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I’m done with chess variants

February 8 2010

This was originally posted on my old blog

Taking chess too seriously

Years ago, I went to a local club where I would meet people and hang out with friends. Among other things, we have a couple of cheap $5 chessboards like what you buy at Wal*Mart and Target and people would sometimes play chess at this club.

Tired of getting my butt kicked all the time at this club, I bought some chess books, started studying them, and looked up and joined a local US Chess Federation club with stronger players. Pretty soon, I had very strong chess players teaching me how to correctly develop my pieces and I was winning instead of losing games at that local club where people played casual chess games.

One time, while playing a game at the local club, there was a position where I was winning the game and my opponent (who beat me countless times before I learned how to move at that USCF club) made a move where my best reply was to capture his pawn using an unusual move called “En Passant”. Well, since he was a casual player, he didn't know about this rule. We ended up having an argument over it and ending the game over the argument.

Looking back, I was in the wrong. Yes, at the local USCF club, any tournament director would have told him that en passant was legal and forced him to accept the move. But, we weren't at the USCF tournament. We were at a local club hanging out and playing a casual game of chess. I was taking the game of Chess far to seriously at this point and didn't get a chance to finish a game I was winning because I was acting in a manner appropriate for the local USCF club but inappropriate for a friendly Chess game.

Well, once I was able to beat all of my buddies who used to kick my butt at the casual club, I realized that Chess was only a game and I was working too hard to get good at something without any real-world use. I started concentrating on improving my computer skills instead and soon had a good job in the computer industry. I also let my USCF membership lapse.

Chess Variants

It was around this time that I got interested in Chess variants (ways of changing the rules of Chess). I was studying the opening in regular Chess, and it really amazed me how people went to so much effort trying to evaluate a move in the opening, but I was disappointed in how they only looked at the opening of one game, when regular Chess is a subset of an infinite number of possible Chess games.

What I really wanted to see was people start studying the opening in depth of a different Chess game; once people felt that opening was studied, I wanted to see people study the opening of yet another chess variant. The Chess we know is just one grain of sand in the infinite beach of possible Chess games, and I wanted to see more of the beach explored.

This wish finally became last last couple of years possible because of some programs made or hacked by a talented programmer by the name of H.G. Muller. I was able to use his software to play tens of thousands of my single contribution to the world of Chess variants (which, ironically enough, is one of the relatively few Chess variants to be mentioned in the Wikipedia, albeit as a single one-line mention). After studying the opening, I realized that Schoolbook Chess (my one Chess variant) was a bit unbalanced in favor of white, but my research also showed another similar setup is a more balanced game, with white only having a very slight advantage.

Once I was finally able to do this research, my interest in Chess variants waned. I realized that the infinity of possibilities only exists in the abstract. Most Chess players will be perfectly content playing only regular Chess for the rest of their life; the very few people who are open to playing variants haven't played a single given game enough to make studying its opening worthwhile or even feasible in any manner besides using computer simulations. One community, looks at a given variant, plays at most a dozen games with the variant, and moves on to the next variant.

Chess bores me

I realized, while doing this opening research, that the results of opening research bore me, as well as actually playing a Chess variant. I just don't enjoy Chess any more. It was only a fun game for me in the context of that club many moons ago and having something to do with my buddies. It hasn't been a fun game for me for over a decade, when my last casual buddy got sick and tired of me beating him all of the time.

The only thing about Chess variants that interests me today is studying the opening and developing opening theory. Even that is not too interesting; I seem to be the only person in the world who likes the idea of studying a Chess variant's opening in any amount of detail.

In addition, there isn't anyone out there who appreciates the effort I went in researching my one chess variant. So, not only is it no fun, but there isn't any demand for the work I did researching chess variants.

It's time to move on. That in mind, not only will I no longer visit Chess-Variant related web sites, I have deleted my webpage with all of my Schoolbook-related files (A chess variant I invented). I'm keeping the ChessV webpage around, for the simple reason that, if I delete this webpage, Greg's ChessV program will no longer be available on the internet, and there has been interest in this program.

Actually, I wish someone else would offer to host ChessV so I can let go of it too, but I can host it until we find another host.