The accumulation of information about chess over 1,500 years or so has increased the importance of study – and now comes an added dimension with the over-reliance of computers. Aspiring players these days have access to multi-million game databases, along with thousands of books about the game. But today’s diagram eschews all of that study material and crunching databases, with it being one of the official starting positions for Chess 960, a subspecies of the ancient chess variant of Baseline Chess with the pieces scrambled on the back-rank.
This was a variant created in the 1850s and largely forgotten about until it received a new lease of life when it was improved and refined by the iconic American world champion Bobby Fischer, who – after perhaps realising how much chess had changed theory-wise and computer-wise in the period during his self-imposed early retirement after beating Boris Spassky in 1972, and then his very dramatic 1992 comeback match with his Russian friend/foe – a few decades ago declared “Chess is a dead game, it is played out.”
Fischer’s nuance to Baseline Chess was to keep within the framework of standard chess, with his version incorporating the restrictions of having bishops on opposite coloured squares and the king between the rooks to allow a form of castling: as a result, there are exactly 960 different starting positions (well, 959 to be pedantic about it, with one being the standard set-up) randomly generated by computer, hence the name Chess 960. And Chess 960 – or Fischer Random – is now growing in popularity, and now governing body Fide has officially sanctioned an upcoming Fischer Random World Championship that will take place in Baerum, Norway, in early October, and the knockout tournament will include Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana, and five online qualifiers.
But getting ahead of the curve, those forward-thinking people at Rex Sinquefield’s Saint Louis Chess Club in Missouri have come up with a new part-Roman numeral rebranding to “Chess 9LX” – and they launched it last week with many of the world’s top players taking part in one of their many “Champions Showdown” challenge events.
The marquee match-up was unquestionably world #2 Fabiano Caruana taking on retired living-legend Garry Kasparov; with other matches involving Levon Aronian v Hikaru Nakamura, Wesley So v Veselin Topalov and Peter Svidler v Leinier Dominguez. The format consisted of six rapid games (30 minutes and a 10-second delay) and 14 blitz games (5 minutes and a 5-second delay) with the rapid games counting for double points. The total prize fund for all four matches was $200,000.
In the end, Kasparov, showing that now aged 56, perhaps the demanding rigours and pressures of playing high-level chess – albeit for a lucrative exhibition match – can be something of a daunting experience, as the former world champion was comprehensively beaten 7-19 by Caruana, who did so with the luxury of a day to spare! One commentator mentioned that Kasparov was looking a little “rusty” out there, but Kasparov, not looking for easy excuses, said this had nothing to do with it: “I’m old, I’m not rusty. Rusty is different, it means you’re young and you’re out of practice. I’m old. I’m 56, come on!”
Champions Showdown: Chess 9LX:
Caruana 19-7 Kasparov
Nakamura 14.5-11.5 Aronian
So 18-8 Topalov
Svidler 15.5-10.5 Dominguez
Photo: Age catches up with Kasparov, who got “9LX” pummelled by Caruana | © Lennart Ootes / St. Louis Chess Club
GM Fabiano Caruana – GM Garry Kasparov
Champions Showdown: Chess 9LX, (2)
(see diagram for start position)
1.Nb3 d5 2.e4 d4 3.f4 e5 4.fxe5 Qxe5 5.Ng3 f6 6.d3 c5 7.c3 Nc7 8.Kc2 Rd7 9.Nf5 O-O-O This was one of Fischer’s finesses to the older Baseline variant by trying to stay true to “normal” chess with the ability to castle. It looks strange when you see it at first, but the basic castling rules apply, where you can’t castle through check nor – like Caruana – have moved your king or rook. Here, Kasparov’s king is in its starting position by being on the normal queenside castling square, so his rook is simply taking the shorter route to castling. 10.Bf2 Ng6 11.cxd4 cxd4 12.Rbc1 Kb8 13.Kb1 Bxb3 14.axb3 Qb5 15. Rc4 Ne6 16.b4 Ne5 17.Bg3 g6 18.Nh4 Bd6 19.Bxe5 fxe5 20.Nf3 Rc7?! I think this move demonstrates that Kasparov has been too long retired now from active chess! In his pomp, a ruthless Kasparov would have instantly had the “killer instinct” to go for 20…Nc7 followed by 21…Na6 and nothing can stop the capture of the b4 pawn with a big advantage. 21.g3 Rf8 22.Be2 Rcf7 23.Rdc1 a5 24.Qd1 Bxb4 25.Qb3 Rxf3 26.Bxf3 Rxf3 27.Rc8+ Ka7 28.Qxe6 Bc3 29.Qa2 Rxd3 30.Rc4 The only move for Caruana that stops the major threat of …Rd2, as Rc2 is answered by …Qd3 pinning and winning. But there also lurked a nasty trick for Caruana, and Kasparov falls right into it! 30…Bxb2?? This is one of those rare cases where you wish you could pass in chess just like you can in bridge, as Kasparov himself noted, even not making a move wins for Black! But as he does have to make a move, he blunders right into Caruana’s one and only trick he had. Instead, 30…Re3 31.b3 Qb6 32.Qa4 Bb4 and after capturing on e4, the game is all but over. 31.Rc5 Oops! 31…Qb4 32.Rxa5+ Kb6 33.Ra4 Qb3 34.Qxb2 1-0