The Case for Fischer Random Chess (Chess960) and Chicken Games

“Please put aside your barbaric talk about Fischer Random 960. It obliterates the ability of the viewer to make sense of the board, so why bother?”

— Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution

Top-level classical chess has become so clean that draws are the norm when both play a memorization game of knowing all opening lines assisted by AI solver engines.

I agree with Mr. Cowen, Chess960’s opening game has everyone equally confused, including the players themselves. From COVID to last year, I climbed’s Chess960 ELO ladder to 2000+ to see if I’d learn anything about the game. And it’s a new bag of tricks.

Chicken = Uncertainty

What separates Chess960 games from Classical: it introduces incomplete positional information to the chess game. “Position luck,” if you will, because no player controls the starting randomized positions.

Because of that uncertainty, my Chesss960 games tended to be more tactical and less accurate, with more risks taken from good players playing chicken until one player’s plan begins to translate real positional/material advantages.

The unique Chess960 castling rules can make King safety difficult in your game, even Grandmaster Wesley So messed this up in the last 960 championships! Initiating tempo to disrupt your opponent’s ability to get King safety is worth extra consideration.

“Why Bother?”

Mr. Cowen believes Chess960 isn’t the answer to the AI meta, and rapid chess is the future.

I disagree with Mr. Cowen that there isn’t a place for a variant like 960. Look at what variants did to card games, for example. The most popular community card game, Texas Hold’Em poker, evolved from draw poker where you added multiple betting rounds to deepen the game. It added more incomplete information windows and more CHICKEN.

Alas, computers will come to analyze all 960 positions and discover patterns like bishops being on the board edges tend to have more equalizing positions. So enjoy the chicken ignorance until the solver’s discovery of position strengths become more common knowledge.

Future Chickens

But I find comfort in a recent article where GM Vishnu Prassana said this about the new computer solver era.

“Questions are more important than the answers. The engine gives you the answers, but it doesn’t give you the questions.”

As more players become addicted to computer guidance, we lose a bit of our own ability to navigate ourselves. Sure, computers could help me post-mortem, but when the board and opponent are in front of you, what will you do? To paraphrase the great Aaron Nimzowitsch, the beauty of a move isn’t how it looks, but the thoughts behind it.

To humans, the fight-or-flight mental aspect of competitive chess will always remain. Chicken makes games more exciting to play AND watch.

In conclusion, as I’m painfully learning firsthand in blitz chess when in doubt, play more chicken.

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