New book on Chess960: Better strategies and tactics
19.06.2006 - In January 2006 a new chess960 book was published entitled "Play Stronger Chess by Examining Chess960: Usable Strategies of Fischer Random Chess Discovered" (ISBN 0-9774521-0-7, 252 pages, English). Buyers can find the book on several Amazon websites by searching books for "chess960". This book was the first to delve into the detailed strategies and tactics of chess960 itself. Through this effort the author also came to understand and articulate the properly perspective and philosophies surrounding chess960. Bobby Fischer proposed chess960 (FRC) for negative reasons, to fix broken traditional "chess1". However, more compelling are the many positive aspects of chess960 that are missing from chess1. The book is divided into two parts.
The book notes that the venerable game of checkers
switched to checkers156 around 1900. This is nearly the exact same change
as chess960 represents. The change was so successful that a few decades
later it had become dominant over original checkers, and it remains so
today. This destroys any bluster that chess960 is an idea worthy of quick
In the endlessly repeated chess1 setup there is a the well-known
relatationship between the initial positioning of the knights and opposing
bishops. In old descriptive notation, the move B-N5 (such as Bc1g5 or
Bf8b4) is common, way too common, to the point of being dull. This pin
maneuver is inherent in the chess1 setup. Now ask yourself: in the other
959 setups are there other types of maneuvers that are inherent? The
answer is most assuredly yes. Well, what are they, and when was the last
time you got to see what put to use in a grandmaster game, or got to use
one yourself? Unless chess960 is part of your chess life, the answer is
never. You are missing out. By rejecting all of the other 959 setups,
chess1 drastically limits the opening phase. These limitations are
exacerbated by its sameness or symmetry on the 'a' and 'h' wings of the
It has been widely assumed that with so many initial setups, that chess960
would mean no grandmasters would bother studying the opening phase any
more. There would be way too much to remember, and it could be years
before any particular setup one studied would ever be randomly chosen for
one's tournament game. Yes, but that does not mean the opening phase would
not be studied. Nor does it mean grandmasters would not gradually learn to
play the opening phase better with each passing year. Instead, it means
grandmasters would invent new ways of comprehending the opening phase, and
finer principles for playing it. If the chess public excludes chess960,
this entire area of chess knowledge will remain as yet undiscovered.
Indeed, half of Nimzovich's opening principles turn out not to be
principles of fundamental chess at all. Rather that half are nothing more
than esoteric tactical considerations given the unchanging chess1 setup.
We should not let ourselves be excessively dominated by mere tradition. It
would be healthier to compare the merits of chess960 and chess1 without
the bias of history. Such a comparison shows that chess1 has extended our
knowledge of fundamental chess in a way that chess960 never could. Chess1
has shown us in extreme detail what nearly perfect opening play looks like.
Contrary to Fischer's statements, chess1 is not dead, far from it. Chess1
has its strengths and weaknesses, and chess960 has a different set of
strengths and weaknesses. A major strength of chess960 is nothing less
than its ability to reveal large swaths of fundamental chess that have
long been hidden from us. Plus, the chess world could keep more of its
sentimental greats active in the game longer if chess960 held a prominent
place. Boris Spassky and Anatoly Karpov are two great players who
eventually decided there was more to life than constantly studying the
latest opening variations. Their FIDE Elo ratings fell sharply when they
stopped being chess monks. But their abilities to play in chess960 likely
remained world class longer. With only chess1 and without chess960, the
chances are reduced that Garry Kasparov will ever make another run for
either WCC title.
John Watson wrote about the evolution of chess principles during the past
100 years. Our study of chess960 shows that some of these principles were
never principles at all. Also, we find that the principles of fundamental
chess would have evolved faster and been discovered decades earlier had
chess960 been part of the chess scene.
The book introduces a new approach to studying the new setup phase brought
by chess960. This approach can also generate candidate moves for the
earliest opening phase moves.
Several fascinating elements of fundamental chess have been brought to
light by chess960. One is the factors that must go into decisions about
castling. In chess1 both WCC Vladimir Kramnik and every young child have
easily figured out that 'h' wing castling is the wisest thing to do. In
chess960 it is often necessary to weight several factors, plan ahead, and
adopt specific opening ideas in order to achieve an optimally castled king.
The interplay of these considerations, and their execution, constitutes
rich and beautiful chess.
Chess960 leads to a wide variety of castled king fort designs. In chess1
pawns almost always constitute the main portion of the king fort, even in
a Bf8g7 fianchetto. But in chess960 pieces sometimes are the primary
defense for the king. Entire books have been written about how to attack
the two or three chess1 king forts that reoccur in 90% of all chess1 games.
All those books need to be re-written for chess960.
Playing only chess1 has made us terribly naive about fundamental chess in
some ways. Before the study of chess960 nobody spoke about the chess1
setup as having the characteristic of "knight opposition". It turns out
that only 11% of all 960 setups have the full knight opposition that the
chess1 setup has. That means the other 89% of setups differ in this
important characteristic, with all the implications for play that entails.
Andrew Soltis recently authored a book that encouraged readers to reassess
the relative values of the pieces: that book needs to be re-written for
The book takes a look at the commonly held belief that White's unfair
advantage in chess960 is even bigger than it is in chess1. Long story
short, the data tend to refute that belief.
More importantly, we need to remember that tradition alone is not a wise
reason to continue giving White his unfair advantage. In chess1 the range
of opening moves is only a tiny fraction of the range in chess960.
Chess960 gives us a rare opportunity to adopt the rule that says the
second player chooses which color he wants to be, after the first player
completes the game's first ply (there are ways to make this physically
convenient). The game TwixT is one that uses this technique. This gives
Black the same winning chances as White gets. This reminds us of the fair
minded mother who tells her son to cut the last cupcake in half, then lets
her daughter choose her preferred half.
Ways of reducing the draw rate are also discussed. The high draw rate is
the second biggest problem in chess.
There is a review of "Play Stronger Chess by Examining Chess960" published
Published by Gerhard Kenk
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