STANLEY RANDOM CHESS MONTHLY
GM Gregory Topov is one of the most famous Grandmasters in Stanley Random Chess in the modern era. A life-long devotee of the sport, he dominated the game for the last two decades of the twentieth century. Topov has won a total of 13 world championships, including an unprecedented eight consecutive victories from 1982-1989. After narrowly missing out on a closely-contested title early in 2004, he has retired from active competition, but continues to make an important contribution to the world of Stanley Random Chess by his writings, sharing insightful analysis and observations.
Despite having a long and illustrious history, Stanley Random Chess (commonly designated SR Chess), is relatively unknown in the modern era due to the fact that it flourished in exclusive clubs and under the cover of secret societies. Not to be confused with Fischer Random Chess (FR Chess), SR Chess has only recently emerged into the modern public arena, where it is presented as a chess variant. Recent historical studies published by Dr. Bill Goldman have now offered conclusive proof that in fact the more commonly played "traditional" chess is merely an inferior and simplified variant of SR Chess. For this reason common chess is usually designated in SR Chess circles as Simplified Stanley Random Chess, or Simplified SR Chess. While superficially similar to Simplified SR (Common) Chess, SR Chess is a far more advanced and complex game that requires greater skill and imagination. Unlike the more popular and simplified form of the game, it relies more on pattern recognition and sequenced moves, offering a complexity and creativity that is initially perplexing for new players, but far more rewarding. It relies less on memorization and opening theory, and leads to more exciting and creative play, with draws being relatively infrequent.
Like Simplified SR (Common) Chess, the objective of SR Chess is to win the game by checkmate. Draws can occur under the same conditions as in Simplified SR (Common) Chess, but due to the imaginative and more complex play of an SR Chess game, draws are typically far less frequent, which is one of the reasons SR Chess is so appealing to players disillusioned with the number of unsatisfactory draws common in Simplified SR (Common) Chess. An SR Chess game can also be won by a Forced I.M.R. (Inferior Material Resignation) after move 30 - see further details under "Rules".
Play is conducted in the same manner as Simplified SR (Common) Chess, using the same chess board and pieces, and with both players moving in turn. Some variations require the use of two dice, eight territorial square markers, and a scoresheet, but these are not specialty items. Special Deluxe SR Chess sets have been known to be marketed separately, but novices should be forewarned that these merely consist of regular chess playing supplies along with a set of rules of SR Chess. The rules that accompany Deluxe or Gift SR Chess sets are typically incomplete, limited to one local variation, and are not sanctioned by the I.S.R.C.A. (International Stanley Random Chess Association), and cannot be recommended. During play in tournaments, the rules are supervised by an official adjudicator or local SRCA representative. In informal settings without an adjudicator, is not uncommon for there to be lengthy discussions about rules and strategy. It is rare for a game to be played in less than an hour, primarily because of the complexity and creativity the game requires.
The basic rules of SR Chess are identical to those of Simplified SR (Common) Chess, so I will not risk redundancy by repeating them in full. Learning Simplified SR (Common) Chess has proven helpful for some players, since a knowledge of its legal moves and some basic strategy is essential for good SR Chess play. However, the simplifications of Simplified SR (Common) Chess do improverish the traditional game of much beauty and creativity, and can hinder the development of sound strategy. The difference lies in the fact that Simplified SR (Common) Chess has eliminated the original rigid code and rules that govern required move sequences and permissible board patterns of SR Chess. These are quite complex, and attempting to summarizing them will only confuse the novice, but new students of the game should familiarize themselves with the important principles enumerated below.
Newcomers may find the "random" part of Stanley Random Chess rather confusing. The truth is that the name is an unfortunate misnomer, because SR Chess is certainly not random. The original name of the game was Stanley Chess, but the perceived randomness by the numerous fans of Simplified SR (Common) Chess led to the unfortunate designation Stanley Random Chess. Players familiar with Simplified SR (Common) Chess typically observe apparent "randomness" in two respects:
Legal MovesUnlike Simplified SR (Common) Chess, the sequence and patterns of possible moves are strictly regulated by a carefully articulated body of laws, so that SR Chess has a lesser number of legal moves (approximately half). Maxwell's "Bipolar Law of Corresponding Necessities" might benefit the novice:
Illegal Moves (Freezing)
Newcomers will notice that simplified captures and retreats are sometimes deemed illegal in SR Chess. When a move that is legal in Simplified SR (Common) Chess, but illegal in SR Chess, the piece in question is said to be "frozen". In some traditions, "frozen" pieces are termed "stone-walled". "Freezing" of pieces typically occurs when moves are not sequenced according to the Nubular Rule, or when a Pattern of Unbalance is created. Unfreezing a piece is possible, but is dependent on the proportion of occupied white squares relative to occupied dark squares, and subject to the Rule of Double Diagonals.
