A few months ago I covered the St.Louis Kings vs. Queens Tournament in a series of four consecutive posts starting with Chess960 Kings and Queens. Chess960 interest being what it is, I wasn't expecting to see much about that half of the event in the mainstream chess press, so you can imagine my surprise when it was featured in not one, but both, of the magazines I read monthly.
First it was mentioned in the November 2011 issue of Europe Echecs ('Rois Contre Reines', p.24), where GM Kateryna Lahno, one of the players for 'Les Reines', annotated her round two game against IM Marc Arnold of 'Les Rois'. We've already encountered Lahno in a couple of posts from 2010 -- Women, Chess960, and Video and More Women, Chess960, and Video -- on the women's chess960 event at Mainz 2008, but it's also worth noting that one of her games from that event, an annotated loss to GM Alexandra Kosteniuk, appeared in the October 2008 edition of Europe Echecs (p.44).
A month after the 'Rois Contre Reines' piece, the St.Louis event got a 12-page spread in the December 2011 issue of Chess Life (cover by Shirley Szymanek pictured in the corner), where most of the writeup by IM Irina Krush and all of the annotated games covered the chess960 action. Of her own participation, Krush had this to say (p.21):-
Up until July 2011, I'd never played a Fischer Random game, nor did I know the rules. I got my first taste of it at the 2011 Canadian Open, which had a Fischer Random side event that I eagerly attended with the aim of getting some practice for St. Louis. I played two games against Bulgarian GM Dejan Bojkov, winning with white and losing with black (pathetically, in 14 moves.) I didn't know if I'd like Fischer Random, but I loved it!
In Fischer Random, the thinking starts immediately on move one. There are no well-worn paths to follow; you're the first to reach the frontier ... and just as life on the frontier is dangerous and uncertain, so is the situation on the 64 squares.
Her co-author, GM Ben Finegold, provided most of the annotations and was quoted on his own participation.
Here is what Ben, who scored an amazing 5/5 in the Fischer Random and finished second in the event overall, had to say about his thoughts going in:
"I was quite worried about playing Chess960, since I had no experience. To prepare, I played about eight games on the Internet Chess Club in the week leading up to the event. I won them all, but my opposition was rated about 1500, and the games were not impressive. The best advice I got was from World Champion Vishy Anand. When I asked Anand how to prepare for the games, he simply said, "You cannot prepare for Chess960." This gave me some confidence that I could do no wrong in my prep!
"I spoke to [GM Hikaru Nakamura ] briefly about strategy, since Hikaru is not only a great chess player, but possibly an even better Chess960 player! Hikaru said to play in the center and activate your pieces (just like regular chess!). Hikaru also was able to score 5-0 in the Chess960 games. He played extremely quickly in the Chess960 games and seemed to feel at home, somehow."
And Ben's feelings about Fischer Random after the event?
"I guess I felt more under pressure and nervous during the Fischer Random games. I was worried I would blunder really early. I was more confident during the regular chess, but my results do not show any of that! I liked Fischer Random more than I thought I would, and it wasn't as scary as I expected. Which did I enjoy more? In hindsight, the Fischer Random ... not what I expected to say."
Let's have that again: 'I didn't know if I'd like Fischer Random, but I loved it!', and 'Which did I enjoy more? In hindsight, the Fischer Random ... not what I expected to say'. For my next post on this blog, I'll come back to the games.