CASTLING IN CHESS960: ANOTHER APPEAL FOR SIMPLICITY
Chess960 is a noble, but flawed attempt to force players to start thinking from the very first move of the game. The biggest problem with Chess960 are the bizarre castling rules. For anyone not familiar with Chess960, consider the following, which is just one bizarre aspect of “castling.” Depending on the opening setup, when castling, the king can move anywhere from five squares to zero squares to minus one squares (yes, the king can actually move in the opposite direction than it normally would). It would be difficult to teach this maneuver to anyone not familiar with standard chess. A variant called Chess480 seeks to simplify these castling rules, but in doing so creates some of its own issues.
I propose a variant which achieves the goal of eliminating memorization of openings while avoiding the failings of both Chess960 and Chess480. This variant, which I have dubbed Chess18, has a randomized opening setup just like its “predecessors.” The difference is that the rooks and the king start on the same squares that they do now so that castling remains exactly the same as it is now— problem solved!
An additional benefit of Chess18 is that it avoids the situation in Chess960 where with some opening setups White can attack an undefended black pawn with her first move.
When Bobby Fischer met with former FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov to propose the switch to Chess960, Ilyumzhinov advocated “step-by-step” changes mindful of the heritage of chess. Well, here is such a step.
David Couture, via e-mail
CL also provided a response:-
Chess Life asked Damian Nash, a two-time Utah state champion who ran small Chess960 tournaments at the U.S. Opens in 2010 and 2011, and also conducted small break-out sessions on the topic, to reply:
David Couture hits the nail on the head. Bizarre castling rules are a serious problem with Chess960 (Fischer Random). His solution is novel: Leave the rooks and king on the same squares as classical chess, thereby keeping familiar rules intact. Chess18 is a logical first step toward the evolution of the world’s greatest game, expanding opening books by a factor of 18. Another interesting alternative is “Moab Random,” a form of pre-chess that replaces castling (already a bizarre move in classical chess) with the much simpler ‘evacuation’ of the king to any empty back-rank square.
Kudos to Mr. Couture and other game theorists who attempt to wrestle chess out of the grip of the brilliantly obsessive memorizers at the top, who hold Ph.D. equivalents in opening theory. Consistent with Bobby Fischer’s hope for the future of the game, Chess18 could help return chess to the vastly larger audience of brilliant tacticians and strategists worldwide; at least for a little while, until opening jargon catches up. In classical chess, opening experience usually trumps raw talent. But in ChessX, as X increases, natural ability and sound strategy will yield progressively better results.
What do you think? Are 'bizarre castling rules' the 'biggest problem with chess960'?