Chess is a game whose rules were determined centuries ago and are thought to be unchangeable. Chess aficionados would be offended at the idea that it is not exciting and that some changes might benefit it. Without getting into that particular argument, there is no question that because it is so rigidly structured, players nowadays, aided by computers, have studied and memorized most of the openings and defenses and their variations so that there is little surprise, at least in the early stages. As I mentioned in an earlier post, one reason I gave up chess was the realization that to really improve, I would have to drop all my other activities and devote myself to studying and memorizing a huge number of openings and defenses. This was just not worth it to me.
One unfortunate result of this is the increasing number of draws at the highest levels of the game. The 2018 World Championship between Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana ended with all twelve regular games ending in draws. Carlsen won the tie-breaker games in which the time allowed for play is steadily reduced, one of the innovations introduced to reduce the number of draws.
But it appears that there is another innovation that looks pretty interesting and it is called Fischer Random Chess or Chess960. In this variation, white’s eight pieces on the back row are randomly arranged at the start, subject to certain constraints such as the two bishops having to be on opposite colors. But like in regular chess, black’s pieces mirror white’s arrangement. There are 960 possible legal starting arrangements of the pieces, which makes it impossible for players to prepare openings and defenses in advance. They have to wing it, using general strategies and tactics.
This was introduced by Bobby Fischer in 1996 and other forms of it date back even earlier to the 18th century. Apparently Fischer disliked the memorizing element of the game and he himself played just a very few openings and defenses, preferring to use his energies in creative middle and end game play. The international chess federation recognized this variation in 2008 and there was even a world championship in 2019.
What surprised me is that I had never heard of this variation until this week. It looks like it not only could be a lot of fun to play, it may allow for an entirely different kind of player to rise to the top.