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Chess 960 (also known as Fischer-Random chess), is the most popular chess variant of the 21st century, created and refined by the one and only Bobby Fischer. It has breathed new life into the game of chess in recent years and has begun to explode in popularity (especially with major websites such as ChessCube.com promoting it!).

How did Chess960 get started?

Even long before the advent of powerful chess engines, Fischer already realized that chess in the 21st century was being characterized by ridiculously thorough opening preparation. Fischer spent many years working on a shuffle variant of chess that would breathe new life in the game. In Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1996 Bobby Fischer announced his refinements to the original ideas of Shuffle chess – trying to popularize a game that demanded the highest level of creative energy while moving away from the extensive memorization of openings that has characterized chess in the past few decades. Fischer knew the genius in Chess 960 is that it would be impossible to memorize openings for 960 possible starting positions! This would mean players could be judged for their creativity and talent instead of their ability to memorize openings. Chess 960 (or Fischer Random Chess) was an incredible idea from a brilliant mind, creating nearly endless possibilities on the chessboard by maintaining all of the same rules as normal chess while changing only the starting position.

Fischer had the following to say about Chess960:

“I love chess, and I didn’t invent Fischerandom chess to destroy chess. I invented Fischerandom chess to keep chess going. Because I consider the old chess is dying, or really it’s dead. A lot of people have come up with other rules of chess-type games, with 10×8 boards, new pieces, and all kinds of things. I’m really not interested in that. I want to keep the old chess flavour. I want to keep the old chess game. But just making a change so the starting positions are mixed, so it’s not degenerated down to memorisation and prearrangement like it is today.”
– Bobby Fischer

Who plays Chess960?

Chess 960 has been attracting many of the biggest names in chess in recent years including players such as Hikaru Nakamura, Levon Aronian, Peter Svidler, Peter Léko, Michael Adams, and more. Even during Fischer’s hayday of the 1960s and 1970s many top players were already worried that chess was becoming a game based on rote memorization. Today with the addition of computers into chess the problem is worse then ever. Chess 960 provides a welcome relief for top players to take a break from their intense opening preparation at tournaments to enjoy the reason they fell in love with the game in the first place, to prove their strategical, analytical and intellectual superiority over a simple, yet beautifully balanced game.

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William Stewart is a National Master. He specializes in Online Chess Coaching and maintains a daily updated Chess Blog

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