ç Variant Chess Index

Introducing Variant Chess

© 2002 — George Jelliss.
Types of Variants: Opening arrayBoard sizeControl and ColourBalance of forceBoard latticePiece movesNumber of playersPawnRoyalty, check and mateTurn of playCaptureBibliographyEnd.
The term chess in its most general sense means the family of games, abstractly simulating battle, believed to have originated in 6-7th century India or China, and the many related games invented since, most of which are characterised by (a) the use of a variety of pieces with different powers, (b) the presence of a royal piece on each side whose capture or entrapment is the primary objective of play, (c) the presence of less powerful pieces (pawns) in front of the main pieces, not able to move backwards, and capable of becoming more powerful in the course of the game, and (d) the absence of chance factors, such as dice-throwing or hidden information as in card games.
In variant chess we study chess in all its forms. To avoid excessive repetition in describing a new form of chess it is convenient to take the rules of one standard game as applying except where indicated otherwise. For historical reasons we take as our standard the rules of Orthodox Chess (also known as European Chess, and less justifiably as International Chess), as codified by the Fédération Internationale Des Echecs (FIDE) since its formation in 1924. We consider the various ways in which these rules can be modified to produce interesting chess variants for use in composing chess problems or for competitive play.
The term fairy chess was first used by Henry Tate, chess columnist of The Australasian, 20 June 1914, for variations "based on the strictest logical principles". The term was taken up and the subject developed energetically under this title by T. R. Dawson. The current tendency is to restrict this term to apply to chess with unorthodox pieces and to use 'Variant', 'Heterodox' or 'Unorthodox' chess for the wider subject. I conceive of generalised chess or chessics as an even wider field than variant chess, including mathematical theory of moves, knight's tours, arrangement puzzles, grid dissections, step-by-step transformations and so on.
In the following survey we classify the variants according to the principal rule change involved. For the present 11 such categories have been identified, lettered A (array), B (board size), C (control or colour), F (force), L (lattice), M (moves), N (number of players), P (pawns), R (royalty and check), T (turn of play), X (capture).

é OPENING Variants

(A) Opening Array. Each player places his pieces in his home area in a specified array. In orthodox chess the 8 pawns are on the second rank and the first rank is occupied by the other pieces in the sequence RNBQKBNR. Many alternative opening arrays are possible, including an empty board.

Bystander Chess. A joke variant, in which the board is rotated through a right angle so that the players look at the position side-on, with the idea of giving them a less confrontational perspective on the game. [F.Maus Chess Amateur September 1927 p.378].

CHESS IN DISGUISE. All or some of the pieces are disguised as draughtsmen, whose identities are revealed when captured or must be deduced in the course of the game by their moves or checks.
      Knighted Chess in Disguise. The back-row pieces consist of K and disguised Q, R, B, B, N, R+N, B+N (the bishops being on different coloured squares). [J.D.Beasley Chessics #4 1977.]

Computer Chess. Any form of chess played against or with the help of an electronic computer.

FREE PLACEMENT CHESS. The basic idea is that initially the board is empty, the players place their usual 16 men on the board one at a time alternately until they are all present, and then the play starts as usual; many variations on this scheme have been proposed.
      Free Programme Chess. Each player places his pieces only on his own half of the board; kings are placed first; one bishop on each colour; pawns not on the first rank, and have the double move only from the second rank; white may not capture at the first move. [Gela Guraspasvili, Tbilisi, Georgia, 1995]. In the games as played in the original experimental tournament in Tbilisi the kings were always placed on the back rank, and no piece was ever placed so as to give check, but these were not explicit rules.

OTB Chess. Over-the-board play as opposed to postal, telephone or e-mail play at a distance.

Pocket Knight Chess. Each player starts by putting his queen's knight to one side. This can be put on any vacant cell in place of a normal move.
      Variant: the pocket knight is extra to the usual forces.

RANDOMISED CHESS. Any form of chess in which the initial arrangement of the backrank pieces is determined at least partly by chance.

é BOARD SIZE Variants

(B) Board size and shape. The orthodox board is square with 8 cells in each rank and file, total 64. Many popular variants use a wider board, say 8 by 10 or a larger board, say 10 by 10; it is also possible to use cross-shaped boards, or boards with holes.

Bird's Game. Same as Carrera's game but with R+N ('guard') on d-file and B+N ('equerry') on g-file. [H.E.Bird, The City of London Chess Magazine 1874].

Capablanca's Game. The name of the former world chess champion has become associated with several variants, but especially a 10 by 10 version of ›Carrera's game, with R+N on h-file and B+N on c-file, and pawns allowed a one-, two- or three-step initial move. [D.Pritchard cites American Chess Bulletin November 1925] ›Dasapada.

Carrera's Game. Chess on a board 10 files wide (8 ranks), with knighted rook (centauro) on b-file and knighted bishop (campione) on i-file [Pietro Carrera, Il Gioco degli Scacchi {The Game of Chess} 1617].

