There are many variations of chess. Wait, let’s format this sentence correctly. There is a plot chess variants. The most famous example of yesteryear would have to be Capablanca Chess, a variation that Capablanca began promoting during his reign to prevent the “death of chess” due to too many draws. It consisted of a 10×8 board with two new pieces.
Aside from the very exotic variants which are more games using a chessboard than variants of the game of chess itself, almost all major variants have symmetrical configurations for both suits. The usual explanation for this is that it avoids any unusual advantage for one side. This assumes that the swings will on average be so powerful, that one side will be compromised before the first shot is played. It seems a bit overkill.
What is Double Shuffle Chess?
First, a full disclosure: this is a made up name, and I found this flavor on a fairly distant server under the name “Random Chess”. Before we get to the name issue, let’s look at the variant itself.
The basic idea is incredibly simple: both sides have their lower ranks mixed together, with no castling allowed. That alone would only be Shuffle Chess, a well-established variant, but the problem here is that they’re not symmetrical. So what’s the special appeal?
Asymmetry is actually a fundamental piece here, because regardless of the variant, be it chess, random chess or even Chess960 (Fischer Random Chess), when the game remains somewhat symmetrical, draw rates tend to skyrocket. If you look at normal chess, players will constantly seek to break this symmetry and cause imbalance to generate a better chance of a decisive outcome. Even Chess960 has this problem. Here, the game starts with this asymmetry.
What about a random position where one side has an unbalanced advantage? It can happen, but it’s not as common as you might think.
Here is the engine evaluation of the position just above.
Yet the reality is that there are two ways to handle such cases: reverse colors, so both players must try both situations. But another is to simply not allow declines to play, so that a “losing” side cannot decline to play and realize that in the long run a player will have a balanced distribution of luck starts and of bad luck and that the skill of the players decide the outcome.
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attraction and pleasure
The standard set of rules according to random chess is that a side may start with bishops of the same color. If so, then there are slightly more than Chess960’s 960 positions: there are slightly more than 1.6 billion starting positions. If you limit the starting positions to require bishops of opposite colors, then there are only 132 million starting positions. Suffice it to say, you can establish principles and concepts well, but there will never be a real opening theory for this flavor.
As a friend jokingly put it:
“Magnus gave up the world championship because he realized it was a better game and being the champion of just one out of 1.625 billion opening setups was a joke”
The lack of castling is actually an advantage because one thing that always bothered me with Chess960 was the slightly convoluted castling rules, and how that also limited the variety of starting positions. With the recent fad of NC (No-Castling Chess) chess, this will seem much less objectionable.
The games are all immediately difficult because each situation is quite new, and similarities to previous ones may cause you (or your opponent) to overlook important details in the differences. Your imagination will be constantly challenged as it seeks to conjure up new tactics, traps, and positional ideas. Yet, because it follows the traditional chess size and pieces, it still remains a very classic chess variant at its core.
I’ve played this variant well over a hundred times, so the idea is not to push YACV (Yet Another Chess Variant) which is worth testing. If I share it, it’s because I like it and I have a lot of fun playing it.
FM Claus Dieter Meyer has put under the microscope a comprehensive fund of topical and timeless games/fragments. In the video, Hamburg’s managing director, Dr. Karsten Müller, outlined the main points of Meyer’s work and created 14 tests plus 10 sets of interactive tests.
Play against Fritz online
A very real problem is finding an opponent, as not everyone will go for every variant you are interested in. However, since it still follows standard chess rules, there is an easy solution: Fritz Online.
You may have read a recent tutorial sharing the revamped design and functionality of this ChessBase web app, and what a nice opponent it can be. Well, you can easily play a game of Double Shuffle against him, and I did, with hints, banter, and the whole nine yards.
Example game Double Shuffle against Fritz Online
Enter first Fritz online
Then select a game level
I have chosen club player test. Go now to Configure and save and choose Open PGN
Choose a PGN with the starting position you want to play from. Yes, you’ll have to bring your own, but I’m attaching a small PGN with five starting positions to experiment and play with.
Click here to download Five Double Shuffle Starting Positions (.zip)
Remember that because Black is not just a mirror of White, playing the other side will be a very different experience, and not just the same game but a lower tempo. Now all you have to do is play your game!
Here is an example of a game I played against him.
what’s in a name
Originally I had planned to just present this variant as “Random Chess”, since that was how I played it, but the Wiki entry on Chess960 made me doubt the wisdom of this. Here is what it reads:
Hans-Walter Schmitt, president of the Frankfurt Chess Tigers e.V. and advocate of the variant, started a brainstorming process to come up with a new name, which was to meet the requirements of top grandmasters; specifically, the new name and its parts:
- must not contain any part of a grandmaster’s name;
- must not include negatively biased or “squishy” elements (such as “random” or “freestyle”); and
- must be universally understood.
The effort resulted in the choice of the name “Chess960”.
Please note the second point. Since the game is basically Shuffle Chess, but with unique “mixes” for the two suits, Double Shuffle Çhess seemed like a fitting name. Of course, if we want to follow the nomenclature above, we could also call it ChessBillion…
The main reason for sharing this variant was to share what was a real source of pleasure, ticking for me the boxes of what I like: chess rules, variety, simplicity. Practicing with it will also help open up your horizons on tactics and positional play, forcing you to think outside the box every time. That you can always find an accessible opponent in Fritz Online is of course only the icing on the cake. Hope you have fun too!