Bored with standard chess? Go Freestyle, Latest Others News - The New Paper

Bored with standard chess? Go Freestyle

PARIS – Finding chess boring? Try shuffling your pieces on the back rank and you get Chess960, or Freestyle chess, a variant of the game that favours creativity over preparation, and backed by chess great Magnus Carlsen.

Chess960, created by former world champion Bobby Fischer in 1996, has been gaining in popularity after an invitational tournament played at the Weissenhaus Luxury Resort, which hosted the G7 Foreign Minister summit in 2022.

In Chess960/Freestyle chess, the pieces on the back rank are reshuffled, meaning that computer-backed preparations leading to sometimes dull openings, are meaningless.

The G.O.A.T. Challenge featured eight players - Carlsen and seven grandmasters handpicked by the Norwegian.

While the International Chess Federation (FIDE) has organised world championships in 2019 and 2022 - with an upcoming one this year - they were played in rapid time control.

The tournament came to life after Carlsen agreed to be involved following a discussion at the chess World Cup in Qatar with German entrepreneur Jan Henric Buettner.

The event, with a $200,000 prize money, featured a confessional booth, extra cameras and heart rate monitors for the players and, for the first time, Freestyle chess was played in standard (long) time control.

The tournament was played in February, triggering a significant rise in the number of games played on the main two online platforms, and Lichess. told Reuters that in January, 493,500 games were played while 628,000 were played in February, with a peak at 27,835 games on Feb. 16, the day the G.O.A.T. tournament finished.

Lichess Chief Executive Officer Thibault Duplessis told Reuters that 605,000 Chess960 games were played in February compared with 502,000 in January.

Carlsen beat American grandmaster Fabiano Caruana in the final.

"This tournament has been a dream come true for me," Carlsen told reporters.

"I would have said that regardless of how the tournament had gone, but I felt that this whole tournament was a joy to play and I think all the players really, really enjoyed this format and will be happy to be back. So, just a joy to start from start to finish and I can’t wait for the next one."

"My dream is a Grand Slam of Freestyle Chess G.O.A.T. Challenges on five continents," said Buettner.

"So, five times a year one of these tournaments, with these rules that I apply with five times the prize money. We’re going to five-fold the prize money so that we have at each tournament a million dollar prize money."

Emil Sutovsky, CEO of FIDE, told Reuters the governing body was contemplating expanding Freestyle chess over-the-board tournaments and creating a specific ranking in the discipline.

"We are looking into various options, including the possible introduction of official ratings," Sutovsky said.

"But we did conduct a 960 world championship before it's not like we just woke up and decided something needed to be done."

Should Buettner's idea of launching a Freestyle chess tour take shape, some players are already looking to join the party, starting with American grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, the 2022 world champion who was not invited to the G.O.A.T. tournament.

"One thing you guys are going to ask me about is, 'Why is Hikaru not playing?' Now there are a couple of players that are missing from this event," Nakamura said.

"FIDE recently organized a Fischer Random World Chess Championship which I won defeating (Russia's) Ian Nepomniachtchi. Prior to me, the other Fischer Random World Champion was (American) Wesley So."

So, Nakamura and Nepomniachtchi did not take part in the event.

While So and Nepomniachtchi did not explain their absence, Nakamura said: "one of the big reasons for that is this tournament was essentially organised by a private sponsor in Germany who gave Magnus the decision to choose who the players were going to be." – REUTERS