An introduction to musketeer chess.
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An introduction to musketeer chess.

Ebinola
Ebinola
Sep 29, 2017, 1:34 PM |
4

EDIT 05/09/18: This article is currently under a rewriting process. It has been a year or so since it was put into the works, and in retrospect, it is not as good as nearly as good as it could be.

 

CHESS VARIANT INTRODUCTION

As a species of animal, conflict is second nature to human beings. Not only can we take part in physical conflict, but our sentience allows us to take part in mental conflict as well. You see it in politics all the time: our sentience and conflicting ideas result in the existence of political ideologies. There is, however, no conflict known to man that is as elegant and calculated as chess, that timeless game which we all become engrossed.

Beneath the ideas presented by the symbolic conflict of chess however, is a greater conflict that to those unaware may never surface – the conflict over the game’s rules. Deep Blue’s victory over Garry Kasparov in 1997 highlighted the threat of draw death – that over time players will become so good at chess that games will more often than not end in a draw. It is estimated that chess has a 60% draw rate at the highest levels of play. As you move down to lower levels of play the draw rate is much smaller, but we still must consider those who have spent time playing and perfecting their chess game, only to have many of their games end in draws. Draw death has been in discourse for nearly 100 years, going back to the likes of Emmanuel Lasker, who said that, ‘[in its modern form] chess will die a drawing death.’ José Raul Capablanca, former world champion, suggested another way to save chess from this threat of draw death – he proposed a new chess, one on a 10x8 board (80 squares), and added 2 new pieces: an archbishop, which had the powers of bishop and knight; and a chancellor, which had the powers of rook and knight. This variant is significant because it was the first variant of its kind to be pushed by a world champion. Bobby Fischer would show off Fischerrandom 70 years later, but without Capablanca’s influence, perhaps the idea of creating chess variants to preserve the game would not have gotten off the ground. It goes without saying that nowadays, chess seems to also lack the charismatic players of times gone by, such as the aforementioned Capablanca and Fischer. Tournaments seem to be more calculated and boring compared to such electric, legendary matches of the past like the 1972 World Championship match.

Chess variants are the fruits of labour from people who love chess and wish to preserve the game. They are not created to kill off chess and to force people to adapt to new rules. So long as a chess variant co-exists with chess and maintains a healthy playerbase, it is successful. A chess variant’s primary goal should always be to find an equilibrium in making moderate and radical changes to the rules. But for it to bring the community together, the variant needs to be created by someone who knows and enjoys chess variants, and dedicates him or herself to creating a game which has the potential to rival chess.

 

MUSKETEER CHESS

Enter musketeer chess, a contemporary variant that has thrown its hat into the ring to become as popular as the variants offered on chess.com and lichess, one that can be enjoyed by any player of chess. Created by Parisian anaesthesiologist Dr. Zied Haddad in 2011, musketeer chess is unique in that it has done something no other variant before it has attempted – the mass production of chess variant pieces. It is what is called a commercial variant, and while there certainly have been commercial variants before it, it is the first of its kind to sell pieces in such magnitude. As of writing, five four-piece kits are available for purchase on the House of Staunton and Amazon (with more to come in the future), all designed in co-operation with the legendary Frank Camaratta, retired founder of the House of Staunton and chess historian, who has extensive knowledge of the history of the Staunton chess set. These pieces, says Dr. Haddad, are used for musketeer chess, but they also have have a more universal application; you can use these pieces to spice up the classic chess set, or you can even use these pieces to design a variant of your own! These pieces are tools that you can use to teach orthodox chess players about variants, and makes variants that would otherwise be infeasible to play more accessible.

This article is about musketeer chess, the game. But, as just described, musketeer chess is in fact more than a game - it is part of a project called, ‘Modern Chess Variants,’ that seeks to raise awareness of unusual and contemporary variants in the chess world. Have you ever found yourself in the situation where you find orthodox chess boring? That the memorisation of openings is just too much? That is the appeal of a chess variant - an alternate way to play, with no existing opening books. By manufacturing differently designed pieces, Dr. Haddad wishes to make these variants more accessible, by offering surrogates to any new pieces that may appear. If you have never experienced chess variant play, on the American Amazon right now you can purchase a kit bundled with a chess set fit to scale with the musketeer pieces. Treat musketeer chess as an introduction to chess variants, and as a kind of tech demo, showing how these modern-day pieces could be used in a variant of your very own.

MUSKETEER CHESS – GAME RULES

Musketeer chess was inspired by a variant created by grandmaster Yasser Seirawan, SHARPER chess. SHARPER chess was created in an attempt to bring Capablanca’s chess to an 8x8 board, by giving the player the archbishop and chancellor pieces in hand (referred to as ‘hawk’ and ‘elephant’ respectively) when the game begins. When a player moves one of his back row pieces for the first time, he or she may choose to place the archbishop or chancellor piece onto the square just vacated.

