Before the 2003 match, GM Svidler gave an interview where he discussed winning the CCM Chess960 Open in 2002, Thanks to Twins I am back in the Top-10.
Q: Can you benefit from chess960 in a normal chess game? A: So far I haven’t played enough chess960 to draw any definite conclusions, but it can certainly help develop intuition and tactical alertness, since you can’t rely on knowledge any more and have to improvise in every game.
After the first two games of the match, both draws, he said,
We could not entertain the people that much today, but there were some funny moments in the first game, because we were not sure how to castle in a certain position. We asked the arbiter after the game and he showed us how to do it. But I will promise you: we will learn!
I can't imagine that happening in a high level chess960 match today. After winning the match +2-1=5, Svidler said somewhat modestly,
I was outplayed in the opening in all games, but as soon as I started getting the pieces off the back rank, I played good chess.
The games were played at a time control of 25 minutes per game plus 10 seconds per move (G/25+10), while 'Starting positions will be known only about five minutes prior to the start of the games.' Here are some quotes from the report on the open (G/20+5), won by Aronian (2. Chess960 Open):
Zvjaginsev: "I have never played Chess960 before. It is quite unusual to think from move one on, because you have to play basic chess. Some positions were quite difficult today, e.g. in the third round in which I played a very sharp game. My opponent could have drawn but I was lucky. But don't ask me to recall the initial positions because I have no idea!"
I.Sokolov: "If I would have to play 100 rated games a year in this chess variant, I would go completely mad! It is so different, but I have to admit that I like playing chess960 occasionally. It will not replace classical chess, but it is good alternative. I am very tired now, because you have to start thinking on move one! More time would be better for the quality of the games. I would probably think about the initial position for at least 20 minutes. I don't know yet what is more important: developing the pieces or trying to occupy the centre quickly."
Aronian (after the last game): "I don't really like playing chess960, because I have to think too much in the initial position. I am not used to use my head in the opening. I have to admit that I was very lucky in the last round, the position was probably losing. There were some odd positions in this tournament, some of them were very hard to play with black. But in normal chess it is not always fun to play with the black pieces as well. I think it is important to open lines for the Bishops, but you know, every position is different and difficult."
Along with the two main events, both Svidler and Leko gave 20 game simuls, with 20 different start positions each. A real novelty was a game Chess Tigers against the Rest of the World, featuring SP017 BNQBNRKR and one pair of moves per day. I haven't tried to replay the game from the many comments in that last link, but it might be possible.
The most remarkable document to emerge from CCM 2003 was written by Mr.CCM himself, Hans-Walter Schmitt: A pleading for Fischer’s ideas - say "Yes" to Chess960. It starts,
"Experts are playing for experts": With breakneck speed, the two world champions Ponomariov and Anand are playing the 21 opening moves of the Najdorf variation in the Sicilian Defense. The time used so far is 16 seconds on one side, 21 seconds on the other side – one observer in the tournament hall sighs protestingly "The organiser should make them play slower in the opening – there's no chance of enjoying the game". Despite grandmasters Yussupov's and Lobron's commentary via headphone, despite a video screen 4 times 5 meters in size as in a cinema, despite the directly visible players on stage, the ordinary chessplayer sitting comfortably in his chair understands nothing at all.
What happens to chessplayers who have to subdivide their time differently after having set up a family or having started a time-consuming job? They stop playing chess because with abandoning only one thing, they gain an enormous amount of time which they can spend on other, more important aspects of life. Furthermore, it is not beneficial for their image or even psychologically unacceptable not to present themselves successful in their favorite hobby. Most often, they are defeated easily by people with enough spare time, just because they have the time to continue studying more and more theory. Thus, they are not found in the club-structure of today anymore. The organised chess, especially chess played in clubs, generally has nothing to offer for socially successful people with not enough leisure time.
There are many other chess960 discussion topics in this visionary document and I would like to return to it in a future post.