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On the Opening in Chess960 (FRC)

• #1

Reasonably speaking, it takes but little experience with the variant called Fischer Random Chess (a.k.a. Chess960 or FRC) to become convinced of the depth of Mr. Fischer’s creation.  Set firmly within the framework of standard chess, Chess960 is based upon a very refined usage of the 17th century “shuffle concept”: the resultant 960 starting arrays permit of a chess that is, at once, more profound and creative, and yet in no way burdened with a ponderous “openings theory”.

Therein, however, lies the drawback as well: the Chess960 player is required to analyze the particular starting array he finds before him based solely upon general principles.

Very strangely, considering the countless articles written on Chess960, this, the most basic problem posed by this variant – i.e., How do I go about analyzing a Chess960 opening position? – has all but been ignored!

With this in mind, then, I’d like to offer the following basic method.

I. Analyzing

Confronting a Chess960 starting position, two questions must be asked:

1. Are any “naturally weak” squares present?
2. What kind of reasonable opening set-up can I hope to organize out of this?

II. Naturally Weak Squares

In the opening array, a square of the second or seventh rank is said to be naturally weak if

a) it is guarded by no piece,

or

b) it is guarded by the king alone. In standard chess, as is well known, the sole naturally weak squares are f2 and f7.

Let’s look at some examples from a few Chess960 positions:

As can be seen, the majority of Fischer Random positions contain naturally weak squares.  The point should be obvious: a great many opening set-ups in Chess960 revolve around defending and attacking these key squares.

III. An Opening Goal

When setting out to write a short story, the first thing in Edgar Allan Poe’s mind was the ending.  In other words, before he even started, he knew precisely (or Poe-cisely) where he wanted to finish.  In thinking about a possible opening set-up for a Chess960 game, that’s just how you should start: In, say, 10 to 12 moves, where would I like to see my pieces?

Don’t misunderstand this: I did not say, “How can I get my pieces into such-and-such a formation?”, that’s a plan, but rather merely, “Where would I like them to be?”, that’s a goal.

Let’s look at an example.

Again taking position 959, after some consideration, I visualize this:

Now, of course, my opponent is going to actively inhibit my plans; further, something better may occur to me as we proceed; but still, with this ideal first conception clearly in view, I’ve made some big steps toward working-out a winning game.

IV. An Opening Plan

Ok, you know where the naturally weak squares (if any) are, and you’ve visualized some kind of opening formation, now, what about a plan to realize all this?

This is a game played by 2 Chess Masters (one of their first Chess960 games) and can be taken as example of a simple opening plan:

V. Summary

Weak squares and a possible set-up scenario are two key concepts in the Chess960 opening. Obviously, a solid knowledge of classical chess formations is required. In classical chess, the quickest part of the game is the opening; in Chess960, as seen in the demo game, this is not at all the case. From the very first move, Chess960 demands creative analysis on the part of the players.

I posted this article in 2 different posts long time ago in another Chess960 group here @chess.com. However, they were merged in one by the admin there.

• #2

This is a great post, kokino! Thank you! Analyzing weak squares/pawns is exactly what I've learned to do in the opening position. (I usually then look for tactics that I can follow through with after attacking the weak squares/pawns). As stated, sometimes there aren't any weak squares/pawns, though. In both situations, you still have to have a plan for the type of position you'd like to build during the opening.

For anyone with a creative streak who enjoys 'correspondence'-style chess, but is tired of fighting against and relying on databases for openings, explore 960! I am really enjoying it and am telling others about it, too!

• #3

@guitarzan:

PS. also, great that you are promoting chess960 out there too. :)

• #4

Thanks for pointing out this Chessville.com essay by Robert T. Tuohey, which I hadn't seen before. I'm not convinced that this emphasis on 'naturally weak squares' is the right starting point to evaluate a position. The important factors in the opening are piece development, attention to the center, Pawn structure, King safety, and the initiative. Weak squares are useful for evaluating the initial Pawn structure and King safety, but the other factors are also important.

A different starting point is to look at the two castling options, O-O and O-O-O. Which will be more likely? How do you get the pieces out of the way so that castling will be possible? When you look at the different ways of developing the pieces, you also consider which Pawn moves are necessary. This does more to answer Tuohey's second question -- 'What kind of reasonable opening set-up can I hope to organize out of this?' (which I agree is important) -- than looking at weak squares.

Using Tuohey's first example, SP959, castling O-O-O requires moving the Rc1, Nd1, and Ne1 (three pieces). Castling O-O requires moving the Nd1, Ne1, Qf1, and Bg1 (four pieces). There seems to be a preference for O-O-O, but the King will be under pressure from the enemy Bishops located on adjacent diagonals. The common elements in O-O-O and O-O are the Nd1 and Ne1. Both Knights have two natural development squares. Is it better to develop them behind a Pawn or not? How does that development affect the mobility of the two Bishops in the corner?

Considerations like this give more useful information than noticing that d2 and d7 are weak. In fact, those squares are not weak at all as they are almost impossible to attack. - Mark

• #5

@Mark, great alternative and really interesting position described here.

If you were to create some kind of DB as we are aiming here, what would be the structure and items you would bring as relevant to all kind of players?

I mean, for each SP, I include the position diagram and then, this information:

On the Opening:

- Naturally weak squares_

- Castling_

- Development_

- Playing White_

- Playing Black_

A 3rd post would include some relevant and interesting games and probably an external resource to download a *.pgn file with all the games available.

What do you think? is any item superfluous or would you include something else? Again, from your point of vier: How would you expose each one of the items?

• #6

Just an example of a strong player(compared to me, of course) with a "week position" not protected. Here at 960, basic rules have to be read again to "refresh" our minds. In a standar chess match, he wouldn't commit that error.

I will never know if my opponent did know as much about chess as Mark, but I'm quite sure that this variation of a "Mate Pastor" (I'm sorry, I don't know the name it in English) is so evident that in standard chess is imposible to win a match this way.

Maybe week positions are not so important, but it takes just a few seconds to analyse it, and it can save your king from a quite embarasing defeat. Alter that you can take your time to do all that magic that people like Kokino and Mark do over the board. Maybe I could learn some :)

• #7

kalerovic, It would be great if you can post that example into the right thread corresponding to that Starting Position:

SP - 651 RNKRBQNB

btw, "Jaque Pastor" is "Scholar's Mate" in English. :)

• #8

Hello kalerovic - I didn't mean to underestimate the importance of tactics. A player can make all the subtle positional moves in the world, but if he overlooks mate in one, the game is finished. Remember Kramnik's game against the computer in 2006? As for chess960, your comparison with Scholar's Mate in traditional chess is a good one.

[BTW, I find it's a good idea to give the moves to an opening, especially when its name is obscure or when people have different languages as their mother tongue. I think you mean something like 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Bc5 3.Qh5, threatening Qxf7 mate, right?]

The strategy behind Scholar's Mate is something that appeals to beginners: it is easy to understand and it has an immediate benefit. I can say that without insulting anyone because I used the same opening strategy when I was a beginner. For a couple of weeks, when I had the White pieces I played it every chance I got. It usually worked the first time against a new opponent, because they were also beginners. After a game or two, however, they would catch on and defend immediately against the 'threat', like with an early ...Nf6. Then I had to use another opening strategy.

Taking the comparison a step further, the idea of basing your chess960 opening *only* on an analysis of weak squares is maybe not a beginner's strategy, but it's probably a newcomer's strategy. Of course weak squares are important and of course you have to pay attention to them, but what do you do when there are no weak squares, or when they can't be attacked, or when your opponent defends them properly? When that happens, you have to use another, deeper strategy.

There's no question that chess960 is full of unusual traps for players who don't pay attention. Here's a game where a world class grandmaster, a 2700 player, didn't pay attention to his weak squares...

A Chess960 Catastrophe
http://chess960frc.blogspot.com/2009/11/chess960-catastrophe.html

...How could Black have defended against the threat? - Mark

• #9

Great post Kokino, thank you, I've reading all about the rules and I really enjoyed this post, as I advance in Chess960 I will be posting some ideas of my own

• #10

But if we compile all of these into one book of knowledge, are we not removing the "randomness" of the FRC and we will be again memorizing the theories from this book?

• #11

Maybe when you are playing "online" or correspondence chess. But not when you played OTB... don't you think? (I believe it is quite impossible to remember so many opening lines.. even when you reflected all of them in that theory book)

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