Fischer makes an unprecedented move

After 500 years, the greatest of the grandmasters has changed the rules of chess, says William Hartston

Share
Related Topics
For only the second time in a millennium, something is about to happen that promises to improve the quality of the leisure activities of tens of millions of people.

This afternoon, in La Plata, Argentina, Bobby Fischer will change the rules of chess. The last time the rules were altered significantly was in the 1490s, when the scope of the queen and bishop were considerably enhanced and modern chess was born out of a more tedious version that had then been around for 900 years.

Bobby Fischer, 53, who won the world chess championship in 1972, has decided that while the rules were adequate for half a millennium, they now need a little tinkering with. His proposal, to be launched today as a new game called "Fischerandom Chess" is to dispense with the conventional placing of the pieces at the beginning of a game, instead shuffling the kings, queens and rooks at random among the squares they usually occupy.

After 500 years of intense study, the conventional starting position has been over-analysed, he believes. The Fischer version would place an emphasis back on genuine skill and creativity rather than knowledge of opening variations.

The idea may have come to Fischer when he was preparing for his comeback match against Boris Spassky in 1992. After 20 years away from competitive chess, Fischer played some magnificently impressive games, but still seemed a little out of touch with modern theory. In his best years, he was always six months ahead of other grandmasters in his analysis of the most complex opening variations. When shaking off two decades of rust, however, he simply avoided anything fashionable in his openings.

There is no reason for the new game to catch on. "Improved" versions of chess are launched every few years - three-dimensional, hexagonal, or 100-square among others - but they have never succeeded in weaning the world's players away from their familiar territory. Yet the backing of Bobby Fischer could make all the difference.

For 20 years after winning the world championship, Fischer never pushed a pawn in competition. Indeed, his only known creative achievement was a pamphlet entitled I was tortured in the Pasadena Jailhouse - an account of his arrest on (totally unfounded) suspicion of a bank robbery. Yet the charisma of the name of Bobby Fischer is still highly potent. His match with Spassky in 1992 attracted a $5m purse - roughly three times the amount that the current champions, Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov, can command.

Walking out of tournaments, demanding larger pawns (or smaller squares) on his chessboards, even having his lavatory seats lowered to meet his demanding specifications, all Fischer's perfectionist traits helped to build his unique reputation. It also helped to have been the strongest player who ever lived. And when he began his comeback match in 1992 by spitting on a letter from the US Internal Revenue Service, the legend of Bobby Fischer as modern American folk hero was perfected. The only trouble is that he can only return to America on penalty of arrest and a huge fine for "trading with the enemy" for his sanctions-busting crime of defying the IRS by competing in Yugoslavia.

Having beaten the Russians and confounded the Americans, Fischer is now taking up his most difficult challenge: the game of chess itself. And anyone doubting that the reclusive American can change the rules should take a look at the fortunes of US Patent Number 4,884,255; inventor Robert J Fischer: the Bobby Fischer Chess Clock. The clock helps a player allocate his time sensibly and has been a runaway hit on the back of the Fischer name. Perhaps in another few years, we will all be doing the Bobby Fischer shuffle with our pieces at the start of each game too.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

British economy: Government hails the latest GDP figures, but there is still room for skepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform