ...Rxc3 tactical sacrifices, none of them were positional sacrifices of the type in the Yugoslav Variation. One of the examples, however, reminded me that Korchnoi was a longtime defender of the Dragon, which led me to an earlier example of the sacrifice than I already had. In the diagrammed position, Black played 15...Rxc3.

1967 Sousse Interzonal
Korchnoi, Viktor

Matulovic, Milan
(After 15.Qd2-h6(xB))
[FEN "r1r3k1/p2bpp1p/3p1npQ/qp2n3/3NP2P/1BN2P2/PPP3P1/1K1R3R b - - 0 15"]

As for Kasparov, I searched the Fischer chapter in Predecessors IV, looking for discussions of the American's playing style. I found nine passages, of which all but one were Kasparov quoting other Soviet players. Kasparov's remark was a comment to 12...g5!? in Gligoric - Fischer, 1970 Palma Interzonal, where he wrote,

At the start of the 1970s the play on the dark squares appeared rather promising for Black, which attracted Fischer with his very concrete approach to the solving of opening (and also other) problems. This was a step forward: in the era of Botvinnik, Smyslov, and Petrosian, the ...g6-g5 advance, creating a chronic weakness on the light squares, could not even have been conceived. (p.366)

The italics on concrete approach are Kasparov's. When he said, 'For a player of Fischer's style, that's not a very good comment, because he needs to be a little more concrete', he meant exactly what he said -- that Fischer's style was 'concrete'. Kasparov's opinion on Fischer's style is supported by the other players quoted in Predecessors IV, including several examples copied from Russians Versus Fischer by Plisetsky (Kasparov's assistant on the Predecessors series) and Voronkov.

26 December 2008

Strength Meets Intelligence


Honda Ridgeline Meets Chess (0:26) • 'The surprisingly efficient Ridgeline built by Honda.'

These guys don't talk much ('Check!'), but they don't have to.

25 December 2008

Merry Christmas from Google!

No, I'm not talking about the holiday related image that Google always shows on its main search page. I'm talking about the enhancement that Google just made to its image search restricting the search to two new types of images. Here's an example showing only clip art on a search for 'chess Christmas'.


There's nothing particularly Christmasy about any of the images, except Santa in the center image, and there's nothing particularly chessy about that, except the source of the image (www.torontochess.org). Some scrolling and clicking does, however, pick up some images that are both Christmasy and chessy. Here's the URL for the clip art search...

Results 1 - 20 of about 13,500 for chess Christmas.
http://images.google.com/images?q=chess+Christmas&hl=en&imgtype=clipart&as_st=y

...Google also released an option for retrieving only line drawings. For the full range of image content types, see Google's Advanced Image Search. And have a Merry Christmas!

23 December 2008

Chess960 Book Titles

In a comment to A Database of Chess960 Start Positions, JHVN asked, 'Do you know of any other Fischer Random Chess Opening books other than the one on Lulu.com?' I can take a hint, so I searched Lulu.com, a well known site for self-published works, and came up with Search Results: 'chess960' (4 items). All four items, of which 'Mastering Fischer Random Chess' appears to be the primary work, were authored by Jan H van Niekerk. Unless I'm facing an extraordinary coincidence, it's a safe bet that 'Jan H' and 'JHVN' are one and the same.

Getting back to JHVN's question, I don't know of any other chess960 opening books. The standard work in the uncrowded field of chess960 titles is Shall We Play Fischerandom Chess? (on Amazon.com) by GM Svetozar Gligoric. It's a good book that deserves its own review in a separate post.

The only other English language title I know is Play Stronger Chess By Examining Chess960 (also Amazon.com) by Gene Milener. A crippled PDF version of the book, missing 80% of the pages, is available as PSCbyEC960.pdf on PlayChess960.com. The Amazon page has a review titled 'Comments from me the Author' that points to Castlelong.com, where 'a companion setup id conversion program is available for download'.

This program performs cross-referencing between chess960 setup id numbers from a variety of known systems. These systems include F9# used by Fritz9, S# adopted by Arena and some other chess playing programs, and our recommended R# "reciprocal" system.

