Is Fischer Random Chess "the Future"?
With the amount of theory growing constantly concerning chess openings has the time come to consider a major switch to Fischer Random chess? Fischer has promoted this form of chess for years. In a recent interview on a radio station in Iceland Bobby Fischer said he was prepared to play a public match but only using Fischer Random chess, not that old fashioned and worn out traditional chess. The interest in this form of chess has been growing slowly but perceptively over the years. There have been several high-profile exhibition matches played to demonstrate the quality of chess that can be played in this variant.
For those of you not familiar with Fischer Random chess I'll give a short description. The same pieces and moves are used as in traditional chess with a few exceptions. The pawns are placed as usual, but the pieces on the back row are arranged in a random pattern determined by a computer or other random scheme, such as drawing from a hat. White and Black have the same configuration of pieces, e.g. if White has a Bishop on a1 then Black has a Bishop on a8. The following restrictions limit the number of possible starting position to 980:
Having the pieces arranged the same way for both players leads to a balanced starting position where the advantage of the first move for White is similar to regular chess. The rule for castling must necessarily be slightly altered. I've seen castling described in complex, convoluted fashion, but it's really quite easy to understand if you remember that the normal rules of castling hold plus the final position of King and Rook after castling is the same as in regular chess. Castling is allowed only if:
Given these rules of play any chess player should be able to play Fischer Random without any difficulty. The concept of castling in the above fashion would seem strange at first, but it shouldn't take long to adjust. The biggest problem for most of us would be the unfamiliar starting position. Most of our knowledge of openings variations would go right out the window. However, the opening principles are still valid:
We could all handle Fischer Random chess without difficulty. However, it would feel strange to be on our own right from move one. The different position of the pieces in each game would make us depend completely on our chess skills right from the beginning without remembering memorized opening lines or consulting opening reference books and databases. Your ChessBase BigBase of over a million games would become useless for finding opening moves. You might have to cut your game load since there would be few "automatic" moves at the start of games. Opening play would be critical, as always in cc, but the vast amount of opening theory would not be of much use.
This subject came to mind when I ran across an article in the Mechanics Chess Club newsletter by chess club Director IM John Donaldson. The Mechanics Chess Club is a unique organization in downtown San Francisco. It is part of the Mechanics Institute, which houses an impressive private library. The club employs GM Alex Yermolinsky as Grandmaster-in-Residence and maintains a schedule of interesting chess events.
One of these events, reported under the title "No, we didn't set the pieces up wrong!", was a Fischer Random exhibition match between GM Aleksander Wojtkiewicz and GM Alex Yermolinsky. The annotated game provided in the newsletter was most informative. Yermo won both games. You may be interested to know that the Polish GM Wojtkiewicz has now settled in the USA at the University of Maryland.
There was also the Mainz CC Fischer Random/Mainz match between GM Leko and GM Adams, the first such match between world-class players. It is said the GM Peter Leko also played many private games of FR chess with Fischer himself in Hungary. I hosted perhaps the first on-line cc match of Fischer Random between two Canadian competitors Steve Ryan and IM Valer-Eugen Demian. The match proved to be popular with over 1000 hits on the main match page. The match ended with a blunder, but the on-line game provided an interesting display of how this form of the game could be played in a serious competition.
Is there a future for Fischer Random chess in correspondence chess? Could it possibly even save cc from stagnation as opening theory advances and it becomes even more difficult to play something original in the first 25 moves? I played in the Transcendental Chess cc club for six years and had many interesting games in that similar form of chess (the starting piece placement for White and Black are not identical, as in FR chess). It was never a large club but it did maintain a following for many years. I believe some of the on-line chess clubs already offer games in FR chess. Could mainline clubs like APCT, CCLA and USCF offer such competitions in the future? I think it is entirely possible, as the game becomes better known throughout the world through various high-profile matches.
ICCF World Champions Jubilee Tournament
The ICCF 50th Anniversary Jubilee Tournament of World Champions with the nine living cc world champions is a sensational event with some exciting chess being played. Seven of the 36 games have now completed with eight of the nine competitors having finished at least one game (all but Jørn Sloth of Denmark). The leader so far is Mikhail Umansky (Russia) with two wins and one draw. He looks very strong and could be considered the current favorite, based on his play and positions. The two USA players are Dr. Vytas Palciauscas (three draws) and Dr. Hans Berliner (one loss, one draw). Only one other player has finished more than one game (Horst Rittner of Germany) with two draws. The only two decisive games were both won by Umansky, over Berliner and Grigory Sanakoev (Russia), so the competition is still pretty much wide open. If Umansky stumbles a bit then a winner would be hard to predict.
Following is Umansky's win over Berliner.
Umansky (RUS),M (2633) - Berliner (USA),H (2763) E62
Here is my quick observation of Umansky's remaining five positions:
Umansky - Fritz Baumback(GER) Umansky up a piece but in an unclear position. To be honest, I don't see how Umansky can make progress and retain his extra piece. He could free up the position by giving up the exchange, though, giving him Rook, Knight and Bishop vs. two Rooks with 3-4 pawns each on the board.