Musketeer chess takes this concept of dropping pieces and takes a slightly different approach, while also advancing the idea further. As with SHARPER chess, musketeer chess is played on an 8-square by 8-square board. Of the chessboard, nothing is changed – you still play with pawns, knights, bishops, rooks, the queen and the king. However, beyond the chessboard exists 2 invisible ranks, rank 0 and rank 9. These ranks are never occupied by the orthodox chessmen – instead, they serve an entirely different purpose. Note the key word ‘orthodox’; before a game of musketeer chess begins, players agree on 2 pieces to be added to the game. There are 10 unique musketeer pieces to choose from at the start of the game, each with their own unique way of moving: the leopard; the cannon; the elephant; the hawk; the archbishop; the chancellor; the unicorn; the fortress; the spider; and the dragon. The white player picks a piece, then the black player. That way, one player picks the first piece to be placed on the board, and the other player picks the second piece to be placed on the board. Black however may choose, when white picks the first piece to be placed, to reject white’s decision; if this happens, the leopard and cannon pieces will be used as a default. After players have agreed upon the pieces chosen, players then place their chosen pieces on squares on the invisible ranks – rank 0 for white, rank 9 for black. White places his first piece on rank 0, then black places his first piece on rank 9; white places his second piece on rank 0, then black places his second piece on rank 9. There is only one rule to follow when placing the musketeer pieces – you cannot place one piece behind a rook and then the other piece behind the king, and vice versa.

In addition to being able to promote to any one of the orthodox chessmen, a pawn may also promote to the musketeer pieces that have been chosen for that game, e.g. if the unicorn and dragon are being used, a pawn may also promote to a unicorn or dragon (but not any of the other musketeer pieces).

Image result for musketeer chess

One can see in the example above that both pieces are placed on the invisible ranks and the game has begun. A piece placed on these ranks enters play once the orthodox chess piece it is placed behind vacates its starting square for the first time. Hence in the example, if white were to move his knight, the elephant piece would then move onto the square b1. How these first moves are notated is detailed in MUSKETEER CHESS – NOTATION.

The rules of the game otherwise follow the rules of orthodox chess. White and black move their pieces alternatively, in an attempt to place the opponent's king in a position of which there is no escape from capture – checkmate! The existence of the musketeer pieces opens up a whole new level of strategy – the way in which a player decides to  place them at the start of the game. Memorising opening theory becomes difficult because of the many branches that the game can go down on the first move. There are forty-five unique musketeer chess piece combinations that can be made from just having to pick 2. You have to rely on your intuition rather than your muscle memory in order to use the pieces effectively and gain the positional advantage. Musketeer chess emphasises the idea of using your knowledge of orthodox chess to adapt to the new challenges that the unorthodox pieces bring to the board.

With that being said, let’s look at all the new pieces in more detail.

 

MUSKETEER CHESS - THE LEOPARD

Letter (in algebraic notation): LE

wsb_550x550_leopard.png

The leopard moves like a knight, but may also move up to 2 squares diagonally, like a short-ranged bishop. You can think of the leopard as a weaker archbishop, and its relative value compared to the other pieces creates a much smaller gap. It is about as strong as a rook in value.

In the endgame of king and leopard vs. king, the side with the leopard can win but it’s tricky to pull off. However, with the addition of a pawn or minor piece, checkmate can be much more easily forced. While its short range leaves a lot to be desired, its value gives it an advantage over the archbishop in that it can be developed quickly without having to fear the opponent launching a perpetual attack against it, forcing you to move it and as a result lose tempo. In other words, it’s not as big a target as the archbishop. It excels at controlling the centre in the opening. Placed behind a bishop, it can come into the game very quickly.

 

MUSKETEER CHESS - THE CANNON

Letter (in algebraic notation): C

wsb_550x550_cannon.png

The cannon moves as a king, but may also jump 2 squares orthogonally, or jump in a wide knight-like fashion. To illustrate – from the square e4, the cannon may jump like a knight to g5, g3, c3 or c5. Like the leopard, the cannon is very effective at controlling the centre in the opening. In addition to controlling the 8 squares adjacent to it, it can jump, allowing it to be developed almost immediately. Indeed, range resurfaces as a drawback, but unlike the leopard the cannon does not have blind spots in the adjacent squares, as it moves like a king.

 

MUSKETEER CHESS - THE ELEPHANT

Letter (in algebraic notation): E

wsb_550x550_elephant.png

The elephant moves as a king, but may also jump 2 squares in any direction. Yet another piece that excels in controlling the centre, but is just valuable enough so that developing it in the opening isn’t always the best idea. It is stronger than a rook in value, but lacks the range to give constant pursuit. Its ability to jump however allows it to target pieces that otherwise would be safe behind another piece.

King and elephant vs. king at first seems like a draw - the fact that the elephant has such short range would make it seem impossible for it to be able to deliver mate on its own. However, further research has concluded that an elephant mate is in fact possible! check MUSKETEER CHESS - ENDGAMES for more information.

 

MUSKETEER CHESS - THE HAWK

Letter (in algebraic notation): H

wsb_550x550_hawk.png

The hawk jumps 2 or 3 squares in any direction. The main weakness one can evidently see with the hawk is that it lacks the ability to threaten pieces at short range. It cannot attack anything that is adjacent to it. In the opening, it is worth more than a rook in value, but as time goes on, and the board becomes more open, the hawk loses more opportunities to launch a devastating long-ranged attack against the opponent. The hawk is an expert at forcing moves in the opening: for example, you can place the hawk behind the king’s knight, and immediately develop it with He3. Black than has to respond to the threat of He5, which might win White the rook otherwise.

