How To Save Chess

How To Save Chess

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In 1920s, the world chess champion Jose Raul Capablanca was at the height of his career. He was so much better than anyone else that he was called "the chess machine" due to the merciless precision of his play.

So when Capablanca predicted that chess was going to be "played out" soon and any grandmaster would be able to achieve a draw whenever he wished, people listened to him. To avert the inevitable "draw death" of chess, Capablanca even invented his own chess with a bigger board (8 x 10) and two extra pieces and pawns for each side.

"Capablanca's chess" never became popular and as far as I know, no tournament was ever played with this kind of chess. Probably the world championship match of 1927, when Capablanca lost his title to Alexander Alekhine, had something to do with the popularity of "Capablanca's chess."

Indeed, if Capablanca knew the secret to make a draw whenever he wanted, how come he lost six games in that match?

image via Wikipedia

The theory of the "draw death" of chess was put to rest.

Fast-forward 70 years and chess received a new deadly threat. The opening theory became so developed that allegedly chess players could just memorize a bunch of opening lines and there was no more room to play anymore.

 Fischer Random Chess chess to the rescue!

With 960 unique positions, no one will be able to learn even a tiny percent of possible opening positions. Nevermind that the majority of new positions are very unnatural or plain ugly -- the main goal was to save our beloved game! But can't be this goal achieved by other methods, preferably by not ruining the inner harmony of classical chess? I think there are dozens of simple methods.

We can start with a slightly modified initial position:


Not only will it completely eliminate some openings (think of Ruy Lopez: 3.Bb5?? a6xb5, thanks!), but will also reduce White's opening advantage in general. Look at some popular openings:

The Fried Liver Attack: 


White has no "theoretical" Bb5+!

Or look at the Queen's Gambit Accepted:



While Black's a6 pawn is very useful to protect the c4 pawn, while White's pawn on a3 looks quite foolish.

Or the Sveshnikov Sicilian:


White cannot play the best move Ndb5.

I could go on and on, but the point is already clear, with a tiny change to the initial position, you can pretty much throw away most of modern theory, while preserving the integrity of the initial position.

(I suspect that people who play the Najdorf Sicilian and spend the whole tempo to play the 5...a6 move will call me a genius for this suggestion Smile)


Another suggestion would be to start the game from the classical initial position, but the first pawn moves are chosen randomly by a computer. It is close in spirit to Fischer Random Chess, but the integrity of the classical chess would still be saved. For example, you might start a game from this weird position:


We can see again that pretty much all the traditional openings are gone, the harmony of the initial position is preserved and there is so much room for creativity! In fact some chess players might like it so much that they would reach this position voluntarily, as the next game shows:


But if you are really concerned about the future of the classical chess and want to save it, I have really good advice for you. Just work on your chess and get better!

I don't recall Carlsen or Caruana talking about chess being "played out."  And if somebody comes to you whining about the "draw death" of chess, ask him to play Stockfish or Houdini and see if he will be able to draw one game out of 100!

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