Mainz 2008: Kosteniuk and Lahno in Women's Chess960 final

by ChessBase
7/31/2008 – Chess960 is a form of Fischer Random Chess, where the pieces are shuffled (symmetrically) for the starting position of the game. At the Chess Classic in Mainz the Women's Rapid World Championship Alexandra Kosteniuk, Russia, and Kateryna Lahno, Ukraine have qualified for the final. In the computer championship Rybka and Naum lead. Full reports and games.

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Chess Classic Mainz 2008

The 2008 Chess Classic is taking place from July 28 to August 3 in the Rheingoldhalle of the Congress Centre, Hilton Hotel in Mainz, Germany. The event includes tournaments and Opens in traditional and Random Chess, with stars like the current World Champion and world's number one Vishy Anand, Magnus Carlsen of Norway, Russian GM Alexander Morozevich and the strongest female player of all time Judit Polgar.

2nd FiNet Chess960 Women's Rapid World Championship

Not perfect, but entertaining

By Johannes Fischer

The first half of the 2nd FiNet Chess960 Rapid World Championship produced entertaining though not perfect chess. It also showed that Alexandra Kosteniuk was able to handle the challenge of the limited time and the uncommon opening position best. After three rounds she leads with 2.5 points, followed by Kateryna Lahno with 2 points. Victorija Cmilyte scored 1.5 points while Natalia Zhukova had three promising positions and spoiled them all in time trouble to still remain on zero.

Playing with a time limit of 20 minutes plus five seconds increment per move time proved to a crucial factor in all games. Having no theory to rely on, the players had to think right from the start and very often had only minutes left to realize possible advantages gained before. But judging from their relaxed and animated chat after the games, they all seemed to have a good time in Mainz.

Indeed, the press conference seemed more like a meeting of friends talking about their day in the office than the follow-up of three fierce battles on the chess board. Even before the official start of the press conference the four rivals for the 2nd FiNet Chess960 Rapid World Championship chatted amicably and lightheartedly with each other – though it has to be said that Natalia Zhukova seemed to be a little less cheerful than the others.

Natalia Zhukova vs Alexandra Kosteniuk in their Chess960 game

When all the journalists had finally arrived, Harry Schaack asked the players to switch from Russian to English and share their insights. Which they willingly did: They talked about how nice it is not to have to prepare in the morning for the game, how they liked to test Chess960 but also how difficult it was to cope with the pressure of the clock and the unusual positions. Natalia Zhukova in particular was plagued by time trouble. In the first round she spoilt a completely winning position against Kateryna Lahno, in the second game she lost her way after a bold pawn sacrifice by Alexandra Kosteniuk and in the third round she again spoilt a promising position against Cmilyte.

Victorija Cmilyte from Lithuania in the Chess960 tournament

Cmilyte herself said about Chess960: “I always got good positions after the opening. So, if I lost, this does not seem to be due to the unusual placement of the pieces.”

They all agreed that in Chess960 White is more likely to get an advantage in the opening but as Alexandra Kosteniuk said, “as there is no theory, White has to work to be precise. Which costs time.”

However, the Russian solved this task very well. She started with a draw against Victorija Cmilyte but then went on to win against Natalia Zhukova and Kateryna Lahno. Her win against Kateryna Lahno was particularly impressive. In a queenless middlegame with opposite colored bishops both sides preferred dynamic play to material considerations, which led to a tense struggle.

GM Kateryna Lahno of Ukraine

With 2.5 points Kosteniuk has very good chances to finish first or second, gaining the right to play for the title against the other top finisher. But rounds 4 to 6 will be everything but a walkover for Kosteniuk. Cmilyte and Lahno will give their best to finish on top and Zhukova will definitely want to take revenge for her misfortune in the first half.

