SwitChess – an experiment with the black pieces

9/10/2016 – The first-move advantage in chess is historically varified. Statistics for the last 165 years show that White consistently wins between 52 and 56 percent of the games. Some chess theorists have challenged the view that this is solely a consequence of being able to make the first move. GM András Adorján wrote a series of books on the theme "Black is OK!", arguing that the general perception that White has an advantage is founded more in psychology than reality. András conducted an experiment to test his theory.

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SwitChess – an experiment with the black pieces

By András Adorján

SwitChess is very good for training and exhibition. It’s naturally played according to traditional chess. The only difference is that the two camps change places in the beginning position. Black is to start standing in the place of White, in return White that is playing in the place of Black replies.

1.e2-e4 (or anything else)

This mutation creates odd and comical pictures but not l’art pour l’art! It is an experiment. They say it is better to play with White. If it is really so, it could be only because of the right (and duty) of the first move. However almost all the associations connected with Black are negative. In the Middle Ages, and perhaps even later, each colour had a particular meaning known by everyone. Colours carried messages. Even today "colour language" has not been uprooted completely.

My book "Sicilian Subvariations" (everything other than 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 and 3.d4), a joint effort with my friends in 1994. It was part of the Black is OK! repertoire series, published in five languages – Hungarian, English, German, French and Spanish – at the same time, included a short piece in which I analysed the overwhelmingly negative associations of the colour black in Western culture. I (or any of you) can list at least as dozen phrases spontaneously (black market, black day, black widow, black cat, black sheep, blackmail, etc.) in a minute. My wife and I have collected close to a hundred from several large dictionaries, and we can rightfully state that the colour black is depressing to almost all people, if only subconsciously. White, on the other hand, usually symbolises purity, innocence and immaculacy. Typically, harmless little lies are called "white lies" in English.

So what we have on the chessboard is, subconsciously, the battle of good vs evil! Good feels morally superior, evil makes this feeling even stronger. It is simply scandalous! It’s scandalous that chess players, who are in any case often quite superstitious creatures, are given the black pieces when they have to execute the second move! I am definitely convinced that the juxtaposition of these two colours is largely responsible for the psychological handicap of the second player, and that makes Black less successful than he could be.

Well, the FIDE regulations read as follows: "The pieces of one side have to be lighter, the pieces of the other side have to be darker, and the different pieces have to be easily distinguishable." There is not a single word about "Black and White", and there are quite a few pairs of colours that satisfy the FIDE rule. We played a rapid tournament (in Bela Papp Memorial ’95) with two coloured chess sets. Red playing Blue was not bad, but Ochre taking on Purple was truly fantastic. On top of that, such chess sets make it much less tiring to play. Anyone who has already worked in the basement with no natural light will know what I am talking about. More about that in a second article.

Well, in 2009 we conducted an experiment and staged a rapid tournament (in Szombathely, Hungary). The aim was to learn whether moving first or playing White gives an advantage. Naturally you cannot draw firm conclusion of just one tournament. But I was sure that there would be interesting games and I was eager to see the statistics of this tournament: the first mover won 22, the second 17, and there were only nine draws in all 48 games (six rounds). Here is a game by the winner GM Adam Horvath, who was the second player but was moving white pieces:

This is a game you cannot convert and play over in ChessBase, but manually. Instead you can use the demo program Rainbow Chess to do so.

Makes you dizzy? The Sveshnikov and Grünfeld in SwitChess.

András Adorján (born March 31, 1950 in Budapest) is a Hungarian grandmaster and author. He was the European Junior Champion in 1969/70, and in 1969 finished runner-up in the World Junior Chess Championship (behind Anatoly Karpov). He gained his IM title in 1970 and the GM title in 1973 – the latter after he jointly won his first Hungarian Championship, going on to a further (outright) victory in 1984. He finished joint third at the Interzonal of 1979 in Riga and qualified for the World Championship Candidates Tournament. There he lost his quarter-final match to Robert Hübner.