 

MUSKETEER CHESS - THE ARCHBISHOP

Letter (in algebraic notation): AR

archbishop-1-e1490031092535.png

The archbishop moves as a knight or as a bishop. It is stronger than a rook in value, and stronger than a spider, but weaker than the chancellor or queen in value. This piece is featured in many historic chess variants, where it goes by many different names, the most common of which is archbishop. As a result, there is a lot more theory on the archbishop than some of the other pieces. GM Seirawan demonstrates the power of the archbishop in this puzzle (note that in SHARPER chess, the archbishop is referred to as ‘Hawk’, but the letter H will be paraphrased as AR instead, likewise hawk will be paraphrased for archbishop, for sake of consistency.):

WHITE: Kb6 ARh1 BLACK: Kb8, Qc8

“White’s king occupies the ideal square in such circumstances. We start with a pattern that will become second nature in no time: 1. ARg3+ Ka8 2. ARe4+ Kb8 3. ARd6+, this series of ladder checks has brought the archbishop into the vicinity of Black’s queen. After the further moves: 3…Ka8 4. ARxc8 Kb8 5. ARa7+ Ka8 6. ARc6# - checkmate. Our final position is our archbishop mate. White’s king is not needed!

This series of ladder checks is quite typical for a queen. If we replace the white archbishop with a white queen in our diagram and also place a white pawn on the a5 square, white wins by: 1. Qh2+ Ka8 2. Qg2+ (without the white a5-pawn, white would win with Qa2+ and Qa7#) 2…Kb8 3. Qg3+ Ka8 4. Qf3+ Ka8 5. Qf4+ Ka8 6. Qe4+ Kb8 7. Qe7! – a quiet move that wins.”

 

MUSKETEER CHESS - THE CHANCELLOR

Letter (in algebraic notation): CH

chancellor-1-e1490030842467.png

The chancellor moves as a knight or as a rook. It is worth just under a queen in value. This piece is featured in many historic chess variants, where it goes by many different names, the most common of which is chancellor. As a result, there is a lot more theory on the chancellor than some of the other pieces. GM Seirawan demonstrates the power of the chancellor in this puzzle (note that in SHARPER chess, the chancellor is referred to as ‘Elephant’, but the letter E will be paraphrased as CH instead, likewise elephant will be paraphrased for chancellor, for sake of consistency.):

WHITE: Ka8, f7 BLACK: Kf3, f2

“While the queen is the toast of all beginner players the diagrammed position represents a low blow to her majesty. If White begins with 1. f8=Q+ Kg2, Black achieves an immediate draw. In fact, in such endings where the defending king escorts a passed pawn to the seventh or second ranks, the queen has a terrible time against the a, c, f, and h-pawns… the diagram, however, represents a simple win for White. Remarkably enough, White’s king isn’t needed at all as White forces the win of Black’s pawn.

We start: 1. f8=CH+! – The chancellor is an absolute killer against a passer on the seventh rank: 1…Kg3 2. CHf5+ Kg2 3. CHg5+ Kf1, Black has no choice. If, 3…Kh1 4. CHg3+ Kh2 5. CHg4+, the chancellor forks king and pawn. The pawn is captured with check on the next move. White could now pause to bring his king near but he continues the chase: 4. CHg3+! Ke1 5. CHe3+! Kd2, Black’s moves have all been forced. Now with: 6. CHe4+, the king and pawn are forked and the pawn is captured. Put any pawn on the 7th rank and practice against a chancellor. You will quickly realise that against any pawn the chancellor wins easily. This knowledge helps us understand that in these types of endgame positions a chancellor is much stronger than a queen. Hence, the discovery that in such positions a chancellor outshines the queen gives us a hint that the chancellor’s value is comparable to the queen.”

 

MUSKETEER CHESS - THE UNICORN

Letter (in algebraic notation): U

wsb_550x550_unicorn.png

The unicorn moves as a knight, but can also jump in an extended knight-like fashion. If you think of the knight moving 2 squares horizontally and 1 square vertically and vice versa, the unicorn may move 3 squares horizontally and 1 square vertically, and vice versa. Like the hawk, the unicorn has the potential to force moves in the opening. If placed behind the king’s knight, you could, in the opening, play Uh4, trying to play Uf5 for an early mate. The extended knight’s move makes it far better at threatening pieces from a distance than the regular knight.

 

MUSKETEER CHESS - THE FORTRESS

Letter (in algebraic notation): FO

wsb_550x550_fortress.png

The fortress is unique among the musketeer pieces in that it can move up to 3 squares diagonally like a bishop. Like the cannon, it can also jump 2 squares orthogonally; it also moves in a narrow knight-like fashion. To illustrate – from the square e4, the fortress may move to d6, f6, d2, or f2.

The ability to move up to 3 squares diagonally gives the fortress an edge over all of the musketeer pieces except the dragon, the archbishop and the hawk. That is, it is able to threaten these pieces from a safe distance. Its jumping capabilities makes it very effective in the endgame in cutting off the opponent's king’s paths of escape.

