In the 1920s, world champions Emanuel Lasker and Jose Raul Capablanca made attempts aimed at rejuvenating chess that involved a 10×10 board and extra pieces, all in order to combat what they perceived to be a threat to the game by perfect technique. Their proposals were rejected, but seventy years later, another world champion in the enigmatic and problematic Bobby Fischer managed to succeeded where his predecessors failed.
Fischer Random (or Chess 960) was his brainchild, and arguably this is one of the most revolutionary proposals to change the game as we know it. What Fischer did was make subtle changes to the rules of another chess variant from the 1850s, Baseline Chess, to make it have more in common with classical chess. His twist was that, while both players start with shuffled symmetrical pieces on the back-rank, everything stays within the parameters of standard chess with the bishops placed on opposite coloured squares, and the kings between the rooks to allow for “normal” castling.
In the past decade or so, Fischer Random has grown in popularity. So much so that in 2019, FIDE, the game’s governing world body officially sanctioned the first Fischer Random World Championship, with American Wesley So going on to beat Magnus Carlsen to take the inaugural title.
And fittingly, as we mark the 50th anniversary year of its inventors historic World Championship victory over Boris Spassky, in Reykjavik 1972 – arguably the most famous chess match of all time – this week the second Fischer Random World Championship got underway in the same Icelandic city.
The eight players vying for the title and $400,000 prize fund ($150,000 to the winner), being contested in the Berjaya Reykjavik Natura Hotel, includes: Wesley So and Magnus Carlsen, the winner and runner-up from the first contested title match; Russians Ian Nepomniachtchi and Vladimir Fedoseev; Uzbek World Rapid Champion and Olympiad gold-winning top board, Nodirbek Abdusattorov; US speed maven and chess influencer, Hikaru Nakamura; German GM Matthias Bluebaum; and last but not least the Icelandic No.1, Hjorvar Steinn Gretarsson.
While all fan-eyes were firmly on Carlsen, and possibly Nakamura, it proved to be rising star Abdusattorov who once again stole the show with a near-flawless and impressive performance to win Group A – and such was the 17-year-old’s mastery and dominance of Fischer Random that one of the early casualties was defending champion So, who couldn’t match the pace and was eliminated early.
Group A: 1. Nodirbek Abdusattorov (Uzbekistan), 10/12; 2. Ian Nepomniachtchi (FIDE), 7; 3. Wesley So (USA), 5½; 4. Hjorvar Steinn Gretarsson (Iceland), 1½.
1. Magnus Carlsen (Norway), 8/12; 2. Hikaru Nakamura (USA), 7½; 3. Vladimir Fedoseev (FIDE), 5½; 4. Matthias Bluebaum (Germany), 3.
The semi-finals, Carlsen v Nepomniachtchi and Nakamura v Abdusattorov, and the final between the two winners, are on Saturday and Sunday (starting from 15:00 GMT), with the live commentary coverage on the official site at https://fischerrandom.fide.com/live-games.