Chancellor Chess. An expanded chess on 9 by 9 board, with knighted rook ("chancellor") f1 and Ng1, Bh1 to ensure bishops run on opposite colour squares [B.R.Foster St Louis Globe Democrat 12/ii/1887].

Changgi. = Korean chess. Similar to Chinese chess (Xiangqi). The main differences are: (1) the cannon moves in the same way that it captures (i.e. it is a "rook-lion"); (2) the elephant moves one step forward and two steps diagonally forward, through vacant cells (like a blockable "zebra"); (3) In the opening position the General stands in the centre of the nine-castle. The General and his Guards move as wazirs, and along the main diagonals of the nine-castle. (4) Chariot, Cannon and Soldier can also move along the diagonal lines when within a palace. (5) Cannon may not leap cannon.

Chinese Chess. See Xiangqi.

Courier Chess. A 12 by 8 variant of mediaeval chess, played in Germany; White back row: Rook, Knight, Alfil, Kurrier (meaning Courier and moving as modern Bishop), Mann (meaning counsellor or sage and moving as non-royal king), King, Fers, Schleich (meaning spy or sneak and moving as Wazir), Courier, Alfil, Knight, Rook. [Described by Selenus 1616] ›Modern courier chess.

DASAPADA. A Sanskrit term for a 10 by 10 board, adopted (e.g. by V.R.Parton in his booklet Enduring Spirit of Dasapada) as a name for any form of chess on this board. The usual proposal is to add two pieces (and their accompanying pawns) to each side. The earliest recorded example is that of al-Khalil b.Ahmad (c.ad750) who placed "camels" of unknown powers at the ends of the baseline. The most popular pieces to add are knighted rook and knighted bishop. It is also advisable to increase the powers of pawn movement. »Capablanca's game, Grand chess.

DECIMAL CHESS. Any chess on a board of 10 files. See Capablanca's game, Carrera's game, Dasapada.

ENLARGED CHESS. Any chess on a board larger than 8 by 8. See Extended chess, Widened chess. The board can be simultaneously widened and deepened: See Capablanca's game, Dasapada, Timur's game, Twenty-first century chess.

EXTENDED CHESS. Any variant in which the board is deepened to 8 by 9 or 8 by 10 or longer. It is possible to increase the number of ranks without altering any other rule. Fool's mate in 8 by 9 chess is: 1.f4 d6 2.g4 Bh4 mate. However to speed up contact of forces it may be necessary to give the pawns extra moves, typically one extra step initially for every two extra ranks, or to advance the pawn row. The powers of the officers may also be increased. See Wolf chess; Opting pawn.

Foster's Game. = Chancellor chess.

Grand Chess. Dasapada with R+N ("Marshall")and B+N ("Cardinal") placed between K and B, and then all pieces and pawns, except the rooks moved forward one step (thus no castling); pawns may promote on reaching the 8th or 9th ranks but do not have to until they reach the 10th [Christiaan Freeling 1984].

GREAT CHESS. Any form of chess on an enlarged board with extra pieces; See Grand chess, Bird, Carrera, Timur.

Jetan. Martian chess, on a 10×10 board, with initially: b2-i2 Panthans (move "one space forward, side or diagonal, but not backward"); a2,j2 Thoats (move "two spaces, one straight and one diagonal in any direction"); a1,j1 Warrior (moves 2 wazir steps); b1,i1 Padwar (moves 2 fers steps); c1,h1 Dwar (moves 3 wazir steps}; d1,g1 Flier (moves 3 fers steps, and may jump intervening pieces); e1 Chief (moves "3 spaces in any direction; straight or diagonal or combination", switchbacks are excluded, but it is not clear if moves such as e1-d2-d1-e2 are permitted); f1 Princess ("same as Chief, except may jump intervening pieces"). The Princess is the Royal piece, i.e. cannot move onto a threatened square. The Princess also cannot capture, and has one ten-space "escape" move at any time during the game. The game can also be won if a Chief takes a Chief, but is drawn if any other piece takes the Chief, or "when both sides are reduced to three pieces [presumably not counting Chiefs or Princesses] or less of equal value and the game is not won in the ensuing ten moves, five apiece". [Edgar Rice Burroughs The Chessmen of Mars 1922].

Martian Chess. = Jetan.
Mediaeval Chinese Chess. The chess played in China during the Tang (618-960) and Sung (960-1279) dynasties [as reconstructed by K.Himly 1870]. It used an 11 by 11 board, with six pawns, the cannons being on the back rank next to the elephants, and the general having only one counsellor within the nine-castle. The pawn and chariot could only move forward. [Murray pp.124-5]

Modern Courier Chess. A widened chess on a 12-file board; each side having two fers and two alibabas (called "couriers") plus associated pawns; back row arrangement RNABFQKFBANR; in place of castling, F and K (like P) have the privilege of an initial double non-capturing move; king may not use this to pass through check. [Paul Byway 1971].