Unlike Simplified SR (Common) Chess, SR Chess has the added dimension that after the 30th move, the "VollenHauser Sudden Death Principle" comes into play, enabling players to win the game by a Forced I.M.R. (Inferior Material Resignation), with the winner being the player with the most material. If the game has not been concluded at this point, one of the players is usually quick to create a position that requires a Forced IMR, and so it is unusual for a game to extend beyond 40 moves. Typically the number of legal moves increases in the end game, leading to faster and exciting play, greater attacking possibilities, daring sacrifices, and sudden victories. This also accounts for the apparent sudden/strange (random) termination of the game sometimes perceived by novices.
The precise conditions in which a Forced IMR is allowed are too numerous and complex to enumerate here, and it can take time for novices to develop strategies to create the right pattern in which such a conclusion is allowed. A good understanding of the VollenHauser Sudden Death Principle (usually designated as "VH Conditions") is critical. The classic work by Leopold Strauss, A Reexamination of Forced Inferior Material Resignations: A Guide to Winning Play under VollenHauser Conditions (Belgrade Press, 1934), is the standard reference text on this subject. In tournaments, adjudicators will normally announce to both players at the conclusion of move 30, "The game is now under VH Conditions", which means that the VollenHauser Sudden Death Principle is now in effect. Note that before VH Conditions come into effect, all sequences and patterns that would lead to a Forced IMR win under VH Conditions are illegal, to prevent players from establishing an unfair advantage earlier in the game. The possibility of a sudden win by a Forced IMR while the game is under VH Conditions leads to very exciting and novel play, particularly after the 30th move.
The precise rules are far too numerous to list here, and the above rules merely introduce some of the unique aspects of SR Chess. A good grasp of the more comprehensive laws that govern legal and winning patterns and sequences is essential for expert play, but these are amply documented and explained in Samuel Worthington's fourth edition of the Stanley Random Chess: The Official Player's Guide - Vol.1 "The Rules" (Vol. 2 "The Players" and Vol. 3 "Developing Winning Strategy" are also worthwhile). The close observation of expert play is one of the best ways to acquire a good understanding of the rules.
To reduce the inevitable perplexity that inevitably confronts the novice player, it is usual before the game to adopt the house rules of a popular local variation, such as the International Stanley Random Grand Prix Rules, or the Modern British Imperial Stanley Random Rules. Over 535 such variations have been documented by the ISRCA, and the appendix of their 2004 Official Stanley Random Chess Handbook summarizes the 32 more popular international variations. Due to the development of this wide spectrum of local variations, novices should not be alarmed to discover that experienced players typically engage in lengthy and lively debates about the rules and their variations in the course of a game. Note that the 1983 Genevan Revision has made it mandatory to obtain an unmoded quadrant (requiring unweighting of the light squares) for openings in tournament play for all variations. For novices and informal play it is usually replaced by the simpler "Gallican Primary Ranking Order" which allows weighted pawn play within the first ten moves.
New players will find that openings common to Simplified SR (Common) Chess may be entirely inadequate, and at times illegal, in SR Chess, and conversely that many openings which have been refuted in Simplified SR (Common) Chess may serve well in SR Chess. Consequently novices will do well to discard most opening theory they have learned from Simplified SR (Common) Chess. One of the advantages of SR Chess is that opening theory is less critical, because the creativity and complexity implicit in the multiple move patterns and sequence formations allows for a greater variety of openings, and less dependence on pure memorization. While Simplified SR (Common) Chess has been criticized for being a matter of memorizing openings, SR Chess relies more on skill, strategy and creativity than memorization, and once a good grasp of the rules has been obtained, imaginative young players are able to play at a very high level against grandmasters. Novice players should be able to grasp the essentials of common openings (especially the Genevan Gambler Attack, and the Left Wing Butterfly Defence) in short order by observing other players. It is not uncommon for a relatively unknown player to emerge from obscurity and inflict a surprising loss on a well-known grandmaster, as is the case when the relatively unknown GM Otto Boshnaut first won the 32nd German Championship in 1885.