According to the example on the download page, the standard numbering system that I use on this blog is what Milener calls S#. This must be named after Reinhard Scharnagl, its creator.

22 December 2008

Ghosts of Christmas Past

One of my annual traditions is to create a Christmas piece drawn from the artsy side of chess. This Christmas, I'm rescuing the Christmas pieces from the last five years.

The first two, from 2003 and 2004, are chess stories from 19th century sources. The others are chess image galleries.

21 December 2008

Chigorin Stumbles at Hastings 1895

Pillsbury's greatest triumph was first place at the 1895 Hastings tournament, ahead of Chigorin, Lasker, and Steinitz. His victory was based on strong play combined with good luck. Chigorin beat Pillsbury in the first round, overcame Lasker in the second round, and maintained the pace throughout the event. The following chart shows the cumulative score of the three main contenders round by round.


After 19 rounds, with two rounds to be played, Chigorin was leading his closest rivals by 1/2 point. In the 20th round he had White against Janowsky, who was languishing in the middle of the field with 8.5 points. For the only game in the tournament, Chigorin chose a relatively passive opening (see The Enigma of Chigorin for an overview of his openings at Hastings) with 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.d3. The game continued 3...d5 4.exd5 Nxd5, when Chigorin played the second-rate 5.Qe2. He castled O-O-O, played a2-a3, and was demolished by a Bishop sacrifice on a3. Faced with unavoidable checkmate, he resigned on his 17th move.

In the other key 20th round games, Lasker suffered his second straight defeat, losing with White to Blackburne, and Pillsbury won with Black against tailender Vergani. In the last round, Pillsbury won with White against Gunsberg, after the Hungarian went astray in a drawn endgame. Although both of Pillsbury's rivals also won, neither could catch the American.

20 December 2008

Questions of Style and of Theory

Continuing with Fischer - Gligoric, CT 1959, Kasparov made some revealing remarks in his lecture on the game (see Kasparov Live! on Fischer - Gligoric). At the beginning of his exposition he said, '[The game] shows you that the result of the game and the power of the name [Fischer], the legendary player who won the game, could also influence commentators.' It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway, that most of us don't have sufficient chess knowledge to find the weak points in Fischer's moves or in his notes. We'll have to rely on Garry for that!

A few seconds later he commented on Fischer's note to 8...Na5 (see the first Fischer - Gligoric post for the game score). Fischer wrote, 'Releasing the central tension this way is wrong. Correct is 8...Nxd4 9.Qxd4 Bg7, but after 10.Bg5! White still keeps control.' After quoting Fischer, Kasparov made a hand motion indicating that he thought 'White still keeps control' was dubious, then continued, 'For a player of Fischer's style, that's not a very good comment, because he needs to be a little more concrete. There were a number of games played later that proved that Black equalized and one of the games I quote is Renet - Korchnoi in 1995.'

There are a couple of points worth pursuing in Kasparov's criticism. The first is to understand what he meant by 'a player of Fischer's style'. What does the 13th World Champion consider to be the 11th's 'style'? The second is to discover what happened in 'games played later' that contradicted Fischer's judgment. I'm afraid that the question of style will take more digging than I can do for a single blog post. The question of subsequent theory is easier.

In Predecessors IV, Kasparov accused White of 'timid' play in Renet - Korchnoi, when Black equalized quickly. Can we really expect that Fischer would have continued timidly? A more convincing continuation against 10.Bg5! was from a different game quoted by Kasparov (de Firmian - Makarychev, Oslo 1984), where Black used the (now) well known tactic of sacrificing the Rook for the Knight on c3.

I don't believe that the Dragon exchange sacrifice was known in 1959, when Fischer - Gligoric was played. I'm also not sure that it was known when My 60 Memorable Games was written. Wanting to get to the truth of this, I posted the question to Chess.com -- Origin of the Dragon Sacrifice? -- hoping that one of the chess mavens there can point to a likely stem game. • To be continued...

19 December 2008

Larry Kaufman @ UMBC

The Flickr page for this photo asks, 'Can you provide us with information on the people in this photograph? Or when and where the photo was taken?'