 

MUSKETEER CHESS - THE SPIDER

Letter (in algebraic notation): SP

wsb_550x550_spider.png

The spider moves as a knight, but may also jump 2 squares orthogonally, and move up to 2 squares diagonally. The spider is named so because of how it moves – the pattern looks similar to a spider’s web. Indeed, the spider is a tricky piece to go around. An effectively stronger leopard, the spider is a killer in the endgame against a lone king as, just like the fortress, the spider with the use of its king can force the opponent's king into a corner, where it is easily mated. Unlike the fortress, the spider can force mate all by itself!

 

 

MUSKETEER CHESS - THE DRAGON

Letter (in algebraic notation): DR

wsb_550x550_dragon.png

The dragon moves as a queen or as a knight. The dragon is far stronger than a queen in value. If the queen is often considered to be worth 9 points, then the dragon is worth around 12 points – x1.25 the value of a regular queen! This piece is featured in many historic chess variants, where it goes by many different names, the most common of which is amazon. It is without a doubt the strongest musketeer chess piece; it controls every square within 2 squares of it unobstructed, and the minimum number of moves that is required for a dragon to give checkmate to an opponent's king is 4.  Meanwhile, the queen takes 10 moves and the rook 16. The dragon, however, is not mighty as it may seem! The endgame of king and dragon vs. king and queen or chancellor is an unfortunate draw if both sides play perfectly.

 

MUSKETEER CHESS - NOTATION

The first move of any musketeer chess game is the following: W=X B=X, where X is the letter(s) used for a musketeer chess piece in algebraic notation. For example, if 1. W=AR B=U, this means that white has chosen the archbishop, while black has chosen the unicorn. Placing the pieces on the invisible ranks is noted by a ^ sign. The first piece chosen is always placed first. So, it should follow that if 2. AR^g0 AR^f9 3. U^e0 U^b9, white has placed his archbishop behind the king’s knight, and black has placed his archbishop behind the king’s bishop; white has placed his unicorn behind the king, and black has placed his behind the queen’s knight. The game then begins, following standard algebraic chess notation. Optionally, when a musketeer chess piece is placed onto the board, you can notate its entry with a / sign next to the move that introduces it, then its letter(s) in algebraic notation. For example: 4. e4 Nc6/U.

 

MUSKETEER CHESS - PIECE TECH

The musketeer pieces not only add new tactical possibilities and strategies to the game of chess, but also add the theory of how they are placed at the beginning of the game. Understanding this most basic part of the game is crucial.

How the pieces enter play actually has a profound effect on how we select the pieces in the first place, before even making a single move. In fighting games such as Street Fighter, there exists a concept known as counterpicking. A counterpick is where the loser of a game in a set will choose a specific character that counters the opponent’s character in order to have an advantage in the next round. Is it possible to counterpick in musketeer chess?

It most certainly is. In musketeer chess, a counterpick is a technique applied by Black (or a loser of a game in a set) chooses a specific piece that either: discourages the selection of a particular piece; or, counters the opponent’s choice, that is, the piece is able to capitalise upon the weakness of the other piece. Or, you could think about counterpicking in a different way - to counterpick is to select a piece which compliments the weaknesses of the piece that has just been selected.

For example, let’s say that White has just selected the chancellor. Black, knowing for sure one of the pieces that is going to enter play, now must assess: what is the chancellor preventing? And what is the chancellor’s weaknesses? Well, the chancellor’s movement pattern gives it a lot of orthogonal control, plus the knight move discourages other pieces with the knight’s move to challenge it. Immediately, one can see that the unicorn might not be the best piece to select. It is unlikely to achieve a successful fork with the extended knight’s move (not that is should be your goal from move 1 to do so). It may be able to flick away the chancellor by threatening it while defended, but it won’t be able to do much else to it. With great orthogonal control comes a weakness: no diagonal control. Immediately, selecting the dragon or archbishop may come to mind - but both are highly valued pieces as well. Perhaps the spider is the best way to play against White’s decision - but the spider’s value, in addition to its short range, will make it the opponent’s priority. The leopard, on the other hand, is far more suited for the task, as it is not as valuable as the spider, and, if protected, can potentially harass the chancellor during the middlegame. The fortress is also a good choice for the same reasons and can attack from a safer distance, being able to move 3 squares diagonally instead of 2. The hawk, too, can counter the chancellor, being a pure leaper and able to attack from a distance - though the chancellor’s knight move poses problems for the hawk should it get too close. From this, black may want to pick either the leopard, the fortress, or the hawk. There is also the option of rejecting White’s choice - the leopard and cannon are perfect compliments.

Counterpicking does not make the game a done deal - it is simply a way of deciding which musketeer piece is best suited to compliment/counteract the piece already picked.

 

MUSKETEER CHESS - PIECE PLACEMENT

When a player goes to place their musketeer pieces, it seems like a no-brainer to place them behind the knights. They can be developed immediately, and are typically moved in tandem with the pawns in the opening. It is important, however, to understand the significance of placing your musketeer pieces behind pieces other than the knights.

