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The different variants of the game explained

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CNN

From Netflix shows like “The Queen’s Gambit” to its rock and roll superstar Magnus Carlsen, chess’s popularity has never been higher.

As gaming embraces the digital world, chess has steadily grown and is now consumed avidly by all generations.

Online platform Chess.com says it now has over 102 million registered users – a 238% increase from January 2020 – with 7.5 million daily active users.

Meanwhile, some of the sport’s top players have amassed huge social media followings by streaming games online. The game is so entrenched in the public consciousness that there is even now such a thing as a chess influencer.

As the game evolves from year to year and Carlsen takes part in a tournament dubbed “chess Wimbledon” on Saturday, CNN takes a look at some of the most popular chess variants with the help of grandmaster and three-time British champion David Howell .

Most are familiar with the rules of classic chess, a game that has been around in one form or another for over a thousand years.

Players compete to checkmate their opponent and have plenty of time to do so.

The clock, which tracks time remaining for both players, usually starts at 90 minutes, but games can last much longer.

For the upcoming FIDE World Cup this year, for example, players will have 90 minutes for the first 40 moves, followed by 30 minutes for the rest of the game. Players also get an extra 30 seconds for every move they make, meaning individual games can go on for hours.

In 2021, Carlsen defeated Ian Nepomniachtchi after seven hours, 45 minutes and 136 moves, the longest match in World Championship history. It was Game 6 of the best-14 series, although Carlsen only needed 11 games to win.

“Classic is the most historic type of time control. They used to have hours or even days at a time for their game,” Howell told CNN.

“So it’s a longer form. I think the average classic game takes about four hours and it’s all about stamina.

“Objectively, the level is very high. There are very few mistakes and it is often about extra wins. You have to add up all these little advantages to outlast your opponent.

Due to the time available to think about your next move, draws at the highest level are very common and there is hardly any margin for error.

Howell says all players have databases at their disposal to study all of their opponent’s previous matches, which means they can plan matches in advance.

Some players, including Howell himself, can very occasionally predict the next 20 moves in a game due to the time available to analyze the board.

Carlsen is the current Classic World Champion and has been since 2013.

For those who find it difficult to stay engaged with the classic version of chess, there is a faster option available.

Rapid has the same rules as Classic but players have between 10 and 60 minutes to complete their moves.

With the clock ticking, players tend to make more mistakes with less likely draws.

“There’s a strong emphasis here on opening up because you have so little time,” Howell said.

“You don’t want to get in trouble at the start of the game because you don’t really have time to think and fight back.”

Howell says these games tend to become a race against time in the end, with players taking more risks.

In the past, some of the biggest names in chess wouldn’t have touched these faster versions, but these days the biggest stars in the sport are taking it seriously.

As a result, the level is still very high with maybe only one mistake per game due to time pressure.

In addition to checkmate, players can also lose if they run out of time.

Carlsen, once again, is the rapid world champion after winning the title in December 2022.

Carlsen is world champion in classical, rapid and blitz chess.

If you need a quicker dopamine hit, chess blitz is an even faster version of the sport and players aren’t allowed more than 10 minutes, according to the game’s governing body FIDE. .

Howell, however, says most blitz matches last between three and five minutes.

The allotted time may also include additional additions. For example, 5/1 blitz would refer to the number of minutes players start with (five) and the number of extra seconds (one) players receive after making their move.

These games require players to think quickly and move at lightning speed.

“Blitz is fast and furious. It’s very much about instinct, it’s about speed,” Howell said.

“Often the maximum you have on the clock is five minutes each for the whole match. But these days three minutes is kind of the norm, but you get, for example, two seconds on each move, like a little buffer, an increment,” Howell added, referring to other blitz variations.

“It often pays to be extra aggressive because attacking is easier than defending.”

Carlsen is again the world champion has a worthy rival in the American Hikaru Nakamura.

Nakamura, 35, represents a new era in chess and has amassed 1.6 million subscribers on streaming platform Twitch by streaming his games online.

Howell says Carlsen and Nakamura have an incredible ability to make quick decisions and are able to resolve situations in a split second.

Despite years of practice, even the biggest stars make glaring mistakes. But according to Howell, it’s all part of the fun.

“It’s like going from a five-pass game in tennis to a final tie-break,” Howell said, speaking of the difference between blitz and classic.

“Sometimes you are unlucky. There is much less control over your own destiny.

If you have an even greater need for speed, there’s bullet chess which, as the name suggests, is the fastest of all the variants and an offshoot of blitz.

It is almost always played online, with players usually only having one minute to complete all their moves.

Although chess purists have largely embraced the other time constraints, bullet chess is often seen as a kind of lottery.

“It’s more about surprising the opponent at all costs,” Howell said.

“Your moves don’t have to be the best, but surprise value is key because if your opponent burns 10 or 20 seconds on a move, they’ve pretty much lost all the time and lost the game.”

With bullet chess almost exclusively played digitally, Howell says the variant has become something of an esport, with players having to rely on their mouse dexterity as much as their understanding of the game.

Online chess, including the Chess.com platform, has grown year by year.

The shift to a digital landscape has also brought about a change in the psychology involved in gaming.

“A lot of players perform better if they don’t see their opponent because they don’t get involved in mind games,” Howell added.

“For example, if I was playing Magnus Carlsen and I didn’t know it was Magnus, I think I would score a lot better than if I was sitting across from him because there’s this kind of aura around from him, this air of domination. .

“If he makes a move or frowns, suddenly you panic and make a terrible decision. You can automatically play this role of submission and the best players often psychologically overwhelm their opponents.

“Online, it’s easier to stay calm. You don’t feel your opponent’s breath on your face.

Finally, there is the joker variant called Chess 960, or Fischer random chess.

Created by former world chess champion Bobby Fischer, the game is different not only for its time constraints but also for the positioning of its pieces.

While the pawns are always lined up on the second row, the pieces behind are randomly placed.

This prevents players from planning their moves in advance and Howell believes this is a variation that will continue to grow.

“There are 960 different starting positions so you can’t really memorize the opening step,” he said.

“Basically every player comes to the game and it’s about understanding rather than who has a better memory.”

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