The Saint Louis Shuffle - First Move Chess -First Move Chess

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Over the long history of the game of chess, there have been numerous attempts to change it – some interesting, others outright bizarre, and even many being somewhat pathetic. Chess, as we know, is the result of an evolution from the original version that was invented thousands of years ago. Therefore, it is understandable that so many people try to invent new nuances to the royal game, especially when they attempt to tag their name with it.

But when a world champion comes up with a new kind of chess, everybody takes notices. Back in the 1920s, Emanuel Lasker and Jose Raul Capablanca both decried the death of chess by too many draws, and they touted changing the board dimensions and adding extra pieces. Neither proved popular. But in one of his more lucid moments after winning the world crown, Bobby Fischer – in the 1990s – refined the rules to the early 19th-century variant ‘Baseline Chess’, calling his version ‘Fischer Random’.

It involved the placement of the first-rank pieces being randomly shuffled before each game, and now more or less universally called ‘Chess 960’ because there are 960 different starting position. And one of the richest and strongest Chess 960 events ever is currently ongoing right now at Rex Sinquefield’s fabled Saint Louis Chess Club, the Champions Showdown, with a prize pool of $250,000 being fought out between ten of the top names in the game doing the “shuffle.”

All eyes have been on the return to the fray of now-retired Garry Kasparov – but the former world champion is finding the going tough in his match-up with another ex-world champion, Bulgaria’s Veselin Topalov. The other matches see Hikaru Nakamura taking on Peter Svidler, Wesley So vs Anish Giri, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave vs Sam Shankland, and Levon Aronian vs Leinier Dominguez.

The three days of rapid and blitz matches (with a rapid win counting for 2-points; blitz 1-point) have now ended, and it now all comes down to an intense final day of eight straight blitz games to decide the overall winners.

Standings:
Veselin Topalov 10.5-7.5 Garry Kasparov
Hikaru Nakamura 9.5-8.5 Peter Svidler
Wesley So 11-7 Anish Giri
MVL 11.5-6.5 Sam Shankland
Levon Aronian 12-6 Leinier Dominguez

Photo: Anish Giri begins to get “shirty” with it! | © Lennart Ootes / Saint Louis Chess Club

GM Anish Giri – GM Wesley So
Champions Showdown Rapid, (5)
1.f4 f5 2.g4 fxg4 3.Rxg4 One of the unbridled “joys” of Chess 960 is seeing such obscure opening sequences – some, like this starting position, resembling a sort of unorthodox opening thematic tournament! 3…Nf6 4.Rg1 b6 5.e3 e6 6.Ba6+ Bb7 7.Qe2 Nf7 8.Nf3 g6 9.Nf2 And another joy, is watching how players develop rooks and knights when they start from awkward squares, such as here. 9…Qe7 10.b4 Giri has certainly won the battle of the “opening” with his big space advantage. 10…Bg7 11.h4 Nd5 12.Bxg7 Rxg7 13.a3 e5 14.fxe5 Nxe5 15.Nxe5 Qxe5 16.Rg5 Qe6 17.Qc4 c6 18.Qd4 Re7 19.Bc4 So does his best to defend a very difficult position – but what is particularly impressive now is how Giri very imaginatively goes about combining the forces of his rooks and queen for a dominating position. 19…Qf6 20.Rxd5! Qxf2 21.Rd6 Kc7 22.Rb3! Superb stuff from Giri, who finds the most ingenious way to combine the forces of his ‘heavy furniture’ down the d-file! 22…Rf8 23.Rd3 Qf5 24.Rxc6+! This simple tactic not only wins a pawn, but it forces a won game with the defences around the Black king being compromised. 24…Bxc6 25.Qd6+ Kb7 26.Qxe7 b5 An ugly move to have to make, but it was forced, otherwise b5 from White was either mating or winning material. 27.Bb3 h6 28.Rd4 g5? Black’s position is hopeless, but a better fist of defending was with 28…Qf6 29.Qc5 g5 30.hxg5 hxg5 and attempting to hold here. 29.hxg5 hxg5 30.Be6! Another nice tactic from Giri, who takes full advantage of So’s overworked queen that was holding the wreckage of his position together. 30…Qf1+ 31.Kb2 Qf6 32.Qxf6 Rxf6 33.Bxd7 Bf3 34.Bg4 1-0 So resigns, as he’s two pawns down and has no way to stop White’s passed pawns pushing up the board.

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