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Please, can we make white have to think for once?

  • #1

    Hi There

    I apologize for getting on my soapbox, but when I feel that I am seeing something, I have to show it.

    Why do we find acceptable that at the start of a game of Chess, white not only has the move and thus the undeniable initiative, but white also does not have to think on his first move in the slightest and his clock is not penalised? Black on the other hand has no idea of what they will be facing, is almost guaranteed not to have the initiative and has the double punishment of having their clock ticking down? Why have we become so accepting of this practice, when we have an alternative for already nearly fifteen years? Why do we think it acceptable that white does not have to think at the start of a game of Chess? For me it feels ridiculous and a little bit embarrassing for the beloved game that Chess is. This advantage white has was not an issue until the last few decades of very deep opening analysis. A century ago, even forty years ago it was fine. But time has marched on for Chess...

    This problem does not exist in Chess960! We must just apply two important rules that are fundamental to Chess960 in my opinion:

    1) We do not know the starting position before the game
    2) As soon as the players are seated, white's clock begins to count down.
    3) We do not restrict Chess960 to a limited set of positions 

    Because of years of playing Chess the way we have been playing it, we do not see that the opening of the game is a very beautiful, challenging, and confronting. The opening phase in any 960 game including Chess, is one of early scrambling to maintain an extend the initiative and should be one of very deep thought. It is very beautiful and should not be glossed over, ever, by the players or the spectators. But today in Chess, it is.

    The way to think about this situation is this. Simply consider two opposing forces arriving at the battle front. They are at the moment of battle (the opening) but due to circumstances, their rear lines are not organised in a way that the parties would have wanted. The front line is perfect, but not the rear. The commander of the forces (the player) has to make a somewhat awkward and imperfect situation perfect! The player has to make a bad situation.....good! Is this not character building and truly positive?

    If we put the pressure onto white after generations of the "vacation" that white has been on, we will find that Chess960 games will be fighting, exciting and unpredictable! White has the initiative but has to pay a penalty for that initiative (uncertainty and a cost in time). Black get's compensated for the lack of initiative by having seen the position for longer than white (while white was thinking his first move) and it gives black a fighting chance! I strongly suspect that this is the way to make Chess interesting in the future, and to bring the spectators back and the creativity as well.

    It also brings in another strategic element to white's play. Take these combinations into consideration:

    1) White strong playing a weak black player - White has to decide whether to play the first move quickly and put even greater pressure on the weaker black player (throwing the time clock to them), or to play the first move slowly so that the opening advantage will produce a quick error in black.

    2) White and black equal strength -  White has to decide whether the position before him matches his style of playing. It will be a difficult gamble to decide how long to take on the first move, knowing that black will be studying the position as well.

    3) White is weak against a strong black player - white has to decide whether it is worth taking the risk and playing a quick move in order to throw the pressure onto black's clock. In all likely hood, the initiative will fall to black as it should.

    In other words people explain to me why these simple Chess960 ideas are flawed? I want to learn. I think the opening in Chess960 is very beautiful. It is like looking at a vastly varied landscape of squares and pieces. We are surveying the future as best as we can, but always it is uncertain. What a wonderful way to play the game don't you think?

    I totally understand that some will be thinking that if the position is random, that luck will tend to dominate over skill. I do not believe this is a big factor but it can be compensated in any case by the way the tournament is organised. For example the organizers can randomly select an opening for each round, and that all players in that round must face that opening across all the boards of that round. There are many statistical ways to organize tournaments to remove any small effect of luck that may exist in a Chess960 starting position for white or even black. I don't think it is a good idea to allow the same position to be played multiple times (because of the problems of computer assistance). I do not believe that it is a good idea to allow white and black to face the same position by swapping sides (except perhaps in Blitz games) for similar reasons. Any exposure that a player has to prior knowledge of the starting position between the period that sides are swapped (when they can walk away from the board and analyse the starting position), destroys the fairness of the game.

    I totally understand too that in this era we are Chess players not Chess960 players. When we look at the Chess960 setup for the first time, it can make us feel uneasy and ill because of the lack of familiarity! However I have played nothing else but Chess960 for the last couple of years and I can assure that this ill feeling of uncertainty is just a temporary phenomenon! We just need to play thousands of Chess960 games. After a while our Chess960 mind begins to see general patterns in any and all of the positions. We begin to feel quite comfortable and confident despite the uncertainty of what opening we will face.

    Try it yourself. Play many Chess960 games and just sit in front of the starting position for a while. At first you will be completely uncertain what to do. However after some contemplation (it get's shorter and shorter with practice), a plan begins to emerge in your mind. It is quite a remarkable phenomenon if you want to give it a try. You must be patient, for Chess960 will take many hundreds of games before you begin to notice it.

