When Magnus was asked how he had prepared for his Fischer Random match against Hikaru Nakamura, he said he had studied the castling rules. I don’t think it was meant as a joke, even though the comment surely triggered some giggles. The World Chess Champion needs to study castling rules?
It actually makes perfect sense: Other than the castling rules, Fischer Random is identical to chess – and Magnus Carlsen is a very good chess player. After both sides castle, it’s just a plain old game of chess. Therefore, coping with castling will be a crucial part of any Fischer Random match. We’ll take a look at the longest, the shortest, the earliest, the latest and – last, but not least – the best.
The earliest castling can’t ever be beaten! In this starting position, both players chose to castle on move 1. The reasoning is that the h2/h7-pawns are undefended, and there’s a bishop on b1/b8 hoping to exploit that. Castling is the most efficient way of protecting that pawn, and Magnus wasn’t shy about finding it hilarious, as well as being a good move.
Which is the shorter castling? Having the king stay on g1 while the rook jumps across to f1, or the previous position, where the rook and king swaps places, a square each? I’m not sure – but this position gets an honorable mention. Not at least because Hikaru’s castling here (with black) was the only way to save the pawn on f5 – which makes it a short, but brilliant move.
It’s time for the longest castling, and the winner is a stunner. Hikaru, playing white, need to get his a1-rook into play. How, you ask? Just move the king to g1! It’s a double winner for longest AND best. This super-castling scores 1 point better with the engines than any other move. Actually, at move 20 it’s also a runner-up for being late.
However, the latest castling clocks in at move 21. Had it been one of my students, I would have angrily pointed out that we should secure king safety much earlier – however the player in question was the World Champion, and he got a good position – so better late than never? In fact, black’s previous move was Rd8-d7, only to castle now. That’s efficient doubling, if I ever saw one.
That’s the story of Fischer Random castling.
In other news, Magnus Carlsen won the match 14-10 and may justifiably claim himself to be the biggest maestro of the variant – weird castling included.