Kasparov To Make Chess960 Debut
Garry Kasparov, playing last year in St. Louis. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Kasparov To Make Chess960 Debut

PeterDoggers
PeterDoggers
Aug 24, 2018, 1:22 PM |
35 | Chess Event Coverage

This year, we'll again see Garry Kasparov at the chessboard. The 13th world champion is among the players in the Champions Showdown in St. Louis next month, where the format will be matches of Chess960—which Kasparov never tried before.

Only a few months after Kasparov tried bughouse for the first time, the chess legend will also be making his first moves of Chess960. From September 10 to 14, the Saint Louis Chess Club is hosting another showdown with Fischer Random games only.

Like last year, there will be matches:

  • Garry Kasparov vs Veselin Topalov
  • Hikaru Nakamura vs Peter Svidler
  • Wesley So vs Anish Giri
  • Sam Shankland vs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave
  • Levon Aronian vs Leinier Dominguez

The participants will play six rapid games (30+10) and 14 blitz games (5+5) for a total prize fund of $250,000. The games will all be Chess960, meaning that the position of the pieces in the starting position will be shuffled.

The name Chess960 is based on the total number of possible starting positions (although one of them, that of standard chess, won't be used!). The 11th world champion Bobby Fischer invented and strongly advocated for this specific variation of shuffle chess.

The early 2000s saw annual world-class tournaments in Mainz, Germany, but after that there was less interest in Chess960—until this year. 2018 is clearly seeing a revival of this type of chess.

In early January, Chess.com organized its first Chess960 Championship. In February a match between Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura was organized in Norway, and two months later, the organizers of the Reykjavik Open held a Chess960 tournament as well.

Meanwhile, the president of the Icelandic Chess Federation has officially asked FIDE to start keeping track of ratings for Chess960. This request will be discussed next month at the FIDE congress in Batumi. 

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Nakamura and Carlsen playing Chess960 in February of this year. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

For Kasparov, it will be the first attempt at Chess960. He never participated in the Mainz tournaments. He commented to Chess.com: 

I never criticized Chess960 for what it was, only the idea that it was somehow superior to classical chess, which is absurd. It's like saying the triathlon is better if you remove the swimming segment because you don't like swimming! Nor does random chess necessarily need to discard the preparation factor entirely.

As I proposed at the time, probably 20 years ago, that by selecting a few positions per year, or even per event in advance, you would eliminate the dependence on decades of classical chess theory while still allowing for freshness and for players to prepare opening strategies instead of being tossed directly into a middlegame.

Garry Kasparov St. Louis 2017

Kasparov last year in St. Louis. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Tony Rich of the Saint Louis Chess Club explained the decision to go for Chess960 this year: "We always look for fun formats for the fall matches here in St. Louis. Chesss960 seems to be one that's on the upswing."

Rich admitted there's added value to Kasparov's Fischer Random debut: "Having known that Garry has not played any 960 is huge for the club."

Kasparov: "It's not serious chess, and that's the point. I'm not a serious chess player anymore! The choice of Chess960 is a practical one. I want to play and to honor the incredible support St. Louis and Rex Sinquefield are giving to chess. But as my previous 'St. Louis comebacks' have shown, I don't have time to prepare to any decent standard, especially not my own, and this makes me miserable. Random chess lets me enjoy myself and get publicity for chess without having to disrupt my life for months of preparation."

The matchups are not random. The American players, as well as Aronian and Kasparov, got to pick their opponents. Kasparov also told Chess.com how he picked Topalov:

Topalov is a great player, a former world number-one who is still playing at an elite level, and against whom I played many important events and games. My last classical game in 2005, for example, and the very first match of Advanced Chess in 1998. Plus, it's nice to play against an old rival from my professional days instead of against a youngster who only knows me from a chess database and Wikipedia!

Veselin Topalov told Chess.com: "I have never played Chess960 in my life. I don’t think it will become more popular than normal chess, but see the point of those who liked it. We start thinking on move one. I feel really honored to play Garry. Not so many players had this chance since he retired. I have no idea about my chances; I still have to learn the rules."

Peter Svidler, who is commenting the Sinquefield Cup for the Russian audience in St. Louis, commented about playing one of the matches next month: 

I haven't played 960 competitively since I lost that final match against Levon Aronian. [Mainz 2006 - PD.] The title obviously comes with an asterix there, but I was four-time world champion in 960 between I think '02 and and '06. (...) But then I lost to Levon, who is also a giant of the game.

I've been missing the game. I really like the game. The chance to play it in this setting, against a player like Hikaru, who... I'll start as an underdog, I have no illusions.

Play will begin at 1 p.m. each day September 11-14 at the Saint Louis Chess Club. As always, there will be a live video broadcast as well available on uschesschamps.com.

Mike Klein contributed to this story.

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