Pieces that have diagonal control can be placed behind a bishop for backup, or if the archbishop and or dragon are selected, a Greek gift with a twist.

A piece with orthogonal control, such as the chancellor, can be placed behind the queen in the hopes of launching a major offensive upon the queen’s activation.

Placing a piece behind a rook seems bad on paper, because upon entering play, it will control less squares. However, rooks are usually far away from the initial fighting, so it is unlikely that they will be your opponent’s priority. The situation may also arise that a little extra defence on the flank is required, and activating the rook to bring the musketeer piece onto the board provides that extra defence.

Placing a piece behind the king is obvious - the player wants to bring that piece immediately into the game upon castling.

 

MUSKETEER CHESS - VALUE INFLATION

When a musketeer piece is placed, the value of the piece it is placed behind will have its value artificially increased. For example, if an archbishop is worth 7 points, and is placed behind a bishop, typically worth 3 points, then that bishop is worth 10 points. This is referred to as value inflation.

Value inflation makes your piece in question a bigger target for your opponent, so the sooner you develop it, the better.

For example:

  1. W=DR B=AR
  2. DR^c0

Here, White has placed his dragon behind the queen’s bishop. This gives the bishop a value of 15 points, making it the most valueable piece on the board. If you don’t move it and it is later captured, you won’t be able to deploy the dragon! How do you minimise the damage that value inflation brings?

One way to achieve minimal value inflation is, of course, to place your pieces behind the knights, and develop them as soon as possible. You could also place a piece behind the queen. As the queen is valuable anyway, whether it increases in value or not is more or less irrelevant. Placing a piece behind the king however has no effect on its value, since it is worth the entire game, and it also guarantees that you get at least one piece onto the board, because the king is never actually removed from the board!

As capturing a piece with a musketeer piece behind it also removes said piece from play, it is important to plan your opening moves accordingly to make sure you get both pieces onto the board!

 

MUSKETEER CHESS - SIDELINE ATTACKS

While a musketeer piece is still off the board, it still technically controls the squares it would control if it were on the square it is going to be introduced on.

For example:

WHITE: Rh1, DRh0, Kd2

BLACK: Kf3

White to play and win. This game, for black, is a lost cause. White’s dragon is threatening to come onto the board and deliver mate - the pressure of this move effectively makes the dragon control the squares that it would control were the dragon already on the h1 square.

Solution: Rh4/DR#.

 

The threat of the musketeer pieces coming onto the board makes certain moves, typically good ones, bad moves, and vice versa. This is only a part of the new theory that musketeer chess introduces to players.

 

MUSKETEER CHESS - TEACHING THE GAME TO BEGINNERS

From my own experience, and watching over the games of others, you should not throw all 10 pieces at a new player's face. Instead, you should take your time gradually introducing each of the new pieces in sets, going in decreasing order of familiarity. When I first became aware of musketeer chess, some of the moves confused me, in particular the cannon and fortress. With that being said, here is what I recommend:

  • First introduce to a new player the chancellor, the archbishop and the dragon. These are the most recognisable unorthodox pieces out of the entire roster, and players will pick them up in no time at all due to their moves being familiar. 
  • Next, introduce them to the elephant, the hawk, and the leopard. Illustrate to them how the elephant and hawk can jump over other pieces like a knight. Show them how the leopard is like an archbishop but weaker, and slides with its bishop move instead of jumping.
  • Then introduce them to the unicorn and spider. The spider is essentially the leopard with an added orthogonal leap, which should be easy enough to understand. A phrase that I have used to death to describe the unicorn, is, "It can also make a long knight's move, 3 squares horizontally, 1 square vertically, 1 square horizontally and 3 squares vertically." It's a mouthful, but it explains it. A lot of newer players have trouble distinguishing the long knight's move from that of the alfil (which jumps 2 squares diagonally), so I would also illustrate to them that the unicorn cannot make this move!
  • Finally, introduce to them the cannon and fortress. These two are arguably the most 'unorthodox' of the lot, with wide and narrow knight moves. The cannon is best described as a piece which attacks the flank, which you will understand if you look at exactly how it moves. describe the cannon as 'being able to move like a king, but can also jump 2 squares horizontally or vertically, and in addition can move like a knight, but only 2 squares horizontally and 1 vertically.' The fortress, 'jumps 2 squares horizontally and vertically, moves like a bishop but only up to 3 squares, or moves like a knight, but only 1 square horizontally and 2 squares vertically.'

The cards that come with the pieces are also great visual aids, and you should definitely keep them by a new player's side at all times.

 

MUSKETEER CHESS - MUSKETEER PIECE ENDGAMES

Endgame patterns are essential to memorise in any chess game, as it's inevitable that you will reach the endgame at some point. Whether your musketeer pieces make it through to the end or not is a different matter altogether, but nonetheless it is vital that you recognise the ways in which the musketeer pieces can give mate. This section will cover the basic 3-piece/4-piece endgames, just to give you a primer on what patterns you should be looking out for.

