A few months ago Chess.com introduced an individual version of four player chess called "Free For All." Just recently a second version called "Teams" has been released. Four player chess is hardly a new concept. In fact it's nearly as old as chess itself. Throughout this span of time the concept of four people playing chess has been explored in a variety of ways. The details of these explorations would require a book. Below is an overview to highlight some of the diverse attempts to make such a game palatable.
When we examine chess through time, it's obvious that it's both evolutionary and developmental. Changes occurred in the board; the pieces and how they moved evolved; theory and understanding gradually developed. Chess became an offshoot of science as well as art.
Four-Handed Chess, conversely, is neither evolutionary nor developmental. Oddly perhaps, this was never considered a drawback but rather one of its compelling attributes.
G.H. Verney, one of the greatest advocates of Four-Handed chess wrote:
No sort of rules for play can be laid down after the first two moves of each player, as the variety of moves is so infinite that no two games ever bear the least resemblance to each other after these eight moves are played. For this reason, and also because the game on each side is in the hands of two players, whose play must be thoroughly in accord with each other, instead of in the hands of one player only, the Four-handed Chess cannot claim the scientific features of the ordinary game; but many good Chess players I have met with have, after a few games, agreed with me that for amusement and interest, the former game far exceeds the latter.
What we encounter in the history of four-handed chess are variations: different boards, different rules, different scorings, team play, individual play, etc.
Some of these variations include the placements of the King and Queen; the first move of the pawn; whether castling is permited; where, how or if a pawn promotes or the value of the promotion; whether the game is decided by points or by mate; whether the mate is even permanent of if capturing a mating piece "unmates."
The only consistent factor is that when the four players sit down to a game, they all play by the same rules for that game.
It's rather extraordinary to consider that possibly, even probably, the first variant of the two-player pre-chess Indian game of Chaturanga was the four player game of Chaturaji.
Chaturaji, the four-player variant of the Indian game Chaturanga, was a team game that originally employed dice but developed later into a diceless game. It was first described in the Persian scholar Al-Biruni's report on his visit to Punjab in 1030 A.D. The four armies are differentiated by color and the results are based upon points (just like the non-team chess.com four player game). H.J.R. Murray was intrigued no so much by the four-hand Chaturanga variant's existence as much as by it's persistence. The above image shows similar depictions of the essentially same game five centuries apart.
Shatranj was the Arab adaptation of Chaturanga and the intermediary between Chaturanga and Mediæval Chess. There seems not to have been a four-player Shatranj. Perhaps because early Chaturaji employed dice and probably gambling and because Muslims forbade gambling, the four-handed version never had a chance to catch on in the Islamic culture. However, in European Mediæval Chess, four-handed chess was known to exist as early as circa 1280 A.D.
In 1283, "Libro de los Juegos," a work commissioned by Alfonso the Wise, King of Castile, León and Galicia, not only described but included images of a four-handed chess game.
Very similar to the set-up in Chaturaji, this game was known as "Four-Seasons Chess" ("el acedrex de los quatro tiempos del año") with each army representing one four groups traditionally found in fours: colors, seasons, elements and humours - green (spring, air, blood), red (summer, fire, choler), black (autumn, earth, melahcholy) and white (winter, water, phlegm). However, unlike the Indian game, there were no teams and the object wasn't points but mate. The game used no dice.
The first known mention of four-handed modern chess can be found in the English historian William Coxe's book, "Travels Into Poland, Russia, Sweden Et Denmark," vol. II in 1784.
[The Russians have also another method of playing at Chess, namely, with four persons at the same time, two against two; and for this purpose, the board is larger than usual, contains more men, and is provided with a greater number of squares. I was informed that this method was more difficult, but far more agreeable than the common game.]
Murray believed this Russian game to be the same game described by A.D. Petroff in his article, "Das Vierschach mit Festungen" for the "Schachzeitung" in Nov. 1850. It's known as called Russisches Festungsschach or Russian Fortress Chess.
A given example of notation in an opening
The nearly standard board soon became a regular 8x8 square with an 8x3 extension on all sides, as shown by George Walker in his "Philidorian" magazine in 1838.
This board-type was first described in a Dresden book, "Unterricht im Schachsjpiel unter Vieren" in 1784.[Murray].
The main differences from here on, with just a few notable exceptions, involved piece placement and movement, rules, scoring, etc.
One of the exceptions was first found in an unattributed (Antonius van der Linde believed it was written by Duke Ernest II of Gotha-Altenburg) pamphlet "Gesetze des Schachs zu Vieren" in 1779 which described the game but gave no illustrations. In 1814-15 Theodorich Martensen developed a similar game, known for sure to have existed through 1848, which used a 8x2 extensions and the partners sat side-by-side.
Martensen's board (also called the Lüneburg Board)
Another style board simply placed two boards side-by-side, creating a 16x8 board. This was first observed in Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Germany in 1828 but was revitalized by Gustav Neumann in 1867.