Chessmaster Larry Kaufman and UMBC Chess Team © Flickr user 'AOK Library & Gallery, UMBC' under Creative Commons.

Kaufman won the World Senior Championship in November: Interview With an American Medallist: GM Larry Kaufman (USchess.org).

18 December 2008

Chess Blog Carnival

When I saw the announcement of the next chess blog carnival, on www.jacklemoine.com and on www.chessusa.net, my first reaction was to ignore it. As the announcement says, 'A year ago, I attempted to start a regular outing but I fell flat.' Why spend time on something that its creator is downplaying?

When I later saw that at least one other good blog would be participating, jimwestonchess.blogspot.com, I changed my mind. This will only succeed if enough people take it seriously and it takes very little effort to participate.

I even went as far as flagging the event to Chess.com bloggers: Next Chess Blog Carnival. A look at Top Bloggers - Last 60 Days will confirm that there are some great blogs on Chess.com. (I just noticed that my Chess.com blog is currently last on that list. It must have been because of my carnival post!)

Details about the chess carnival are on Blog Carnival - Chess Carnival. If you have a chess blog and think it's not for you, think again.

16 December 2008

Theoretical Advantage in Chess960 Start Positions

One of the nagging questions about chess960 relates to the fairness of the different start positions. Do White and Black have the same chances from any initial position or do some positions naturally favor one color?

There's an interesting table at CCRL 404FRC : Downloads and Statistics (www.computerchess.org.uk) showing the results of computer vs. computer matches on chess960 start positions (SP). I extracted the data, plugged it into my database of start positions (see A Database of Chess960 Start Positions), and created the following table.

Most of the columns are self-explanatory, except maybe '%White' (percentage wins for White) and '%Score' (overall scoring percentage for White, i.e. one point for a win plus one-half for a draw).

SPFENGms%Draw%White%Score
Highest Overall Score White
24NBQNBRKR4228.676.290.50
868QBBRKRNN4022.573.885.05
74NNRKBBQR4434.164.881.85
424RBNQBNKR3228.167.281.25
376NBRKBRNQ2611.575.080.75
Highest Overall Score Black
92NBNRKRBQ283.641.042.90
222NQRKNBBR4812.537.543.75
694RQBKNBNR3417.635.344.10
82BNNRKBRQ3417.635.344.10
396QBRNNKBR3622.233.344.40
Highest % Draws
404RBBQNNKR3447.135.358.85
488QBRNBKNR2441.745.866.65
535RNBKQNRB4440.947.768.15
426RNQNBBKR4240.546.466.65
202QNRKBBNR4040.055.075.00
Lowest % Draws
724RBBKNQNR380.047.047.40
92NBNRKRBQ283.641.042.90
754BRKNNBRQ263.848.050.00
839RKBNRQNB444.547.049.95
919RKBRQNNB385.350.052.65
Traditional Start
518RNBQKBNR2821.439.350.00
Traditional Start (K&Q switched)
534RNBKQBNR2231.843.259.10

At the bottom of the table I've included the traditional start position (SP518) for reference. Curiously, it weighs in at exactly a 50% score, although the expected result in games played between masters should give White a statistical edge. I've also included its first cousin (SP534) for comparison. As for the statistical validity of the table, I have no idea. I suspect there is not enough data to have much confidence in the results, but I can't say how reliable it is.

PGN game scores for the different start positions are also available at the CCRL 404FRC site. Assuming some statistical validility to the data, further avenues of investigation might be

  • specific variations in openings that appear to be overwhelmingly favorable for White (e.g. SP024: NBQNBRKR) or moderately favorable for Black (e.g. SP092: NBNRKRBQ), and
  • relationships between the start position of specific pieces (e.g. Bishops in the corners) and the overall scores.

I'm sure other ideas will present themselves. They always do!

***

Later: I discovered that my results were based on an erroneous assumption. The column labelled '%White', taken from the original data, was already calculated using one point for a win plus one-half for a draw. When I calculated my column '%Score', the results became heavily skewed in White's favor. I struck the erroneous portions of the original post and will redo the complete table in a future post. • Chess for All Ages (that's me) regrets the error.