Umansky - Hans Rittner (GER) Umansky has two Rooks and four pawns vs. Rook, Bishop and six pawns. In this roughly equal position (as far as material goes) Umansky appears to have an edge. His last move 44.Kb7 places his King in an aggressive position to put pressure on Rittner's Queenside pawns. I expect this position to crystallize shortly and expect a win by Umansky.
Tonu Oim (EST) - Umansky Oim is up a pawn but Umansky has a pawn on d3 and his King on d2. The ending definitely looks good for Umansky but it's not easy for me to say he has a won position. Still, I think a win here for Umansky is a strong possibility.
Gert Timmerman (NLD) - Umansky Umansky is a solid pawn up, but the game looks far from over. I think this may be Umansky's final game to finish, but he has a good chance of squeezing out the win with consistent play.
Jorn Sloth (DEN) - Umansky Umansky is up a pawn, but with Bishops of opposite colors I would be surprised if he could get a win here. However, he does have the edge and could get the win with precise play.
As you can see, Umansky looks like the guy to beat. It will be interesting to see if anyone is able to challenge him. With this level of competition it wouldn't be surprising to see someone else rise to the occasion, but Umansky's strong play to date and his excellent positions make him my pick to win. You can follow the games "live" (moves posted once a month with an additional 3-move delay) at the ICCF web site: http://www.iccf.com/
Here's Umansky's other win:
Sanakoev (RUS),G (2597) - Umansky (RUS),M (2633) B06
ICCF Congress in Seixal, Portugal
The International Correspondence Chess Federation (ICCF) annual meeting (Congress) took place October 6-11, 2002 in Seixal, Portugal and is just underway as I write this. It's exciting when a group of like-minded cc enthusiasts get together to discuss important topics, new ideas and to make decisions about cc competitions. APCT is a member organization of ICCF and APCT'ers will be part of this Congress. Ralph Marconi is one of the top officials, the North America/Pacific Zone Director. All voting on decisions is strictly done by the national delegates, though. ICCF-U.S. Secretary Max Zavanelli will be voting in behalf of the USA. Man, I wish I could be there! I was at the Daytona Beach, FL Congress organized by the USA in 2000, and it was a fantastic experience. Several Americans should be at the current Congress and I'm hoping to have some reports soon.
One major event for USA players will be the awards ceremony where six USA players will receive medals and certificates in recognition of the new titles these players have earned through their outstanding results in International play. Max Zavanelli will receive these representations of their titles and will see to it that they receive them in due course. Ruth Ann Fay (ICCF-U.S. office) sent me the list of awards for the Senior International Master (SIM) and International Master (IM) titles:
SIM: Edward Duliba and Stephen L. Jones
Congratulations to these six individuals and to the ICCF-U.S. office for providing the opportunities to play for title norms.
14th US CC Championship Final
The 14th USCCC event started in September to determine the USA cc Champion. The field consists of 12 players who qualified by their placements in the 12 preliminary sections plus three players nominated by APCT, CCLA and USCF.
Tony Albano is the APCT representative, John Menke was nominated by CCLA and Ed Duliba was nominated by USCF. The twelve qualifiers via the preliminaries are: IM Jason Bokar, William Boucher, Wes Brandhorst, Gilbert Drysdale, Wesley Green, Andre Jaworowski, Scott Kissinger, Robert Rizzo, Keith Rodriguez and Barry Saxe. Bob Rizzo and Keith Rodriguez each finished second in their preliminary section. Rizzo was invited because of Duliba's dual status - winner of preliminary section 1 and USCF nominee. Rodriguez was invited when John Mousessian asked to have his entry deferred to a later championship.
It looks like a strong event, played by mail (though players may agree to use email). The experienced International Arbiter Allen Wright will be directing again. I had lots of fun setting up the on-line crosstable for this event. Each player's name is a link to a pop-up window showing either his preliminary section crosstable or a message giving the information above. This is just another way I find pleasure in chess keep your eye out for ways to expand your enjoyment of our wonderful art/sport/science of cc. If you care to take a look at my crosstable check it out at: http://correspondencechess.com/campbell/us14/usccc14f.htm
Chess a "Satanic Game"?
In the 5-October-2002 issue of the on-line daily chess newsletter Chess Today, published by GM Alex Baburin of Ireland, it has been reported by IM Maxim Notkin that GM Julio Granda Zuniga is playing in the Peruvian Championship, his first tournament in four years. According to Notkin, "If I remember correctly he retired claiming chess is a satanic game." Perhaps we've all had moments when we've felt this way. Certainly, through history many political/spiritual leaders have considered chess a dangerous or unwholesome game since the game has been declared illegal on numerous occasions. Have you ever personally felt this way? I can't help but wonder what changed Zuniga's opinion. Perhaps he had a change of heart, has developed a more enlightened view or experienced a moment of clarity. Or maybe he has just gone over to the dark side.