Timur's Game. A form of great chess favoured by the central asian ruler Timur-i-leng (1336-1404), also known as Tamerlane, described by his biographer ben Arabshah (d.1450) and in a 16th century manuscript in the Royal Asiatic Society which may be a copy of a work on chess known to have been written by Ala'addin Tabrizi (alias Ali ash-Shatranji, i.e. Ali the chessplayer), the leading player at Timur's court. Timur's Great Chess uses a board 11 by 10 with extra squares (citadels) at the right end of each player's second rank. The opening position is diagrammed, where the pieces are Alfil, Camel, Dabbaba, Fers, King, Knight(N), Pawn, Rook, Talia (meaning scout but moving as Alfil or as Alfil followed by Bishop move, i.e. a Ski-bishop), Wazir and Zurafa (meaning giraffe but moving a single step diagonally followed by a rook move of three or more steps, and blockable on any of the squares passed through). The pawns promote only to the piece in whose file they initially stand, except for the leftmost pawn (a3/k8) which is known as the "pawn's pawn" and for which the rules are impossibly complex and probably unworkable. There are also rules that permit the king to escape mate under certain conditions by swapping places with his men. These types of rules strike me as being devised by Timur's opponents to allow the game to continue, so as to avoid being beheaded for beating the emperor!

Twenty-first Century Chess. An elaborate chess on a 10-file, 9-rank board with opening position as shown below; the back-row pieces, apart from the king, are all riders (rook, nightrider, bishop, E=(R+NR), queen, U=(B+NR)); the king is given the added power of grasshopper in place of castling and is allowed to hop through check; the second-row pieces are all hoppers, analogous to the riders whose files they stand in; (rookhopper, nightriderhopper, bishopper, grasshopper, RH+NRH, BH+NRH and a lion as the king's hopper; opting pawns are used, able to make a double step from any rank, subject to en passant capture; pawns promote on reaching either of the two back ranks of the enemy, promotion being to the rank of the piece that occupied that cell initially, except on the king cell where promotion is to Q+NR. [G.P.Jelliss Variant Chess 1991]

WIDENED CHESS. Any form of chess in which extra files are added to the board. It is usual to add a new piece (and pawn) for each new file. Knighted pieces are the most popular. See Carrera's game, Courier chess, Modern courier chess.

Wolf Chess. A 10-rank chess (8 files) using knighted rook (wolf), knighted bishop (fox). For full details see VC or ECV. [Arno von Wilpert, played 1955, published 1959]

Xiangqi. Chinese chess. Played on a board 9 files by 10 ranks, with symmetrical opening position. Back row consists of two chariots a1, i1 (moving as rook). Two maos b1, h1. Two elephants c1, g1 (moving as bishop but confined to the player's own side of the board). Two guards d1, f1 (moving as fers but confined to the ninecastle def123). One general e1 (moving as wazir, but confined to the ninecastle). Two cannons (paos) b3, h3 and five Chinese pawns a4, c4, e4, g4, i4, which move and capture by a single forward step, and acquire the added ability to move and capture sideways when in the opponents side of the board. A standard Chinese work on the game The Secrets of the Orange Grove, dating from 1632, was accurately translated by W.H.Wilkinson for his Manual of Chinese Chess of 1893. Previous western accounts of the game are incomplete or inaccurate. [Murray pp.119-132]


(C) Control of pieces. Which player controls which pieces is shown in orthodox chess by their colours; the two colours and the two players being conventionally referred to as White and Black, although the actual colours may be for example yellow and brown. In Shogi control is shown by the direction in which the shaped tiles point.

All-in Chess. Each player may, on his turn, move one of the opponent's men instead of his own; however, a player may not reverse the move just made by the opponent. [C.M.B.Tylor Chessics #1 1976]

Avalanche Chess. After each move a player must move an opposing pawn. Alternative subsidiary rules: two-step move of pawn may be allowed or barred; capture move by pawn may be allowed or barred; promotion value of pawn may be chosen by owner or mover.

Imitator Chess. A marker, neither white nor black, that imitates length and direction of every move, and prevents any move that it cannot imitate, is placed on a central cell at start of play.

Neutral Chess. Any form of chess in which neutral pieces appear. These, often shown in problem diagrams by half-white half-black symbols, can be moved by either player. A neutral pawn moves up the board when played by White and down when played by Black.


(F) Forces in balance or asymmetric. In orthodox chess both players have the same forces, consisting of K, Q, 2R, 2B, 2N, 8P. In variants the players need not necessarily have the same forces, or be governed by the same rules.

BIFID CHESS. Any variant in which white plays according to one set of rules and black another; e.g. U-chess versus Grid chess. [R.Betza NOSTalgia nr.209].

Blindfold Chess. In which one or both players do not see the board but are told the moves. The first known blindfold player was an African player of Shatranj, Sa'id bin Jubair (ad 665-714).

