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Fischer Random in 1875

Even Bobby's "Fischer Random", also known as "Chess960", is not without precedent in our standard chess. We know that Fischer admired Steinitz, and was well aware of the 1st world champion's games and writings. As a teenager Fischer was seen reading the International Chess Magazine, while as recently as 1996 he was observed buying a collection of Steinitz games from a chess shop in Argentina. One may guess whether Fischer was aware of the following game, played in the winter of 1875 between Blackburne and Potter - or of others like this one. It would be interesting to collect pre-Fischer examples of Fischer Random, to see if other piece arrangements were practiced. Steinitz, from The Field (October 1875):

"The interesting game published below was played at the West End Chess Club between Messrs. Blackburne and Potter a fortnight ago, for a small prize offered by Mr. Ballard. Both parties agreed to a displacement of the pieces, in order to waive all advantages from the knowledge of the openings, and it was therefore arranged that on both sides the Bishops should be placed on the Knights' squares, and the Knights on the squares of the Bishops. We have adopted the usual notation, as if the pieces had been placed in the ordinary way."

[Event "Fischer Random"] [Site "London"] [Date "1875.10.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Blackburne, Joseph Henry"] [Black "Potter, William Norwood"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [Annotator "Steinitz, W."] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "rbnqknbr/pppppppp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RBNQKNBR w KQkq - 0 1"] [PlyCount "57"] [EventDate "1875.10.??"] [EventType "game"] [EventCountry "ENG"] 1. Ng3 {[%csl Yf5,Yh5] [The opening moves seem to defy analysis, and it is, therefore, next to impossible to pronounce a decided opinion on this mode of opening. The Knight threatens to menace the g-pawn by being played to f5 or h5, and thus to force the adversary to block the Bishop still more by ...Ne6; but, since White's Knight will have to retreat ultimately, the advantages of this course do not appear very certain.]} d5 2. c4 {[The interest in the struggle between the two masters is much enhanced by their fighting on unknown ground. Mr. Blackburne proceeds at once in his usual lively and spirited style.]} dxc4 3. Nf5 Ne6 4. b3 c3 ({Mr. Potter, on the other hand, exhibits his usual caution and sound defensive power; and perhaps this was the surest mode to avoid all difficulties, though we believe that the pawn might have been safely taken} 4... cxb3) 5. d4 g6 {[White's attack is now completely frustrated, and the opponent comes out of the affray with two pawns to boot, which ought to have proved more than an equivalent for his position being somewhat depressed.] } 6. d5 gxf5 7. dxe6 Qxd1+ 8. Kxd1 fxe6 9. Nd3 c6 10. f4 {[%cal Yg1d4] [Merely threatens to win a clear Rook by 11.Bd4.]} Bf7 ({To advance} 10... e5 {looked well, but it would have only led to an even game, e.g.} 11. Nxe5 Bxe5 12. fxe5 Bd5 13. Bd4 Bxg2 14. Rg1 Be4 15. Bxe4 fxe4 16. Kc2 Nb6 17. Bxb6 {etc.}) 11. Bd4 Rg8 12. g3 Nd6 13. Bxc3 Bc7 ({Here we should have preferred} 13... Ne4 {at once, which we believe would have gained a move, since White could not well support the Bishop with} 14. Kc2 {[%csl Rb1] without now obstructing the other Bishop. As will be seen later on (the 16th move), when Black played the Knight as suggested, White's King's Bishop was already developed, and the other Bishop defended by the King.}) 14. Ne5 Bh5 15. Bd3 O-O-O {[Both parties are now out of the wood, and the open battle assumes an ordinary aspect.]} 16. Kc2 Ne4 17. Bc4 {[Well played, and much stronger than taking the Knight. Black is now subjected to a troublesome defense.]} Rd6 18. Rhd1 Rgd8 19. Bb4 {[White most judiciously forces the advance of the opponent's c-pawn, in order that his King's Bishop should be safe from all molestation of the hostile b-pawn.]} c5 20. Be1 {[%csl Gc4]} Nf6 21. Bf2 Bb6 ({Best. Had he supported the pawn by} 21... b6 {he would have lost the Exchange by the answer of} 22. Ba6+ Kb8 { followed by Nc6+.}) 22. Rxd6 Rxd6 23. Rd1 Nd5 24. a3 a6 25. Kb2 Nc7 26. Rc1 Rd2+ 27. Kc3 Rd6 28. Kb2 Rd2+ 29. Kc3 ({Drawn game. The two players, considering their respective chances of success most dubious, elected to play for a draw by repeating their moves; but it strikes us that White might have retreated the King to} 29. Ka1 {with the better prospect of victory, though he was one pawn behind; for if then Black took} Bxe2 {the game might have gone on thus:} 30. Be3 Bxc4 31. Bxd2 ({better than} 31. Nxc4 {in which case Black would retreat the Rook to} Rd6 {with a good game}) 31... Bxb3 32. Be3 {and White would recover one pawn, remaining with Exchange ahead, and virtually only one pawn minus, for the opponent's doubled e-pawn would not count for much.}) 1/2-1/2

The game itself is worth reproducing on several counts, beyond being a possible precursor of Fischer Random; for the unusual combat between two strong players, and the commentary by Steinitz are very fine - although the 1st world champion was still discovering his "voice" in this early column in The Field. Unless we are mistaken, a rare slip creeps into his note to Black's 21st move where the dismissed 21...b6 does NOT lose the Exchange to 22.Ba6+ Kb8. The idea is valid, however, say if White's Rooks were doubled. Perhaps another strange irregularity in an altogether irregular game.