***

Even later: I posted the corrected table on Advantage in Chess960 Start Positions Revisited.

14 December 2008

Bias in the Soviet School

Watching Kasparov discuss Predecessors IV (see Kasparov (Live!) on Fischer - Gligoric), I was reminded that one of the themes running through Kasparov's Predecessors series is to track the Soviet School through its dominant position in chess. Even volume IV, subtitled 'Stars of the West', addresses this theme. During Kasparov's lecture at the London Chess Centre, his host Malcolm Pein asked him about a passage where Romanovsky wrote critically about Fine.

Kasparov: Let's not forget that Romanovsky had to write bad things about Western players, especially American players, because in the Soviet Union we had to criticize foreigners for being passive, non-creative, non-attacking, and only the Soviet chess style deserved praise. Romanovsky wrote some nasty things about Fine just before the AVRO tournament in Amsterdam. [1938; reads from Predecessors IV (p.33)] 'The Fine-Flohr style is fundamentally alien to the creativity of Soviet masters.'

Pein: Sounds like good, solid propaganda, Garry, but is there any truth in it?

Kasparov: Before the tournament [Romanovsky] said, [reads another passage from the same page, where Romanovsky is not identified as the author] 'Fine's practical play is fundamentally remote from tactical trickery, resourcefulness, and playing for complications. Because of this Fine loses very rarely, but also usually he only wins against masters who play weaker than him.' That was written before the tournament. In the first five rounds of AVRO, Fine scored 4.5, beating Botvinnik in the first round, then beating Euwe, Flohr, and Reshevsky. While writing the book I came up with some statistics. I'm not sure, but I think Fine is the only [non-World Champion] who had a positive score against World Champions. There are some players who had one or two games, but I'm talking about a player who had 25 games against five World Champions and a +3 score, which is quite impressive, when one talks about him only beating 'weak players'.

Kasparov went on to mention that Leonid Stein also had a positive score against World Champions and, speaking of records, that Reshevsky played 11 World Champions and Najdorf played 10.

Kasparov: Reshevsky was a real threat to the Soviet domination. He couldn't win a candidate tournament, but he had some great moments. In 1955, he beat Botvinnik in a four game USSR-USA match in Moscow. In the center of Moscow, in front of Soviet Union officials, he beat Botvinnik 2.5-1.5. That counts for something.

When I finish with Chigorin, whom Kasparov discussed in Predecessors I, I'll come back to his points about Fine, Flohr, and Reshevsky; plus maybe Romanovsky and Stein.

13 December 2008

Kasparov (Live!) on Fischer - Gligoric

The game mentioned in Fischer - Gligoric, CT 1959 is the same game discussed in a clip featured in one of my earliest Video Friday choices: Kasparov's Birthday. Thanks to the kibitzers at Chessgames.com (see link in that first Fischer - Gligoric post) for pointing out that much more of the same Kasparov talk is available on Garry Kasparov at the London Chess Centre (LCC; www.chess.co.uk), where 'Clip 6', the last in the LCC series, is the same clip that I found on YouTube. Kasparov used the LCC visit to promote the just published Predecessors IV, where he discussed -- in 'behind the scenes' style -- the writing of the book.

12 December 2008

Chess with Rhythm

Chessvibes.com isn't the only chess site producing high quality videos about Chess on Blip.tv. Here's one from the French magazine Europe Echecs.


Dresden Closing Ceremony (2:32) • The Medal Winners

You can find their Episodes Archive at

plus the Episodes Archives of other well known chess personalities at

It looks like Blip.tv is the site of choice for serious producers of chess videos.

11 December 2008

Chess Magazines on Google

Well, not really. There are, however, a number of magazines with references or articles (it's not clear which) about chess available via Google. The new feature is packaged as a subset of Google books...

Books 1 - 10 of 684 on chess
http://books.google.com/books?lr=&q=chess&as_pt=MAGAZINES&as_brr=0

...where the search is restricted to magazines. Considering how many different titles and issues have been published since the dawn of the magazine age -- Wikipedia dates the first 'general-interest magazine' to 1731 -- that's not a lot of magazines with a reference to chess.

