Let Nakamura choose chess960 starting positions in his odds match against Komodo computer

Oct 11, 2015, 6:33 PM |

Komodo, the chess computer with a science-fiction-like rating 3352, has been playing odds matches against grandmasters. That is, Komodo has been giving handicaps to the best chessplayers in the world. In September, Komodo beat Movsesian (2658, world #88) 4.5-1.5 with four games at odds of pawn-and-move and two games at odds of knight-vs.-rook.

Komodo's next opponent is its strongest yet: U.S. champion Nakamura (2816, world #2).

Chess.com member glider1001 makes the excellent suggestion that Nakamura's handicap take the form of his choosing the initial position for chess960 games. This is brilliant for several reasons:

Nakamura is the world champion at 960. Komodo is not at its best playing 960. With selection of the initial positions, Nakamura might take advantage of the computer-unfriendliness of some. For instance, positions with queens in a corner are less than optimal for computers — at 960, Nakamura can choose to start that way (whereas the queen is centralized in initial position #518 — the 'standard' position).

Komodo also benefits from this match structure. Chess960 is a more equal contest than #518-position games at material odds, and a good performance at 960 would be more convincing of its excellence. Computers used to be overly sensitive to material balance at the chessboard, while humans continue to be. A materially-equal match takes that bias off the table.

Chess960 is the future of chess, whether people like it or not (especially purveyors of #518 openings literature and bad coaches). An exhibition match between a leading computer and a leading player — like Kasparov vs. Deep Blue in the '90s — would be good for the movement, and particularly for chess.com, which implemented real-time 960 play in v.3 of its client software.

Petition: Let Nakamura choose chess960 starting positions in his odds match against Komodo computer