Photo: Uzbek teenage ace Nodirbek Abdusattorov impresses by dominating Group A | © Lennart Ootes/Fischer Random World Championship
GM Nodirbek Abdusattorov- GM Wesley So
World FRC Championship Group-A, (2.2)
(Start position in above diagram)
1. g3 g6 One of the attractions of Fischer Random is that there’s no theory to have to worry about. And conversely, one of the difficulties of Fischer Random is that there’s no-known theory! Things can either go very wrong, very quickly, or games can take a very strange early twist – as witness this position in the Hikaru Nakamura-Magnus Carlsen encounter from Group B, which started 1.b3 with Carlsen brazenly replying 1…g5!?! with a bishop sacrifice on move one! The point being that if White captures the bishop (which Nakamura opted not to), then …Nf6, …Rg8, …e6 and …Rg6 traps and wins the queen. 2. Nf3 c5 3. O-O Nc6 4. c3 d5 5. d4 cxd4 6. Nxd4 Bg4 7. Rfe1 Qc8 8. Be3 Nxd4 9. cxd4 Bg7 10. Rc1 Qe6 11. Rc7 Qb6 12. Rc5 Nf6 13. Nc3 Stopping …Ne4 – and with it, Abdusattorov has emerged from the opening with the better position. 13…O-O 14. a4 Be6 15. a5 Qa6 16. b4 Rc8 17. Bf4 More accurate was the stronger 17.Qa4! with a big positional advantage with the main threat being b5. 17…b6! So looks to have equalised with this sensible move that breaks down White’s queenside clamp. 18. axb6 Qxa1 19. Rxa1 axb6 20. Rxc8 Rxc8 21. Nb5 Bd7 22. Nc7 e6 23. Na8 Nh5 24. Be3 Rb8 It’s a tricky position for sure, and So missed the equalising move of 24…Bc6! 25.Rc1 (If 25.Nxb6 Rb8 is instant equality.) 25…Rxa8 26.Rxc6 b5 which is an easier attempt to hold the draw for Black than the difficulties So now get’s into in the game. 25. g4 Nf6 This was the last call for 25…Bc6 that would have been equal. 26. Bf4 Rb7 27. Nc7! The knight comes out, and now the threat of Ra8+ is rather worrying for So. 27…h5 28. gxh5 Also goos and strong was 28.g5! Ne4 29.Bxe4 dxe4 30.Bd6 and White has a big edge due to his better pieces and the weak b6-pawn. 28…Nxh5 29. Bd6 Bxd4 If So thinks he’s back in the game then he’s in for a rude awakening with tactical shock. 30. Ra8+ Kg7 31. Nxd5!! After So missed his earlier chance to strike equality with 24…Bc6!, Abdusattorov’s build-up play has simply been impressive, and he’s rewarded for his enterprise with a nice tactic point to go on to easily win a crucial game that all but knocks the defending FRC world champion out of the competition. 31…Bc6 32. Bf8+! Kh7 33. Nf6+! Bxf6 No better was 33…Nxf6 34.Bxc6 Rc7 35.b5 with a winning advantage. 34. Bxc6 Rc7 35. b5 Threatening Bd6 winning the trapped rook, and all but now forcing So’s reply. 35…Be7 36. Bxe7 Rxe7 37. e3 Just stopping …Nf4 that might have kept So in the game. 37…Nf6 38. Rb8 Nd5 39. Bxd5 exd5 40. Rxb6 d4?! The key to winning and saving such R+P endings is who controls the passed extra pawn from behind – and with that in mind, So’s best hope was 40…Re5 41.Rb7 Kg7 might have offered saving chances. 41. exd4 Rd7? So has lost the plot and with it the game. It’s likely lost anyway, but 41…Kg7 42.Rd6 Re2 keeps the fight alive. 42. Rf6! With a nice touch of technique, Abdusattorov finds the winning manoeuvre with Rf6-f3-b3 to support the push of his b-pawn up the board. 42…Kg7 43. Rf3 Rxd4 44. Rb3 Rd7 45. b6 Effectively removing So’s rook from having any influence in the ending – the [full] point being that Abdusattorov will use the b-pawn as a decoy to transitioning to a won K+P ending with the Black king marooned on the wrong side of the board. 45…Rb7 46. Kg2 Kf6 47. Kg3 Kf5 48. f4 Kf6 49. Kg4 Kg7 50. Kg5 This is just a masterclass in technique on how to win such positions, as Abdusattorov teases his opponent into fixing his kingside pawns. 50…f6+ 51. Kg4 f5+ 52. Kf3 Kf6 53. Ke3 Ke6 Another point of note is that if 53…g5 54.fxg5+ Kxg5 Kd4! and the White king speeds to c6 to win the rook. 54. Kd4 Kd6 So had to stop Kc5 – but in doing so, Abdusattorov now puts him in Zugzwang. 55. h4! 1-0 So resigns with no useful move he can make, faced with the dilemma of 56…Kc6 57.Ke5! waltzing over to the kingside picking off the Black pawns, or 56…Ke6 57.Kc5 and Black is set to lose his rook.