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Inspired by this question: Why did Magnus Carlsen not play the World Chess Championship in 2023?

It's not the first time I've heard about GMs (not just Magnus Carlsen) being tired of the current state of Classical chess and how it's too reliant on preparing a lot of opening variations.
So I wonder... Is there a chess mode that just skips the opening?

Get a top chess engine, make it play a game and stop at some legal position in the mid-game where White has a slight +0.1 / +0.2 advantage (just like the one that exists at the start of a normal game).

Then have players play from there.

Same rules, same everything, only difference being someone else already played the opening phase for them. They could be given some minutes to study the position, or none at all; the system could be tuned to make the position as uncommon / unplayed / off-the-book as deemed convenient.

I think it could work as an alternative to rapid for tie-breaks. See how they perform when thrown into a position they haven't planned themselves, how quickly they can adapt to the material and position they got.

Is this an actual chess mode? Has something like this ever been considered for official games?

N.B. I could understand if someone thought "this is just a chess puzzle", but it isn't. A chess puzzle always has some kind of achievable goal: a mate in two, a short sequence of movements gaining a piece or a positional advantage. There's always a "win" to be found. In other words, it's not a +0.1 position, but more like a +5.4 position where you have to find the movement(s) to consolidate that advantage. A (modern) chess engine would never evaluate a puzzle position to be just +0.1, because then it wouldn't be a puzzle, just a normal position.

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  • Feel free to edit formatting / tags into something more appropriate, if needed. Thanks!
    – walen
    Commented Nov 10, 2023 at 13:09
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    +0.1 according to whom? Commented Nov 11, 2023 at 15:12
  • @ComicSansSeraphim If you mean the evaluation of the position to play: according to the chess engine that played the game up until that position, obviously. "But the human players may find movement sequences the engine didn't take into account!" Well, it's been years already that the odds of something like that happening are quiiite low, but if one of the players manages to do so... good for them!
    – walen
    Commented Nov 12, 2023 at 9:11
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    To downvoters: this is not Meta. This is not a discussion question where you vote to show agreement / disagreement. If you find the question is lacking detail, or is badly written, or is not useful, then a comment pointing what to improve, while not mandatory, would still be much appreciated -- but please do not downvote just because you don't like the idea. Thanks.
    – walen
    Commented Nov 12, 2023 at 9:19
  • Why not just play chess960 then?
    – koedem
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 12:45

2 Answers 2

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Before the variant you propose can be considered for something even remotely like 'official' tournaments, it must have been proved in practice: particularly the selection of starting positions. Until then, it's nothing.

A major issue would of course be if the process of selecting starting position really would provide 'random' starting position, or just a very large number of predictable (and thus pre-analyzeable) positions. Until that has been researched, I see no reason why anyone would touch it, especially 'officially'. You probably will have to do that research yourself, unless you find anyone interested.

You can probably research the original question yourself: See The Encyclopedia of Chess Variants (2007, perhaps later?) However, it omits almost everything that doesn't really contain enough to make it into a variation: and your suggestion may be one of those

There have been remotely similar proposals. In one from early 1908, kings were placed on an empty board, a screen was placed between White and Black, and the players placed their remaining men on 'their' side of the board (with some obvious restrictions). When they are finished, the screen is removed and, play starts. (I saw this mentioned in Wiener Schachzeitung -- I probably don't recall all details) I believe a minor tournament was played using this method. (I have a game between Marco and Thirring from 1908-12-28, almost certainaly from WSz. The starting position that developed in that game was

[FEN "3q1r2/bp1pnrpk/p1b1pnpp/7p/2P2PP1/1PB1PPNR/2B1PKPR/3N3Q w - - 0 1"]

Marco had the White pieces, and won the game.

In another type of variant, the screen is dispensed with, and the players place their pieces almost as moves (with some obvious restrictions). Checks have to be countered immediately. This one appear in 1915 or so in Wiener Schachzeitung, but I can't recall seeing any scores.

Also, in theme tournaments, all games share the same starting position (or positions). The intention here is to investigate the viability of a particular opening, and not necessarily to provide an even starting position. I have the impression that these are or were more common in corr. chess world. (Example: Abbazia/Opatija 1912, King's Gambit Accepted. )

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  • Thanks for your answer. I think you are interpreting "play a random game" differently than I intended; I removed "random" to avoid any confusion. What I meant is that the game should not follow any preestablished movements. Any modern chess engine can play 1000s openings/hour against itself up to a midgame position; we just have to select those with a ~+0.1 evaluation, then check against any chess DB to remove those played many times before (size of "many" being up to the org). I explained that in the question. Chess commentators already do this on live stream, so not much to "research" here.
    – walen
    Commented Nov 12, 2023 at 9:40
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Get a top chess engine, make it play a game and stop at some legal position in the mid-game where White has a slight +0.1 / +0.2 advantage (just like the one that exists at the start of a normal game).

Then have players play from there.

There is a common variant which is quite close to that and which occasionally has tournaments. These tournaments are called "Themed Tournaments". Rather than have the engine make some semi random moves to determine the starting position a position arising from a standard opening is used. For instance these could range from the queenless position arising from a full Berlin Defence to a Kings Indian Defence to a Fried Liver Attack.

All games in the tournament start from the same standard position and players have the chance to play both the white and black sides of the opening in the course of the tournament. Lichess run these tournaments online and possibly other platforms as well.

These tournaments, arising as they do from standard positions in known openings are uncontroversial and well defined. What you suggest is rather less well defined and begs a lot of questions like - which engines should be used?, how many moves into the middlegame should the starting position be?, what opening book should the engine use (if any)? In short it would require a lot more work to make it into an attractive alternative to the already existing themed tournaments.

Is this an actual chess mode? Has something like this ever been considered for official games?

No. The idea needs more work and proof of concept (some actual competitive games or tournaments)

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