HANDICAP CHESS. Any variant designed to even up the balance between an experienced and less experienced player. The only really fair way is to allow the weaker player more time and perhaps access to reference or even computing aids. The time factor for example is what evens up the odds in a simultaneous display. In the nineteenth century the giving of odds was popular; that is the stronger player does without one or more pawns or pieces, or the weaker player is allowed two moves to start, for example.

Maharajah and Sepoys. One player has only a "maharajah" (combined queen + knight, royal) while the other has the usual 16 pieces, though in the original version the pawns do not promote. The maharajah is more difficult to catch if it is allowed to ride through check (i.e. the ›non-passant rule is not in force). [E.Falkener, Games Ancient and Oriental 1892].

Odds Chess. Chess with the giving of odds; i.e. the stronger player doing without one or more pieces. See Handicap chess.


(L) Lattice structure of the board. In orthodox chess the board is an arrangement of square-shaped cells in ranks and files. However there are many variants in which the cells are hexagons in a honeycomb pattern or even cubes in three dimensions, and other boards with cells of various different shapes, or connected in different ways.

ACTUATED CENTRE. The group of four central cells (de45) rotates when actuated; the methods of actuation can be: by moves across (A), exterior to (E), into (I) out of (O), or upon (U) the centre, or any combination thereof; the rotation can be 90° anticlockwise (+) or clockwise (–) or 180° whichever is specified.
The original type [W.H.Rawlings and A.E.Farebrother Fairy Chess Review 1937] was ARC-IU(–) chess, though some sources describe it as IO or IOU type. Many of these cases have not yet been tried; perhaps ARC-I(–)/O(+) would be more balanced (i.e. rotate clockwise on entry, anticlockwise on exit). See Rotating centre chess = ARC-AEIOU chess.

Alice Chess. Variant using a second board, initially empty; after a move on one board the moved piece is transferred to the corresponding cell on the other board; this cell must be vacant, or the move cannot go ahead; kings may not move through check. [V.R.Parton Fairy Chess Review 1954].

CIRCULAR CHESS. Chess played on a board with 4 circular ranks and 16 radial files; the opening position can be regarded as formed by splitting the usual board between the K and Q files and joining the short ends of the two halves; the original game [described by al-Masudi 947] used the fers and alfil of mediaeval chess, with K and F of one colour interchanged so that the two fers move on the same set of cells, and there was no promotion; if two pawns met head-on the pair was removed. See Cylinder chess.
A modern version, played at Lincoln, uses Q and B and has no en passant capture or castling [VC#31 1999].

Cylinder Chess. Chess in which the left and right sides of the board are supposed joined and pieces can cross this line; See Circular chess, Horizontal cylinder, Mobius chess, Torus

GRID CHESS. The board is marked with lines between some of the cells and every move must cross at least one grid line. Many arrangements of grid lines have been tried.
The original and most popular arrangement of the lines, which makes a playable game, is the standard grid which divides the board into 16 areas, each 2 by 2. [Walter Stead, Fairy Chess Review 1953]
Another playable form is the slipped grid; in this form the kings can reach the corner cells.

Hamburg Space Chess. A form of Space Chess using a 5x5x5 board, developed by the Hamburg Space Chess club founded 1908 by Dr Ferdinand Maack with Hans Klüver and W.Roese among its members; T.R.Dawson advocated this variant and gave an extensive account of it in Chess Amateur 1926. The white Ps begin on rows A2 and B2 and promote on row E5, while the black pawns start on E4 and D4 and promote on A1; they move as wazir and capture as fers in the "forward" directions (i.e. towards promotion); and may thus have up to 2 travel moves and 5 captures available. The pieces begin with RNKNR on rows A1 and E5, and BUQUB on rows B1 and D5; where U is for unicorn, the (1,1,1)-rider; the two white unicorns run in the same sets of cells as the two black unicorns. To be avoided from this opening position is: 1.NAb1-Bb3 UDd5xN. A fool's mate is 1.Q-Ec1 B-Ca5 2.N-Cb2 P-Ea3 3.N-Eb3 mate.

HEXAGONAL CHESS. Any game on a board of cells arranged in a honeycomb lattice, in which each cell has six adjacent cells around it; there are many different types.

Horizontal Cylinder Chess. In horizontal cylinder chess the top and bottom edges of the board are considered to be joined. With the orthodox opening position this means that each king starts in quadruple check, so either some other opening position has to be devised or some rules to accommodate these checks. See Anti-chess, Cylinder chess, Toral chess.

Mobius Chess. Chess in which the left and right sides of the board are supposed joined after a 180º twist. See Cylinder chess.

Rotating Centre Chess. After each move the centre four cells de45 rotate; the rotation can be 90° clockwise (–) or anticlockwise (+), or a 180 half-turn. See actuated revolving centre.

