An interview with Jan Gombac (FM)

We recently made a short interview with Jan Gombac (FM) about chess960 and current chess politics. He is not only a strong SP518 player, but also a strong chess player.

chess959: Thanks for accepting an interview with chess959.

jangombacJan Gombac: You are very much welcome.





chess959: I would like start with a very tricky question:

Jan Gombac: Sure.

chess959: Which one is a chess variant: Chess960 or SP#518 (RNBQKBNR)?

Jan Gombac: Well, actually I would say that SP#518 is more of a chess variant, while chess960 is generally chess.

chess959: Chess960 discourages addictive game play. In chess lets face it what do we do these days? We play one game online. If we win we play another straight away because we are already familiar with the opening that worked for us and little energy is required to replay that opening . So we dive right back in again and again repeating the same opening book looking to gratify ourselves with another win. If we have lost a game, do we actually try a new idea or just play the same opening plans hoping that we will get lucky next time? Because the Chess environment starts predictably, it encourages us to treat the game like a poker machine. This phenomenon of Chess was not a problem before the internet when we used to play chess in a physical club in our town! But these days we are all online at any moment of the day or night ready to dive onto the chess poker machine pulling the same levers expecting to get a different result. But Chess960 just does not work like that. You have to be disciplined at move one and it takes a lot of energy to play the opening phase without rote memorization to fall-back on. So if you have lost a couple of games, Chess960 encourages you to go and take a break, because there will be no getting lucky unless you are fresh and thinking creatively. What do you think?

Jan Gombac: Well, partly I agree-a player certainly needs to be more fresh in chess960 than in traditional chess. And as for trying to introduce an improvement after a loss (or even after a win out of unsuccessful opening) it depends on a player/person who plays the game. Another matter is, of course, at what point does this improvement comes. Sometimes it comes-believe it or not-even after the move 30.

chess959: We now know that some people intentionally misdescribe chess960 as a chess variant. What could be the main reason for this?

Jan Gombac: Very good question. I’ll explain it. Who benefits from not promoting chess960? Players? Not really. After all-the main reason why they started to play chess was-at least in big majority of cases-an opportunity to be original, plus who really wants to make long lasting and exhausting, computer-based opening preparations before literally every game? Spectators? No. Who wants to watch same movie over and over again? (Watching same opening moves over and over again.) Arbiters? They couldn’t care less whether chess or chess960 is played. So-logically it’s the organisers, who benefit from organising chess tournaments and publishers of chess databases and books. They are afraid that they will lose all that. However, they obviously don’t know that we could have all that in chess960 too. So, players and spectators are the servants of tournament organisers. It should be the other way around, of course. I think chess players should really stand up for their rights.

chess959: The group of “960” could be: Levon Aronian, Alexander Grischuk, Alexandra Kosteniuk, Peter Leko, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Hikaru Nakamura, David Navara, Judit Polgar, Peter Svidler. Any others?

Jan Gombac: Sure, why not? They all enjoy chess960 very much and play it very well. However, I do believe that sooner or later everybody would play (at least some!) chess960.

chess959: Bobby Fischer was a genius and so often he used language in a way that we are not familiar with. We think we understood him but actually we were not listening, we were just operating off our own assumptions of what we think he meant. One of the biggest controversies is what Bobby meant when he talked about “pre-arranged” chess games…..

It sounds like match fixing……..I used to get confused about what Bobby was talking about. But Bobby was talking about “pre-arrangement” in the sense that both players have organised what they are going to play on the board before they get there (independently from each other).

The idea of “pre-arrangement” is that as Bobby noted, it should be stated up front (acknowledged rather than blindly accepted). What is the difference between playing from an opening book in your mind, compared to if both players actually used a physical opening book as they were playing through the opening?

Jan Gombac: Well, it is certainly true that many games in chess are nowadays pre-arranged literally move by move. So that there is no play whatsoever. And another bad thing about it-these games then go into chess databases and people use them as a “study material”. That is another thing that wouldn’t be possible in chess960. Players can, of course, always pre-arrange the result of the game, but I’m totally sure that in chess960 we would have considerably less of that. If players in chess are allowed to use opening book during the game, I somehow consider the game to be pointless in it’s bigger part. If they only use opening book in their mind (memory), it’s what we have in chess nowadays. Somewhat less pointless as the previous option, but still pretty pointless. Because of the high speed of the development of chess openings it is impossible to compare, for example, Carlsen and Kasparov. In chess960 that would be totally possible.

chess959: You correctly pointed out that players and spectators are the servants of tournament organisers. And these organisers are the servants of the sponsors. There is a closed door there. How can players open it? I mean how can they break this?

Jan Gombac: Well, to openly speak out about their true game-preferences, plus-if necessary-by boycotting chess tournaments in the sense that they simply wouldn’t participate in them. Also, believe me, top chess players have more than enough money, so they could easily organise chess960 tournaments themselves and participate in them as well. All at the same time. They are therefore not even depending on chess money anymore.

chess959: Jan thanks for your open and brave answers. Looking forward to play an interesting training games with you in chess959.

Jan Gombac: Well, as I said, you’re more than welcome. I also look forward to these games. So, thank you too.

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