There are even fewer that are unquestionably about chess itself: Books 1 - 10 of 11 on chess intitle:chess. Of those, Popular Mechanics and Popular Science account for half.


Even interesting titles can be misleading. The title Chess players, 'a set of precise, gently mocking miniaturist illuminations, as intricate as the chess game at its center' (New York Magazine, 5 Jun 1978, p.86) is about Satyajit Ray's film The Chess Players; Chess, 'keeps getting revived and revised, but seems deader every time' (New York Magazine, 24 Feb 1992, p.132) is about the musical; and Hillary Rodham Clinton Awards $60,000 Donation to Restore Chicago's Chess (Jet, 15 Nov 1999, p.30) is about Chess Records recording studio.

Even when a reference is ostensibly about chess, as in 'By a simplified, pictorial method, this course teaches you how to play chess in one evening! Pictures, diagrams and examples make everything clear.' (Popular Mechanics, Mar 1947, p.82), it turns out to be an ad for Chess Review magazine. A few weeks ago I mentioned LIFE Photos on Google in Google Images. It's still more interesting, but I expect Google Magazines to get up to speed quickly.

The Google juggernaut rolls on...

09 December 2008

A Database of Chess960 Start Positions

Now that I'm comfortable with chess960 concepts, I thought it would be useful to have a small database of the 960 valid start positions. This would let me answer some simple questions like 'how many positions are there with such-and-such characteristics'. I set out on a web search to find the base data relating the 960 start positions (SP) to their corresponding setup string, for example, relating position 518 (SP518) to the traditional chess setup RNBQKBNR. I looked at 20-odd sites, came up empty handed, and decided it would be faster to generate the data myself. Since the basic algorithms are explained on Wikipedia pages, I studied them for the details, and 30 minutes later had my database.

Wikipedia entries often suffer from an excess of detail, and the chess960 pages are no exception. Constructing a random chess960 start position is easy. Confining yourself to White's first rank, first you place a Bishop at random on one of the four light squares and the other Bishop at random on one of the four dark squares. Then you place the Queen at random on one of the six remaining empty squares, followed by the two Knights on the five remaining squares. That leaves three empty squares where you must place the King and Rooks so that the King has one Rook somewhere to its left and the other Rook to its right. When you are done with the White pieces, you place the Black pieces on Black's first rank so that they mirror the White pieces. Then you place all of the Pawns on their respective second ranks.

You can use almost any simple game of chance to choose random squares; dice and cards work well if you repeat a step returning an invalid number, e.g. larger than the number four when placing a Bishop. Coin tosses work if you're comfortable with binary numbers (aren't we all?) and you could even use yarrow stalks or a ouija board if you're comfortable with divination.

The standard accepted numbering of the 960 start positions uses a clever scheme that cycles through the 16 possible setups for the Bishops (4 x 4) and the 60 possible setups for the Queen and Knights (6 x 5 x 4, divided by 2, to factor out the duplication of the Knights). After generating the 960 positions and mapping them to their standard numbers, I loaded the data into my database and created an external page with the most important info...

Chess960 Start Positions
http://www.mark-weeks.com/cfaa/chess960/c960strt.htm

...Armed with the table, I realized I could use it to refine my initial web search and locate other web pages to check my work. First I found 37 chess960 positions on Opening experience : Fischer Random Chess (Chess960). One of its positions didn't match my numbering (SP246), but I quickly determined that it was an error on that page. Then I found another copy of all 960 positions on Fischer random chess setups. This matched my results perfectly and gave me confidence that my work had been correct. I then used my database to answer simple questions like

With the King and Queen on the central files (the d-/e-files), which positions are symmetric? By symmetric, I mean that one type of piece (R, B, or N) is on the a-/h-files, another is on the b-/g-files, and the remaining piece is on the c-/f-files.

Logic says there should be 12 such positions, but how are they numbered? My database says they are numbered like this...