SPACE CHESS. Any form of chess on a "three-dimensional" board; and in which the moves of the pieces other than pawns are the same in all planes (this condition distinguishes space chess from layer chess); such boards are split into layers labelled A, B, C, .. from the base upwards, the capital letter acting as the third coordinate; a move in 3D space is represented by three coordinates {r,s,t}; any 2D move can be made in 3D space in each of the three coordinate planes passing through the cell initially occupied by the moving piece; in this way each 2D piece defines a corresponding space piece; See Hamburg space chess, stereochess

Stereochess. [German Stereoschach] a type of ›space chess using the normal board and opening position plus a 4-by-4-by-4 cube stacked over the middle; the pawns move as usual on the level planes but can also move upwards and downwards, either by a noncapturing orthogonal move or a capturing forward-diagonal move (maximum thus 3 travel moves and 4 captures); [Gerhard W. Jensch feenschach 1975]

Toral Chess. Played on a torus-board, in which left and right edges are supposed joined and also top and bottom edges = combined vertical and horizontal cylinder. To avoid multiple check in the opening position special rules or a new opening position are needed.

é PIECE MOVE Variants

(M) Move types. In orthodox chess the knights are "leapers", the rooks and bishops are "riders", the king is a "composite leaper" and the queen a "composite rider" (R+B). In variants other leapers, riders, ands composites are used, and other types such as "hoppers".

Akenhead's Game. Chess in which queen, rook, bishop and knight are replaced by leo, pao, vao and mao, and berolina pawns are used. [J.Akenhead Fairy Chess Review April 1947].

Bug-eyed Monster Chess. Each piece makes any move which is not that of the orthodox piece. [M.Crumlish].

Chinoise Chess. Chess with Leo, Pao, Vao, Mao replacing Queen, Rook, Bishop and Knight. › Akenhead's game, Leo chess.

Coronation Chess. "After a player has lost Q, he may move B to R or R to B and replace them with Q ... If this new Q is lost the player may then Coronate another Q provided remaining R and B are still on the board." Promotion is to captured pieces only. [F.Maus Chess Amateur May 1925].

KNIGHTED CHESS. Any variant in which pieces with added power of knight are the main feature. Names given to the pieces vary widely depending on the particular game. See Bird's, Capablanca's, Carrera's games, Chancellor chess. In problem chess the accepted names are K+N = centaur, Q+N = amazon, R+N = empress, B+N = princess, P+N = dragon. The simplest variant is to replace the queen's rook by R+N and the king's knight by B+N, so that the eight baseline pieces are all different, and each possible combination of R, B, N occurs: R+B (Q), R+N, B+N. The choice for pawn promotion may as well be restricted to composite pieces as there would be little occasion to underpromote.

Knight Relay Chess. Knights do not capture and cannot be captured, but pass on their powers to any allied piece they "observe".

Leo Chess. Chess with leo in place of queen; moves like queen but captures by leaping over a piece to any distance beyond alonmg queen lines. [Progressive leo chess is recommended by Paul Byway].

MEDIAEVAL CHESS Any of a range of chess games played throughout the world in the mediaeval period (c.ad 500 - 1500). The 8 by 8 game originated in India as Chaturanga some time before 550, was taken up in Persia as Chatrang, and then by the Islamic empire as Shatranj. It spread through Europe from about 1100 with minor modifications to the rules, until it metamorphosed into the modern form shortly before 1500. The Sanscrit word Chaturanga for the early Indian form of chess is supposed to refer to the "four branches" of the army: chariots, elephants, cavalry and infantry. However, the earliest extant account of the Indian game, apart from vague allusions, is from al-Adli (c.840) quoted in the al-Baghdadi manuscript (1140). The Chatrang-namak, tells of the introduction of chess to Persia from India in the time of Khusraw I (Shah 531-578). The names of the pieces are given: Shah (king), Rukh (chariot), Farzin (counsellor), Pil (elephant), Asp (horse), Piyada (foot-soldier), but not their moves. It is made clear that it is a two-handed game of skill. The term "mate" comes from the Persian mat (lost). The form of mediaeval chess played in the Islamic empire (Shatranj: also called Arab, Muslim, Islamic or Mohammadan chess, or in Greek Zatrikion) is the earliest form of chess for which accurate rules are known and for which records of actual games, opening analysis, chess problems and endings survive, as played in Baghdad, the centre of the Islamic empire, in the ninth century. The Arabs acquired chess through their conquest of Persia in the decades following the death of Mohammad (632), and the game quickly prospered with them, perhaps in part because other games involving dice and gambling were proscribed. The Mohammedan stricture against images was complied with by using pieces of abstract design. Among the early masters was an African, Sa'id bin Jubair (665-714) who is the first known ›Blindfold chess player. The famous caliph Harun ar-Rashid (763-809) is said to have favoured good players and granted them pensions. The first books on chess were written from this time on, notably by al-'Adli (fl.840), as-Suli (c.880-946) and al-Lajlaj (c.970). They do not survive complete, but extracts are quoted in manuscripts compiled later, such as that by al-Baghdadi (1140). Substantially the same game was played throughout Europe until about 1500, with only slight modifications. In the opening position replace queen by fers (single diagonal step) and bishops by alfils (two-step diagonal move); there is no double-step pawn move and no castling; win is by checkmate, stalemate or bare king. According to as-Suli the values of the pieces were: Rook 1, Knight 2/3, Fers 1/3, Alfil 1/4, Pawn 1/4 on centre files to 1/8 at edge. The custom seems to have been for the two players to play a series of 12 or more opening moves to build up a battle array before engaging forces.

