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Well, I thought I might as well start up a list of reasons why it could be that Chess960 seems to be hovering around the five percent mark of all Chess activities on the internet at best. I'm guessing five percent based on what I have seen personally on the chess servers and general internet news.
Top Reasons why I think Chess960 is at 5% of total Chess activity with no sign of change:
Other possible reasons I have overlooked:
"the very young are not being exposed to Chess as much as as previous generations and thus we are left with an older generation of standard chess players who are not as willing to adapt to Chess960."
I disagree with this. I think that the majority of chess players are between the ages of 10 and 30. I myself am 17 years old.
I think that the main reason why chess960 is unpopular is because it's a chess variant. It's like trying to make a runescape private server and expecting it to be as popular as the real thing.
If anything, I am surprised that chess960 has as many players as it does. I usually would never expect a variant of a game to attract more than 1% of all players.
Yes, it is a chess variant. A chess variant proposed by Bobby Fischer.
I personally love the game but unfortunately I realized that it suffers from a few problems.
1. There are 960 positions (this is both good and bad). Good because a "booked" player would be rare. Bad, because a player has no road map, no clue as to what to do. When learning regular chess, it is difficult to play the game from just one position and one tries to limits the number of openings ...How insane it is to play 960 different openings!
So right there it works for only very experienced players.
2.-- the pieces are jumbled creating awkward angles and making it difficult to recognize certain threats etc many right from the first move. This again is both good and bad. Good because it requires you to think right away. Bad, because once again it is MORE difficult to play this way. So one has to be tactically quite strong to start playing this...
3. Now that we have only tactically strong experienced players attempting this variant - we have another problem. Many of these players may not LIKE wild tactical complications and opt for openings of more strategic complexities in their eyes at least. Many of the positions in chess 960 are more tactical than strategical in nature. No way a player contemplating positional advantages of the Ruy Lopez is going to like a tactical cheapo originating from attacking an undefended pawn on move one. Again -- this is probably the fault of the player having LIMITED himself to a certain type of chess but nonetheless it is common for these players to have utter disdain for the jumbled positions of chess960.
4. the positions are ugly and do not look aesthetically pleasing.
Now let us try to fix some of these "problems". Items 1 and 2 cannot be helped. YOu have to be experienced and well versed with tactics to play regular chess well anyway. So you have to start with the regular start position at first.
But rather than try to learn a specific opening 25 moves deep, the player can start experimenting with different start positions.
I propose a smaller subset of chess960 positions would be more fun to play
Lets keep the rooks on the a and h files and the king on the e file. Then shuffle the remaining pieces (bishops on opposite colors). I think we can get about 15 positions this way.
e.g rnnqkbbr or rbbqknnr or rbnqknbr and for each of these we can get 3 more positions by swapping the queen with either knight or one of the bishops.
We can get even more extreme and just use the above 3 positions!But I rather have more to make it more random so 15 positions -- where castling is EXACTLY as in regular chess.
So now we are not totally jumbled up in the back rank and the castling is very natural . Yet, we get away from memorized openings , excessive preparation etc.
Sure you can study 15 different positions and unleash a novelty but it will take some time for the openings to be studied to death like now.
The other thing is we have to convince the player investing too much time studying a narrow repertoire of openings that there is more to chess than opening memorization. Such players cannot play even regular chess if all the possible openings were balloted -- that would be another variant by the way!
And finally there is no doubt in my mind -- chess960 improves your regular chess. You reach more tactically demanding positions and you start to THINK MORE . Eventually you will have more experience and ability in handling these types of positions should they arise in regular chess. ( AND THEY DO no matter how hard you try to play it "safe" -- someone is always going to play some crazy odd opening to throw you off your pet opening line)
And finally there is "Strategy" in chess 960 positions -- its just not specific to one opening line.
Tips on starting chess 960:
1. Play with longer time controls than usual. If you play 5 minute games play 15 minutes / use bigger increment etc. Correspondence chess is MUCH better with chess 960 than regular chess.
2. Watch out for tactical "cheapos" there are more in this variant than in the regular start position. Watch out for knight forks bishops attacking undefended pawns.