SP323 • BNRQKRNB
SP326 • NRBQKBRN
SP332 • NBRQKRBN
SP339 • BNRKQRNB
SP342 • NRBKQBRN
SP348 • NBRKQRBN
SP515 • BRNQKNRB
SP518 • RNBQKBNR
SP524 • RBNQKNBR
SP531 • BRNKQNRB
SP534 • RNBKQBNR
SP540 • RBNKQNBR

Of course, SP518 is one of those positions, but it's also worth noting that SP534 is similar to SP518, with only the King and Queen switched on the central files. Here's a diagram of SP534.


Start Position 534
The Queen is NOT on her color!

This is a good time to clarify a point that sometimes confuses newcomers to chess960. SP534 is not a simple mirror image of SP518, the traditional start position. When castling O-O or O-O-O in SP534, the King and Rook end up on exactly the same squares as they do when castling in SP518: e.g. after castling O-O, the Rook ends on f1 and the King ends on g1.

Along with identifying the 12 symmetric start positions my database taught me a few other things about the family of valid chess960 start positions. I'll leave that discussion for another post.

***

Note: Listed under 'STRATEGIC CONCEPTS' on Chess Blog Carnival 1/09, where I'm described as 'a support beam of the chess bloggers'. Call me 'Mr. Beam'?

08 December 2008

A Chess Tutorial

Continuing with Links related to my About.com material, I added a first chess tutorial: Maximize the Usefulness of Your Moves. It's an introduction to the positional principle of choosing the move that accomplishes the most.

Since my tutorials are all based on chess positions and the positions are always represented by images, I again used the Jalbum image gallery software for the underlying functionality. To differentiate between tutorials and other image galleries, like Photos from the 2005 FIDE World Championship, I used a different Jalbum skin. There are still a few design details that I'm not happy with, but I'll correct those as I can. The Jalbum software is so flexible, with several ways to accomplish the same tweak, that it's often not obvious which way is the best.

Now that I've worked out most of the technical issues around rescuing my About.com material, it's time to spend some effort on the overall look and navigation of the material. So far, I don't have many ideas about how to this.

07 December 2008

Knight Owl

From 'Chess Treasury of the Air' edited by Terence Tiller:-

'Chigorin', [Mieses] said, 'was very punctiliously set in his habits. Quite pedantic about his mealtimes: breakfast at eight, lunch at twelve, and dinner at seven. Never varied it. Which meant of course' -- so he added with a chuckle -- 'that Chigorin had breakfast at 8 PM, lunch at midnight, and dinner at 7 AM.' (p.59)

I picked a copy of the book, 'a Penguin Handbook' (1966), off eBay for £1.99 plus shipping. Great value for the money; full of anecdotes about the old masters. This quote was from an essay on Jacques Mieses by Heinrich Fraenkel (aka Assiac), in a series titled 'Uncrowned Kings': Rubinstein, Schlechter, Levenfish, and Mieses.

***

OT: My nephew got some print space in the NY Times today...

College Radio Maintains Its Mojo
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/07/arts/television/07sisa.html

...He's third generation RPI.

06 December 2008

The Purpose of a Book Review

A few months ago, in a post titled In Defense of Chess Book Reviewers, I wondered, 'What is the purpose of a book review?' Two obvious answers come to mind: (1) to give an opinion about the book, and (2) to give others help on deciding whether the book is worth procuring or not.

I was reminded of that post in relation to a book titled 'The Genius and the Misery of Chess' by Zhivko Kaikamjozov. I received a copy from its U.S. distributor, who was looking for a review on About.com. Unbeknownst to the distributor's agent, I had recently stopped writing for the site. I offered to pay for the book and was told that I could just keep it.

I read portions of the book and found it very strange, a mixture of little known facts and unsubstantiated legends, impossible to separate fact from legend. Despite its many glaring technical flaws, and for reasons I couldn't explain, I also found it more entertaining than most chess books. I decided that it would have been a difficult book to review, put it aside, and forgot about it.

I don't often read book reviews unless I've read the book myself -or- have a special interest in the author -or- am interested in the reviewer. This is a practical matter. There are so many chess books and so many reviews that it is impossible to digest them all.