In team chess, Adorján has an excellent record. Competing at the Chess Olympiad of 1978 he helped Hungary win the gold medal, ahead of the Soviet team that had won the event twelve consecutive times. His further participation in 1984, 1986 and 1988 contributed to a top five finish on each occasion. Adorján has also worked over the years, sometimes secretly, as a second to Garry Kasparov and to Peter Leko, helping them to prepare for important World Championship matches. He is known as a leading expert on the Grünfeld Defence, which has been favored by both Kasparov and Leko.

In recent years Andras has played less and concentrated more on writing, championing the cause of the player of the black pieces. His books – Black is OK, Black is Still OK and Black is OK Forever, challenge the popular perceptions of Black's chances. For their creativity with the black pieces Adorján cites the games of Tony Miles and Alexander Morozevich as a source of inspiration. His writing is always imaginative, quirky and anecdotal. In one review, it was suggested that Adorján's books could have been co-authored by Botvinnik and Monty Python.

Adorján's other passion is music. He has composed many songs and also translated Godspell into Hungarian.

Topics Chess rules
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fons fons 9/15/2016 09:21
By some interesting coincidence, this quote:

"in lots of cultures black isn’t thanatotic or morbid but is the spiritual equivalent of what white is in the U.S. and that in these other cultures it’s white that is morbid."

from the article "David Foster Wallace (1962 - 2008) and chess" was published only two days later on this site.
Mr TambourineMan Mr TambourineMan 9/11/2016 10:09
Shouldnt the Squares also be colored then? And if choosen as red and blue what color should be labeled White and be on h1?

genem. your Icon now finaly makes sense :-)

Also Tartakower once suggested that showing chess we should have the spectators Point of view with diagram turned 90 degres so to mirror the popular fotball game. But I guess that in chess we are all players!

Now serious question. The program doesnt work. I couldnt download the program. Want to use it to play over my games with colors reversed. Pls help.

Malcom Malcom 9/11/2016 06:57
Forgot to add, but you got your minute of fame, bravo!
Malcom Malcom 9/11/2016 06:56
Drummer, thx for making Adjoran article seem a little more relevant cause yours is utter garbage ;-)
yesenadam yesenadam 9/11/2016 03:15
I feared at first this was another Iqbal article. 8 | But no! I liked it. Interesting topic. Psychology, language, myth, culture etc. Deceptively simple topic perhaps - the first 3 comments went astray, it seems, for example - 1. No it doesn't mean that. 2. No it doesn't disprove anything. 3. Why should high ELO diminish white's advantage? The opposite seems to me intuitively more likely.
I do find it very hard to find Black openings I like, though, and very easy to find openings as White that I like, more than one would expect.
p.s. Is black "depressing" also to black people?
chessdrummer chessdrummer 9/11/2016 02:57
I have written at length on this. The first move is not merely psychology, but it does play a role. All analysis up to now is from white's point of view. Most of the analysis has attempted to prove an advantage for white. All the books are printed from white's point of view. You had puzzle books that were all white mating. Over the period of centuries you have had a situation where people felt they had to win with white. If would make a big difference over time if we moved to a system of changing the physical colors, but this experiment cannot be conclusive.

sno sno 9/11/2016 09:15
This article didn't make any sense to me. Of course it is an advantage to play with the white pieces, as the results in the experiment indicates. White is not in zugzwang in the starting position.
Whether there is an additional psychological advantage should be easy to find out by comparing results from games between humans with results from computer games.
nkekere nkekere 9/11/2016 08:48
The initial advantage is real! With a high enough ELO this advantage can be made to approach zero, but just like infinity it cant be reached. Computers lack our sensibilties and bias but they still respect the initial advantage. Someone would argue that computers inherited our sensibilties since they were programmed by us. My answer is a question: Did we tell "white" to be the first to threaten check? NO
mc1483 mc1483 9/10/2016 11:21
Exactly. Percentage for first mover is 55%, the same as usual. So Adorjan's theory is disproved, and I do not understand why he should write such an article, stating "it's only psivological" while its own data prove the opposite.
genem genem 9/10/2016 09:16
Quote of experimental statistics from article:
the statistics of this tournament: the first mover won 22, the second 17,
So, does that mean that the majority consensus has been right all along, and that in fact --- Black is Not OK!?