Ski Chess. In which the lin-moving pieces are replaced by ski-pieces which omit the first cell in the ride, i.e. begin with a little ski-jump. hence ski-queen, ski-rook, ski-bishop [G.P.Jelliss Problemist 1973].

Skip Chess. In which the line-moving pieces are replaced by skip-pieces which omit the first and every other odd cell in the path; thus a skip-rook is a dabbabarider, a skip-bishop is an alfilrider, and combining them gives a skip-queen which would be an alibaba-rider.

Slip Chess. In which the line-moving pieces are replaced by slip-pieces which omit the second and every other even cell in the path; a slip-rook is also known as a "panda", since it makes rook moves to cells of the opposite colour; we can also define slip-bishop and slip-queen.

Sniper Chess. In which the back-row pieces other than Q and K are replaced by snipers. An X/Y-sniper moves like piece X and captures like piece Y. The back-rank sequence becomes R/N, N/R, B/N, Q, K, B/R, N/B, R/B. [Maus called this "Thinktank chess"] The snipers derived from orthodox pieces are: R/B = roobis, B/R = bishroo, R/N = rookni, N/R = kniroo, B/N = bishkni, N/B = knibis [these pieces and their names were suggested by Frank Maus, 20/September/1927, letter in BCPS Archive; the term "sniper" is due to Dickins.]

Sting. Chess with ›scorpions in place of kings.


(N) Number of players. Orthodox chess and most variants are games for two players. Involving more players usually necessitates other changes, such as other colours to distinguish the forces controlled by each player, and a larger board to allow space for extra sets of pieces.

Bughouse Chess. A game for teams of two who play simultaneously, each side having white on one board and black on the other; a player who captures a man passes it to his partner, who may drop it as in Chessgi; the game is usually played at blitz speed, and the first mate or flag-fall determines the result. [P.Byway, VCG]

Chaturaji. A four-handed version of Chaturanga, played with dice. Each player has king (raja = ruler), rook (gaja = elephant), knight (aswa or turanga = horse), alfil (nauka = boat) and four pawns (vati = foot-soldiers) having no double step. The game was played for stakes with two 4-sided dice; throws indicating which type of piece is to be moved; 1 = P or K, 2 = A, 3 = N, 4 = R. [Described in al-Beruni India c.1030ad and Raghunandana Tithitattva c.1500ad; H.J.R.Murray A History of Chess 1913 pp.58, 68-77.].

FOUR-HANDED CHESS. Any variant for four players; the play can be free-for-all or two-against-two. If each player has the usual game array a large board at least 12 by 12 is needed to fit the forces in the middle of each side; and to avoid the rook pawns coming into direct contact a 14 by 14 board is necessary. It is natural to leave out the corner areas, resulting in a cross-shaped board. [G.H.Verney Chess Eccentricities 1885].
      Here is a partnership version with minimum variance from the orthodox: simply replace the queens by kings, and mark the queen-side pieces; thus each player has K, R, B, N and 4P; the move sequence being wk, bk, wq, bq. See also Charuraji.

THREE-HANDED CHESS. Any variant for three players; to be a fair game it requires a specially designed board.
      Three Kingdoms Game. A three-handed version of Xiangqi, representing an actual "war of three kingdoms" that took place in ad 221-264; each player, blue, green and red, has his own 9 by 5 kingdom with the usual array of pieces, to which are added, at the forward corners of the nine-castle, two new pieces which move two (0,1) steps followed by one (1,1) step outwards (i.e. blockable camels; but termed chuo = fire, chi = banner or feng = wind); the three areas are arranged facing a common triangular centre, the files in each half-kingdom linking with the files in the adjacent half-kingdom; when a general is checkmated the player who gave the mate removes the general from the board and assumes command of his forces; the rules say nothing about what happens if a general is defeated by a combined action of his two opponents.

é PAWN Variants

(P) Pawn rules. The orthodox pawns, in terms of the number of rules governing their play, are the most complex pieces. Accordingly they are open to a wide range of modifications.

Berolina Chess. Game (invented in Berlin) in which the berolina pawns travel one step diagonally forward (or two steps from the initial pawn rank, subject to e.p. capture) and capture by one step directly forward.

Berolina Plus Chess. Berolina chess in which the pawns can also capture by single steps sideways along the rank on which they stand.

