Chess960: Two wins on day three

by André Schulz
2/12/2018 – On the third day of the Chess960 match between Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura, both players scored points. Nakamura won the fifth game; Carlsen won game six and remains in the lead, as the players battle for a prize fund of about 153,000 euros (1.5 million Norwegian kroner). The winner receives 900,000 Norwegian kroner (about 92,000 euros), the loser 600,000 crowns (61,000 euros). | Photo: Lennart Ootes / frchess.com

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Excitement in the art center

Chess960 advocates could not have wished for better advertising for their beloved variant: with Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura, two very creative players are hard at work producing exciting games. This form of chess was once strongly promoted by German tournament organizer Hans-Walter Schmitt and his Chesstigers team in Frankfurt and Bad Soden and also put into practice in the Mainz Chess Classic which produced Nakamura as the "Chess960 World Champion", in 2009.

Ceremonial first move by

The ceremonial first move was made by artist Dag Alveng | Photo: Lennart Ootes / frchess.com

Why Chess960?

In classical chess, the fear of the supposed "draw death" crops up periodically, generally whenever there is a tournament featuring top players, but few decisive games. One reason for the drawing tendency among the top players is supposedly the intensive opening preparation required in "classical chess". Some openings seemed to be "analysed to the end". Many GMs consider the starting position to be a draw, in theory, including Garry Kasparov. So the idea arose, to expand the number of possible starting positions according to a defined set of rules. The pawns stay where they are, but the other pieces can be anywhere on the back rank, provided the bishops are balanced (one light-squared, one dark-squared). This scrambles opening preparation, and new plans and strategies arise in positions that are hardly explored.

The proposal for ramdomising the basic position came from Robert Fischer and so this form of chess was also called "Fischer Random" until the Chesstigers found the more neutral name "Chess960".

The Chess960 competition between Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura forms the supporting program for an exhibition at the Henie Onstad Art Center, just outside Oslo (in Høvikodden). From February 9th to 13th,  and Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura are in the midst of a 16 game match. The first eight games are played at the rapid chess time control of 45 minutes for 40 moves, then 15 minutes for the rest of the game. There is no increment, so at the end of each period there can be major time scrambles. The last eight games on Tuesday are played with a 10-minute plus 5 seconds per move.

Scoring

The "long" games are worth double — that is two points for a win, one point for a draw. The "short" games are scored as usual: one point for a win, half a point for a draw. Of course zero points for a loss in both cases.

The arbiter of the competition is the well-known Norwegian writer and chess enthusiast Hans Olav Lahlum.

Hans Olav Lahlum and Eric van Reem

Hans Olav Lahlum with Eric van Reem from the Chesstiger's team | Photo: Lennart Ootes / frchess.com

Carlsen leads

The first three games of the competition ended in a draw. On Saturday Magnus Carlsen won the fourth game. Yesterday there were two very exciting games. Nakamura won the first game of the day and Carlsen claimed victory in the second game.  

 

Game 5

1.d4 d5 2.Nb3 e5 3.dxe5 Rxe5 4.Bf4 Re8 5.Nc3 Bb4 6.Bd2 Nb6 7.e4 Bxc3 8.Bxc3 dxe4 9.Qd1 f5 10.Qd4 Ne6 11.Qe5 O-O

 

Play through the moves on the live diagram

12.Nc5 Re7 13.Rd1 (13.Be2 Rff7 14.O-O-O! would have been an interesting alternative way to get the rook to the d-file!) 13...Rff7 14.Be2 Nf8 15.Qf4 Ng6 16.Qg3 f4 17.Rd8+ Rf8 18.Rxf8+ Kxf8 19.Qg5 c6 20.h4 f3 21.gxf3 Nf4 22.Bf1 exf3 23.Nd3 Nxd3 24.Bxd3 h6 25.Qg3 Qxg3+ 26.fxg3 Na4

 

Carlsen played 27.Bd2 but 27.Bb4 c5 28.Ba3 would have been a better way to defend the b2 pawn. 27...Kg8 28.b3 (again 28...Bb4 is better, keeping the knight out) Nb2 29. Bg6 Nd1. It's pretty rare to get a knight on your opponent's first rank! 30.O-O

 

Hikaru Nakamura after winning game five, with Yasser Seirawan


Game 6

Once again (as in game 3), neither player opted for castling in this game. Carlsen said after the game that he'd spent just a few minutes between games considering what to do after 1.e4 and decided that 1...e5 was the way to go, but his 2...c5 was already over-the-board inspiration.

 

Magnus Carlsen on game six, with IM Anna Rudolf

Nakamura extends his hand

Nakamura extends his hand to end game six | Photo: Lennart Ootes / frchess.com

Daniel King analyses Games 5 and 6


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Carlsen leads 7 : 5

No change in the point margin as we head into the final pair of rapid games on Monday. Same time, new starting position!

Watch Game 7 (17:00 CET / 11:00 EST)

Live commentary by GM Yasser Seirawan and IM Anna Rudolf

Translation from German: Macauley Peterson

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André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.
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celeje celeje 2/14/2018 12:41
@peterfrost, Masquer:
What positions do you find ugly? That's just your reaction caused by your familiarity with the one we're used to. Just being different and unfamiliar is not the same as being ugly. Look at the games Magnus and Naka played. Do you really think they were ugly? Really?
fons3 fons3 2/13/2018 10:41
@macauley - I didn't mind so much the "squishy" language. To me it's just abundantly clear that opening prep is dominating the game (at the top level) and exacerbating the draw problem. Yes computers open new avenues as well, but in the balance it's not good.

@peterfrost - I have started to like all the weirdness. Unbalanced positions, awkward pieces: don't begrudge it but embrace it! The rules are the same for both. It just leads to interesting positions with pros and cons and plans that you don't get in regular chess.
Rama Rama 2/13/2018 12:51
@Masquer, I think pre-chess is the better way. Each player takes turns placing his pieces on his 1st rank. Pal Benko was one of the Grandmasters that advocated it.
peterfrost peterfrost 2/13/2018 07:26
I agree with Masquer. The randomness seems unnecessarily "over the top".We don't require 960 different positions to eliminate the excessive opening theory issue...a dozen or so would suffice. Why not restrict the variation to bishops and knights only (on b, c, f and g files) , plus kings and queens on the two central files? The "ugliness" is then considerably minimised. Having said that, I'm not a supporter of the concept. The "problem" is aims to address is only real at the very highest levels. It's not an issue in 99% of tournaments worldwide.
Masquer Masquer 2/13/2018 01:12
Fischerrandom/chess960 leads to such ugly chess positions, not to mention the way castling is done. Surely, there must be a better way to shuffle the pieces on the 1st rank?
macauley macauley 2/12/2018 06:47
@fons3 - Categorical statements have sometimes been proven silly in the past as previously closed lines have been reopened by stronger and stronger engines. But, in general I'm sympathetic to your critique of "squishy" language use.
fons3 fons3 2/12/2018 05:33
SUPPOSEDLY the intensive opening preparation?

In post game interviews all they talk about is whether or not they remembered their opening prep.

Some openings SEEMED to be "analyzed to the end"?

A whole bunch of openings have become practically unplayable for the top players.
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