On Chess: XL Expectations For The 2019 Chess 9LX Champions Showdown | St. Louis Public Radio

On Chess: XL Expectations For The 2019 Chess 9LX Champions Showdown

Aug 29, 2019

Chess960, otherwise known as Fischer Random, is a chess variant that has struggled to find its place. It was invented and advocated for by Bobby Fischer, who thought that chess was becoming too reliant on opening theory.

The basic concept is quite simple: All the pawns start on their normal squares, but the back rank pieces are rearranged at random before the game begins. There are a couple of stipulations, however, which separate it from an older variant called “Shuffle Chess.” 

The bishops must be on opposite colors, and the rooks must be on opposite sides of the king to enable castling (which looks similar to castling in chess). The first Chess960 World Championship, held as part of the Mainz Chess Classic in 2001 between grandmasters Peter Leko and Michael Adams, was largely an unofficial event. From then on, there were Fischer Random Championships held in Mainz every year until the tournament ended in 2009. 

Since the death of the Mainz Chess Classic, there have been very few who have promoted the variant, but in recent times it seems to be making a comeback. The Icelandic Chess Federation has hosted the European Fischer Random Cup at the Reykjavik Open for the past couple of years.

In 2018, a Chess960 match was held in Oslo between GMs Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura, one of which consisted of eight rapid and eight blitz games. The Norwegian prevailed by a score of 14-10, and apparently the event attracted considerable attention.

The St. Louis Chess Club is no stranger to breaking new ground, and will take it a step further by arranging a series of Fischer Random matches between top-tier players from the 2019 Champions Showdown. The same event is returning to the club in September, so once again the world’s best will come to St. Louis to duke it out on this somewhat less familiar battleground. 

Last year, the big story revolved around legendary world champion Garry Kasparov coming out of retirement. There was speculation as to whether he would come back or if this would be a one-time thing. Well, he’s coming back. He’ll take on world championship challenger Caruana in a Chess960 match consisting of six rapid games and 14 blitz games.

Pitting yourself against the world's second-best player is certainly one approach to a retirement break, but if anyone is up to the challenge it would be the Russian chess legend. There will be three other matches taking place, however, and you’d be remiss to ignore them.

GM Wesley So, who has been a regular in the world’s Top 10 for quite a while now, will take on another former world champion in GM Veselin Topalov. So excels at rapid time controls, but Topalov’s creativity should serve him well in Fischer Random positions. 

Grandmaster Leinier Dominguez at a recent Rapid Blitz tournament at the St. Louis Chess Club.
Credit St. Louis Chess Club

GM Leinier Dominguez has been on a tear since he started representing the U.S. and will take on eight-time Russian champion GM Peter Svidler. Svidler is no stranger to Chess960, as he won the Mainz event four years in a row from 2002-05, so he should in no way be underestimated.

Nakamura, the current U.S. champion, will take on Armenian GM Levon Aronian. Both players have shown strong results in faster time controls as well as Chess960, and have styles that are well-suited to the variant.

The matches will take place Sept. 2-5 at the St. Louis Chess Club. The players will draw for the starting position at noon, then the games will begin at 1 p.m. Spectators are welcome to drop by the club, and online commentary will be provided on uschesschamps.com.

Josh Friedel is an American chess grandmaster and was U.S. Open Champion in 2013.