Indian Chess. Murray (1913) reported many variations in the rules of chess in the Indian subcontinent in both space and time. The following account of the differences between Indian and European chess at the beginning of the 19th century is summarised from that given by T.Shastri Essays on Chess 1814 (as reported to me by John Beasley). (1) K to right of Q in opening position for each player. (2) Bare king (boorj) may count as win or draw in diferent places. (3) Stalemate is not allowed; some play that stalemateed player may remove an adverse piece. (4) Repetition not allowed. (5) Pawn promotes to the master piece of the file (Q in K file). Promoted knight on unguarded promotion square has a free move. (6) Pawn may not move to last square unless the appropriate piece is available to replace it. (7) No castling; K has one non-capturing knight move per game, but loses the right if checked. (8) R, K and Q pawn has a double initial move, provided its master piece remains at home. (9) At start, 4 or 8 non-capture moves are played by each side. (10) In a series of games the winner of most games moves first.
Modern international chess is now the norm in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.


(R) Royalty, check and mate. A piece that may not be permitted to be captured by the opponent is termed royal. In orthodox chess the Kings are royal. If capture of a king cannot be avoided on the next move the game has to end. A direct attack on a king is called a check. Changing the rules of check can have quite complex and subtle effects.

Absolute Checkless Chess. Checks and passing checks, except checkmate, are banned. [R.Powell Chessics #2 1976]

Anti-Chess. Any variant in which kings are replaced by anti-kings (which are in check only when NOT attacked). It requires an initial position with Ks under attack, e.g. the usual array on a horizontal cylinder.

Arrow Chess. Any piece that checks also guards the two cells in the king's field to left and right of the check line. The check line and the two prevented flights thus form an arrowhead. [G.P.Jelliss Rex Multiplex 1985].

Brunner Chess. Releasing one's king from check takes precedence over capture of the opposing king.

Checkless Chess. No player may check except to checkmate. A score of a game between Sickel and Max Lange played in 1856 was reported in Sammlung neuer Schachpartien Leipzig 1857. [Invented c.1830 according to Anthony Dickins ("Fairy Chess" article in A.Sunnucks Encyclopaedia of Chess 1976) but he does not cite a source.] A difficulty with the checkless rule is: what happens when Black can stop what appears to be a mate by a move that appears to mate White, and then White can stop this one by a move that appears to mate Black again, and so on? Sequences of two or three 'counter-mates' of this type have been shown.

Extinction Chess. A player loses when his last piece of any species is captured. Thus any piece that is the last of its kind becomes royal; it cannot be exposed to or left in check.

Losing Chess. The must-capture rule applies, kings are non-royal, and the objective is to lose all your pieces. Usual rules: pawn may promote to king; a stalemated (i.e. deadlocked) player wins. See also Vinciperdi.

Pin Chess. Chess under the rule: Pinned men do not check. There was a sustained correspondence on the pinning rule in Westminster Papers 1872-5. It is sometimes called "Superpins".

Reflex Chess. Selfmate chess with the extra condition that either player must checkmate in one if able to do so. [Invented by B.G.Laws in 1880.]

Selfmate Chess. The aim of each player is to get his king checkmated by the opponent. This is shown in many compositions but is probably not a practical game, since the checkmating player's pieces have to be severely restricted, and he is unlikely to cooperate. See Reflex chess.

"Superpins". = Pin Chess.

Twin King Chess. Starts with 2Ks on each side instead of Q and K. A special type of Multirex chess.

Vaulting Kings Chess. Kings in check have extra powers of movement. This makes them more difficult to hunt or to checkmate. A wide variety of different powers have been experimented with.

Vinciperdi. [Italian] = Losing chess, under the rule that a stalemated player loses.

X-ray Chess. In which the line pieces are able to check (and possibly move) through occupied cells.

é SERIES-MOVE Variants

(T) Turn of play. What can be done in "one go" in one turn of play? In orthodox chess an action is usually limited to a single move of one piece (exceptions are capture, castling and promotion). A large group of popular variants allow more than one move to made made in one turn of play.

Marseilles Chess. See Two-move chess.

PROGRESSIVE CHESS. Chess in which the number of moves played per go increases by one at each turn; thus white plays one move, black two, white three, black four and so on. The normal series-play rules apply unless otherwise stated: if the player's king is in check it must be rescued by the first move of the series; the opposing king can be checked only on the last move of the series. Almost any variant can be played in progressive form; there are several popular assizes:
      Italian rules: the exact number of moves due must be played; thus where a player can escape from check but in doing so is forced to give check before completing his full quota of moves, this counts as (italian) mate.
      Scotch rules: fewer moves than the full series may be played;
      Logical rules: there is no castling and no double pawn move (and so no en passant capture); this can be combined with the Italian or Scotch rules;
      Variants playable using progressive rules include: Chancellor, Circe, Cylinder, Mutation, Randomised.

Scotch Chess. Progressive chess under scotch rules; not to be confused with Scottish chess, which is orthodox chess played in Scotland.