    In my opinion, it is critical that we play Chess960 as I have suggested. If we don't and we allow white to sit at the board without time cost, black will suffer too much. White has the initiative. I have not found one single Chess960 position where white does not have the initiative on the first move. Secondly I believe it is critical that we play all 960 positions. If we only play a limited set, we will find that we slip back to our habits of old. We attempt to memorize, use computers and complain that this "limited set" of positions was never as good as the standard Chess position we hold onto dearly because of habit.

    We have to take the plunge. We cannot just dip one foot in the water, because our reaction will be to pull our toe out of the water. If we do not swim, we are missing a wonderful new experience. We will not know the difference, but there will be other players who have jumped into the water in any case. I believe we and the game of Chess(960) will be the better for it, with just a little bit of consideration of how we start the Chess960 game in the ways suggested in this post.

    Cheers

  • #2

    First off this seem to me like your just parading around trying to advertise this chess960. If your so unhappy with the way chess is played, I suggest playing "Go" for a while, the game has FAR more calculations involved and who goes first has little effect overall.

    That being said, everyone has over-lining opinions over white having the initial advantage being able to move first, but in all honesty, I feel black being able to COUNTER white's initiative is actually an advantage. Playing on your opponent's mistakes is what chess is all about. White may get the early advantage but ultimately it comes down to HOW you play as white. I've won many games as black just on the sole reasons that I countered a mistake white made. I've also lost many games as white for rushing my initial attack, or overlooking specific calculations. 

    If you feel white going first is so much an advantage, maybe start honing in on your weaknesses for playing as black, and build that into strength.

  • #3

    Um, generally Black has a set of responses for any of White's common openings so really he/she won't be thinking a lot either...

  • #4

    beautifully written and i agree, chess960 is a blast for those reasons.  But you lost me on the true purpose of the post... My best guess is the same as the other two responses, so:

    Why does white always get the initiative?

    1) someone has to go first, it's a turn based game.

    2) white's thinking has happened long before the match started, but it still occurred.

    3) that's why i like to toss a coin for the first game, and then switch positions for the next, or if online just keep it random.

    4) as stated above black usually has an immediate answer for white's opener.

    5) cuz that's just the way it is.

    I guess if you really wanted to you could come up with a system for openers that would penalize white a predetermined amount of time based on the strength of the opening move? but after that's been done for a while people will figure out ways of opening that are more advantageous which kinda puts us back at square one, so let that old tired hound enjoy his spot by the fireplace :)

  • #5

    Eh elite

    Great questions and thanks for being opened minded. I admitted in my opening post that I do get on my soap box but there is nothing wrong with that if you have something to say! Do I have something to say? I ask you! That is what I am doing. I can try to answer your great questions though:

    Q0) White gets the initiative because he is the first to begin the process of developing every turn from move one onwards. White tries their very best to keep this initiative going and black tries to refute it and maybe even to take the initiative away. If that happens, you can think that black has now become white!

    Q1) Yes someone has got to go first! It's just that there should be some balance to return something back to the player who does not have the initiative. We don't have to return something back, but if we do, then black's chances of winning improve. In standard chess there is a statistical trend that white wins more games than black. In Chess960 if we start the clock on white's first turn, the cost to white's time is black's compensation for not having the initiative on move one. Black get's to study the position while white is thinking, and generally I think you will see much more competitive games that way. After all, Chess960 is actually like a midgame at move one! Someone's clock should be ticking! Next time when you play as white in 960, try to feel the weight of initiative that you do have. It is real and you must try to keep it. Cherish the initiative you have as white and try to steal it with black! Black needs a little to help them with this.

    Q2) Yeah that is a great thought! It is totally true that white's thinking has still occurred at some earlier stage of their playing life and so there is actually no problem! Chess960 is about returning the experience of thinking about the game to the moment of the game. The very moment. The now.

    Q3) Yes black does have an immediate answer to all white's questions! But the answer is not "I have the initiative now!". The answer black gives is "I refute any gain in the initiative you think you have made". Black is essentially waiting and trying to force white to give up that initiative. That happens in only two ways! White blunders and looses the initiative, or white suffers the amazing phenomenon of Zugswang. If black can engineer that latter situation, black deserves much praise! It's just that in Chess, white not only has the initiative, but black's clock is always the first to feel the pressure as well.