 

LEOPARD ENDGAMES

KL vs. K is a win for the side with the leopard. I have to give credit here to Ed Trice, ( @GothicChessInventor) who let me play against a mate in 17 position against his Planchet program to prove this:

 

WHITE: Ka8 LEh8
BLACK: Kc8

 

1. LEf7 Kd7
2. Kb7 Ke7
3. LEe5 Ke6
4. LEc4 Kf5
5. Kc6 Ke4
6. Kc5 Kf4
7. Kd4 Kf5
8. LEe5 Ke6
9. Ke4 Ke7
10. Kd5 Ke8
11. Kd6 Kd8
12. LEf7 Kc8
13. Kc6 Kb8
14. Kb6 Kc8
15. LEe6 Kb8
16. Ka6 Ka8
17. LEc7#

 

A pattern emerges - like you would with any King + piece endgame, you have to cut off the enemy king's moves slowly using both pieces as a team. 

CANNON ENDGAMES

To newcomers of musketeer chess, it may seem that the archbishop and dragon are the only pieces that can checkmate by themselves. My research into these endgames however have shown that the cannon is also capable of checkmating by itself. It may seem tricky at first, but with practice you'll easily nail it.

What makes the cannon so unique is its sheer strength in putting pressure on the flanks:

WHITE: Cf6, Ke4, BLACK: Kc5

Solution: Cd5#. It's as easy as that. Such mates are only possible due to the cannon's design: it is supposed to be a piece that attacks to the side. Hence, managing to catch the king out with the cannon's wide-knight move is sure to lead to checkmate. But what if the cannon is further away?

WHITE: Kh1, Cg1, BLACK: Kd5

1. Ce2, this makes an approach to the king. Kc4 instantly loses:

1. ...Kc4

2. Ce4+ Kb5 3. Cd5+ Ka6 4. Cc6#

 

If Kc5, White chases the king to the edge of the board where there is no escape from a mate on the flank:

1. ...Kc5 2. Cc3+ Kd5 3. Cb4+ Kc6 4. Ca5+ Kd7 5. Cb6+ Ke6 6. Cc5+ Kf5 7. Cd5+ Kg4 8. Ce4 Kh5 9. Cf5#

 

All cannon mates are essentially the same: you attempt to attack the opponent's king from the side. Once that is done, he cannot run anywhere, and mate is inevitable.

 

ELEPHANT ENDGAMES

I initially thought that K+E vs. K was a draw. Shuffling the pieces about on the board made me think that there was no way an elephant had any mating potential. Further research blew me away, needless to say. Upon putting in the following position into H. G. Muller's WinBoard application, the way the engine figured out a checkmate astonished me.

WHITE: Ec3, Ke1

BLACK: Ke6

1. Kf2 Kf5 2. Kf3 Kf6 3. Kf4 Ke7 4. Ke5 Kf7 5. Kf5 Ke7 6. Ec5+ Kd7 7. Ke5 Kc8 8. Kd6 Kb7 9. Eb5+ Kb8 10. Kc6 Kc8 11. Eb7+ Kd8 12. Ed7#

 

As you can see, it is an organised king chase where you use the elephant and king to back the enemy king into a corner, then try to achieve mate with the elephant being defended by its king.

 

If we were to add a knight on f3 into the fray:

1. Ee5+ Kf7 2. Ke2 Ke8 3. Ee6+ Kd8 4. Ne5 Kc7 5. Ec6+ Kb8 6. Nd7+ Ka7 7. Eb6+ Ka8 8. Ea6#

I think Ne5 is the key move here. The elephant has Black's king exactly where it wants it to be. Moving the knight to e5 gives it a better position and plays upon Black's forced Kc7 from the elephant, and in that moment, you can instantly see the mate.

 

HAWK ENDGAMES

As with the elephant, further research into the hawk checkmate blew me away. Surely, you would think, that because a hawk cannot attack squares adjacent to it, that it has no mating potential? It turns out the hawk is just as capable as any rook in the endgame at giving mate.

 

WHITE: Hb2, Ke4

BLACK: Ke6

1. He2 Kd7 2. Kf4 Kd8 3. Ke5 Kc8 4. Kd6 Kb7 5. Kc5 Kc7 6. He5+ Kb7 7. Kb5 Kc8 8. Kc6 Kd8 9. Kd6 Kc8 10. Hb5 Kd8 11. Hd5+ Ke8 12. Ke6 Kf8 13. Hb5 Kg7 14. He8 Kf8 15. He5 Kg8 16. Kf6 Kh7 17. He3 Kg8 18. Hh6 Kh7 19. He6 Kh8 20. Kf7 Kh7 21. Hh3 Kh8 22. Hh5#

 

ARCHBISHOP & CHANCELLOR ENDGAMES

GM Yasser Seirawan has developed a lot of theory on rook+knight and bishop+knight endgames in working on SHARPER chess. You can find a lot of endgame samples here. Just remember that in SHARPER chess, rook+knight is the elephant, while bishop+knight is the hawk - and in musketeer chess, rook+knight is the chancellor, while bishop+knight is the archbishop.

 

DRAGON ENDGAMES

Dragon mates aren't too hard to learn. In fact, K+DR vs. K is an easier mating pattern to recognise than K+Q vs. K!