TWO-MOVE CHESS. Chess in which each player makes two moves (the second not the reverse of the first) at each turn of play. There are numerous different forms.
      Two-move Chess. Shinkman type. The aim is checkmate, as opposed to capture of the king, but check is allowed on the first move. This can lead to unusual mates such as: W.Shinkman. Two-move chess. Mate in 1. WKh7, WQb3, WRc4; BKe5. Solution: 1.Re4+, Qe6 mate. [I have this down as "in Dawson lecture, repeated by Paul Valois 25/10/96."]
      Two-move Series Chess. The moves form a series-play, that is only the last move may check the opposing king and one's own king may only be in check at the start.
      Balanced Two-move Series Chess: White has only one move on the first turn.
      Marseilles Chess: Two-move series chess in which a player is not obliged to make his full complement of two moves.
      Strict Two-move Series Chess: A player is obliged to make his full complement of moves; if unable to make two moves when so obliged the game ends and is counted stalemate or checkmate.

é CAPTURE Variants

(X) Capture types. In orthodox chess a capture-move is like a normal move but goes to a cell occupied by an opposing piece, which is immediately removed from the board. In variants other methods of capture may be possible and different things may happen to the captured piece.

Antipodean Chess. A captured piece reappears at the antipode of the capture cell, that is the cell a {4,4} leap away, provided that cell is vacant on arrival. Can be rex inclusive or exclusive. Other subvariants arise depending on the rules adopted for treating pawns sent to the 1st or 8th ranks. [G.P.Jelliss Chessics #1 1976].

BAROQUE CHESS. Any variant in which the method or methods of capture are unorthodox. The pawn's en passant capture is the only baroque capture in orthodox chess. See Ultima.

Chessgi. Chess in which a captured man changes colour and, later in the game, in place of a normal move, can be replaced anywhere on the board by the capturer, except that pawns cannot go to the end ranks; to play this game a second set is needed, or a special set of invertible pieces; the name is a meld of chess and shogi See also hostage chess.

CIRCEAN CHESS. Any variant in which captured pieces are replaced on squares related to their initial position in the game array.
Circe Chess. In which a captured piece is immediately replaced on its home square if vacant; but if the home square is occupied the capture is normal; in problems, since the home square cannot usually be determined from the position given, a captured rook or knight is returned to the home square of the same colour as the capture square, and a captured pawn is returned to the pawn square in the file of capture. [P.Monreal and J.P.Boyer Problème 1968.]

Dynamo Chess. There are no normal captures, instead captures are by pushing or pulling pieces over the edges of the board. A piece can only push or pull one other piece at a time (two constitute a block). Pawns do not pull, and they act diagonally on enemies, orthogonally on allies.

Japanese Chess. = Shogi.

Kamikaze Chess. A capturing piece disappears along with its captive. [P.Monreal Problème 1965] In the rex inclusive version kings cannot capture.

Must-capture Chess. If a player is able to make a capture then capturing is compulsory. If there is a choice of captures any one may be played. The rule applies in Losing chess and Shoot chess.

Mutation Chess. When a capture is made (except by a king) the capturing piece changes its powers (but not its colour) to those of the captured species; queens may not give direct check; a pawn capturing on the 8th rank does not promote; popular in its progressive variant.

Replacement Chess. A captured piece is put back on the board, on any vacant cell; bishop only on cell of same colour; pawn not on first or last rank. [J.Creed FCR]
      Optional Replacement Chess. The replacement is optional, not compulsory. [J.D.Beasley British Chess Magazine 1992.]

Rifle Chess. Captures are made "at a distance", as if firing a bullet, the capturing piece not moving. [W.B.Seabrook, 1921, as reported by T.R.Dawson Fairy Chess Review August 1947 p.94]
      Shoot Chess. Must-capture Rifle Chess. [S.Reuben British Chess Magazine February 1990].

Sea Chess. In which the line-moving pieces are replaced by sea pieces, which travel like riders but capture like locusts (by hopping over the victim to the first square beyond); thus we have sea-rook = "triton", sea-bishop = "sea-bee" or "nereid", sea-queen = "mermaid". [G.Brogi Chess Amateur February 1929.]

Shogi. Japanese Chess.

Ultima. A form of Baroque Chesss. Only the King is orthodox (the white K and Q are transposed); the other pieces all use different capture methods. Pawn moves like rook and captures by trapping the victim between itself and another allied piece (custodian capture). The other pieces all travel along queen lines. A knight, known as a "long-leaper", captures by hopping over an enemy piece to a vacant square beyond (locust capture). A bishop, known as "chameleon", must capture in the manner of the piece it captures. The queen becomes a "withdrawer" which captures by moving directly away from an enemy piece it is standing next to. The king's rook is an "immobilizer" which paralyses any enemy piece it is next to. The queen's rook is a "coordinator" which captures any piece that stands at one of the other corners of the rectangle defined by itself and its king. Immobilised pieces, except kings, are allowed to commit suicide. [Robert Abbott, Abbott's New Card Games 1963.]


Types of Variants: Opening arrayBoard sizeControl and ColourBalance of forceBoard latticePiece movesNumber of playersPawnRoyalty, check and mateTurn of playCaptureTop.