It is perhaps not generally realized that opening theory in chess proceeds on certain definite assumptions. They are simple enough and once learned will never be forgotten. They are:
- In the initial position White, because of the extra move, has a slight advantage. Consequently:
- White's problem in the opening is to secure the better position, while
- Black's problem is to secure equality.
The elaboration of these questions in each individual case is what is meant by 'the theory of the openings'.
Although we don't know for sure, it is highly likely that those three 'definite assumptions' apply to the other 959 chess960 start positions. A few paragraphs later Fine continues,
There are two fundamental concepts in the opening : development and the center. Development is getting the pieces out. The center consists of the four squares in the geometrical center of the board. The basic principle is that it is essential in the opening to develop all the pieces harmoniously and in such a way as to secure the most favorable position possible in the center.
More elaborately, there are ten practical rules which are usually worth sticking to, though the expert player will be aware of the many exceptions. These rules are:
- Open with either the e- or the d-Pawn.
- Wherever possible, make a good developing move which threatens something.
- Develop Knights before Bishops.
- Pick the most suitable square for a piece and develop it there once and for all.
- Make one or two Pawn moves in the opening, not more.
- Do not bring your Queen out too early.
- Castle as soon as possible, preferably on the King's side.
- Play to get control of the center.
- Always try to maintain at least one Pawn in the center.
- Do not sacrifice without a clear and adequate reason.
[Followed by four reasons for a Pawn sacrifice]
Note the mention of harmonious development in the first paragraph of the quote. A frequent criticism of chess960 is that many of the start positions lack the harmony found in the traditional position (SP518 RNBQKBNR). While this is certainly true, it is also true that an unskilled player will often ruin the natural harmony of SP518 by developing the pieces unharmoniously, thereby turning gold into rubbish. In contrast, the skilled chess960 player is often faced with the challenge of turning rubbish (speaking figuratively; I've never met a chess960 start position I didn't like) into gold. Since both players are faced with the same start position, the skilled player will achieve harmony of the pieces faster than the unskilled opponent.
As for the 'ten practical rules', there is some overlap with Yusupov's principles plus many new ones. Again there are guidelines particular to the RNBQKBNR setup mixed with more general guidelines. Specifically, the cautions on the minor pieces and on the Queen sortie apply to SP518; the cautions on the center Pawns and on castling Kingside probably apply to many start positions, although not all; while the other cautions undoubtedly apply to all chess960 start positions.
I'm starting to assemble a good collection of opening principles and, in future posts, will look at what other GM-level writers have to say on the subject. Then I'll return to the distinction between general chess960 principles and those that apply to SP518.