First ever "no-castling" tournament results in 89% decisive games!

by Sagar Shah
1/19/2020 – All the rules of chess remain the same, just that both the players cannot castle. How does removing this one rule alter the game? Well, we decided to put this idea to test by getting 13 of the strongest Indian youngsters (average Elo: 2457) and holding the first ever No-Castling chess tournament at the Microsense Kramnik Gelfand Training camp in Chennai. Check out all the games, videos, analysis by IM SAGAR SHAH and some brilliant photos by Amruta Mokal.

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The first ever no-castling tournament

A couple of months ago, 14th World Champion Vladimir Kramnik suggested a variant of chess where all the rules of the game remain the same — except that both players cannot castle! It was not just a random suggestion. Kramnik had done his homework. Working with DeepMind's AlphaZero, he had come to the conclusion that the games remain interesting and we are able to avoid theoretical discussions. The main point, as Kramnik mentioned, was to get rid of theory in chess. If you play a theoretical line in no-castling chess, it is quite possible that after 15 moves you realize that this line is absolutely no good because you just cannot castle anymore! It was something exciting and new, and so on the rest day at the Microsense Kramnik Gelfand Training camp, we decided to hold the first ever no-castling chess tournament.

The training room was converted into a playing hall | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Executing a no-castling chess tournament is simple. From the point of view of implementation, you don't have to do anything special. Players don't have to learn any new rules, they just don't have to castle. For e.g. if you played Chess960 (Fischer Random chess), you need to actually learn how castling works, how should the initial positions of the pieces be determined, how the games should be saved later for sharing with the viewers and many more issues. No-castling chess is oblivious to these worries!

After five days of intense training, Kramnik and Gelfand decided they and the students needed some time off. The trainers decided to go on a short trip to Mahabalipuram. It's just a 30-minute drive from the camp venue. They decided that they would come back around evening and witness the no-castling chess tournament. We decided to plan the event in a way that when Kramnik and Gelfand would be back, they could see the finals! The format decided was knock-out and to make it more exciting, ChessBase India instituted the prize fund of INR ₹20000 (about USD $280) and three autographed DVDs. The winner was to get ₹10000 (about USD $140) and a signed copy from Kramnik and Gelfand of Correspondence Database 2020. Second place was ₹5000 and a signed copy of Fritz 17 and third was ₹3000 and a signed copy of Mega Database 2020. We also had a special best game prize of ₹2000.

The pairings of the first ever no-castling chess tournament !

As we had 13 players, the top three seeds got byes in the first round. Each match between two players consisted of two games of 5 minutes plus 3 seconds increment. If the scores were tied at 1-1 then an Armageddon would be played with white having five minutes and black four, with draw odds for black. The event had five GMs, six IMs, one WGM, one WIM, and an average rating of 2457. This was a group of competent players who were going to indulge in a variant which would tell us more about its viability.

Before you read the tournament report, I would like to acquaint you with a game which shows the virtues of the No-Castling chess.

Kramnik makes the first move on the quarter-finals Armageddon: Arjun Kalyan vs Gukesh D | Photo: Amruta Mokal


The game began with the well known Meran variation!


Nothing unusual until now! Both players are happy making the normal moves!


Gukesh, who had the black pieces, was happy that as Black he had got in this break and activated his b7 bishop


In normal chess, this would without doubt be a better position for Black. He has a great pawn structure and White's doubled f-pawns plus the king on f1 would give him huge headaches in normal chess. But the No-Castle chess is a different beast. The main reason being the black king on e8 is not at all safe!


18.♗xf5!! A powerful strike by Arjun! White sacrifices a bishop to open up lines towards the black king


This is where the real difference between normal chess and No-Castling chess is clearly seen. In normal chess, Black would castle short and after f4 go ♛b7! and then save his knight when the game is over. In No-Castling chess, the king has no where to run. It is stuck in the centre. Kudos to Arjun Kalyan for recognizing this and sacrificing his bishop!


One rook covers the d-file, the queen covers the f-file, the other rook is coming to the e-file to deliver checkmate!

Gukesh resigned the game and Arjun went through to the semi-finals | Photo: Amruta Mokal

This game perfectly showed why playing theoretical lines in No-Castling chess can often backfire!


Kramnik is pleased with the quality of the game! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Round of 16

Iniyan proved to be stronger and managed to win without too many problems with a score of 2-0.


Click or tap the second game in the list to switch games

GM P Iniyan faced youngster Raahil Mullick in the first round | Photo: Amruta Mokal

It is praiseworthy that Aditya who is suffering from a recent accident, did not let his injury come in way of participating in the event. He played online via PlayChess and managed to beat his opponent 2-0.


Leon Mendonca faced Aditya Mittal who played from his home in Mumbai on Playchess | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Bharath Subramaniyam beat Sreeshwan Maralakshikari 2-0.


Click or tap the second game in the list to switch games

Bharath Subramaniyam vs Sreeshwan M. | Photo: Amruta Mokal

R Vaishali fought tooth and nail against Arjun Kalyan but in the end lost 2-0.


Players surround R Vaishali and Arjun Kalyan | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Raunak Sadhwani won game no.1 with ease against Rakshitta. In the second game Rakshitta missed a certain win to level the scores. Raunak advanced with 1½:½.