3. Plan your first move.
The great thing about chess 960 is a talented player can really shine here. (Again a disadvantage too because there are many not-so talented players who have managed a higher rating through more work on their openings)
'Chess960 is at 5% of total Chess activity with no sign of change'Glider - Do you have a metric that supports that percentage? Or that indicates there is no sign of change? Your number seems high to me, but I have nothing to tell me for sure how much interest there really is. As for whether interest is growing, the same metric tracked periodically would tell that. One such metric would be the number of games started on Chess.com using the traditional start position vs. the number of chess960 games started.Re your title, 'Why the Chess960 Minority?', opening book publishers (and authors) are not going to give up their market without a fight. - Mark
'Lets keep the rooks on the a and h files and the king on the e file. Then shuffle the remaining pieces (bishops on opposite colors). I think we can get about 15 positions this way.'zxzyz - In fact, there are 18 such positions. The Queen can be placed on any one of the five empty squares. From White's point of view, two of those squares are dark colored and three are light colored. When the Queen starts on a dark square, one of the Bishops must be on the other dark square. That leaves three squares for the other Bishop. Since the Knights go to the last two empty squares, there are 2x3 possibilities.When the Queen starts on a light square, there are two light squares available for a Bishop. Each of those possibilities leaves two dark squares for the other Bishop, so there are 3x2x2 possibilities.Summing up, (2x3) + (3x2x2) = 18. In the cases where the King and Rooks all start on the same color squares, like the a-, e-, and g- files, there are 12 ways to scramble the other pieces. Re your statement that 'Many of the positions in chess 960 are more tactical than strategical in nature', you underestimate the challenges involved in coordinating the development of the pieces and in castling the King. Good players understand the traditional start position (SP518 RNBQKBNR) so well that they know intuitively the pros & cons of the different developments for each piece. In chess960 they have to figure it out for each game. That's not tactical thinking, it's strategical. - Mark
People have made serious time investments in opening knowledge so they can stumble a dozen or so moves into a game and still have half a chance to win. 960 would just throw that accumulated knowledge out the window.
And that Bobby Fischer stuff is irrelevant. He was a phenomenon of the 60s/70s and was long a has-been and faded memory by the time he started pushing for 960. Lasker thought Go was the hottest thing, but that never really caught on in the West until fairly recently.
Really appreciate the thoughts everyone! All the posts have been really helpful to understand the situation a bit better.
I appreciate your idea to reduce Chess960 down and thank you. But all I think you are trying to do is make Chess960 more like Chess. But for me the issue is simply that we perceive Chess960 through the glasses of Chess. We try to make it more like chess as a function of our habit which is a function of our familiarity. Once we realise that we are habituated to chess, we become much more receptive to the amazing amount of "order" that there is to be found in Chess960! We create the order with our thinking. There is actually neutral amounts of order and disorder in Chess960. It is just a function of perception.
Think about the habit aspect could you? Bemweeks point is excellent that we need lots of variety in the starting configuration so that we can be really creative about how we castle and even if we castle. We need lots of variety so that we can be creative about pawn and piece structures. If we force the rooks into the corners only, we take away some of the amazing dynamic ways that the king can be sheltered from attack in centre fortress formations. Not only that, but we take away the interesting positions where other pieces are in the corner such as the bishops (do not shrug off those positions until you are sure that they are no good). The point is that there is no need to reduce the 960 set down once we realise the perception and habit phenomenon that drives our thinking so strongly.
Thanks for your ideas. I am sorry for once again making assumptions that I cannot prove. I am just stabbing in the dark with numbers. My choice of words is normally pretty attrocious as well and I constantly struggle with misunderstandings but console myself that misunderstanding is probably not an error of communication, but at the very core of the reality of communication when the true nature of communication is understood (symbolism and representation).
Thank you and great points. I'm talking about the acquisition of basic skills that are fundamental to chess that form at a very young age! A deep and complex skill like Chess960 needs a lot of time in very early age (I believe). When I say exposure to Chess960, I'm talking less than six years of age. If kids like that were through the system, you would see how "orderly" they play the Chess960 openings as adults. Most of the best GM's all start from a very early age. Even Anand still talks about specific "blind spots" that he has and that he has not been able to get rid of after a certain age. The perception of tactics is an almost mechanistic function that get's almost hardwired into the head. The younger you start the better your hardwiring and the less you have to worry about seeing tactics. Even basic strategic concepts of pushing the pawns in the opening tend to be no more complex than tactics and are essentially hardwired as well. Us oldies (greater than 5 years of age) increasingly struggle with tactical complications because we have to perceive them through relatively "weak" soft wired "constructs" that we form. These soft wirings are much more likely to fail us in the Chess960 opening. We will never achieve really high rankings without a solid foundation of hardwired perceptions of the fundamental tactical and strategic constructs.
I think your points are very good but again you are simply taking about habits and culture. So your argument is neutral in terms of Chess960. We could simply invest time in Chess960 and accumulate knowledge on that. It would make no difference. I'm not saying that we can bypass culture or history. I'm saying that any healthy society should encourage it's citizens to transform the culture in an ongoing process. That is what the Chess960 players are doing with Chess. Chess960 is process of transformation of chess (I prefer using that word rather than "change" because transformation is a more interesting way of thinking about "change"). People will say "why change chess?" But that question is an empty question and the person probably doesn't perceive a need to transform chess. But that perception does not mean that it shouldn't transform and will not transform. Everything is in a constant process of transformation and we work with it rather than against it. We need everyone. We need the critics, the whingers, the skeptics, the creators, the visionaries, the whole lot we need.
