After starting off with two losses in the FiNet Chess960 championship in the Mainz Classic, US champ Hikaru Nakamura bounced back all the way into shared first place on the second day. That put him into today's final match of four games against defending champ Aronian. The Armenian lost his first two games today after his own clean 3-0 sweep on day one, but he won when it counted, beating Movsesian to seal his place the final. After exchanging wins in the first phase, the final is anyone's to take. Live games begin at 1830 local, 1230pm EDT.
[Nakamura is up 2-0 against Aronian with white in game three. -- And he just annihilated Aronian in 22 moves to take the Chess960 world title! Three-nil against Aronian, wow. (They play the fourth game anyway, which is nice for the fans. Chapeau to the Mainz folks for that. -- And we got our money's worth as well, a cute endgame bishop sac from Nakamura to force a draw. Final score 3.5-0.5. Movsesian beat Bologan for 3rd 2.5-1.5.)]
If Nakamura wins there's probably some horribly strained element of serendipity to be made about a US champion becoming the world champion in a chess variant spawned by the last US world champion. Maybe not. Speaking of world champions, shuffle chess may well be an indicator of pure tactical talent, but course where we really want to see Nakamura in Mainz is sitting across from Anand with all the pieces on their correct squares. That might happen next year if Nakamura manages to win the incredibly strong Ordix open, the participant list of which is now up. The top ten participants would make a tidy category 19 tournament! Rapid aces like Kasimjanov and Sargissian lurk below that group and there are another 20 players over 2600. Yow.
Other than just enjoying the fireworks and blunders, there are a few interesting things about watching shuffle chess. One is seeing how differently the games evolve from the same setup. This is particularly interesting once the big open starts and you have dozens of GM games going. Some are remarkably similar to each other as the players struggle to impose normal chess logic on the board while other players seem to be playing as much for chaos as anything else.
It's also notable how the players often rely on prophylaxis right from the start. Standard techniques of controlling a knight's outposts, for example, or blocking enemy diagonals, are valid regardless of the starting squares of the pieces. Humans just don't feel comfortable without such mechanisms. This is a secondary reason computers are so devastating against humans at shuffle chess, apart from the primary one that the games are pure tactics from the start. Comps don't waste time with common sense defensive moves.