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Basic Chess

You know I'm finished with the old chess because it's all just a lot of book and memorization.
Bobby Fischer, March 1999
Bobby Fischer

Random Chess, Shuffle Chess, Fischer Random Chess, all are different names for a version of chess with a symmetrical starting line-up of the white and black pieces determined by lot and with the pawns already on the second row. This 200 years old idea has recently gained some popularity, mainly due to the interest of former world champion Bobby Fischer. 'You know I'm finished with the old chess,' he said a few years ago, 'it's all just a lot of book and memorization.' Furthermore, he came to the conclusion that Kasparov and Karpov fixed their games.
In 1792 this version of variable baseline chess was already mentioned in a chess book written by the Dutch general Philip Julius, Count Van Zuylen van Nijevelt. He did not like the openings 'with their boring repetition of patterns.' So he suggested to determine the placement of the pieces by lot. 'The positions can then be changed infinitely, and it will certainly not be possible anymore to study them beforehand.' *
This kind of chess aims at reducing the influence of rote memorization of opening positions. Detailed computer-assisted opening analysis and rote memorization take away two interesting aspects of chess matches: improvisation and creativity. In the year he died, the British grandmaster Tony Miles said:
The overall worry [..] is what exactly is the future of chess? There are many aspects that I find alarming. Computers are [..] improving opening analysis to the point where many top games are not games at all, but contests of computer-aided preparation.
Tony Miles, March 2001
Despite the often-heard criticism of home-preparation, Fischer Random Chess and the like have not been widely accepted. One needs to draw lots and sometimes the players are faced with extremely unattractive positions before they have even played their first move. It is a kind of variable baseline chess just too far removed from classical chess.
Nevertheless, there is a case for adjusting the rules of the game and it would not be for the first time. For instance, taking en passant, castling and the 50 moves rule, all were added to the game. The same goes for pawn promotion, a rule that was also meant to increase the possibilities of the game.

Variable baseline chess without drawing lots
Our objective is to outline a version that retains the advantages of variable baseline chess, while it eliminates the disadvantages of Fischer Random Chess. In other words, we propose an elegant version of variable baseline chess without drawing lots. We have named this version Basic Chess.


The rules

I. Before the game starts, the rooks and pawns of both players are already on the board. They are on the same squares as in classical chess.


II. The first six moves of the game are used to put the remaining pieces on the board: each move an arbitrary piece on a square at the back row.



  For example:

  1. Pg1  Pb8
  2. Lc1  Kd8
  3. Lf1  Pc8
  4. Db1  Lf8
  5. Ke1  De8
  6. Pd1
 Lg8



III. There are two restrictions on lining up the pieces: the bishops should be placed on squares of opposite colours and the king on the d-square or e-square (d1 or e1 and d8 or e8). So, the side on which one may castle short (classical kingside) or long (classical queenside) depends on where the king has been placed.

IV. The lining up has to be completed before one can move a piece which is already on the board.



Summarizing the rules

Pawns and rooks on their usual squares. The first six moves are used to put the remaining pieces on the board; the king on d1 or e1 and for black on d8 or e8, the bishops on squares of opposite colours.



In this way it is possible to get 1296 (36 x 36) combinations of white and black. In other words, 36 x 36 line-ups make 1296 positions. Half of these positions are each other's mirror image. All positions with Kd1-Kd8 mirror the positions with Ke1-Ke8 and the positions with Kd1-Ke8 mirror those with Ke1-Kd8. These kinds of mirrored positions could not occur, if the white king always started out on e1, but in that case black would have a positional advantage.
Of course, not all line-ups are equally promising, just as it is not wise to open a game of classical chess with 1. h4. Time will tell what is playable and what is not - terra incognita chess players will have to explore step by step. As it ought to be.
Suppose Basic Chess catches on. Then, knowledge of openings will be developed too, but this knowledge will never reach the degree of saturation of the theory of openings in classical chess. The chess player will have to improvise much earlier in a game. What the computer may contribute, will not be relevant anymore.

Introducing Basic Chess
One of the most important advantages of Basic Chess is that it builds a bridge to classical chess, for in Basic Chess both players still have the opportunity to choose the classical line-up, and deviations from classical chess can be made in small steps. This opens up the possibility of a gradual transition from classical chess to a version of variable baseline chess.
As to the introduction of Basic Chess one could think of mixed tournaments and competitions in which players who exclusively want to play classical chess, indicate this in advance so that their opponents can prepare classical openings.

Chess players are conservative and rightly so; the game has proven itself. Yet, something must change. What, after all, is the attraction of a game that mainly consists of moves of two top players and for the rest of moves prepared with the help of a machine that will be soon on any desk in every home? The audience wants to watch pure talent, not homework. And the top player, what does he want? According to Fischer and Miles top players are now in fact the hostages of their own knowledge of openings.
If indeed something must happen, it must be a version of variable baseline chess that can be integrated with classical chess. Basic Chess can, variable baseline chess with drawing lots cannot. Basic Chess will not stop the advance of the computer, but it is a way to have the electronic beast get its horns stuck in the arena's fence.

The future of classical chess

Discussion
Our aim was to construct a version of variable baseline chess that could be considered a natural extension of classical chess. Of course, it had to be a version that would also increase the possibilities of chess openings as much as possible, at least to the extent of those of Fischer Random Chess.
Classical chess is a matter of making moves, so we wanted that too. In Basic Chess the players themselves put the pieces alternately on the board. These are moves.
However, to retain the option of castling it would suffice to place only one rook on one of the corner squares. As in variable baseline chess with drawing lots the game would start then with completely empty top and bottom rows. In that case the player himself could determine whether or not to place the remaining rook on the other corner square. But if he does not, he gives up the option of choosing between short (classical kingside) and long (classical queenside) castling in one and the same game. Besides, activating the rooks is an important aspect of classical chess. All this means that the significance of castling would be affected. So we decided to turn this version down.
It may be argued that for the increasement of openings the variable placement of only king and queen would suffice. (Both players can have their king and queen swap over.) As stated before, we have decided, however, to opt for the greatest increasement of possibilities, as long as it is conceptually compatible with classical chess.

Note: Tim Krabbé, Count Van Zuylen van Nijevelt random chess, anyone?, june 2001.





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