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Chess960: The Opening Makes a Comeback!

  • webmaster
  • | Jul 7, 2009
  • | 24088 views
  • | 131 comments

I'm definitely a candidate for "most excited that chess.com added chess960." I remember when I first joined the team in January, Erik and Jay asked what ideas I had about the future development of chess and chess.com. I told them that in my opinion opening theory was choking the game, and Fischer Random (or something similar) was the future of the game. [I have a terrible memory, so I'm basically making up this scene for dramatic effect] Erik looked at me with a very serious, interested face: "are you serious?" while Jay just groaned loudly. Basically, chess960 had occurred to them before as a feature they'd like, but it was going to be a hellishly involved project for Jay, so it was not near the top of the list. But I think I had some influence on them there, and they decided this really was an important feature.

So at some point (this part is easy for everyone but him to gloss over), Jay rolled up his sleeves and worked really hard on this, and then ta-da before I knew it, they were talking about releasing it in a couple days, and it was my turn, to turn an incredulous look back and forth between them and ask "seriously??" When I'd ascertained they were serious, I was very happy. A few days later, chess960 was released and I wanted to get the inaugural game in. I'm sure I did not actually get it, but I did get a game really fast. I went into the thread on new features, and posted that I was looking for a game; by the time I clicked back to my homepage, a challenge was awaiting me.

Awesome!!

Now, for all my enthusiasm, I'm no great expert on random. But I have a few ideas about how to play the opening, and I'll now publish [probably chess.com's inaugural] article on the subject. If you are a complete novice, this should hopefully be of some use.

 

 

 

 

Getting out of the car the other day, Jay asked me if there were any particular things I looked for in the random starting positions. Unfortunately, there is not, so I can't give you any advice about the first move.

The first thing I generally check for are bishops or queens on h1/a1. Queens are often terrible on a1/h1 Think about their ideal placement in many openings, e2/d2 from whence they can support action in any direction, and quickly transfer. a1/h1 is about as far away as they can be, because you either have to clear your first rank of pieces and then transfer them along the first rank (often impeded by rooks which seldom leave the first rank) or you have to clear the second rank of pawns, which also takes a lot of moves, and can to boot leave you with myriad weaknesses. But in chess960, you'll fairly often find someone leaving their queen on a1/h1 for a while, because it's inconvenient to improve her-- and then regretting it later when the game opens and they find themselves hopelessly lacking in coordination and power. Yes, the queen is very important!! And we often forget how big an impact she has because she doesn't usually end up on such a bad square.

Here are other first move considerations:

- Is any pawn undefended in the starting position? This will often play an important tactical role in the first few moves. Remember the importance of the f2/f7 squares in e-pawn openings? Imagine: each new position you see may have its own magic square like that, with varying importance on the play. Sometimes there is an undefended pawn, which, if captured by a knight, would be a smothered mate. So I almost always check for this second.

- Does one side of the board have both knights or both bishops? Can you imagine why I ask myself this question? This question is unique to random and has no analogy in normal chess where kside and qside each have one bishop and one knight. Here's the importance of this question: knights are not particularly fast/good at transferring from one wing to the other. If your king is on the opposite wing from both your opponent's knights, they won't be bothering him any time soon. Bishops can adjust more quickly, but it should also be noted that they naturally fire at the opposite side of the board. So if you castle to the opposite side, where the bishops will already be raking your king's defenders, you are saving them some trouble.

In the standard chess position, castling kingside or queenside is largely a matter of expediency, plus a question of "do you want to be on the same side or opposite side of your opponent's king." In a lot of random positions, there is a clearly preferable side of the board for the king to be on, and I'm willing to go through some amount of contortions to make that happen. Thus this is a very important question to ask at the beginning, as I figure out in what order I want to develop.

- How easily are the squares e4, d4 attacked/defended? And by what? Think to the standard position. d4 is more easily controlled by white than e4. Thus: if you play d4, black will have less counterattacks against your central position, but you will have a harder time following up with e4 if you want to try to take over the whole board. Comparatively if you play e4, it is quite easy to follow up with d4 in essentially every opening, however, your e4 point is more vulnerable to counterattack. This, as far as I know, is the basis of the sharper nature of most e4 openings compared to d4 openings over the first 8-10 moves.

So, just as in the standard position, you'd like to start by taking over the center (this is chess after all!). So quickly consider e4 and d4. If I play e4, how can he counterattack this pawn, and how easily could i follow with d4 (or f4)? Same questions for d4. Another important point is, how will he attack the pawn? Imagine bishops on h1, a1, h8, a8. In these positions it is often dangerous to play e4 OR d4, because imagine 1.e4 b6 attacking your e4 pawn, 2.g3 defending the pawn. but now if Bh1 is undefended, your e4 pawn can no longer move, and black is free to play moves like f5. I've seen white worse within 2-3 moves in some such cases!

- Finally, just as in the standard position, I try to look for moves that will "force" or "encourage," a weaker response from the opponent. (like 2.Nf3 after e4 e5 in standard chess).

