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Chess Variants

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

An image showing the initial setup of Gliński’s hexagonal chess.
Gliński’s hexagonal chess is the most popular of the hexagonal chess variants. It had around half a million players at its prime.

Chess variants are a family of board games derived from chess. These variants can involve only a slight modification to the rules of chess, or can involve more drastic changes. There are lots of chess variants - the number is in the thousands. The Encyclopedia of Chess Variants, a chess variant catalogue created in 1994 by chess player David Pritchard, has around 2,000 chess variants listed in its catalogue and notes many more variants were considered too trivial for inclusion.

History of chess[edit | edit source]

If one wishes to delve into the world of chess variants, it will be a good idea to understand how chess originated and evolved. The most common theory of the origin of chess states that the game originated in India in the seventh century CE, under the name chaturanga. Chaturanga was a strategy game simulating a war between two Indian factions, with pieces representing the four arms of the ancient Indian army - the infantry (pawns), cavalry (knights), elephants (bishops) and chariots (rooks) - as well as two pieces for the king and his advisor. Much like the modern game, the goal of chaturanga was to checkmate the enemy king, although at the time stalemate was also considered a win for the payer delivering the stalemate.

Around 600 CE chaturanga spread to Sassanid Persia, where the name became shatranj. Following the conquest of Persia by Islamic forces, the game spread throughout the entire Islamic world, which served as the springboard for shatranj to reach Europe by the 9th century, spreading throughout the entire continent by 1000.

At the same time, shatranj and chaturanga were spread by trade along the Silk Road to East Asia, giving rise to chess's Asian cousins - xiangqi in China, janggi in Korea and shogi in Japan.

Back in Europe, chess went through further development. Some of the pieces were reinterpreted in Catholic eyes - the piece representing the Indian elephant was recast as a Catholic bishop, and coinciding with the strong female leaders arising around this time, the king's advisor was recast as a queen. During this time the Church remained sceptical of games, warning against devoting too much time to them, and chess was even briefly banned in France under Louis IX in the 12th century as an anti-gambling measure.

Another major development occurred in Germany, also in the 12th century, where a chess variant known as Courier Chess was created, which introduced the chess-playing world to the diagonal move used by the modern bishop (which in Courier chess was used by that game's titular piece). This move was swiftly granted to the bishop on the 8 by 8 board to speed up the game, and in around 1475 the queen was granted her modern powers (previously, she could only move one square diagonally), creating a variant known as "Mad Queen Chess".

By the 15th century, a few more modifications had been made to the rules of Mad Queen Chess, such as the pawn double-step, castling and en passant, creating the game of chess as we know it today.

Types of variants[edit | edit source]

There are many different types of chess variants, and variants are usually created with the standard game as a starting point. Variant creators often create chess variants to fix an issue they perceive with the standard game or to create new games of interest for chess players.

Here are some ways in which chess variants differ from the standard game:

Some ways in which chess variants differ from the standard game:
Difference from standard chess: Example:
Different starting position Fischer random chess (also known as Chess960) - starting position for the home-rank pieces is randomly selected from one of 960 possible options
Non-standard pieces Almost chess - the queens are replaced with chancellors (a piece which can move like a rook or a knight)
Different victory conditions Losing chess (also known as suicide chess, antichess or giveaway chess) - one's objective is to lose all of their pieces
Incomplete game information Kriegspiel - players cannot see each other's pieces
Elements of chance Dice chess - dice rolls determine which pieces can move on a given turn
Non-identical setup for both players Dunsany's chess - Black has a regular chess army, White a horde of 32 pawns
Differently sized or shaped board Chess on a 12 by 12 board - as its name suggests
Multiple boards Alice chess - pieces switch between two boards when they move
More than two dimensions of movement Raumschach - uses a 5 by 5 by 5 board
Board which uses a non-square lattice Gliński’s hexagonal chess - uses a board made up of 91 hexagon-shaped cells
More than two players Four-player chess - involves four players on a cross-shaped board
Players cooperate Cooperative chess - the players are playing for a mutual win

Some chess variants have sub-variants of their own - for example, Dunsany's chess has a subvariant named Horde chess.

Playing chess variants[edit | edit source]

There are many chess variants that can be played with standard equipment, but there are also many variants that require special computer software to play (perhaps because they use non-standard boards or pieces). Some of those variants (such as Gothic chess) have been made into commercially available products, however. Also, the two most notable chess websites online, Chess.com and lichess.org, both offer support for a handful of variants. There are also softwares that have been made specifically to play chess variants, such as Chess Remix, Zillions of Games, Fairy-Max and ChessV.

A catalogue of variants[edit | edit source]

The variants in this catalogue are sorted by whether or not they use a standard board, pieces and rules.

Standard Rules, Board and Pieces

Standard Rules, Variant Board, Standard Pieces

Variant Rules, Standard Board and Pieces

Variant Rules, Standard Board, Variant Pieces

Variant Rules, Board and Pieces

Multi-Player Variants

Related Wikibooks[edit | edit source]

  • Chess provides an introduction to the standard game.







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