Chess960 revisited: Grandmaster analysis

by Macauley Peterson
2/16/2018 – Grandmasters Daniel King and Daniel Fernandez each looked at the Chess960 rapid games between Hikaru Nakamura and Magnus Carlsen in some detail, and we present all eight of those games for review at your leisure. | Photo: Lennart Ootes /

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The backdrop

The Chess960 match played in Norway, at the Henie Onstad Kunstsenter (Art centre), was surrounded by a photography exhibition from Dag Alveng, who photographed the graves of famous chess players. Here's a brief tour from commentator Anna Rudolf:

A final look at the rapid

GM Daniel Fernandez's annotations were featured in our report on games seven and eight, but in fact he provided us with annotations on all eight games, which we're pleased to present here, so you can easily replay them all in one place. You'll also find all of GM Daniel King's Power Play videos on the tournament in a convenient playlist. Hours of entertainment for Chess960 fans!

Did you know that you can play Chess960 on There's a special thematic room where you can find an opponent and start a game.

Note: Chess960 castling is not yet possible in our web game viewer, however, you can also download all games as a PGN for replay in ChessBase 14, the free ChessBase Reader, or Fritz.

Carlsen and Nakamura

Carlsen and Nakamura get ready to rumble | Photo: Lennart Ootes /

Game 1

You can play through the moves on the live diagram, up until castling.


1. c4 c5 2. Nc3 e6 3. Nc2 Nb6 4. e3 d5 5. cxd5 Nxd5 6. d4

At this point, other than the rooks in the corners, there is no real indication that this wasn't a normal chess game. The exchanges over the next few moves tell us all we need to know, i.e. that the game is essentially going to be symmetrical and stay that way.

6...cxd4 7. Nxd4 Nc6 8. Nxd5 Rxd5 9. Nf3 Qd8 10. Rxd5 Qxd5 11. a3 Bd6 12. Be2 O-O 13. O-O


Game 2




Game 3


The venue from the outside

Baby it's cold outside | Photo: Lennart Ootes /

Game 4

Play through the moves on the live diagram...


1. d4 c5 (1... d5 looks to me the most solid answer, but it makes little sense to go into theoretical speculations about 960 positions.) 2. dxc5 Qxc5 3. f3 Qc7 4. Qd2

Trying to play with e4, Ne3, c4 et cetera: a kind of Maroczy plan.

4...f5 (4... Nc6 5. e4 f6 6. Ne3 Nd6 7. b3 Bf7 8. c4 looks slightly unpleasant for Black; the follow-up could be Bd3, Bf2, 0-0.)
5. c4! The maximalist move. 5...Bxc4 6. Bxf5 Nd6 ! (6... e6 7. Bc2 d5 8. Rc1 is probably humanly hard to play as well as being slightly worse; the c4-bishop finds itself awkwardly situated outside an unusually shaped pawn chain.)

7.Bc2 Nc6 8. Rc1 Bf7 9. Bb3 O-O




Nakamura and Carlsen

Black did well in the match, winning the last four games | Photo: Lennart Ootes /

Game 5

You can play through the moves on the live diagram, up until castling.


1. d4 d5 2. Nb3 (2. e4 suggests itself, thanks to the hint from Black's next, and the central positions of the rooks.)

2... e5 (A hard move to understand properly. It is much better than it might initially appear — philosophically, there is some similarity with the line 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6 in regular chess.)

3. dxe5 Rxe5 4. Bf4 (4. g3 possibly improved, trying to play e4 within the next few moves.)
4... Re8 5. Nc3 Bb46. Bd2 (6. e3 is not such a catastrophe, but it is understandable that White would prefer to play without doubled pawns. For instance: Ne6 7. Bg3 Nb6 8. Rd1 Bxc3 9. bxc3 O-O=) 6... Nb6 7. e4 Bxc3 8. Bxc3 (8. exd5 !? was an interesting freak tactical possibility which lends validity to White's last. 8...Be5 9. f4 Nxd5 10. Rxe5 Rxe5 11. fxe5 b6 =)

8...dxe4 Now White must either take his pawn back or prove compensation. He chooses the second but it doesn't quite work.
9. Qd1 (9. Bd3=) (9. f3 e3 10. Bd4=) 9... f5 10. Qd4 Ne6 11. Qe5 O-O

Now Black has caught up in development, he should not be in any kind of trouble at all and White should in fact take urgent measures to not end up worse.




Game 6



Magnus was in command through game 7 | Photo: Lennart Ootes /

Game 7

Play through the moves on the live diagram...


1.f4 f6 2.e4 e5

Both players have abandoned any kind of hypermodern approach — when there is no theory, or you don't know the theory, you can't go for the equivalent of a Gruenfeld, there is simply no choice but to play classically as that is the most reliable style. Put pawns in the centre, and pieces behind them.

3.fxe5 fxe5 4.Nbc3 Ne6 5.Nd5 It's not clear to me what White wanted to acheive by this knight leap, except if he wanted c3 and
d4 (and if so, then why his 4th?) (5.Bc4 was a good 'classical' move.)

5...c6 6.N5e3 d6 7.g3 Nd7 The initial position used this time was quite an equal one, and White has played a bit lackadaisically, so maybe Black is more comfortable already. 8.Bh3 O-O-O


9.d3 Kb8 =/+ 10.Qf2 Ndc5 11.Nc3 Nd4 Thinking of ...d5. 12.Ne2 (12.O-O-O g6 doesn't really help; here Black probably changes tack and plays without ...d5.) 12...Nxe2+ 13.Qxe2 d5 14.exd5 cxd5 15.Ng4 (15. O-O-O could have been a good try with the centre opening up, though Black is better after say Qa4 !? =/+)

15...d4 16.Bg2 Bd6 17.h3 Rc8 18.Bf2 Trying to evacuate the king, which in this case is quite a creative defence! (18.Nf2 was consistent, but too slow: Qb5 with the idea of ...Na4 forces major concessions and Black is close to winning.) 18...h5 19.Nh2 e4! (19... Qb5 20. O-O !! is the point, and while Black's position is still more pleasant he has no real attack as such. 20.O-O


Game 8

The game everyone will remember for its crazy blitz finish, and surprising result!




19...O-O-O! Black has played the last five moves perfectly and it seems that things are gradually becoming less clear.


Why didn't Magnus take the draw?

After the match, Carlsen gave his thoughts on the contest as a whole, including his explanation for what happened in the last rapid game, which made the match overall much closer than it otherwise would have been.


Not the way you wanted the match to go | Photo: Lennart Ootes /

All Daniel King's video analyses

Below is a playlist containing all the videos on the match by grandmaster Daniel King on his PowerPlay channel:

Be sure to subscribe to get want regular updates from King!


Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.


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