Two of those conditions -- I've read the book myself and am interested in the reviewer -- applied to one of Edward Winter's recent Chess Notes, a short post about the book titled 'CN 5855. Miserable' on ChessHistory.com. The pre-eminent chess historian of our age extracted a few ridiculous passages and ended by saying the 'Morphy chapter shows the author at his most fabulistic, and we have seldom seen anything quite so bad.'

The same two conditions applied to Steve Goldberg's Review: The Genius and the Misery of Chess, where the ChessCafe.com reviewer pointed to one of his recent efforts. Like me, Goldberg had trouble deciding whether he liked the book and finally hedged with 'Despite all of its shortcomings, The Genius and the Misery of Chess offers a couple of useful purposes', specifically 'a helpful, brief introduction for the nearly four dozen players profiled', and 'another writer might consider expanding the concept to produce a new volume with somewhat more extensive coverage'.

There I had two different opinions: Winter's 'bad' and Goldberg's 'offers a couple of useful purposes'. I found another review on Chessco.com, where the reviewer's opinion of the book was 'quite palatable'.

As for the second purpose of a review -- Is the book worth procuring? -- the contrast in the three reviews confirms one of my own goals in writing a review: To allow different readers to judge a book according to their own level. For this particular book, I conclude that professional historians will find nothing of value, amateur historians (where I fit in) will find a useful guide on how to do (or not to do) something similar, and the general public will find the book 'helpful' or, at worst, 'palatable'.

Unfortunately, most reviews don't make it clear who their readership targets are. This is why I like to know something about the content of a book, and why I find the list of chapters in the catalog entry on SchachVersand.de so useful. I've read enough about Morphy to be sure that I'm not interested in a six page summary of his career. Ditto for the other world champions. In contrast, I know little about Klaus Junge and will undoubtedly learn something from a five page summary.

I also like to know something about the author of a book. I'm not likely to buy a title from an unknown author, and in this current example, I knew nothing about Kaikamjozov. The back cover of the book, copied on Caissa-chess.com, tells me that he is a chess master, 'well-known in the chess world, particularly for his students, who include grandmasters Velikov, Spassov, and Voiska, as well as Topalov's manager Silvio Danailov'. Further back cover biographical info confirms that he is a chess insider.

Now I understand why the book interested me. If I had to write a review, I would recommend it for amateur and neophyte chess historians with some tolerance for sloppiness. Other potential readers can understand that it is probably not a book for them.

05 December 2008

The Lewis Pieces at Hilton Head

The Lewis pieces recently gathered for a group photo.


3056930066 © Flickr user hyku under Creative Commons.

'Taken in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina'. Was this one of the Harry Potter chess sets featuring the Lewis clan?

04 December 2008

Fischer - Gligoric, CT 1959

The next game in 18 Memorable Games is game no.13 in My 60 Memorable Games and no.56 in Predecessors IV. The PGN is given below, along with punctuation from notes by the 11th & 13th World Champions. I'll take a closer look at 17...Rc6 and the sequence starting 23.Qd3.

[Event "Candidates Tournament"]
[Site "Yugoslavia"]
[Date "1959.??.??"]
[Round "4"]
[White "Fischer, R."]
[Black "Gligoric, S."]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "B57"]

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 6.Bc4 Bd7 7.Bb3 g6 8.f3 8...Na5 {GK: ?!} 9.Bg5 {GK: !} 9...Bg7 10.Qd2 h6 11.Be3 Rc8 12.O-O-O Nc4 13.Qe2 {BF: !?; GK: !?} 13...Nxe3 14.Qxe3 O-O 15.g4 Qa5 16.h4 {GK: !} 16...e6 17.Nde2 {BF: !; GK: !} 17...Rc6 {GK: ?} 18.g5 hxg5 19.hxg5 Nh5 20. f4 Rfc8 21.Kb1 Qb6 22.Qf3 Rc5 23.Qd3 {BF: !; GK: !?} 23...Bxc3 {GK: ?} 24. Nxc3 Nxf4 25.Qf3 {GK: !} 25...Nh5 26.Rxh5 {BF: !; GK: !} 26...gxh5 27.Qxh5 Be8 28.Qh6 {BF: !} 28...Rxc3 29.bxc3 Rxc3 30.g6 {GK: !} 30...fxg6 31.Rh1 Qd4 32.Qh7+ 1-0

To play through the complete game see...