    Q4) Yes that is the way it is! What's my problem then? There is no problem. It's just a question of trying to get Chess back to it's roots as much as possible. In the very early history of Chess SP518, the players used to sit down without many preconceived ideas. White was thinking before move one! However over the next centuries, because the starting position is always the same, a huge mass of theory in book form and now in computer form accrues. It is natural that the players study this! However in the mean time the basic core game experience of the very beautiful opening phase of the game begins to erode as players naturally use memory. They have had an experience of the opening, but it is no longer a game experience in the "now", where all is up for grabs and nothing is ever certain.

    Anyway, thanks everyone for your thoughts.

    Cheers

  • #6

    Get chess back to its roots??? You mean Chaturanga? 4 people, 8 pieces each. Who has the initiative then!?!

  • #7

    Excellent question DrSpudnik. The issue with all two player board games is trying to start the board game as close as possible to the moment of battle. I have played these types of games especially "Go" (but not Chaturanga) which are very beautiful games in their own right. In these large scale games no one does have the initiative on a surface appearance, but there is a long phase of pre-organisation before the actual battle takes place. That pre-organisation determines who has the initiative at the moment when a discussion about initiative becomes inevitable. There is no question that "Go" and other large scale board games are very very deep. It can be argued that even during the pre-organisation phase in it, there is actually a very deep battle "or discussion" about initiative going on in those games at every move even move one.

    However Chess is about honing these board games down to the essence of the battle. The way chess is designed with an 8x8 board is not to keep it simple for humans, but to hone the experience of a battle game to it's essense. In Chess(960) there is still some organisation work that goes on after move one, but essentially the battle is on from move one. That is why Chess is an 8x8 board with the number and variety of pieces it has. It is because Chess(960) in that format is such a true game that defines so perfectly, this essential moment of the beginning of the battle and balancing out organising your forces with also true confrontation during that organisation as well. In Chess(960) you cannot pre-arrange your forces without having to face direct argument about that arrangement! That is why Chess is no better or worse than "Go". They are both beautiful for different reasons.

    Cheers

  • #8

    I should mention that there is actually not just two ways that white can loose the intiative, there are three ways.

    1) White blunders and the initiative falls to black (who effectively becomes the new white player)

    2) Black creates Zugswang and so any move that white makes causes them to loose the initiative. This situation is very amazing when it happens.

    3) White deliberately gives away the initiative for a quiet move, on the belief that black cannot not take the initiative and thus it will fall back to white in any case. This latter case might even be a temporary situation that lasts for a series of moves and is one of the most interesting aspects of the opening phase in Chess(960).

    The debate between two players over the "invisible" initiative is not a disadvantage of turn based board games, but one of the most fascinating aspects of a board game! In this forum, my argument is merely that white who has the undeniable initiative at move one, should have to think at a cost to their timer, from move one of the 960 game. This gives black compensation and adds a strategic element to time management on the first move as well. It will make chess960 games more exciting because it gives black a fighting chance. As yet, I have not had anyone disagree with me about that.

    The run on effect of that is that each and every game regardless of colour, has to be a random SP between 1-960 (0-959). Any prior knowledge spoils the balance. The thing about Chess960 that I think people miss, is that we still do research away from the board! In traditional chess we do research ahead of the next game. In Chess960 the research is always retrospective (post game analysis). This analysis can be extremely deep if we want it to be. This is because retrospective analysis of a Chess960 game, still leads to a deep familiarity of Chess960 which is actually match preparation for the next game as well.

    Cheers

  • #9
    glider1001 wrote:

    I should mention that there is actually not just two ways that white can loose the intiative, there are three ways.

    1) White blunders and the initiative falls to black (who effectively becomes the new white player)

     


     Funny you should mention this: when I'm Black and I take over the initiative, my dyslexic brain starts reversing the board numbering: my f5 is called f4 on my scoresheet, g2 is now g7... etc. Surprised

  • #10

    Simpler solution: Let Black play first! Wink

    But in all seriousness, when you introduce randomness in the game of chess such as Chess960's piece placement, it changes the nature of the all-information game.

    Such games belong to a different category that include card games and board games that use dice or jumbled tiles.

  • #11
    chessroboto wrote:

    Simpler solution: Let Black play first!

    But in all seriousness, when you introduce randomness in the game of chess such as Chess960's piece placement, it changes the nature of the all-information game.

    Such games belong to a different category that include card games and board games that use dice or jumbled tiles.


    So if I play a game of traditional chess, it's an 'all-information game'. If I then play a game of chess960 with start position RNBQKBNR (SP518), which uses *exactly* the same rules as traditional chess, it's not an 'all-information game'.

    It appears that you've confused information available before the game with information available during the game. - Mark

  • #12
    glider1001 wrote:

     Unless you are a super GM and actually have memorized a lot of lines so deep your novelties come on move 25 or later your post is completely meaningless.  That is in fact the problem with chess 960... It's by and large a game only for 20 or 30 people in the world, for everyone else it's a novelty.

