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Jennifer on 960 (Fischer Random) and K v.Q Print E-mail
By Jennifer Shahade   
September 2, 2011
Jen960.jpgThe first time I played chess 960 (aka Fischer Random Chess) was a quick game at 2 AM in Toronto against GM Pascal Charbonneau. We were drowsy while participating in an all-night art festival, Nuit Blanche which recreated a Duchamp and John Cage collaboration. It was natural to try to inject some randomness into an event honoring Duchamp, so we used dice to select the starting position. I lost the game and realized how much energy you must put into developing your pieces harmoniously in 960.

In the United States, we often refer to this type of chess as "Fischer Random", since Bobby Fischer himself invented and advocated the game. In the rest of the world, it's usually called chess 960, which refers to the number of possible starting positions. 

I always wanted to play in a serious chess 960 tournament, but the Chess 960 World Championship in Mainz, Germany was cancelled in 2010.

The Internet Chess Club has a 960 blitz players' pool but the Fischer Random Chess Championship at the US Open gave me an opportunity to play a slower time control game with 960. Although the turnout was modest, with just a dozen entrants, GM Larry Kaufman (who wrote an article about the US Open side event last year) and bughouse legend Kazim Gulamali both participated.

One of the things that fascinates me about 960 is that some positions are a lot easier to play for Black, while others require creativity and brute force calculation to avoid disaster. In the Fischer Random Championship event, organized by Fischer Random committee chair Damian Nash, we drew a different position for every round of the tournament.

I won the first game and then faced Kazim in the following starting position. From the get-go I thought this position would be tough for Black, because the most vicious attacking pieces are clustered together- major kingside attacks are in the offing and Black will of course be a tempo behind.

1.c4.jpg
 
1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.b3 b6 4.Bb2 Ng6 5.Ng3 Bb7 6.h4 Nf4 7.Bxf6 exf6 8.e4

8.e4.jpg
8...0-0
When you castle in 960, it works just like regular chess- even though the king is already on g8 he doesn't move in castling- the h8 rook simply hops over to f8.
9. d4 cxd4 10. Qxd4
9.Qxd4.jpg
And now I am in danger of getting squeezed to death but had prepared the strong 10...f5! and achieved a good position after 11. Re1 Ne6 12. Qc3 Bxg3 13. fxg3 fxe4 14. Ng5 Nxg5 15. hxg5
14hxg5.jpg

Black is doing very well although I had used too much time to get here and went on to lose the game. In Fischer Random, it's important to think of a 30 minute game more as a 15 or 20 minute game, because unlike the regular starting position in chess, you have to come up with opening strategies and concepts of development from scratch, not relying on well-ingrained patterns. This is why it particularly impressed me to hear that GM Alexandra Kosteniuk played a simul in chess 960, with a different position on each board! Kosteniuk will be among five top female players participating in K v.Q, an event that will kick off next week at the Saint Louis Chess Club in conjunction with the World Chess Hall of Fame opening.
 
Kazim250.jpg
US Open Fischer Random and bug champ Kazim Gulamali, Photo Monroi.com


Kazim Gulamali won clear first at the tournament. He had a better position in the penultimate round against GM Kaufman, who fought to a draw. Both Gulamali and Kaufman were paired down in the final round, so it seemed likely that they would be co-champs. However, Kaufman's talented young Hawaiian opponent Likeke Aipa scored an upset, clinching clear second. Aipa's win paved the way for a clear victory by Kazim Gulamali. Kazim also won the bug tournament with Jeremy Keller and had a good tournament in the US Open, notching a win against GM Julio Becerra. I got a chance to talk to Kazim about his favorite variant, bughouse and his goals for classical chess. Look out for that interview in the coming weeks.
 
Kaufmanboard1.jpg
Likeke Aipa and GM Larry Kaufman, Photo Damian Nash


I tied for third after winning my final round game. After six moves, we reached the following position :
6.Bc3.jpg
Black to Move

6...Bxd4?
In 960, positions are often more fragile than regular chess. Even normally it would be wrong to allow White such a strong unopposed bishop but in this position, it's basically lost because Black can't defend his king easily enough with his queen entombed on b8.
7.Bxd4 Ne6 8.Bc3 a6 9.Nf5 b5 10.Qd3

10Qd3.jpg

Black's position is already indefensible because 10...b4 allows the crushing 11. Bxg7!

When playing 960, it's important to remember to follow basic opening principles such as development and centralization. To be sure, this can be more challenging in chess 960- in the standard starting position, the pieces are poised for graceful development. In 960 you often find pieces fighting for air. In particular, I think the knights are weaker pieces in 960, since unlike in chess where they easily can hop to f3 or c3, it's often hard for them to find stable squares.

KVQ.jpgI'm really excited to deepen my understanding of 960 as some of the most creative chess minds in the World, including GM Hikaru Nakamura will face off next week in alternating rounds of 960 chess and rapid chess in K v. Q aka the Battle of the Sexes in Saint Louis. For more information see the calendar of events and tune in for live commentary by me and GM Yasser Seirawan at livestream.com/uschess starting on Saturday, 9/10/11.
 
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