You’ve never seen this position. Now, what to do?

4 laws of opening play in chess960

How to avoid early accidents and get a good game

Is there opening theory in chess960? “Yes, but differently,” says Vincent Keymer. Of course, nobody can memorize analysis and variations for 960 different positions. But even now, in the pioneering days of chess960, some guidelines and concepts have emerged that can make it easier to find your way around unknown starting positions.

1. Watch out for early tricks!

Chess.com chief reporter Peter Doggers maintains a “historical” chess960 database of all known games ever played between humans in 960 tournaments: Almost 3400 games, starting in 2001, when freestyle commentator Peter Leko became the first 960 World Champion.

One of the interesting things about this collection: a whole series of these games lasted only two or three moves. The reason for this: early tricks. If you’re not careful in chess 960, you can make a mistake as early as the first move.

Vincent Keymer, for example, could have made such a mishap when Ding Liren attacked the black h-pawn with his opening move 1.c4:

2. Early fianchettoes!

The “long diagonal” is named like this because there is no longer one on the chessboard. And where else could the long-stepping bishops feel more comfortable than on the longest possible diagonal? The more squares they cover, the greater their effect (potentially).

In traditional chess, there is the “fianchetto” to move the bishop onto the long diagonal. Such a fianchetto takes two moves: first advance the b- or g-pawn to prepare the way for the bishop, then place the bishop on the long diagonal.

Chess960 players have reason to rejoice as soon as they see their bishops on the corner squares a1, h1, a8 or h8. This enables a fianchetto in one move: just move the b- or g-pawn and the bishop is looking across the board. It doesn’t have to move at all in order to become effective.

Howewer, there is a downside to the corner position, the inflexibility. In order to switch to another diagonal, the bishop will have to move twice.

fianchetto thumb

Two first-move fianchettoes.

3. Get the queen in!

The situation is different with the queen than with the bishops. If the strongest piece starts on a corner square or next to it, it is in danger of not finding a way into the game.

As in traditional chess, the following applies in Chess960: Don’t bring the queen into play too early so as not to make it a target for the opponent’s minor pieces. All the more important: the queen must be effective in the medium term, as it is the strongest piece of all. You can’t do without a queen.

Keymer recommends always keeping routes open for the queen to find its way into the game. Never lock it in behind a fixed phalanx of pawns.

4. Harmony!

It’s not just the queen, everyone has to play along, be coordinated and work together. Easier said than done. And yet sometimes the paths are so logical (for the big guys!) that most grandmasters take them.

The starting position of the fourth preliminary game was such a case. Vincent Keymer set himself up exactly as his coach Peter Leko had suggested earlier in the stream. One board further on, Magnus Carlsen took a very similar route:

By Conrad Schormann

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