  • #13
    bemweeks wrote:
    chessroboto wrote:

    Simpler solution: Let Black play first!

    But in all seriousness, when you introduce randomness in the game of chess such as Chess960's piece placement, it changes the nature of the all-information game.

    Such games belong to a different category that include card games and board games that use dice or jumbled tiles.


    So if I play a game of traditional chess, it's an 'all-information game'. If I then play a game of chess960 with start position RNBQKBNR (SP518), which uses *exactly* the same rules as traditional chess, it's not an 'all-information game'.

    It appears that you've confused information available before the game with information available during the game. - Mark


    Well frankly speaking, information available before the game can be crucial as well...though I would agree that it such information is not required to fulfil the definition of a perfect-information game. After all, there are some things you might not know before a game of (standard) chess starts such as your opponent's playing style, opening preferences etc; yet it's still classified as a perfect-information game.

     

    Incidentally, Go does have an advantage for the first player, in some sense...that's what the komi is for. But yes, it can be argued that the komi is intended to exactly negate the first-move advantage; resulting in an even field for both players...though conversely, the fact that the komi doesn't have a 100% fixed value (yes, usually 6.5, but sometimes it's different) suggests that it's not completely clear how much the first-move advantage in Go is worth, and hence it might not be truly "balanced" between the players yet.

  • #14

    Oh there is no question, "Go"  is an incredible game and the initiative situation is interesting. Chess960 and "Go" do have some things in common! Some of the unusual pawn interrelationships that come up in Chess960 have some uncanny similarities with ideas in "Go" (discussions about space). If you have played both then you know what I mean. Chess960 is really concise and "pretty" for our eyes that are used to seeing chess pieces and not "beans".

    So much of this is about what we are conditioned to perceive. "Go" is incredibly deep but not that bad if you were to have started the game in early life. That is the point. Starting the game so early that the fundamentals are hard wired into your head. If you start the game late, that hard wiring is just not there and you miss the automatic calculation routines that come almost instantly to those who started early.

    As yet we have not even had one generation of Chess960 players through the system that could show us in the flesh just what Chess960 has to offer. Had we listened to Bobby when he announced the game back in the late nineties, yes already we would have child Chess960 prodigies starting to appear that have a similar depth of understanding of Chess960 opening principals as exist in the "Go" opening phase.

    My honest belief is that with early exposure to Chess960, I think those players would play all 960 positions amazingly solidly and quickly too. Just not instantly as we find today in the Chess opening! Even they would have to think creatively from move one. Think about it. Nine hundred and sixty starting positions that have to be mastered. It is not as daunting as it seems to very young minds that have no preconditioning.

    Cheers

  • #15
    bemweeks wrote:
    chessroboto wrote:

    But in all seriousness, when you introduce randomness in the game of chess such as Chess960's piece placement, it changes the nature of the all-information game.


    It appears that you've confused information available before the game with information available during the game. - Mark


    Can you please name one or more all-information-type games where two or more people can play and the starting positions or conditions are randomized?

  • #16

    As someone who misunderstands the opening advantage, and obviously makes a habit of thinking for many seconds on his first move for black, I'm not so sure the differences between chess960 and classic chess are noticeable to you Wink

  • #17
    orangehonda wrote:

    As someone who misunderstands the opening advantage, and obviously makes a habit of thinking for many seconds on his first move for black, I'm not so sure the differences between chess960 and classic chess are noticeable to you


    Fair enough, but please back up your argument with evidence. What am I misunderstanding?

    Cheers

  • #18

    "Tastes just like chicken." I get it. Yell

  • #19

    chessroboto: 'Can you please name one or more all-information-type games where two or more people can play and the starting positions or conditions are randomized?'

    Random conditions? That's obvious. Before a casual game you don't know what color you will play. Haven't you ever hidden a White Pawn in one hand and a Black Pawn in the other and asked your opponent to choose? That selection is a random process. Before a tournament game, you don't know who your opponent will be until the pairings are announced. The pairings are determined by a third party and there are always random factors involved.

    There is more hidden information in a traditional chess game than there is in chess960. In traditional chess you often have no idea how much your opponent knows about the particular opening you are playing. He might have played it dozens of times and analyzed it into the endgame. In chess960 you know that both players are playing without preparation.

    You haven't explained how RNBQKBNR can be an all-information game when it's called 'chess' and not an all-information game when it's called 'chess960'. - Mark

  • #20

    Haven't you ever hidden a White Pawn in one hand and a Black Pawn in the other and asked your opponent to choose?

    No, I hide a Black pawn in both hands :)

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