The idea of creating a variant of chess by shuffling the order of the pieces on their respective first ranks is hundreds of years old. Even more surprising, despite the age of the concept, the motivation appears always to have been the same - to avoid the suffocating effect of too much rote opening knowledge and force players to think on their own in the first stage of the game. A sense of the game being in danger of being 'played out' has been a recurring theme among some of the greats, none more so than the turbulent American world champion, Bobby Fischer.
Fischer reportedly developed his set of rules out of a desire to stem the proliferation of opening analysis, as well as to combat one of his career obsessions, the possibility of pre-arranged games.
At a press conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina on June 19, 1996, roughly four years after his comeback rematch vs. Boris Spassky, Fischer unveiled his game and to promote a grandmaster (GM) match in the new discipline, between his friend Eugenio Torre (Philippines) and Argentine Pablo Ricardi. In typical Fischer fashion however, his bickering with the organizers ended in the event being cancelled.
The first prolonged stint of popularization of the variant came from German organizer Hans Walter Schmitt staged a series of events in Mainz. Like the Norwegian series, this began with an unofficial world championship between elite players, with Hungarian GM Peter Lékó beating English GM Michael Adams 4½-3½ in an eight-game rapid match in 2001.
The Mainz Chess Classic continued to stage a series of top-level FR open tournaments and 'title' matches, as well as a computer World Championship in the variant. In the final edition in 2009, American Hikaru Nakamura defeated Armenian GM Levon Aronian, and Russian Alexander Grischuk won the Open event. All three of these players remain at the pinnacle of elite chess. Nakamura lost this 'title' vs. Magnus Carlsen here in 2018. He, Aronian and Grischuk, among many other top players, will pursue the title in Norway this year.
With the acceleration of computer-aided analysis, what used to be a charmingly naïve assessment of the advanced state of human knowledge is progressively becoming a reality for top-level players. Massive encyclopedic knowledge is now very arguably stifling creativity, slashing the percentage of decisive games, and making memorization an increasingly significant factor in elite chess.
This means that FR creates a liberating sense of renewal for top chess professionals, who can solve fresh problems and free themselves from the slog of keeping up with theoretical developments. As the initial oddness of the start positions gradually recedes, the games quickly look like 'normal' chess, and there is a sense that the classical game has not really been 'defaced', only that the dreariness of the openings arms race has been eliminated.
Chess beginners very much get the sense that the set they bought recently has turned out to have 959 bonus games included. Enthusiastic amateur players have tended to be the most suspicious of FR, seeing no reason to 'get rid of' regular chess, the work and study they have done, and the openings they have learned to love. But this misses the point - no one is trying to kill the classical game - FR is an alternative - one that is both surprisingly similar, and refreshingly different.
Grandmaster Torre, who was supposed to play in Fischer's planned inaugural event, remains an ardent supporter of FR chess: "(FR) along with standard chess is the future of chess. Classical chess has been with us for hundreds of years. We have an emotional attachment to classical chess and organizers will hold standard events. But we have to get ready for the future also and one way is by supporting (FR)."
There is a common Norwegian saying that 'beloved children have many names'. This chess variant has been called a variety of things, even though it has tended to provoke more debate than love - so far.
While Fischer Random was the choice of the organizers of the current revival, Fischerandom was the proposal of Bobby Fischer himself.
FR advocate and promoter Hans Walter Schmitt, the man behind the Mainz events, landed on "Chess960" after a discussion process with grandmasters who sought to find a name unconnected with any player, free from potentially negative connotations (like "random"), and which was easy to understand. The 960 refers to the number of possible legal starting positions.
The Norwegian organizers have preferred to honor Fischer for his rule changes to the older version of Shuffle Chess, where the start position could be completely random. This involved ensuring that there was a certain amount of guaranteed kinship to classical chess.
Only two basic changes differentiate FR and classical chess. One of these is relatively simple - the possible starting positions - the other is quite complicated - castling.
The arrangement of the pieces in FR is random, with Fischer's following exceptions to conform to classical chess conditions: the bishops must start on opposite colored squares, and the king must be between its rooks, so that castling to either side is possible.
The FR castling rules are designed to produce the most classical results - king on c-file and rook on d-file for castling towards the a-file, and king on g-file and rook on f-file for castling towards the h-file - but this can be very hard to visualize and remember depending on how unusual the starting position of the king and rooks may be.
As in classical chess, the usual rules associated with castling apply:
* The king and the castling rook must not have moved previously;
* No square from the king's starting square to its landing square may be under attack by an enemy piece;
* All the squares between the starting and landing squares (including the landing square), for both the king and rook, must be vacant except for the king and rook.