Ultimately Chess960 is about curiousity. That is what is attractive about the activity of Chess960 (not Chess960 itself please try to see that distinction because it is important). Curiousity ultimately boils down to how a process of enquiry leads to a sense of awe and engagement with the ridiculously complex system of life that none of us experience at anything but a superficial surface (even Einstein that is my belief). But we are immersed within that complexity never-the-less and Chess960 is a representation of that.
Through a simple change of habit we learn to experience the complexity of the 960 different openings and enjoy them even if we never perceive anything more than a rudimentary surface layer. That is actually the reality of life. There is no need to simplify Chess960 down, because it's level of complexity simply doesn't matter. Most players play for a need to improve ratings and that desire is unaffected by Chess960.
I do realise that players can feel overwhelmed and intimidated by the lack of concrete theory about Chess960 and how to play 960 different openings. Curiousity is precisely how we overcome those feelings when after all it is just Chess. Try to face those feelings, rather than shy away from them. Just a realisation of how bound we are to habits and a bit of curiousity. That is all that is needed to play Chess960.
As he said in his post - Estimate.
To the OP: The above is one major reason you have overlooked.
Chess has had a stable set of rules for 500 years. Everyone knows how to play it, and it works. (Mostly, I'll get to that.) Once you start proposing changes to something that works, everyone starts deciding there are better changes available. Pretty soon, no one can agree on what variation to play. Witness the unceasing discussion about whether Fischer got castling right when he proposed Chess960. It's easier just to stay with things as they have always been. (And always isn't very accurate either. I enjoy playing ancinet Chess variants, from before the days of our current rules. However, 500 years is long enough for a first approximation to "always".)
Now, what about the assertion that Chess "works". Clearly, it doesn't. Chess960 and many other variations have been proposed to "fix" the problems in Chess, especially the dependency on the opening book, and the tendency to have drawn games. However, are these really problems? They aren't for me, and they aren't for anyone below the master level. At the highest levels, these are problems, but for most players, not so much.
As a consequence, the only people for whom Chess960 solves a problem are people who have invested an incredible amount of time and effort in the "flawed" system. They aren't going to be all that likely to want to throw away all that time and effort. Since they have become very, very, good at the game as it currently exist, you have to convince them that the game would be better if it were changed in such a way as to make them not as good. That's a tough sell.
I like Chess960, myself, and I hope it gains some traction. Shameless plug time: If anyone is willing to play in a Chess960 tournament in the Detroit area, I'm willing to host it. Drop me a private message. Unfortunately, I don't see that happening. If I were a betting man, I would expect Go to rise in popularity, and Chess960 to fall by the wayside. Go also "solves" many of the problems of Chess, just in a radically different wy.
Meadmaker best wishes that you can host a real world Chess960 tournament again one day! It would be wonderful. Yeah I get your point that for most people there is no point in playing Chess960 because the standard chess setup does the job. I think you already touched on it that essentially it is about our ingrained habits....
If I can shed any light on who plays Chess960 and who does not, I can only really give my own example. I started playing Chess pretty late, when I was 20 years old and so I have no long term investment in chess from childhood. As soon as I saw Chess960 it became totally obvious to me that there is no point concentrating on Chess because 960 is just so much more enjoyable. At times it is also extremely funny in some of the odd situations that crop up!
Chess960 is truly a wonderful pastime because you do not narrow yourself down with unnecessary knowledge. Everything you do in Chess960 is totally balanced in terms of skills in all phases of the game from the opening to the middle to the end. There truly is little point in playing Chess when you can do everything that you can in Chess with Chess960 and win and loose just as much!
Since I started this particular thread, I think there are other reasons why Chess960 struggles to gain traction. There are almost 50% of positions that require a very proficient understanding of knight tactics. Check out my blog for more info. People could well be giving Chess960 a go, then finding themselves in a situation where they have blundered to a knight tactic, and then get discouraged and make up an excuse why they do not like 960. But the real reason is that Chess960 generally tests every aspect of Chess proficiency one way or another. If you have a weakness, Chess960 will find it sooner rather than later (because you cannot hide behind a memorised opening book).
As someone who enjoys researching openings, 960 is not very appealling to me. I'm not what you would call a booked up player, but I find learning about openings one of the most fascinating parts of chess.
Yes I do appreciate that enjoyment honestly I do. But Chess960 will have exactly huge volumes to research and enjoy about the opening play as well. It is just that at the moment we need people to play it so that the theoretical work can commence in earnest....
