Do the opening principles in traditional chess (SP518 RNBQKBNR) apply to the other 959 positions?
An answer to this question requires some agreement on what is meant by 'the opening principles in traditional chess'. In Dvoretsky & Yusupov's book 'Opening Preparation', the first chapter 'General Principles of Opening Play' was written by GM Yusupov, a world class player who has dabbled in chess960. He opens the chapter with a question -- 'Let us ask what constitutes the strategy of the opening struggle in chess' -- then hones in on the following points.
- 'Fast development is the basis of opening play.'
- 'Endeavour either to seize the center with Pawns or put pressure on it with pieces.'
- 'A great deal may depend on whether you obtain a good Pawn structure or a bad one.'
- 'From the very first moves, a struggle for the initiative is under way, and this perhaps is the very essence of opening play.'
These points are easily applied to all of the chess960 start positions. I would have liked to see a point about King safety, but maybe GMs assume this is obvious. Yusupov then adds a further point on 'opening structure'. The first time I read this I thought he was talking about Pawn structure, but I now think his meaning is broader.
- 'Modern opening structures are firmly linked to a middlegame plan of action (and sometimes you have to take the eventual endgame structure into account).'
He then refines the foregoing points, all of them very general, with 'Some simple rules'. (That is Yusupov's term; I would prefer to call them 'guidelines', since the 'rules of chess' are usually used to specify how the pieces move, the definition of checkmate, and that sort of thing.) His rules are:-
- 'Don't move the same piece twice (without serious justification).'
- 'Don't waste time on prophylactic moves with the Rook's Pawns; developing the pieces faster is more important.'
- 'Don't bring the Queen out too early; choosing the right place for it is a crucial task, since the nature of the subsequent struggle is in many ways dependent on where the Queen is placed.'
- 'Don't be rushed into a premature, unprepared attack.'
- 'Don't go in for Pawn hunting, especially in open positions where a lead in development makes an immense difference. Remember that a tempo in the opening is sometimes more important than a Pawn.'
Here the general application to chess960 becomes less obvious. The point about Rook Pawns (a- & h-Pawns) is specific to the SP518 setup, where the Bishops often attack (and pin) the enemy Knights. The early development of the Queen might also be more important to SP518 than to other start positions. There are some chess960 positions where an early sortie of the Queen is needed to prepare the smooth development of the minor pieces, which in turn prepares castling.
These differences raises another question: Can the 'rules' that are specific to SP518 be generalized to apply to all start positions? I'll come back to that after examining 'opening principles' formulated by other top players.