Although advanced strategy is usually beyond most novice players, Sir Humphry Footscray has done beginning SR Chess players a wonderful service by summarizing some helpful principles that serve as an excellent introductory strategy for beginners:
Each set of ten moves (for both players) of a SR Chess game is regarded as a "Set". Since it is rare for a game to conclude in the First Set (within the first ten moves), a First Set Win is worth more points than a Second Set Win (within the first twenty moves) or a Third Set Win (thirty moves). Games that conclude under VH Conditions are regarded as a "Final Set Win", and are worth the least points.
The name "Stanley Random Chess" is commonly supposed to originate from the name of a primate featuring prominently in contemporary software, but this erroneous conclusion is the result of the mistaken belief that SR Chess is a recent phenomenon and merely a variant of Simplified SR (Common) Chess. The post-graduate research of Dr. Bill Goldman (doctoral work supervised by the the late Dr. Simon Morgenstern) has uncovered ground-breaking evidence that confirms the antiquity and primacy of SR Chess, from which Simplified SR (Common) Chess later descended, although the latter has enjoyed greater popularity, and therefore earned the designation "Common" Chess. The name "Stanley" apparently originates from Sir Thomas Stanley (d. 1459), a descendant of William the Conqueror who excelled in SR Chess from an early age, and was also the name of the pet monkey that accompanied William during his Norman Conquest.
The name Stanley was first bestowed on the family by King William as an honorary title in memory of his beloved pet. The first mention of the game is found in historical accounts of the Ferrers family in 1137. The Stanley family apparently learned the game when they assumed the Earl of Derby title from the Ferrers in 1485. From this time, they actively promoted SR Chess, hosting annual tournaments for the Stanley Cup. In 1892, the Stanley Cup was sadly donated by the rebel Sir Frederick Arthur Stanley, from which time it was used as a trophy for amateur hockey in Canada. Frederick T. Stanley, who in 1843 founded The Stanley Works, at that time a bolt and door hardware manufacturing company located in New Britain, was responsible for popularizing SR Chess in America. Directors of his company (now renowned for making fine hand tools and industrial tools) are still known to play SR Chess in board meetings today. It is entirely coincidental that Stanley is also the first name of one of the actors that made up the legendary Laurel and Hardy, although it is conceiveable that his parents named him in honor of SR Chess.
In recent years SR Chess has not enjoyed the recognition it deserves, for several reasons. Firstly, the complex regulations governing the move patterns and sequences have been a well-kept secret limited to the circle of active players, and have largely been communicated by oral tradition. Secondly, SR Chess literature is highly specialized, and not easily available to the general public. Thirdly, the game can seem perplexing to novices, and the general ignorance about the well-established regulations that define play has led to its strategy being incorrectly perceived by the uninformed as "random". Fourthly, the Simplified SR (Common) Chess community has long resisted the notion that SR Chess is a predecessor that predates the more common and corrupted form of the game. Fifthly, SR Chess enjoyed its hey-day in private clubs and societies (like the Masons) that did not encourage public disclosure and advertising of their recreational activities. Sixthly, the members of the High Board of the ISRCA have stubbornly maintained traditions which discouraged the active promotion of the game.
Thankfully, recent times have seen a softening of attitudes among the High Board, and there is every reason to expect the continued growth and popularity of SR Chess. It has a growing presence on the internet, and over 950 local clubs are registered with the ISRCA, primarily in Asian countries, and parts of Eastern Europe. Both the Asian, American, African and European quadrants of the ISRCA host annual week-long conventions in conjunction with their SR Chess Quadrant Championship Knock-Out, with the winners travelling to Poland for a round robin competition for the title of SR Chess World Champion. Poland also hosts the International SC Chess Olympiad every four years. The International SR Chess Monthly continues to provide a forum for the analysis of games by grandmasters, and several other periods devoted to SR Chess are published by local clubs, particularly in Asia and Eastern Europe.
One of the greatest SR Chess players in history is GM Lord Edward Humberton-Snapf (1874-1916), whose wife Ivy Rose was a descendent of the original Stanleys. Humberton-Snapf is regarded as one of the greatest players of the Victorian era, and his writings on SR Chess are still highly respected. He was preceded by GM Antonio Pancris of Baden-Baden, who first entered the global spotlight with a superb performance in the 1822 European Championship, in which he defeated an Albanian GM with a local offside trap using the penny formation with both his knights. Lesser known is Russian GM Victor Seignovich (1909-1931), winner of the national Russian Championship in 1929. Seignovich was renowned for his blindfolded simultaneous exhibitions, and was probably the most brilliant player that the SR Chess world has ever seen, but sadly succumbed to a mental illness while at the peak of his career. Asian players dominated the game in middle of the twentieth century. GM Gregory Topov has been the world number #1 ranked player since the early 1980s, but his recent retirement has seen the emergence of some excellent young British players since the turn of the 21st century.