Raunak Sadhwani vs Rakshitta | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Quarter finals

The five favourites had won their games and qualified to the quarter finals. The three top seeds who had a bye in round one now joined them. There were definitely going to be quite some interesting games.

Praggnanandhaa, the top seed and the only player with a 2600+ Elo, won against Aditya Mittal 1½:½.


Pragg's game is followed by Akhil and Aruna Anand who visited the venue | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Raunak Sadhwani played strong chess to overcome his opponent P Iniyan with 2-0 score.


Raunak Sadhwani vs P Iniyan | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Sreeshwan lost his quarter finals against Arjun Erigaisi with a score of 0-2.


Sreeshwan vs Arjun Erigaisi | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The most intense match of the quarter finals was Arjun Kalyan vs D Gukesh. Gukesh struck in the first game and won his game with the black pieces, but Arjun Kalyan was quick to strike back and levelled the score.


The game went into an armageddon where Arjun had the white pieces and was in a must-win situation. We already have seen the game at the start of the article. Arjun won the game and set up a semi-final clash against Arjun Erigaisi.

Arjun Kalyan vs D Gukesh | Photo: Amruta Mokal


Raunak's superior understanding of the openings in No-Castling chess and also his subtle handling of the middlegame positions gave him a 2-0 victory over the top seed Pragg.

The interest generated by Raunak and Pragg's game was immense! | Photo: Amruta Mokal


The first game of the semi-finals between Raunak Sadhwani and Praggnanandhaa


The second game of the semi-finals between Praggnanandhaa and Raunak

A 2-0 win for Raunak gave him a berth in the finals. Which of the Arjuns was going to be his opponent?

Arjun vs Arjun! Arjun Erigaisi (left) against Arjun Kalyan (right) | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Arjun Erigaisi is 100 points stronger than Arjun Kalyan and was definitely the favourite in the match, but in No-Castling chess, the ratings mean very little. Arjun Kalyan managed to capitalize on Erigaisi's every error and won the match with a score of 1.5-0.5. Game one ended in a draw, while the second game ended in a win for Kalyan.


The complex game 1 between Arjun Erigaisi and Arjun Kalyan


A piece blunder sealed the deal and Arjun Kalyan advanced to the finals

Third place match

The battle for the third place was between Arjun Erigaisi and R Praggnanandhaa. It was clear that Praggnanandhaa was not in his best of forms chess wise and also health-wise. On the next day, he even pulled out of the camp because of high fever. He lost his match 2-0 against Arjun Erigaisi.


Arjun played powerful chess to overpower Pragg 2-0 | Photo: Amruta Mokal


The much anticipated finals was between Arjun Kalyan and Raunak Sadhwani. After beating Iniyan and Pragg, Raunak was definitely a favourite, but Arjun too had played excellent chess eliminating not just Gukesh but also Arjun Erigaisi. In the first game it seemed like Kalyan would take home the full point.

Kramnik, Gelfand and Kailasanathan look on as the finals are in progress! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Arjun was a pawn up and clearly better. He was unable to breakthrough and at some point it was just prudent to accept the draw. Under grave time pressure, he blundered and Raunak picked up the full point.


Watch the tension and drama of game one unfold in this video!

Raunak never really was in any danger in game two and it ended in a draw, giving Raunak the title of the first ever No-Castling tournament Champion!


The second game of the finals

A high-five from Kramnik for winning the first ever No-Castling chess tournament! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Raunak wins ₹10000 for his efforts and also a Correspondence Database 2020 signed by Kramnik and Gelfand | Photo: Amruta Mokal

He already has the correspondence Database, so he is planning to exchange it for Fritz 17 from Arjun, who finished second!

The closing ceremony and interview with Raunak Sadhwani

Arjun Kalyan receives his second place prize from Boris Gelfand of ₹5000 and an autographed Fritz 17 DVD | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Third - Arjun Erigaisi received his prize of Mega Database 2020 and ₹3000 from Mr. S Kailasanathan, MD of Microsense | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The exhibition match between Kramnik and Gelfand

Vladimir and Boris also could not contain their excitement and played two games of No-Castling chess with each other. The first one ended in a draw, the second one was a win for Kramnik!

Kramnik and Gelfand in action | Photo: Amruta Mokal

The first win for Kramnik in No-Castling chess!

Aruna and Akhil meet Kramnik and Gelfand

Vishy Anand is busy playing at the Tata Steel Chess Masters 2020 in Netherlands. Hence, it was Aruna Anand and little Akhil who came to meet Kramnik and Gelfand!

Akhil spent some time playing chess! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

Big Vlad and Boris arrive! Look at Akhil's excitement! | Photo: Amruta Mokal

We hope that you enjoyed the coverage of the first ever No-Castling Chess Tournament. Our idea of organizing this event was to give a practical insight into how Kramnik's idea pans out when two real chess players sit across the board against each other. To make sure they are motivated and fight hard, we kept a decent prize fund. The result? Out of the 27 games that were played only three ended in draws! 24 decisive games and a lot of fighting chess. The players enjoyed playing this variant and it is quite possible that many more organizers would want to try this out in the future.

And a big thanks to Amruta Mokal for documenting this entire event with her excellent photos!


Sagar is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India, the biggest chess news portal in the country. His YouTube channel has over a million subscribers, and to date close to a billion views. ChessBase India is the sole distributor of ChessBase products in India and seven adjoining countries, where the software is available at a 60% discount. compared to International prices.


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