It was also played in Braunschweig, Germany as mentioned in the "Schachzeitung" in Sept. 1848 where it also claims that it was played in Paris in the1820s and that in 1836 Paul Rudolph Bilguer pronounced it the best four-hand variation [Bereits vor 24 Jahren sah Einer von uns dies oder wenigstens ein sehr ähnliches Spiel mit demselben Brette im Café de la Régence in Paris, und v. Bilguer bei seiner Anwesenheit hierselbst vor etwa 12 Jahren erklärte dasselbe für die beste der ihm bekannten Methoden des Vierschachspiels]
Here is the board and a full game given in the "Schachzeitung" :
Below is the board and an example of notation provided by Neumann in his "Schachspielund seine Abarten" under the chapter "Das Vierschach."
Baltic Four Chess (above), found in a Latvian book, "Das Baltic Vierschach," written by Leo Livonus in 1855. is said to have been created by Lionel Kieseritzky in 1835.
Examples of 2 books focusing on four player chess
Besides the Enderlein and Sherwin books above, there had been at least a dozen articles and several books on four-handed chess published during the 19th century. The most significant ones by far were authored by George Hope Verney:
Verney himself was a catalyst for the four player variant and even established the Four-Handed Chess Club of London. The club was founded on Oct. 13, 1885 at the Holborn Restaurant at 218, High Holborn. At this inaugural meeting it had It had 30 members (and would have in excess of 250 members at its height). Validity was given the game at this first meeting of the club through the presence of Joseph Blackburne and Isodor Gunsburg who both gave short speeches, as well as that of the Rev. George Alcott MacDonnell, Leopold Hoffer and Anthony Guest. Games were played using a 160-square board belonging to the late Duke of Albany, kindly provided by his widow. It was also noted that Victoria, Queen of England, was knowledgeable of the game since she was a chess player and her husband, the prince consort, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, had been exceedingly fond of four-handed chess - his board at that time was still displayed in Buckingham palace.
Earlier in 1885 four-handed chess was one of the side events at the B.C.A. Congress, which had begun on the 15th, for entertainment purposes. The four-handed event was held on the 23rd-25th. Verney, who also supplied the clever collapsible game tables, organized a two game, four-handed chess match The first game involved Maj. Bull & Mr. Hales vs. Major Verney and M. E. Hughes-Hughes and the second game involved Major Bull and Mr. Hales vs. H.E. Bird and Anthony Rosenbaum (the artist). The Bull-Hale team won both games along with a silver cigarette case and two silver saltcellars.
Barrister Montague Edward Hughes-Hughes himself had introduced a four-handed variation to the Four-Handed Chess Club in 1888. Both the Verney and the Hughes-Hughes version were then used at their congresses. The last mention of the original Four-Handed Chess Club was in 1912, after which it either lost its newsworthiness or else disbanded. In fact, the popularity for the four-handed variant seemed to dissipate around the turn of the century. Since the game was geared very much towards amateurs (the Four-Handed Chess Club specifically iterated that only amateurs could join) , it's possible that the rise of professionalism played a part- at any rate the demise of one and the rise of the other coincided. The "American Chess Bulletin" wrote in 1920, "the London Four-Handed Chess Club, founded in 1884, has resumed its meetings at No. 5 Park Place, St. James's, S. W." but nothing else about the resurgent club is ever mentioned.
It's not until 1943 that there is another, though faint, push for this variant, when Russ Chauvenet, then the Virginia State Champion, suggested a new version of the game he called Partnership Chess. His version harked back to the Lüneburg version with the 8x2 extensions. It never took off.
Then in the 1960s, probably due to the popularity of board games in general and the chance to make a fortune, variations of the variant started to appear. I counted 12 different four-player chess games since 1962. Here are some of them (ones for which images exist):
Fouray Plus by Jack Quinn 1986 Duplicate Chess by Gerald Sorek
who also created Multi-Chess
Chess 4 Quadra-Chess
(notice the 8x4 extensions)
Tetra Chess for Four Vendetta
(notice the 8x4 extensions)
Chessapeake Challenge (1993) Taurus Games 4-Way Chess
Below is the story of the creation of Quadra-Chess (from Jan. 2, 1979) and the legal problems the creator faced when she learned that the concept four-handed chess (which has been around, as we know, almost as long as chess itself) was being patented ["view image" to see in full size] :
-"Murray" refers to Harold James Ruthven Murray who in 1913 published "A History of Chess," one of the most important and valuable works of the subject.
-George Walker owned one of the most extensive chess libraries in his time was one of the most prolific proponents of chess in mid 19th century England.
-Antonius van der Linde was one of the first truly scientific chess historians and author of the seminal "Geschichte und Litteratur des Schachspiels."
-"Schachzeitung" or "Schachzeitung Gegründet der Berliner Schachgesellschaft" was the first German language chess periodical and a critical source for chess information during the 19th century. The issues consulted here were edited either by Wilhelm Hanstein or Johannes Minckwitz.
see also: https://www.chess.com/article/view/four-player-chess-how-to-play-and-win
or try Four Player Chess here: https://www.chess.com/4-player-chess