I think the Fischer Random (or Chess960) match against Hikaru Nakamura (who won the last Mainz unofficial World Championship back in 2009), held at the Henie Onstad art gallery in my former home-municipality Baerum, was a great success and well beyond what I had expected. The games, where a new piece set-up was randomly generated among the 960 possibilities for every second game to allow one white and one black each before moving to a new set-up, turned out to be rich in chess content, highly interesting and surprisingly taxing compared to classical chess by posing new and demanding challenges from move 1. The match was hard fought, and while it took us some time to learn to absorb new structures, and both continued to be tempted to transform the positions into known classical structures throughout, especially the third and fourth day revealed such non-classical piece placement that we were consistently forced to enter pristine positional structures. I hope there will be more such events in the future also at top level. Still, it will be a relief to return to classical chess in my next event in April. Maybe some of the ideas seen and pursued in this match will serve as inspiration for me also in classical chess.
We played four days of slow rapidchess (each player having 45 minutes for 40 moves plus 15 minutes for the rest of the game) and 8 fast rapid-games on day 5 with 10 minutes + 5 seconds increment per move.
Starting with three hard-fought draws on day 1 and 2, the next 5 games were decided. I played quite well in game 4 and despite his stubborn defense I managed to win in the end. He simply didn’t have time to find all the only-moves in the tricky queen ending. Nakamura as expected tried to complicate and avoid quiet positional struggles and sometimes accepted being worse out of the opening. His clever defense and tenacious resourcefulness kept him in the match. I could have taken a clear lead after four days but didn’t claim a draw in time with rook and bishop against his rook in game 8. Frustrated after squandering a won position, I lost my head, as could probably be seen by the higher pulse – we had heart rate monitors which I think is a great idea – and the unreal time loss was my involuntary additional contribution to chess as performance art taking place in the Dag Alving photo-art exhibition, partly about chess history, surrounding the match. I had a 9-7 lead and was able to forget bygones and focus on having fun the last day. Managing to hold the queen versus rook and pawn ending in game three yesterday was psychologically important, maybe even decisive. I won game four, and was happy to secure match victory by winning game 5 as well. I’m not sure I’ve played more than 5 rapid games in one day before. The energy level dropped dramatically, and we even started to make serious mistakes in well-known structures and endings. I won 14-10 in the end and that is a decent result. Non the less, I think both of us could play better, and I already look forward to new Chess960 challenges in the not too far future. The match was covered live by main channel NRK, and I’d like to thank everyone involved for the great event!!
Magnus Carlsen, Oslo, February 14th, 2018