Ever since the Stanley family promoted the game among the English upper class, SR Chess has traditionally been a gentleman's game. Play is open to people of every race, religion, culture and gender, provided they agree to maintain the International Code of Conduct that must be strictly observed. SR Chess tournaments are generally characterized by the utmost spirit of courtesy, decorum, and respect. At the discretion of the senior adjudicator, anything deemed contrary to the spirit of decency and politeness results in immediate player expulsion, or the forfeit of VH conditions for all subsequent tournament games. Gambling on the outcome of games is strictly forbidden. In some local clubs, the International Code of Conduct has been amended to include local requirements for prescribed dress standards and acceptable language. In some countries, players are required to dress in colours that reflect their current international ranking and a coloured belt that corresponds to their present pattern sequence status.
Regrettably, reliable SR Chess literature is not readily available, and the ISRCA has traditionally frowned on mass publications. Most books published on the subject had a very limited print run, and were distributed only in SR Chess circles, leading to a very high demand for many titles. The best introductory work is by Ronald Herbert & Christopher Morley, "Stanley Random Chess Revisited: A Singular Course in Elementary and Standard Play, with Critical Observations and Annotations", first published in 1889. This excellent work was recently reprinted in America, and is available directly from Gavin Brend, president of the New York SR Chess Club. For the advanced player, the fifth edition of Kenneth Abrams' "The Modern Expert's Companion to Stanley Random Chess" (Tokyo, 1979) is essential, although Nikolai Dementiev's "Stanley Random Chess: Exercises for Experts Illustrated by Grandmasters" also deserves mention, but is available in only in Russian and inaccessible to most players. Although it has been out of print for some time (despite going into sixteen editions), "The Life and Games of Antonio Pancris: An Annotated Exhibition in Playing SR Chess with Force and Farce" by Pancris himself is still widely regarded as the best collection of annotated games. Since most literature on SR Chess is so specialized, new players are best advised to visit a local club and try to obtain published materials directly from the ISRCA.
To my knowledge there is no computer program that can play SR Chess competently, even at the novice level. While the limited number of moves in Simplified SR (Common) Chess has enabled the rapid advancement of highly developed chess-playing software, the same cannot be said for SR Chess. Although SR chess has less legal moves, the countless rules governing multi-level sequences, patterns and variations give much more room for creative thinking and imaginative play, and result in a virtually infinite flexibility that is beyond the scope of current computer technology. Software developers have experienced a similar problem with the classic strategy game of Go, although much effort has resulted in Go software that can play competently at the average level. But the difficulties in creating satisfactory SR Chess software are presently insurmountable, because merely determining whether a move is legal can require the consideration of previous sequences and move patterns (up to eight moves), potential board patterns, and comparing them with the Legal SR Chess Code adopted in Venice 1893. Discovering the best move is more elusive yet, and although good moves can be produced by human intuition and imagination, they are outside the scope of pure calculation. Furthermore, given the huge body of tradition and regulations for local variations, computer software that is not interfaced directly with the ISRCA database will always prove inadequate. As part of the "IBM Stanley Software Solution Quest", IBM is offering a US$35,000 reward for the first software program that can post a winning score in a four game series against a current grandmaster. But computer technology is not expected to advance rapidly enough in the next two decades to make SR Chess software a realistic possibility. Although it is regrettable that no satisfactory software for SR Chess exists, it underlines the uniqueness and beauty of SR Chess. SR Chess will remain a game of creativity and imagination that is played exclusively by humans.
As the result of innovative technology, SR Chess has witnessed an exciting development following its appearance on the excellent chess server at www.schemingmind.com. This development was possible only because the I.S.R.C.A. came to a contractual agreement with the webmaster that made provisions for a XML SRC rule parser to control the games. Without this facility, an array of several hundred servers would be required to host games on the site. The schemingmind.com server is also equipped with an automated database filter which can identify the patterns in which a Forced IMR is allowed once VH conditions come into effect following move 30. The server is also interfaced directly to the database at the ISRCA to ensure that only legal moves are entered. The processing time required for this calculation can take significant time, and this is one of the reasons SR Chess is played on an email chess server, since real time SR Chess is not possible with present computer technology.
As an added feature, a special algorithm works with the ISRCA host database to automatically replace any illegal moves with the nearest equivalent legal move. This innovative technology is known as the "Stanley Transposed Automated Replacement" or STAR move. It is the equivalent to the adjustment that adjudicators can make in official tournament play when an illegal move is played. Such adjustments or STAR moves are traditionally annotated with the * symbol, and are also sometime described as "Stanley" moves. Novice players of SR Chess thus should be prepared to see unexpected transpositions made to their moves after submission. While this apparent randomness may be initially perplexing to the beginner, this is an excellent way to make SR Chess accessible to novices, and enable them to learn the game. Without requiring a complete grasp on SR Chess rules, novices can begin assimilating some beginning strategy, and develop some sense of the game. Several expert SR Chess players frequent the chess server on a regular basis, and are usually more than willing to explain why attempted moves were illegal, and offer helpful analysis on play. As a result of this exciting development, the ISRCA is optimistic that SR Chess is poised to gain further recognition and increased popularity.
Since Simplified SR (Common) Chess is in fact a simplified version of SR Chess, it can be a springboard for progressing to the more advanced game, and being familiar with its rudiments will certainly enable most players to make a successful transition to SR Chess, as long as they realize that clinging to traditional strategy will not be successful. Although a great deal of good SR Chess relies on intuition and imagination, it is possible to learn some strategic principles by reading. Unfortunately most good literature is not readily available, and is usually inaccessible to those who have not yet attained the master level. The complexities of SR Chess are best learned in one of two ways:
1. Playing the game
The advance of innovative computer technology has enabled SR Chess to become accessible for complete beginners to play on an internet chess server. Since newcomers to SR Chess cannot possibly be expected to be familiar with all the rules, whenever a player attempts an illegal move, the chess server schemingmind.com automatically replaces illegal moves with the closest legal move. This is known as a "Stanley Transposed Automated Replacement" (or a STAR move), and is made possible by interfacing with the ISRCA database and using its automated correction algorithm. The STAR move technology enables games of SR Chess to be played between complete novices who are already familiar with the rules of Simplified SR (Common) Chess. Since the number of legal moves in SR Chess is statistically about half that of Simplified SR (Common) Chess, novices should expect about 50% of STAR moves while trying to master the basics the game.
2. Observing expert players
One of the best ways to learn the rules of SR Chess is to study annotated games, or to watch a regular advanced game played by experienced players and asking them to explain their moves. Regrettably, there is an ancient tradition that discouraged advanced players from disclosing the nuances behind expert play, but in modern times it is generally acknowledged that this tradition needs to be abandoned in the interests of promoting the game. But novices should be prepared to encounter expert players who will be reluctant to explain their strategy, or whose complex answers are comprehensible only to fellow-experts.
Recently the software developer UbiSoft released a version of their popular Chessmaster software that included a Stanley Random personality. However, due to an apparent bug in the software and the limitations of current computer technology, the traditional SR Chess rules are not enforced for the human player when playing Stanley, making it possible to defeat Stanley quite rapidly by ignoring the SR Chess conventions and playing Simplified SR (Common) Chess. This is effectively a form of cheating, by allowing moves that are illegal in SR Chess. Grandmasters who have the knowledge and the self-discipline to restrict themselves to moves that are legal in SR Chess have found that the computer AI can barely play at a novice-level rating anyway. Playing against the Stanley personality on Chessmaster is not thus not recommended to introduce novices to SR Chess, because it promotes the development of strategies that will prove ineffective against humans, and new players will only be frustrated to find their moves being declared illegal and replaced with STAR moves when playing against fellow human players at schemingmind.com. Playing online, and the observation and study of expert level games remain the best methods to learn SR Chess.
Studies have proven that the close study of expert level games is one of the best ways to develop sound SR Chess strategy. Although annotations from advanced players are usually available only to master level players, but with the loosening of the restrictions governing the publication of annotated games, we are pleased to present you with a rare annotated exhibition game:
SR Chess GM Gregory Topov
GM Topov was recently inducted as lifelong member of the I.F.S.R.C. (International Fraternity for Stanley Random Chess) Hall of Fame. Believing that Stanley Random Chess is much misunderstood and underappreciated, he is actively committed to promoting greater awareness about Stanley Random Chess. This article first appeared in Stanley Random Chess Monthly in June 2004, as part of a series of articles geared towards explaining the sport for newcomers. We are proud to reproduce it here online, with permission from the publishers.
Posted Friday - 2004-03-12 - 11:23:12 EST
by Staff Reporter Verdra H. Ciretop in Toronto
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