One of the most popular variants in chess is Fischer Random, also known as Chess960. This variant was championed by 11th World Chess Champion Bobby Fischer. The board, the pieces and the rules are the same as chess; the difference is that the pieces in the back rank are randomized. The reason it’s called Chess960 is because there are 960 possible positions. The randomization has to follow certain rules, such as allowing for light squared and dark squared bishops and placing the king between the two rooks for queenside and kingside castling.
In the above diagram, White can actually castle on move one by simply switching the king on f1 and the rook on g1!
The biggest appeal of Fischer Random is the fact that opening knowledge no longer becomes a major factor in the game. We see the top grandmasters relying on deep home preparation and opening memorization, with games sometimes ending in positions that they had studied before the game even started. In this regard, Chess960 serves as the great equalizer where both players are on their own from move one. During the 2019 Fischer Random World Championship American Grandmaster Wesley So defeated World Champion Magnus Carlsen with a crushing score in the finals to claim the Fischer Random World Championship Title. For those of you who are unfamiliar with top level chess, defeating Magnus Carlsen, let alone with a crushing score, is practically unheard of in regular chess.
While Chess960 has gained more popularity and endorsement from grandmasters in recent years, most tournaments still remain exclusive to the chess elite. Personally, I have played in only one official Fischer Random tournament: the first edition of European Fischer Random Cup during the 2018 Reykjavik Open. The tournament was held on Fischer’s 75th birthday during the rest day of the main tournament. The positions were drawn just a few minutes before the start of the round, so it was a bit confusing to get used to a new configuration every round. I only scored 5 points out of 9 games but it was a lot of fun to play in the event.
One of the biggest proponents of Chess960 is our ambassador Grandmaster Levon Aronian. Levon is quite passionate about Chess960 and sees it as the future of chess. The fans of the variant should know that he is going to create content on Fischer Random for ChessUp.
Levon recently competed in the 2021 Champions Showdown: Chess9LX held at the Saint Louis Chess Club alongside many top players, including the legendary World Champion Garry Kasparov. Since his retirement from chess in 2005, Kasparov has only participated in a handful of over the board events, all of which have been either rapid and blitz or Chess960. Even so, the former World Champion was one of the co-leaders in the penultimate round, but eventually slipped up in the final game and finished in the middle of the pack.
Final standings of 2021 Champions Showdown: Chess9LX
Photo courtesy of Saint Louis Chess Club
The tournament was a 9 round robin with a 10+2 time control. A new position was drawn before each round and was the same for each game of that round. Each new position was revealed to the players 10 minutes before the start of the round, giving them time to analyze and prepare. While the players weren’t allowed to use engine or outside assistance, they were able to discuss the position with other players.
The tournament was won by Cuban-American Grandmaster Leinier Dominguez, who is currently ranked #14 in the world and #3 in the US. Dominguez had a slow start to the tournament, but with four wins in a row in the middle of the tournament and a final round win over Aronian, he was able to climb to the top of the standings.
GM Leinier Dominguez, the winner of 2021 Champions Showdown:Chess9LX
In the next newsletter, I will talk about the recently completed Norway Chess tournament which was one by Magnus Carlsen and give a preview of the upcoming US and US Women’s Championship where I will be playing myself.