Brains in Bahrain
The highly-touted match between current classical world chess champion GM Vladimir Kramnik and Deep Fritz is underway as I type away on my keyboard preparing this column. The games are to be played on October 4, 6, 8, 10, 13, 15, 17, 19. The match was originally planned for a year ago, but the events of September 11 caused the match to be postponed, according to the organizers.
Some consider this as Kramnik defending humanity against the machine. I consider this ridiculous. It is certainly an interesting match, and I will be following it carefully. But Kramnik need not worry about defending me. Do you feel threatened because a computer can beat you at chess? Do you feel threatened because a bulldozer can push more weight than you or an automobile can travel faster than you? Just because this is an intellectual type of activity doesn't mean it is any different. Some years ago I worked on programming equipment to do tasks such as control chemical reactions in a plant manufacturing chemical products. The closer it ran "to the edge" the more efficient the chemical reaction. With manual control by people a bigger safety margin had to be maintained. With the computer, adjustments could be made faster and a smaller safety margin was required. Did this mean the computerized equipment was better at controlling a chemical reaction? Yes. Did this somehow devaluate the worth of mankind? Certainly not!
Oh, oh. Since penning the above, game two has started with Kramnik playing White. Kramnik has obtained a better position after 22 moves and the noted chess columnist Mig (Michael Greengard) just commented, "It's still looking rather grim for Black. The GM consensus is that Kramnik is headed for a win for humanity." Ahhhh, it makes my skin crawl!
Kramnik did go on to win the game in a most impressive fashion. He has obviously prepared well for this battle, learning how to exploit some of Deep Fritz's weaknesses. However, any success the computer and chess software may achieve should be considered a great achievement by mankind, not some sort of defeat. After all, mankind had the vision which created the computer, made all the technological innovations that allowed its manufacture, continued to increase its speed and reliability, met the intellectual challenge of creating the logic which allowed a computer to play chess, and has continued to refine the chess-playing capabilities of the computer software till it has reached this phenomenal state of development. This wonderful chess-playing machine is an achievement of mankind, not a threat to our status.
Another Advantage of Correspondence Chess
According to Graham Clayton in the on-line publication Chessville, vol. 1 issue 18, GM's Viktor Korchnoi and Tigran Petrosian had such an intense dislike of each other that, when they played each other in a Candidates Match some years ago, a wooden divider was placed between them under the table holding the chess set. This was to prevent them from kicking each other! At least in correspondence chess this sort of precaution is seldom required.
Idiot Savants and Borderline Psychotics
Philip Marchand, writing in the August 31, 2002 issue of TheStar.Com, wrote:
"It is true that in 1997 a computer named Deep Blue beat chess master Gary Kasparov. But championship chess has always been for idiot savants and borderline psychotics, anyway. That it took computer scientists 40 years instead of 10 to manage even this feat - despite the much-vaunted law that microprocessor power doubles about every 18 months - shows how stupid computers are."
The famous chess database company ChessBase maintains an on-line playing site on the Internet called PlayChess. They have introduced, at least to me, a new term for a chess player competing with the aid of a computer: "Centaur." Some on-line playing sites don't allow the use of computers, and some have two types of players, unaided humans and computers. ChessBase allows a third kind, one that's become quite common, in my opinion. Like the scientist using a slide rule, the modern chess player can use a computer to look up positions, find pertinent games in a database and suggest candidate moves. It can also do what is termed "blunder checking" or even do the bulk of required calculation. A player can certainly strengthen his play by using the computer as a tool. Now the PlayChess site allows a competitor to declare his status as a "centaur" and compete completely above-board in this fashion.
Note that APCT does not allow centaurs in competition. It's quite OK to use a computer to store games, search databases and such. But you are not allowed to use a computer to evaluate positions or suggest moves. Some on-line chess playing sites have special software to connect to them, and within this software are algorithms that monitor your computer for the use of chess engines. Thus, they actively enforce their rules against the use of computer chess engines. Of course, if a player has a second computer and runs his chess engine on that separate machine, the software has no way of detecting it. Cheaters will go to great extremes. Many organizations allow unlimited use of computers (such as ICCF and the German domestic cc organizations) and I do not criticize players in those organizations who use computers the rules of play allow it. In APCT, CCLA and USCF this is not allowed, though, so only cheaters use chess engines to evaluate moves. Of course, this is well covered territory and has been discussed here before.
Chess as Viewed on Hawaii Five-O
I've always enjoyed that old TV series "Hawaii Five-O" and was recently viewing one of the shows. The main villain of this episode was a foreign agent/killer Mr. Stass, also known as "The Beast." As always, my ears perked up when I heard chess mentioned. He said, "I never relished chess by mail. The pleasure of the game of any game is to look your opponent in the eye." Ah, people just don't understand, do they?
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who I often see referred to as "the famous beatnik poet", wrote the following poem titled "Deep Chess". I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
copyright © 2002 by J. Franklin Campbell
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