Chess960

Bobby Fischer 1960 in LeipzigChess960 is healthy and good for your chess. If you get into it and not just move the pieces to achieve known positions it really improves your chess vision. – Armenian Grandmaster Levon Aronian (currently rated 2821 and ranked #2 in the world in regular chess)

In general, I’m not a big fan of chess variants. It is already a big task to try to master normal chess and many chess variants have a very small pool of players to play against, so a player cannot hope to improve very far in any one variant.

However, there is something to be said about the particularly popular variant called Chess960 or Fischer Random Chess. Earlier forms of Chess960 existed as far back as the 19th century, but the rules were ‘less refined’ and 11th World Champion Robert James “Bobby” Fischer is credited for tweaking them. This variant was introduced to the chess public in 1996 at Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I believe this variant to be a great tool for training one’s general skills in normal chess. Most of the regular rules of chess are still intact and it is just the first and eighth rank where the pieces are ‘shuffled randomly’. There are particular conditions to the shuffling, such as requiring a rook on both sides of the king, which limit the number of possible starting positions to 960 (hence the name for this variant). There is a 1/960 chance that you’ll simply get a normal game of chess.

One of the main things people like about Chess960 is that it negates virtually all opening theory from regular chess. Because there are 960 possible starting positions, it is impractical for a player to prepare or memorise opening variations. This means the game comes down to understanding how to coordinate one’s forces, and understanding pawn structures and how they define the play in the position. Of course, typical principles of tactics, positional aspects, attack, defence and endgame strategy are also relevant. Hence, players who aren’t great at memorising sharp opening variations but have a decent understanding of fundamental basics can find solace in this game.

 

Rules

Here are some basic rules to Chess960:

The pieces on the back rank are jumbled, but there are some rules to them.

1. There must be one rook on either side of the king.
2. There has to be one dark squared bishop and one light squared bishop for each side.
3. Castling always results in the king and rook ending up on the same squares where they would be if you castled in regular chess, i.e. castling kingside will have your king on g1 and rook on f1, while castling queenside will have your king on c1 and rook on d1.

For the full official Chess960 playing rules, see the FIDE Handbook Appendix.

The chessgames.com has a neat Chess960 ‘random position generator’, which also includes some quick rules and an explanation from Fischer himself. Every time the page is reloaded, a new starting position for Chess960 is presented.

 

World Champion

The current Chess960 World Champion is American Granmdaster Hikaru Nakamura, who is ranked within the top 10 in the world in regular chess. Nakamura defeated Armenian Grandmaster Levon Aronian (then world #6, now world #2 in regular chess) 3.5-0.5 to win the title in 2009. The ChessBase report on the Chess960 World Championship shows examples of Chess960 games between Nakamura and Aronian. Many top players in regular chess tend to top Chess960 as well. The current World Champion for normal chess, Indian Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand, is also one of the best Chess960 players in the world.

 

Where to play

There are numerous places you can play Chess960. Apart from the obvious way of meeting up at a chess club and playing friendly games in Chess960, you can also play it online. Chess servers like commercial sites Playchess.com or the Internet Chess Club (ICC), as well as free options like Free Internet Chess Server (FICS) all support Chess960.

 

Conclusion

Overall, Chess960 is a very interesting variant to test your chess skills in. Although I still prefer the original version of chess, this variant can serve as a good training tool.

 

Last edited: September 30, 2012

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