A bit of nit picking: 1956 champion is a Canadian.
The truth is chess performance depends tremendously on training, practice and number of games played. At my first job as a software developer they had an internal chess championship which I joined expecting to be beaten badly (there were programmers who were participating afterall), even though I spent most of the previous summer playing chess in the local park. I won that championship, positioning myself as a "smart guy" within the company. I don't think I was actually smarter than them. I barely had more exercise.
I think that these chess variants can cancel most of the training one has and level the playing field, making that chess game a brain game again.
On the higher levels of play it is rarely a swashbuckling affair, with almost no possibility for a player to win, if they by chance fall behind. There are no glorious fightbacks, come from behind wins in chess( at least none famous that I have heard of).
Perhaps, having something like the 'doubling cube' in backgammon will add more excitement to tournaments.
As does every other human activity. (Even defecation; just ask any parent.)
Programmers vs mathematicians, I'd bet on the latter.
Programmers aren't all that good at chess as a rule. They universally think they are.
Yes and no. What would make you think that memorizing openings is so addictive? Unless you're playing chess for a living, master 2 or 3 openings (queen or kings side) is more than enough and usually so much more effective than knowing superficially a wide range of openings.
Not that true also that defined openings will put the game in a more tactical rather than strategic position. It depends on the opening, and mostly the strategic vs. tactical approach depends on the middle game and on the type of players. Look at Casablanca (strongly strategic) and Tal/Morphy (strongly tactical).
While most people concentrate on memorizing as much as openings the possibly can, I do recommend to learn more end-game variants.
Even average chess players (Class C, B, A) don't usually have a good understanding of end-games and that's what makes the different between a good players and a very good player (ie. IM).
That cannot be emphasized enough.
I've even had players offer me a draw in a classical king vs king+rook situation.
When I learned chess in the GDR we practiced endgames ad nauseum but openings were left until very late.
Chess openings are insidious and certainly the reason the vast majority of players never improve. Imagine a player loses in 10 moves. Naturally he's going to blame his opening. The reality is that he lost because he made some massive tactical blunders. But in either case there are two options here. The first is to go look in a database or book and see where he went wrong. The second is to actually begin the long and difficult path towards improvement that begins with hundreds of hours of work in tactical exercises and deep analysis.
It's not hard to see which most players end up picking. And this becomes a recurring process. They lose another game because of tactical mistakes and go look up and see what they should have played and try to memorize that. And they do this over and over and over. And the next thing you know they repeat some mistake they made long ago because they forgot the right move. In the end their rating stagnates, their play never improves, and then go and complain that they just don't have the "talent" to improve. But it's of course complete nonsense. Beginners love to focus on opening traps, but the reality is that opening studies are the trap in and of themselves!
In case you haven't checked it out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chess960