Robert James Fischer vs Svetozar Gligoric, Bled ct 1959
http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessgame?gid=1044000

...on Chessgames.com.

02 December 2008

An Exercise in Chess960 Positional Thinking

My third chess960 game lasted longer than the second (see Lesson in Chess960 Opening Patterns), although it was effectively over when my opponent dropped the exchange on the 21st move. The diagram shows the start position.


Start Position 002

The first few moves were instructive. After the logical 1.e4 e5, my opponent played 2.Bc4. The resulting position looks similar to the Bishop's Opening in the traditional chess setup, but in this particular chess960 setup, White's last move is a mistake. I played 2...b5.

Black's second move is possible because the b-Pawn is protected by the Queen. In addition to attacking the Bc4, the Pawn move helps to develop both the Ba8 and the Qb8. White has an awkward time defending the attacked Bishop. If the piece retreats 3.Bb3, it blocks the Pb2, which in turn blocks the Ba1. If it retreats 3.Bd3, it blocks a natural development square for the Nc1. The best move was probably 3.Be2, although that obstructs the Re1's defense of the Pe4. White chose 3.Bd3, but ended up playing Bd3-e2 a few moves later in response to another threat.

An important aspect of 2.Bc4 is that it prepares castling O-O already on the next move. It is less likely that either player will castle O-O-O, when O-O is so readily available. Also with the goal of castling O-O, I later played ...Bc5, which was much better after ...b5, when the Bc5 can retreat to b6 without interfering with the development of Black's Queenside (or a-side as chess960 terminology calls it).

Another aspect of 2...b5 is that the Ba8 is immediately developed after the b-Pawn moves. In fact, that Bishop never moved during the game, although it participated in the tactics that won the exchange almost 20 moves later.

After three games, my chess960 rating has climbed from 1200 to 1738. I might be in a position to challenge an expert player after another game or two. Here's the full game, again courtesy of SchemingMind.com:

[Event "Chess960"]
[Site "SchemingMind.com"]
[Date "2008.11.04"]
[Round "-"]
[White "FeralPawn"]
[Black "bemweeks"]
[Result "0-1"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "bqnnrbkr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/BQNNRBKR w KQkq - 0 1"]

1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 b5 3.Bd3 Ne6 4.Nc3 c6 5.N1e2 Bc5 6.Ng3 Nf4 7.Be2 Ne7 8.b4 Bb6 9.Qb3 Nxe2+ 10.Rxe2 O-O 11.O-O Kh8 12.Nf5 Nxf5 13.exf5 d5 14.Rfe1 Qd6 15.Qb2 f6 16.a4 a6 17.a5 Ba7 18.Qb3 c5 19.Na2 c4 20.Qh3 d4 21.Bb2 d3 22.cxd3 cxd3 23.Re3 Bxe3 24.Rxe3 Qc6 25.Rg3 Qc2 26.Qg4 Re7 27.h4 Qxb2 28.Nc3 Qxd2 29. h5 Qxc3 30.h6 Qc1+ 31.Kh2 Rd8 32.hxg7+ Kg8 33.Qh4 d2 34.Rh3 Rxg7 35.f3 d1=Q 0-1

01 December 2008

A Gallery of Chess Positions

Adding to my initial collection of Image Galleries, I created a sample gallery of chess positions called:

Although the underlying software doesn't handle GIFs as well as JPGs, the chess diagrams in the gallery are usable. They were originally made for a two part puzzle contest on the About.com Chess Forum: Puzzle Contest no.1 (plus A difficult puzzle), and Puzzle Contest no.2.

I also tried multipage gallery navigation for the first time. It looks somewhat clunky, but there isn't much I can do about it, except keep all the thumbnails on one page.

Next gallery: a tutorial.