All friendliness will be forgotten. The atmosphere in the press conference was relaxed, but the fights on the chess board were intense. Yes, Cmilyte, Kosteniuk and Zhukova are friends: after the press conference they sat together to have dinner, all three have children, Kosteniuk and Cmilyte played on the same team, Zhukova and Kosteniuk visit each other privately – but when playing against each other all friendship seems to be suspended. Which promises entertaining, though not always perfect chess for today and tomorrow – crowned by a friendly, amicably and intelligent chat after the game.

Day two

Kosteniuk wins convincingly, Lahno qualifies safely

The second half of the 2. FiNet Chess 960 Rapid World Championship turned out to be a rather one-sided affair. Alexandra Kosteniuk and Katerina Lahno, who were leading after the first half, had a simple recipe to qualify for the final: they both won in rounds four and five to safely qualify. While Natalia Zhukova still had trouble with the clock she also seemed to be a bit shaken after her disastrous start into the tournament. Viktorija Cmylite tried hard but in without success.

Round four indicated that Alexandra Kosteniuk and Kateryna Lahno used the insights they had gained yesterday to good effect. In contrast to her rather lucky win in the first round, this time Lahno deservedly won against Natalia Zhukova by exploiting some inaccuracies of her opponent to unleash a ferocious attack leading to a quick win.

Alexandra Kosteniuk in the final

Meanwhile Alexandra Kosteniuk grabbed a pawn offered to her by Viktorija Cmilyte right after the opening. Whether Cmilyte blundered or sacrificed is hard to tell but she never had compensation for the pawn. In the further course of the game Kosteniuk held on to her material advantage and finally reached a theoretically easily won endgame K+R+b- and g –pawn against K+R. However, with the seconds ticking away on the clock theoretical wins can prove difficult to play. But after a couple of inaccuracies Kosteniuk finally managed to get her rook behind her b-pawn after which the game did not last much longer.

Thus, in round five Cmilyte had to win against Lahno to have any hopes for the final. With this in mind she proceeded rather aggressively with Black and decided to give a pawn for some initiative. However, in a crucial position Lahno found a convincing tactical counterblow which extinguished all initiative Black had and secured her a material advantage and the better position, which she duly won.

Kateryna Lahno, who will play Alexandra Kosteniuk on Friday

Natalia Zhukova, however, found out once more that Lady Luck did not smile upon her in this tournament. Against Alexandra Kosteniuk she again had a promising position but again spoiled it in time trouble. And though Kosteniuk suddenly showed nerves and did everything to make things difficult for herself, in the end Zhukova was the unlucky one. Kosteniuk won and with one round to go she and Kateryna Lahno safely qualified for the final.

Thus, the games of the final round – Kosteniuk against Lahno and Cmilyte against Zhukova – turned out to be a prelude for tomorrow’s final. While practically without importance these games were psychologically important because their result might well set the tone for the final.

And as it turned out, Kosteniuk had the better of it. She won against Lahno to win the tournament with a convincing score of 5.5 out of six and will hope to carry her good form into the final. She will definitely not lack the necessary motivation. In the press conference she said: “I enjoy Chess960 very much. You do not have to learn theory, you can just play.” And of course, it’s easy to enjoy a game in which you are winning.

However, despite her somewhat unfortunate result – or, as she put at the press conference “This is not my tournament” – Natalia Zhukova seems to have taken a liking to Chess960. After all, she decided to take part in the 7. FiNet Chess960 Open, which will start tomorrow. Though she managed to draw her last round game against Cmilyte things can only get better tomorrow. And with five more Chess960 games of the open she might be quite ready to play for third place against Cmilyte.

4th Livingston Chess960 Computer World Championship

The human factor in computer chess

Rybka, Naum take the lead after six rounds

Today, another highlight of the Chess Classic 2008 started: the fourth Livingston Chess960 Computer World Championship with the four strongest Chess960 engines in the world: apart from reigning champion Rybka and Shredder, the most successful program in the history of chess computers, the programs Naum and Deep Sjeng, which qualified in the ICC internet tournament played their first games today. These four programs also happen to be the top four on the current Chess960 computer world ranking list. After the first day, Rybka and Naum lead the field with 3,5/6, Shredder has 3/6 and Deep Sjeng scored 2/6 today. On Thursday another round robin will be played to determine which programs will play the final on Friday.

