Chess 960: The Future of Chess?


Do you hate memorizing opening lines? Even if this is not the case, you still might feel as though your game is plateauing. Let’s face it most players have become very fixated in their ways, using only a handful of openings. Logically, this means we are only getting exposed to certain positions and ideas over and over, perhaps obscuring entire aspects of the game from our scope. To top it off, even if you are a strong player you could still fall victim to a weaker player with the latest opening prep. At first thought this may not seem to be a problem, however engines have advanced opening theory well into the middle game and even the endgame in some cases. It seems as though the game is no longer properly OTB (over the board).

So what’s the solution? According to Fischer it’s Chess 960, where the start position is randomized with all other rules remaining the same. I for one believe that Chess 960 will rise in prominence to be on par with classical chess and I hope this change comes sooner than later. Not only does this chess variant address the earlier concerns it also allows you to truly think, and think quite deep, starting on move 1! You now get to forge ahead and discover your own opening theory. Simply put, YOU are actually allowed to play the opening. In a world where new discovery is few and far between, imagine having an opening variation carrying your namesake. With 960 different start positions there are more than enough new ideas waiting to be uncovered.

Oddly enough Chess 960 has not yet caught on with the mainstream perhaps being resisted by the old establishment. I liken it to a powerful alternative fuel still not being put into use until every drop of oil has been spent. An ignored gold mine, Chess 960 is rarely seen in tournament play, and when it is, it is only played at rapid time controls. A game with the most to discover, requiring the most thought, only to be relegated to an unrated speed game?! If a pioneering organization dared to create 960 tournament opportunities under the classical (as well as rapid/blitz) time controls with a respective 960 rating system, I believe it would not only be a successful investment but possibly even the savior of the game.

The following 960 game is actually a correspondence game that me and my good buddy Colin played on chess.com. We are very close in rating and have played each other many times (though only in unrated rapid or blitz). Colin had the white pieces.

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Notice in the above start position the weaknesses on b2 and b7. Rightly so both Colin and I play to exploit and defend these squares as well as free our Queens from their corners. In addition to this you may have already noticed that 0-0-0 can be played immediately if chosen.

1.g4 c6 2.c3 g5 3.Nb3 Bd6?!

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Okay so clearly my last move seems anti-principled, but this is 960 and I have my reasons. Basically the dark square bishop is bad on its start square and may even get blocked in by my knight. I wish to give the piece more space and cross squares as well as defend c5 should the knight choose to jump there. The down side is the obvious blocking in of my central pawns and light square bishop.

4.d4 h5 5.gxh5 Qxh5 6.Ng3 Qh4 7.Nf5 Qxh2 8.Nxd6 Qxd6

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Colin has gone down a pawn, and although I am not quite sure if this was entirely intentional, White nonetheless has complete compensation due to his lead in development and positional trumps. My queen has now moved 4 times in the opening. I can still recall how confounding the sheer numbers of candidate moves can be in the opening. Because the game was correspondence each move feels as if it is its’ own entire game, its’ own battle. Furthermore, because it is 960, the game can literally be decided in the first few moves.

9.Bd2 f6 10.O-O-O

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I believe that instead of 10. 0-0-0, the immediate 10. f4! should’ve been played where black can no longer hold onto the pawn realistically. An example line is 10. f4 Ne6 11. fxg5 fxg5 12. Qh7! where Black either concedes the pawn with 12…Rf8 or plays the reckless 12…Rg7?! which is more trouble than it’s worth after 13. Bf5!

