Magna Charter Series

Promoting scholastic chess competition in our area!

What is the Magna Charter Series?

The Magna Charter Series of scholastic chess tournaments was begun in September 2017 by our chess club in conjunction with the National Eagles of Excellence chess club at the former Aloma D. Johnson Charter School, also in the City of Buffalo, New York.

While the sponsorship of both Elmwood Village and Aloma D. Johnson illustrate that charter schools have taken a leading role in scholastic chess in the Buffalo City School District, the series is open to all scholastic players in the grade ranges selected for each event, including players visiting from out-of-town who just happen to stumble upon it!

Since their inception, all Magna Charter competitions have been held on the Days Park-Allentown campus of the Elmwood Village Charter School, but we'll happily go on the road to your school, if you'd like to bring chess to your students or community! Just contact us to find out how.

Spring 2020 Magna Charter and Chess960

Like butterflies drunk on fermenting fruit, the EVCS Chess Club is giddy for experimentation. The pioneer in area junior tournaments, we cannot sit still. Despite being a centuries-old game (we tell our new learners that a reanimated Benjamin Franklin could sit down and play chess with them, so familiar would the game be to both--try that with Call of Duty!), chess is still a vital game!

On SUN APR 19 2020, that vitality will be expressed in the first WNY Fischer Random Chess (Chess960) event, a single section of the tournament open to anyone willing to brave this new world.

We've done our research, trained our TD's in the game, etc., and we think we can do it justice.

FAQ's about Chess960

What is Fischer Random Chess (Chess960)?

By 1996, former world champion (1972-74) Robert James (“Bobby”) Fischer had become convinced that chess was, through deep historical study, losing vitality, creativity, insight. In particular, he believed that opening theory was exhausted: Chess was stalling.

His solution was to propose a new game, one that addressed the narrow issue he identified, but which did not toss overboard centuries of cultural memory and fundamentally break with the game that had been known as “chess.”

During a visit to Argentina, Fischer announced his “Random Chess,” which departed from the classical game chiefly by randomizing the starting positions of the pieces on the first and eighth ranks. (Pawns, poor pawns, always cannon fodder and dumped upon, got no special treatment.)

Later that year, he complicated this simple approach by adding rules that affected the starting positions of kings and their bishops and rooks (which resulted in potential starting positions more nearly like that of classical chess). These modifications resulted in the statistical possibility of 960 unique starting positions. (See where the name comes from?) In effect, Fischer threw down a gauntlet: Go ahead, match the work of centuries in developing opening theory (based on the single starting position) in a game with nearly 1000 times the complexity!

Fischer Random Chess did not take the world by storm, but another, ultimately more significant event also took place in 1996: A sitting world champion lost to a computer program. Thus 1996 marked the start of the age of the dominance of chess engines (and their use in preparing merely human players for combat), so Fischer Random Chess appeared at the right time for revitalizing the human game: No doubt engines could coach 960, but could mere human minds be coached in it?

Is it “real chess?”

Well, it’s not your father’s game, to be sure. Sitting down to a king on b1/8, bishops on d and e and your queen at h1/8 is going to cause you to catch your breath if you are any kind of player of the classical game. On the other hand, we of the chess world have the World Chess Federation (FIDE) to ask, and its answer is certainment. Not only does FIDE have codified rules for the game (called “Chess960”--there was little love lost between Fischer and FIDE), in NOV 2019 it awarded its first world championship in the game (to Wesley So of the USA). It’s as real as world chess gets.

The U.S. Chess Federation (USCF) recognizes Chess960 in its Rules of Chess (7th ed.) by adopting FIDE’s rules by reference. At this time, the USCF neither rates Chess960 nor fetes its players. As there is a world championship to contest, this author believes it will come to pass that the USCF does both this decade.

Okay, what are these FIDE rules?

They boil down to three: [1] How the pieces move generally and the objective of the game, [2] establishing a starting position and [3] castling in a game where in only 0.01% of cases the king and his rooks are where players of the classical game expect them.

The bottom line of [1] is just like classical chess, full stop. [2] requires some detail to create a random field of combat that is not potentially so different from classical chess that players get frustrated. [3] requires the greatest detail to cope with the fact that castling does not proceed from fixed positions of the king and his rooks.

You want the legalese? Here. Pay closest attention to [3]--it is where the game has to differ most from the classical version.

Why is EVCS doing a Chess960 event?

For the fun of it! Even the storied Marshall Chess Club of New York conducts 960 events. Why should they have fun and not us in Western New York? In addition, it appears Chess960 is even less played in Canada than in the U.S. (technically, this author can find no official rules for it promulgated by the Chess Federation of Canada [CFC], but I imagine 960 games played up north use the FIDE rules just like we do in the States). This means that border cities like Seattle (Vancouver), Detroit (Windsor) and Buffalo (Toronto) have an opportunity to serve two nations’ interests in the game without requiring insane travel, etc.

So why not indeed?

Magna Charter Spring 2020 will have a single Chess960 section--anybody can play in it. As everyone will be as close to a n00b as we can hope, pairings will start as random (how appropriate), but “go Swiss” as the event goes on. To round out the whole fanboy thing, the time control will use a 30-second “Fischer bonus time” or “increment” for each move, which is a rarity in area play. (Go big or stay home.)

Uh, I hate to ask, but ... notation?

Algebraic notation remains possible (though it may require starting file and/or rank positions for moving pieces more often due to the need to disambiguate!). And considering a TD coming upon virtually any position in a 960 game will have little experience in how pieces get from “A” (the starting position) to that “B,” it is even more helpful to resolving disputes. Besides, it’s not clear to our TD's that USCF Rule 15 isn’t applicable, anyway! Notate.

Clear-thinking readers will immediately ask: How, without knowing starting positions, can players use their scoresheets to review 960 games? Great question. They can’t readily (maybe at all). So the tournament will be providing Forsyth-Edwards Notation (FEN) coordinates for all games following their completion (so they can be physicially attached to scoresheets) as well as recorded for posterity on this website.

There's more chess activity out there than you imagine. Check out our calendar of all the chess events in Erie and Niagara Counties, the overwhelming majority of which are kid-friendly (kids play against adults all the time, often to great success).