Do You Like Weird Chess?
GM Serper can't stand chess960, but made an exception for a recent tournament.

Do You Like Weird Chess?

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The regular readers of my column know that I hate political correctness.

In my old article I explained it is probably the biggest threat to Western civilization. Very soon people will stop expressing their true beliefs out of fear that their words will be twisted in a very nasty way. Take for example a very simple conversation between two chess players:

Player 1: "I don't like the Ruy Lopez. It is too plain for me."

Player 2: "Well, then play the Sicilian. It is much sharper and will probably fit your style perfectly!"

Now imagine the same conversation in the near future, say in the year 2025.

Player 1: "I don't like the Ruy Lopez. It is too plain for me."

Player 2: "Oh, so you don't like the classical openings? I see now...You hate our whole classical heritage! Haters like you are repulsive!"

angry person

So, while freedom of speech is not completely taken away from us, I'll dare to say that I don't like Fischer random chess (chess960). I could give you dozens of reasons why I dislike this chess variant, but here is the main one. It is a well-known fact that soccer is a much more popular spectator sport than chess. People who normally don't follow soccer at all spent many hours watching the recent World Cup!

How many people who are not really interested in chess are going to watch the upcoming world championship match, Carlsen-Caruana? The reason chess lags behind is very simple: most people understand soccer, but in order to understand chess you need some chess background. 

Now imagine what I, a grandmaster who has been playing chess for over 40 years, feel when I look at any initial position of Fischer random chess and have no clue what's going on there. In moments like this I feel that I would rather watch soccer!

Actually, this is exactly what I did. I've ignored all Fischer random events, including the recent Carlsen-Nakamura match.

Carlsen vs Nakamura, game 5 Fischer Random

Carlsen vs Nakamura in chess960. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

However, I couldn't possibly miss the Champions Showdown in St. Louis. The only reason I made an exception for this tournament was the participation of Garry Kasparov, the most influential player. I cannot say that I enjoyed this tournament as much as the last year's event with Kasparov, but it was interesting to see how top players play chess960. 


Kasparov at the Champions Showdown. | Photo: Lennart Ootes/Saint Louis Chess Club.

I want to share a trick that I used in order to follow the event.  If you just skip the first 15 moves, then the games start resembling the regular chess. You wouldn't try to discuss any serious subject with a drunk person, would you? Let him sleep! Next morning, despite a hangover, he should be more or less capable of making intelligent decisions. 

So, don't waste your time on the "opening" part of Fischer random.  For example, look at the starting position of the following game:

Whenever I see a starting position like this, the first thing that comes to my mind is the funny scene from the comedy Bruce Almighty:

Now fast-forward 15 moves and we can see something that resembles real chess: Black's space advantage on the kingside and a very strong d5 square in the center.

Of course if you really want to learn how to play this kind of position, then good old chess will provide many examples. Here is a masterpiece by none other than Topalov himself!

Of course, even after first 15 moves you are still not completely out of the woods, since an unexpected castle can completely distort the picture. Look at the next fragment:

True to his aggressive style, Topalov avoids the trade of queens hoping to attack Black's king, but...

You didn't expect it, did you? Suddenly the black king is completely safe, while White's monarch is defenseless!

It looks like many super-grandmasters have suffered due to the weird castling rules of Fischer random. Take a look at the next game:

Apparently a rook landing on an attacked square as a result of a castle is not a concern in chess960!

If you are lucky and a Fischer random game lasts more than 50 moves, you can finally breathe out and enjoy the game that we all love. You can even learn a trick or two! What should White play in the following position? 

In the game, Aronian missed a golden opportunity:

It would be unfair to omit the main advantage of chess960: If you like truly surrealistic positions, this is the game for you! I doubt that the following exquisite combination would be possible in regular chess:

You see, I am trying to stay objective even though I don't like chess960. We all see things differently. 

There are many grandmasters who like Fischer Random chess more than traditional chess. Another chess variant, bughouse, is a perennial favorite in scholastic chess and this is totally fine.

Some people just prefer weird stuff!

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