All programmers play on the same machines with quadcore AMD processors, but after testing the machines and installing the programs, the players were not satisfied with the speed of the processors. After the first round the players were puzzled and discussed what to do to speed up their engines. They measured the speed of their programs again and again on other PC´s. Fortunately, Felix Kling, webmaster of the Rybka website discovered a bugfix, installed it on all four PC´s and suddenly the computers operated faster and calculated more nodes per second.

Chief organiser Hans-Walter Schmitt (middle) watches the game Naum-Rybka

In the first three rounds, there were only wins for white (six in a row), but Rybka broke that streak by winning a nice game against Deep Sjeng in the seventh round, and eventually winning the mini-match 2-0. But in the two games against Naum, developed by Aleksandar Naumov, she (Rybka is a she!) lost 1,5-0,5. In the last game of the exciting first day, Vasik Raijlich made an operator mistake: he executed a different move on the DGT board than his program suggested. The human factor in computer chess should not be underestimated! The players noticed the mistake only a few moves later. After stopping and adjusting the clock, the game had to be reconstructed and after a short break, the game went on, mind you, with only a minute left on the clock for both programs. There were some difficulties adjusting the clock correctly, but Naum managed to convert his advantage to a full point after 130 moves. “Take me to the hospital, this was such a crazy experience”, an exhausted Aleksandar Naumov said immediately after his opponent resigned. Even minutes after the game was over, he was still shaking like a leaf, and his hands were as cold as ice. The spectators were excited and applauded after this exciting battle between two great chess programs.

Standings after the first day




Deep Sjeng




0 1

½ 0

1 1



1 0


1 0

0 1



½ 1

0 1


1 0


Deep Sjeng

0 0

1 0

0 1



Fischer’s Heir

By Harry Schaack – translation by Johannes Fischer

On Wednesday the juniors and kids again had a chance to show their skills. In the 2nd Mini-FiNet Chess960 Open U-14 they fought for rating places and trophies.

The idea of Chess960 goes back to the late American champion Bobby Fischer. Presumably, his rematch against Spassky in 1992 provoked him to advocate this new form of chess, which gets rid of the burden of the ever growing oppressive chess theory. In Chess960 there are 960 different possible ways to set up the pieces on the first rank and the game in fact “starts” with the first move – in contrast to classical chess the players cannot rely on known positions and 20 moves deep theoretical lines.

Sebastian Kaphle, who at 13 has a rating of 2122

However, it took a couple of years until Fischer’s proposal reached a larger public. It was the Chess Classic that made Chess960 popular. In Mainz the first 960 World Championship was played and in the FiNet Open 2007 the World’s best players took part in an Open which could boast of almost 300 participants. Moreover, in 2007 the current World Champion Vishy Anand also gave this chess variant a try. His games against Levon Aronian in the final of the FiNet Chess960 World Championship were spectacular and helped Chess960 to gain world wide attention.

Another young talent: Dennis Wagner

To honor and to remember the 11. World Champion in the history of chess, organizer Hans-Walter Schmitt asked players and public to keep a minute of silence before the start of the 2. Mini-FiNet Open. However, the young talents had no trouble to focus again and they had no problems to cope with the minor change in the starting position. The clear favorite, Sebastian Kaphle from Post SV Uelze, who with 13 years of age already has an Elo rating of 2122 lived up to the expectations and won with 6/7, winning five, losing none and conceding only two draws. Five points each had Carlo Pauli and the brothers Frederik und Julian Eigenmann who shared second to fourth place behind Kaphle.

However, no one went home empty-handed and every participant received a certificate. Not the only reason why all participants will remember the tournament fondly.


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