Here are the first ten moves of my first chess960 game on chess.com, with some commentary that should give some idea of how I approach concrete questions in the opening.

 

 

 

 

I hope you, too, will enjoy chess960. Here are two links to help you get started:

To start a 960 game, go here: http://www.chess.com/echess/create_game.html and under Advanced Options choose Type: Chess960.

For more info, read here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chess960

Comments


  • 18 months ago

    SaharanKnight

    What alternate castling rule?  Isn't castling the same as in standard, that is, castling in the same two positions, left-side and right-side?  Why would we need another castling rule, since it's the castling position only that counts?

  • 18 months ago

    Mr_YinYang

    excellent article. one of the few to hit upon some 960 theory. thanx dr_chess for putting the link up.

  • 18 months ago

    Mr_YinYang

    [COMMENT DELETED]
  • 2 years ago

    SuperCourgette

    Sometimes, I really don't know what the chess.com program understands :)

    But I know that e.g. Fritz 12 can analyze chess960. Never tested that option though.

  • 2 years ago

    himath2009

    Oops, that should have been obvious - allowing for the alternate castling rules (esp. taking into account all different positions from which castling is legal) must be a programming nightmare indeed! Thank you, IM dpruess...

  • 2 years ago

    IM dpruess

    i imagine it's because our computer engine does not understand the alternate castling rule. and thus can't evaluate correctly any variations up till both sides are castled.

  • 2 years ago

    himath2009

    Dear IM dpruess, I find the post mortem computer analysis on CC games a very usefull and instructive feature. Do you know of any reason why Chess.com does not provide this option on Chess960 games?

  • 2 years ago

    IM dpruess

    nice to hear :-) i'm glad you enjoyed a good game of [960] chess !

  • 2 years ago

    himath2009

    Very nice, IM dpruess...

    A few days ago, I brushed aside my decade long prejudice against 960 and played my first game here. Well, it felt good - like when we were kids (some 50 years back, in my case ). A real joy to be thinking purely from first principles again and away from the agony that if you forgot, e.g., move 16th of any given Dragon variation you would be decimated.

    So, I 'll just have to keep reminding myself that my prejudices, like all prejudices for that matter, can be - and most often are - ridiculous.

    Thank you...

  • 2 years ago

    SuperCourgette

    I just stumbled upon that article about opening theory: http://chess960jungle.blogspot.de/2011/05/chess960-naming-pawn-moves.html

    Haven't read it completely yet but it looks interesting.

  • 3 years ago

    SuperCourgette

    I just found out that Gligoric has written a book on chess 960: "Shall we play Fischerandom chess?" (2002). Recommended by J. Donaldson [see: http://www.jeremysilman.com/book_reviews_jd/jd_shall_we_play_fisher.html ]

    It must be excellent! Anyone who read it around here?

  • 3 years ago

    ochestnut

    [COMMENT DELETED]
  • 4 years ago

    SuperCourgette

    Of course! I should have remembered it.

    Thanks for the clarification.

  • 4 years ago

    IM dpruess

    ZucchiniMann,

    very happy to be best in a pool of one Tongue out

    to answer your question: there is a rule in chess960 that the pieces must be set up so that the king is between the two rooks. SO-- if one rook was on f1 and the king on g1, that would mean the other rook was on h1. in that case kingside castling would be to move the rook on h1 over to f1 while the king wouldn't move. and queenside castling would be to move the king to c1 and the f1 rook to d1.

  • 4 years ago

    SuperCourgette

    @ dpruess: This is the best article I ever read about chess960 and you are the best author I ever read about chess960. You are also the first one. Tongue out

    Still, very instructive stuff.

    Chess960 is so interesting because you don't have all these loadtrucks of opening theory to be afraid of. The opening can sometimes be full of original tactics.

    And you don't need to look for a new board or new pieces (as in Capablanca chess or Seirawan chess).

    On the downside, as Yasser Seirawan mentioned it, in many games, both players just spend about 10-12 moves to restore the harmony given in a "normal" chess game.

    There could be advances in the opening theory of chess960, databases: look at  http://www.chess-960.org/14450/index.php

    But that only makes sense for correspondence games,because of the memorization issue. And it's going to take time: 960 possible start positions and only one of those has been deeply analysed but not solved in approx. 400 years!

    For me, the benefits definitely outweigh the drawbacks.

    PS: a tricky question just came through my mind. It could happen that you get your King on g1 and a Rook on f1 at the beginning of the game, i.e. as if you had already castled. What happens then? Are you still authorized to "castle" short, i.e. to give a move to your opponent? It could only be of some interest in a studylike position where you would like to exploit a zugzwang.

  • 5 years ago

    gentlerain

    Just joined a chess960 tournament, so your guidelines are extremely helpful. Thanks!

  • 5 years ago

    rborn

    would it be possible for chess.com to add chess960 to its facebook app ?

  • 5 years ago

    maxwell4

    Where can you play Chess 960?

  • 5 years ago

    knight125804

    Its interesting but why rearrange the pieces

  • 5 years ago

    Colin_Sackem

    How do you play 960?

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