WHITE: Ke4, DRf5

BLACK: Kb7

White forces a mate in two moves. First, DRd6+ to chase the black king to a8 or a7 (it doesn't really matter), and then delivers the final blow with DRc6#. It is said that the most amount of moves it takes for the dragon to force mate is 4, while the queen takes 10 moves, and the rook 16.

I'd like to also demonstrate the dragon's sheer mating potential using an OTB game I had with a friend not too long ago - I was Black, and my friend was White.

WHITE: h4, g2, f2, d2, Bc1, Ke2, b3, Ra1, a2

BLACK: Rh8, h7, Ng8, g7, Bf8, Kf7, e7, DRe1, b7, Nb4, Ra8, a7

White to move; Black to play and win.

I have partially trapped his king in using my knight on b4. If it was Black to move, I have a mate in one with DRc2#. For White however, every move is a zugzwang - he decides to play Ka3.

My reply comes, without hesitation: 1. ... DRc2+. This forces White's king to keep advancing down the board. His only response is Ka4. With his king boxed in, it is time for the coup de grâce. First comes the move, 2. ... DRc5+. After Ka3, the real star of the show delivers crushing defeat: 3. ... Nd3#. You can't pull that mate off with a queen!

 

 

UNICORN ENDGAMES

 It should be noted that the unicorn is a rare exception to the rule: in my experience playing chess variants, there are very few pieces that are valued stronger than a rook that are unable to give mate, even with the help of a king.

K+U+B vs. K is indeed a win for White, but just like K+B+N vs. K, it is a very tricky mate to pull off if you're not an experienced player, and furthermore, you're not going to regularly come across it. Instead, I'd like to show a good mate from a game I had with the creator.

WHITE: a2, Bb5, Kc2, c4, Rd3, e3, g2, Rh1, h3
BLACK: Ra8, a7, Ba3, b7, Nc6, Ke7, Be6, Ue4, h6, h4
Black to play and win.

As White, I gave up my unicorn during the middle of the game in an exchange that unfortunately came up short.
Black starts the attack with: 1. ...Nb4+. The unicorn on e4 has blocked all of my possible paths of escape: b3, c3, d2 and d1. The dark-square bishop attacks my king from behind, denying it b2 and c1. Therefore, my only move is Kb1.
2. Kb1 Nxd3
Nxd3 obviously removes my rook from the game, but the move serves another purpose as well - my other rook is completely locked out of the game. If I play Rg1, Nb4; Rd1; Uc3+; Ka1, Nc2#.
Instead, I play Kc2, obviously still losing but shows another path to mate.
3. Kc2 Nb4+
4. Kb1 Ud2#

 

FORTRESS ENDGAMES

If the cannon is designed to attack the sides, the fortress is designed to attack the front.

A very simple mate in one with the fortress:

WHITE: Ke6 FOc3 BLACK: Ke8

Solution: FOf6#

So, how do you get to this position? Simple: if the cannon can force the king to the flanks, the fortress can force the king back into his own camp!

However, I must warn that mating with the fortress is tricky at first, as there's a high chance you might stalemate yourself. This one will take a couple of games to get used to.

 

WHITE: FOa1, Kh1

BLACK: Kg7

1. FOd4+ Kh6

2. FOe3+ Kg6

3. Kg2 Kf6

4. Kg3 Ke6

5. Kf4 Kd6

6. Ke4 Kc6

7. FOc3 Kb6

8. Kd5 Ka6

9. Kc5 Kb7

10. FOb5+ Kc8

11. Kd6 Kb8

12. Kd7 Ka8

13. Kc6 Kb8

14. FOc7+ Kc8

15. FOd6#

 

SPIDER ENDGAMES

The spider has the advantage over the leopard in being able to move 2 squares orthogonally. This makes it much better at zoning out your opponent's king. There is a caveat to the spider's power and that is its blindspots on the squares orthogonally adjacent to it. In K + SP vs. K, your king is tasked with trying to defend those blind spots. 

WHITE: SPe2, Ke5

BLACK: Kg5

 

1. SPg2 Kg6

Here I must bring to light the most important part about spider mates: You cannot, I repeat, cannot check the king if the spider's blindspots are not protected! In checking the opponent's king, you invite it to occupy one of the spider's blindspots, which forces you to retreat. Instead, your king and spider must work together to corner the king. 

2. SPf4+ Kf7

3. Kd6 Kg7

4. Ke6 Kh7

5. Kf7 Kh8

6. SPg6#

 

MISCELLANEOUS MATES

Now that you have gone through all of the basic mating patterns, can you figure out the best way to mate in these positions?

 

BLOWN UP

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Pieces used: cannon, fortress

White to move and mate in 1.

You could mate with a queen, but...

 

TOTAL LOCKDOWN

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Pieces used: spider, archbishop

White to move and mate in 6.

 

A LONG WALK OFF A SHORT PIER

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Pieces used: fortress, archbishop

Black to move and mate in 9.

