From October 25-30 this year, the second-ever FIDE World Fisher Random Championship will be held in Reykjavik, Iceland.
If you’re asking yourself, “what is Fischer Random Chess?”, then we’ve got you covered in this post, explaining the history and rules of this innovative chess variant.
Fischer Random Chess, also known as Chess960, is a variant of chess that was invented by the late and great World Chess Champion, Bobby Fischer.
Fischer first announced this variant in 1996, many years since he last competed in classical chess.
Fischer had long thought that opening theory was restricting creativity in chess, as elite players had the first moves of the game memorized. As such, he wanted to maintain what he saw as the spirit of chess by removing the opening theory, without changing the rules significantly and creating an entirely new game.
The idea of Fischer Random is to randomize the starting position of the pieces, so that openings may not be memorized.
“I love chess, and I didn’t invent Fischer random chess to destroy chess. I invented Fischer Random Chess to keep chess going”. – Bobby Fischer
The board in Fischer Random Chess maintains all the same pieces as standard chess on an 8×8 board. No new pieces are introduced in the variant, and all pieces move as they would in a regular chess game.
On the second rank (7th for Black), the pawns retain the same position as they would in classical chess.
However, the variation differs on the first rank (8th for Black) with the pieces being placed at random.
Before Fischer Random Chess, there were variants known as “shuffle chess”, where the pieces were randomized. However, Fischer Random seeks to be as faithful to classical chess as possible, and therefore both sides are allowed to castle. Both sides also maintain bishops on both colors.
The variant is also known as Chess960, due to the fact that there are 960 possible starting positions on the board. There are 4 light squares for one bishop, 4 dark squares for the other bishop, 6 remaining squares for the queen, 10 ways to place the two identical knights on the remaining 5 squares, and 1 way to place the two rooks and king on the remaining 3 squares, as the king must be between the rooks.
As such, you get 4 × 4 × 6 × 10 × 1 = 4 × 4 × 15 × 4 × 1, which equals 960 possible starting positions.
The board is often generated by using computer software, as was the case in the 2019 World Fischer Random Championship.
However, it is not necessary to use computer software to generate the starting position. It is possible to use polyhedral dice without re-rolling; for example 4×12×20 or 6×8×20 or 8×10×12.
Here is an example of one of the many possible board setups:
Theory has a long way to go in Fischer Random Chess. Classical chess theory has developed over hundreds of years from a static position, so randomizing the pieces really changes things.
The opening principles of classical chess still apply, e.g. protecting one’s king, controlling the center, and developing minor pieces first.
In some starting positions of Fischer Random Chess, White’s advantage may be greater than it is in classical chess. Therefore, two games are played from each starting position, with each player playing one game as each color.
Given that the theory is in its early stages, many players feel that the game is more suited to longer time controls, as they need more time to think than they would with standard chess.
The overall prize fund for this year’s world championship amounts to $400,000, with the winner taking home $150,000.
There are four directly seeded players for the tournament. They are the defending Fischer Random champion American grandmaster Wesley So, the world’s top-ranked grandmaster in standard chess, Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, and the strongest Icelandic grandmaster Hjorvar Steinn Gretarsson. The fourth player will receive the wild card from the FIDE President. In this case, the fourth player is Russian GM Ian Nepomniatchchti.
In addition to these four seeded players, two players from the Chess.com online qualifier will participate, as will two players from the Lichess online qualifier. Of note of the players participating from these qualifiers is GM Hikaru Nakamura.
The tournament begins with eight players divided into two groups. It is a double round-robin event, meaning that each player faces the others in their group twice; once with the Black pieces and once with the White pieces. After this, the tournament moves onto a knockout stage, in a best-of-four series. If necessary, Armageddon is used as a tiebreaker. In this format, each player bids a number of minutes up to 15, and the player with the lower bid will have Black and will only need to draw the game to win the match. The player with White will have 15 minutes, and will need to win the game to win the match.
The time control for all games, except Armagaddon tiebreaks, is 25 minutes per player for the first 30 moves. From move 31, each player will receive an additional 5 minutes on the clock and an increment of 5 seconds per move.
If you’re interested in following the Fischer Random World Championsip live, Chess24 will be streaming it live.
Since its inception in the mid-90s, Fischer Random Chess has seen a lot of growth in interest, though it still lags far behind standard chess.
In 2008, the governing body of chess, FIDE, added Fischer Random Chess to its appendix on the laws of chess, helping give the variant official acceptance.
There had been various non-FIDE-sanctioned tournaments prior to the first FIDE World Fischer Random Chess Championship 2019, which helped draw attention to the variant.
With the 2nd edition of the Fischer Random Chess Championship taking place this year, interest is only expected to increase.
Many standard chess players are taking up Fischer random chess in addition to classical chess.
Wesley So, a three-time US Chess Champion, is the current Fischer Random Chess Champion. In fact, he even has a Chessable course on Fischer random if you’re interested in learning how to play.
So, along with many other players, have expressed that Fischer Random may well be the future of chess. So has stated that “With the advancement in computers, I predicted that maybe 50 years from now, there won’t be any more high-level professional chess. You know. Like chess will be so well-analyzed.”
Other players, such as current World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen, have expressed similar views, “I think in general the future of classical chess as it is now is a little bit dubious. I would love to see more Fischer [Random] Chess being played over-the-board in a classical format.”
It appears there may be a bright future for Chess960, but it has a long way to go to overtake standard chess in popularity. Standard chess has lasted for centuries, but it is not clear what effect computers will have on chess in the coming decades. Could Fischer random be the most popular chess variation in years to come?