There will be 960 points to commense research and those 960 positions will be sub-categorised and classified into classes of openings according to research....The degree of theory will be no more or less deep than Chess opening theory is. The only distinction that the theory moves more towards deviation from general principals rather than deviations from specific lines.
There will still be huge benefits in memorizing openings but not to the same longitudinal depth as Chess. Memorization and theory will be more laterally extended across many positions rather than longitudinally deep in one position.
I'm not surprised at all and calling it a chess variant is only based on perspective. Is chess the pieces, what the pieces' moves are, and how many squares on the board? If so then every piece setup is just a variant of the basic concept of chess.
Chess itself was at one time a variant. It caught on because that particular variant was perceived by players to be better than the "standard" version it replaced.
Perhaps Chess960 is doing the same thing today.
Yes I totally agree! Chess is about meeting friends and sharing good games.
Talking about whether 960 is a variant has brought up a laugh for me. It is a great discussion. Here is a link to a discussion about it that we had here at Chess.com nine months ago. It had 6400 views and 126 comments!:
Personally I do not think Chess960 is a variant because traditional chess is one of the Chess960 positions and so Chess960 encompasses Chess in it. One notable view of Chess960 on that discussion is that Chess960 is a mutation of Chess or an evolution of it because all Chess principals, history and knowledge are still valid for Chess960 but Chess960 adds 959 other starting positions to make the chess start a lot of fun without all the baggage of memorizing volumes of the traditional opening book.
If they don't allow chess variants LIVE sessions here of course only 1-5% will play them ...
I don't know if chess.com doesn't have the $ to implement the live option or they don't want/ don't care, but:
a) by allowing the live variants you are not against chess but you serve it
b) they would have novel contents to talk about in the videos and in the articles
c) some player could find their niche in the variants , thrive on it and chess.com could benefit from this.
im only an average chess player, my rating hovers in around 1200-1300 and im going to say i muc prefer 960 to original chess. why wouldnt you prefer a variant that relies purely in skill and not memory of openeings. i admit it is still good to try and crack an opening played against you when you dont study openings (i hate the idea of studying openings, the reward of realising one yourself is better it, like the first time i realised the ruy lopez or the skotch is great) but in the end it is frustrating to sit and play a game where the first 5 moves or so are not ones the player thinks are the best, but has been taught is the best. in 960 it is all about skill, not who has spent more time studying openings to gain a good footing against his opponent. its almost like cheating. i compare it to a kid who has read the guide to a computer game and learnt off the first few missions in it. where is the fun? i know there is the competitive aspect, humans asserting dominance and superiority over each other, but i still think there is more fun to be had in 960. its anyones game, not who has the best opening memorised
Now that I've had a chance to try a few games of 960, I think I know why it has not gotten the popularity many of us expected.
It is because the positions that arise are so uncomfortable. And unfamiliar.
In standard chess, we all get the opportunity to play excactly like the grandmasters do. If only for a few moves.
Then, as we nail down our repetoires, we start to become familiar with the postions which arise in our favorite variations. Even with the black pieces, while the opening we I play may not give me an objectivly better game usually, the position is at least familiar. There's that whole sense of "been there, done that."
And while exact positions rarely repeat in standard chess, the themes often do. "Ahhhh, another patzer trying to bust open my fiaccettoed king position by advancing his h-pawn. Like it's the first time I've ever seen that!"
That, more than anything else, is what stops players from coming back to 960, I believe. Which is a pity. 960 may be exacty what is needed to jump-start chess.
Now that I've had a chance to try a few games of 960, I think I know why it has not gotten the popularity many of us expected. It is because the positions that arise are so uncomfortable. And unfamiliar...
Then, as we nail down our repetoires, we start to become familiar with the postions which arise in our favorite variations. ... And while exact positions rarely repeat in standard chess, the themes often do. "Ahhhh, another patzer trying to bust open my fiaccettoed king position by advancing his h-pawn. Like it's the first time I've ever seen that!"
Yes, many positions that arise in the Chess 960 openings are unfamiliar, and so uncomfortable to a certain degree. Actually, I think that they are often uncomfortable to the degree that one if focusing on tactics rather than thorough application of opening chess principles. It follows that very careful application of opening principles may often lead, after a few open moves, to a deep satisfaction that replaces the original discomfort. Anyway, that is my experience after playing 20+ games, and now I make fewer or less significant mistakes in application of those opening principles.
Another aspect of the discomfort is that I think that Chess 960 is a cruder form of chess with perhaps more opening pitfalls... and conversely more opportunities! I think that, as one becomes familiar with Chess 960, one is more likely to mate in 20 moves than with standard chess.