by National Life Master Loal Davis
“The continual refinement of technique and assimilation of knowledge, particularly in the openings,will gradually lead to the extinction of the game – it will be solved, played out… Most of the blame – if that is the word – must fall on the vast store of opening information that is available to every player (and every computer). The amount of study a master has to do to remain up to date in the openings would suffice for a college education. If he neglects his studies his score suffers. I think this corrupts the essential nature of chess, which is a fight between the creative ideas of two individuals. The vast array of predetermined opening variations and theories is, in my view, so much dead weight that should be discarded to save the true values of chess… The task, then, is to find a minimal change in the rules that would retain as much of the present game as possible and yet eliminate its worst feature, the over-analyzed starting position. … The placing of the pieces has a strategy all its own … It is clear that neither player, if he is alert, can get a serious disadvantage in this phase… Although White still has the first move, this gives Black the potentially important first clue as to how to place his own forces. It seems to me that for this reason the chances of the two sides are more nearly equal in Pre-Chess than in the standard game and that this will have the effect of producing not more draws but more exciting chess.”
Benko credited the idea of “Pre-Chess” or “Shuffle-Chess” to David Bronstein who proposed the idea in the late 40’s, but it most likely pre-dates even that. Benko showed the variant to former world champion Max Euwe (also a math professor), who not only liked the idea, but gave an estimate that the number of starting positions exceeded four million. The problem was later given to a Harvard math professor and he concluded that the number actually exceeds 8 million.
• The positions of the pieces are decided entirely by the players, not by a computer program. Strategic chess thinking therefore begins with the first piece placement. The two players place their pieces alternately, one at a time. White does not necessarily have any advantage here; in fact, Black may have the advantage because Black gets the first look at the opponent’s placements.
• The pieces may occupy any square as long as the bishops are on opposite colors. The kings do not have to be placed between the rooks.
• Castling is permitted only if the unmoved king is on e1/e8 and an unmoved rook is on a1/a8 or h1/h8; orthodox castling rules apply. The possibility of castling is up to the players, who may or may not place their kings and rooks appropriately.
• There are 8,294,400 possible opening positions.
In 1978 there was a “Pre-Chess” match conducted between GM Arthur Bisguier (Left) and GM Pal Benko (Right). The match was four games and Bisguier won the match 3.5 to .5.
I am trying to get the games of this match but have only been able to find one (the third match game).
White shoves a Rook down Black’s throat on move 20. (Left)
Black struck back and is about to Queen a distant Pawn on move 39. (Middle)
White concludes with a mating attack and is about to make his 43rd move. (Right).
Click on any Diagram and step through the Annotated Game.