zen quaker

A self quanitified zen quaker statistical programmer stumbles through a blog

Tag: chess960

Explanation S

Okay, I’m backing off from my statement that I am quitting Chess. Sort of. When I quit working on my Chess game, I was very relieved. But as I looked around I realized there were still some cleaning up to do. I’m in the middle of a fair bit of correspondence Chess: four tournaments, a pyramid, and a few assorted games. I also have some very nice Chess books I got for this latest foray into Chess, some of which have interesting information I have yet to peruse. Not to mention my numerous Chess sets, like my really cool MoMA set, and the Isle of Lewis replica set my brother got me for Christmas. What to do with all of that?

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Chess960 IV

I spent Thursday and Friday evenings and most of today working on a hierarchical cluster analysis of Chess960 starting position. It’s really only a preliminary analysis, sort of a dry run to make sure that the hierarchical cluster analysis software I’ve been writing works. But I thought I’d share my methodology and results as a prelude to the real analysis, which needs some thought as to the correct approach.

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Chess960 III

In a blog post on my Chess960 Almanac, Mark Weeks comments that he’s not sure how I came up with the list of swaps. I thought I would explain that and why I came up with yet another system for numbering Chess960 start positions.

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Language I

Technically, my bachelor’s degree is in Cognitive Science with a minor in Religion. However, it sort of got overwhelmed when I had the chance to take a fifth year tuition free to study (more) linguistics. So it would really be more accurate to say I have a bachelor’s degree in Linguistics, with minors in Philosophy, Artificial Intelligence, and Religion. But no one ever accused my undergraduate university of accuracy.

Why do I mention this? This evening there was a post on Slashdot about an analysis of communication on online forum for hackers. One of the (inevitable) comments was that they were misusing the word “hacker.” A “hacker” (according to Slashdotters) is not a criminal programmer, he is a good programmer (I would use a more neutral pronoun, but the Slashdotters would use “he”). The correct word for a criminal programmer (according to Slashdotters) is “cracker.” That is, someone who cracks into systems. The Slashdotters would claim that their usage of “hacker” is more true to the original usage of the word. My understanding is that the original use of “hacker” was a bad programmer (someone who hacks away at a program until it works), but that is beside the point.

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Chess960 II

Back in July Alexander Grischuk came out in favor of Chess960, but only using 200-300 positions, excluding the “absurd” positions. Ilya Levitov (FIDE Vice President) echoed this, saying Chess960 should be played excluding “absurd” or “disharmonious” positions. I thought this was an interesting idea. I asked around on some Chess forums dedicated to Fischer Random/Chess960, trying to find out what people thought counted as an “absurd” or “disharmonious” position. Almost nobody answered. I think I got four replies on two websites, only one of which answered the actual question.

I was still interested, so I started looking at different possibilities of absurd positions and how many Chess960 starting positions matched those possibilities. I also started looking at definitions of similar in terms of matching Chess960 positions with the standard Chess starting position. This developed into a spreadsheet of all the positions and which criteria they met. Eventually I added some other things to the spreadsheet, like the numbers for the positions in different numbering schemes, and the full Forsyth-Edwards Notation for the positions (both traditional and Shredder style). I now think of it as a Chess960 almanac, a somewhat useful tool if you’re analyzing Fischer Random starting positions. I’d been waiting for a good place to put it up on the web, and now I’ve got this blog, so here it is: Chess960 Almanac.

Of course, I could probably count the number of people in the world interested in this on both hands even if you chopped off all my fingers. That seems to be the fate of most of my projects these days.

Chess960 I

Fischer Random Chess (or Chess960) is a chess variant created by former world champion Bobby Fischer. It randomizes the back rank pieces with two restrictions: the bishops must be on different colors and the king must be between the two rooks. This results in 960 possible positions, hence the alternate name of Chess960.

Recently the St. Louis Chess Club hosted the Kings vs. Queens event, with a team of high rated women against a team of high rated men. It was an interesting event with non-standard Chess matches, including faster time controls and Fischer Random Chess. Mark Weeks over on Chess960 (FRC) posted a link to a podcast by the Full English Breakfast commentary on the event. There were apparently different methods used to choose the starting positions from the 960 possible positions. One of the methods used was to spin a roulette wheel with all of the pieces on it, and some “choice” results where the spinner can choose a piece. Each piece is chosen with a random spin and placed on the board in order from the a file to the h file, ignoring spins that would result in illegal positions. I’m not totally sure of the distribution of the pieces on the wheel, but assuming each piece is on the board the same number of times, and that the choices made by the spinner were also evenly distributed, the method doesn’t work.

Take the first spin, which is used to place the piece on a1. If I am right in my assumptions, each piece has the same chance of being on a1. The only exception is the king, which can’t be on a1 because it has to be between the two rooks. But if a king was the result of a spin, they would spin again until they got a non-king, making all the non-king pieces equally likely. The problem is that if you look at the legal FRC positions, there is not an even distribution of pieces on a1. The knight and the bishop appear on a1 in 240 position each (25% chance), but the queen is on a1 in only 120 positions (12.5% chance) and the rook is on a1 in 360 positions (37.5% chance). Therefore the method used at Kings vs. Queens was biased against rooks in the corner and biased for queens in the corner. As it turns out, the queen was on a1 twice at the event, in rounds one and three. I even remember some of the commentary saying what a problem this was, because it made developing the queen difficult. Looking up the binomial probability formula (dammit, I used to have these things memorized), we can see that a correct starting position generator would have led to that situation (queens on a1 two out of five games) 12.0% of the time, while the method used by Kings and Queens would have led to it 35.2% of the time.