10…Nb6 11.f4 Nc4 12.fxg5 Nxd2 13.Nxd2 fxg5 14.e4 O-O-O 15.e5 Qd5 16.Qh6 Ne6 17.Rdf1 Qb5 18.Ne4

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Black has succeeded in holding onto the extra pawn as well as keeping the king quite safe proving that my earlier decisions not to play for the center pawn pushes were somewhat justifiable exceptions to the classical principles. However as is the case with most gambits, White has enjoyed much faster development and is already playing the middlegame while I was still struggling out of the opening. The current position is perhaps the most critical of the entire game and for quite a while I had been preparing and fully intending to play 18…Bg6! which completes Blacks development and sets up multiple threats that could very quickly lead to a won game for Black. For example if White attempts to directly win the pawn back with 19. Nxg5 then 19…Bxb1 20.Nxe6? is met by the intermezzo 20…Qd3! threatening mate, holding onto the bishop and recapturing the knight on e6 for an easy win. If instead 19. Nxg5 Bxb1 20.Kxg1? then 20…Rxg5! winning the knight due to the Rook on f1 being eyed by Black’s queen. If neither of these moves can be played then Black simply gets to maintain the pawn and has both caught up in development but with the added bonus of a safer king. Now all this seems great but there is even more, White is practically in zugzwang now. If White attempts to remove their f1 rook from the Black queen’s sights with say 19.Rf2 (aiming to double rooks on the g file) as well as avoid the aforementioned sideline, they end up losing even more material! Simply 19…Bxe4 20.Bxe4 Rh8! and Black’s queen is trapped. Should Black play to avoid the Queen trap (and protect the f8 rook) by playing, for example, 19.Qh3, then 19…Nf4 threatening 20…Ne2 is devastating. Now although I did see these ideas during the game I failed to see them holistically. Instead I had the lines all fragmented in my mind and to make matters worse I miscounted the tempi in one of the sidelines by giving White two moves in a row. This is a weakness in my game I have noticed on more than one occasion, and I continue to struggle with correcting it. Because of my failure to correctly judge the position I decided on a more forced line that I had noticed since observing the White king’s exposure.

18…Nxd4!? 19.cxd4 Qc4+ 20.Bc2 Bg6 21.Nc3 Bxc2 22.Kxc2 Qxd4 23.Rxg5 Rh8 24.Qg7 Rh2+ 25.Rg2 Rxg2+ 26.Qxg2 Qxe5 27.Qe2 Qxe2+ 28.Nxe2

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So after the dust from the knight sacrifice settles I have three connected unopposed pawns for the piece. The piece sacrifice is clearly not as promising a move as 18. Bg6 but it is hard for me not to play a sacrifice if I see that it is a) safe and b) hopefully surprising. Possibly the most important factor in my choosing this move is that it wrestled the initiative to Black, no one enjoys being pushed around. I was initially surprised Colin opted to trade Queens immediately, but as he wisely explained it later, his King’s safety was a concern. Now the question is, do I have a win, is it a straight forward draw, or can I even manage to lose?

28…e5 29.Kd3 d5 30.Rf5 e4+ 31.Kd4 Rd7 32.b4 Kc7 33.Nc3 Kb6 34.Re5 a5 35.a3

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At this point I considered every single move (including the obvious axb4) however, as far as I can see, they all lead to a draw the only difference being some easier than others. Ideally I’d love to pass on this move but even then White can simply play his rook up and down the e file. The problem with trading pawns on b4 is that the a pawn is insignificant and White’s savior is and has always been the b pawn which keeps winning ideas such as c5 from being played. This problem b pawn is why I chose to allow the following tactic and loss of a pawn.

35…Ka6 36.bxa5 Kxa5 37.Nxe4 b6 38.Nf6 Rd6

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And with my last move I thought to offer a draw as White can now give the knight for the c and d pawns as well as trade the rooks, which is precisely what happened. My only previous hope was that Colin might believe I had blundered the e4 pawn and perhaps go for more than the draw, playing the Knight back to c3, giving me more chances to advance my pawns. Of course that was a silly dream and once he played the natural and dreaded cold water splash of 38.Nf6 I was forced to wake up.

39. Nxd5 Rxd5 40. Rxd5+ cxd5 41. Kxd5 Ka4 42. Kc6 Kxa3 43. Kxb6 Draw

That’s all she wrote, hope you enjoyed. As you can see chess purists need not fear. All three stages of the game were still played, and in fact the middlegame and endgame remain very similar to that of standard chess. Save your money and time spent on opening books. Play more 960.

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