 

MUSKETEER CHESS - AN INTERVIEW WITH THE CREATOR

Musketeer chess comes off as a very unique variant in the chess variant community, in terms of its methods to retain its popularity. Indeed, many a user on certain chess websites may notice images of these bizarre, seemingly alien pieces, and wonder what to make of them. In an attempt to shed light on the musketeer chess phenomenon, I approached Dr. Haddad on Jocly (a website where you can play musketeer chess for free), and interviewed him over the course of a few games. I conducted this interview in two parts - in the first part, I asked him questions about the origins of the musketeer chess project; in the second part, I asked him questions about musketeer chess’ game theory

EBINOLA: As with any interview, I have to go back to the very beginning: what got you into chess variants; and what gave you the inspiration to create musketeer chess?

HADDAD: I used to be a good chess player, rated around 2100-2200 [Elo]. Because of my professional and family obligations, I went away from the board. I kept following strong GM events but went away from the board with no time to train. When I met with my old fellows, I was frustrated with the fact I got inferior positions because of opening theory. I then had the idea of changing the rules and got into chess variants. The more I played and tried chess variants, the less I wanted to play classic chess. I was frustrated that there were no fairy chess pieces available (apart from a few trials like omega chess, no longer available). That’s why I got the idea to develop and invent fairy chess pieces. Seirawan was the one who inspired me most with the elephant and hawk. The only thing I found frustrating with Seirawan chess was the fact that his pieces didn’t move in the way I’d expected. I also don’t like the way in which the Seirawan pieces drop. In fact, in chess and the beauty of chess, it is key to define clearly the strategy from the beginning: we use the same army, and the piece positions are known and predefined. And then came the idea of inventing something else - musketeer chess.

EBINOLA: What was the process of creating the musketeer pieces, the design and the moves?

HADDAD: The ideas for the musketeer pieces came from the help of Mr. Frank Camaratta who invented and designed many of the pieces. We discussed the designs and improved them; in the end, I was the decider concerning the designs. The design of the archbishop, chancellor, dragon, cannon, elephant and hawk were Mr. Camaratta’s, and I helped in selecting and refining them. For the leopard, fortress, spider and unicorn, most of the ideas were mine. Mr. Camaratta was of good advice. As for the name, I was looking for something easy to remember, and easy to translate. I was looking for a name that could inspire people. France, my adoptive country, is known for the Three Musketeers (Alexandre Dumas). I also see myself as having a brave heart, like a musketeer, investing a lot of money into a game that I cannot make a living from. That’s why I called my game musketeer chess!

EBINOLA: Obviously, musketeer chess is more than a game - it’s a project to help make contemporary variants more mainstream. How has the musketeer chess project helped people bring their chess variants to life?

HADDAD: Musketeer Chess and musketeer chess pieces regularly inspire people to make their own variants. They are the widest and best fairy pieces currently available in the market and the choice is growing.

EBINOLA: They certainly are. Has musketeer chess caught on in your local area; any stories of it catching on elsewhere?

HADDAD: Unfortunately, I don’t really have the time to advertise or play against other people OTB, but on Jocly there are people from all around the world who like musketeer chess and are inspired to create their own variant and to play the game. I take the example of John Keith Williams who invented cerebral (or edema) chess. It’s a variant that I added to my website.

EBINOLA: What are the musketeer chess project’s prospects for the future? Where do you see the project in 2 or 3 years’ time?

HADDAD: I’m currently trying to promote musketeer chess on various chess servers. I hope to have a musketeer chess engine, for research purposes (to give the most reliable evaluation concerning the musketeer piece values). This is in my opinion essential. In fact, my first lesson when learning chess was how the pieces moved, and my second lesson was the relative value of the pieces; even this evaluation is inaccurate but it gives you an idea of the true value of the pieces. Then, experts will show flaws of the evaluation, etc.. This is my most important goal. I’ll also continue to design and manufacture more fairy pieces. This is for my own pleasure.

 

Now I understood the background of the developer - a family man whose professional duties forced him to leave professional play, who became frustrated that he was no longer able to achieve greater positions that he was capable of before. Seeking to change the rules, he ended up discovering SHARPER chess, and started a project that later proved to be far greater than he had anticipated. Though he is unable to fully profit from the project, his passion inspires him to continue his work regardless.

 

EBINOLA: Let's talk about some game theory. What is your preferred musketeer piece to use in a game, and your least preferred, and why?
HADDAD: My least favourite is the dragon (= Amazon), it's too strong. I like to invent pieces and and piece rules that have never been invented before. My favourite is the hawk, followed by the archbishop, leopard, and unicorn.

EBINOLA: To what extent do the new pieces alter the theory of traditional openings? What kind of new openings have the musketeer pieces allowed to develop?

HADDAD: Some openings become completely impossible due to smart initial piece placement regarding the introduction of the new pieces. With the leapers, especially the hawk and unicorn, sometimes forced openings can be achieved, but when you take a close look at these forced openings and if Black plays accurately, no real advantage will be achieved. Black will regroup and develop his pieces and can probably strike back.

EBINOLA: Regarding the 0 and 9 ranks, where do you find players placing their pieces the most?

HADDAD: Behind bishops and knights. Don't forget that with additional pieces on the 1st and 8th ranks piece coordination could be affected severely. Introducing pieces rapidly is also a plan for blitz attacks. The most important thing is to not alter piece coordination and have a clear plan from the opening! For example, with leapers I usually place them behind the bishop. If I have no leapers I prefer putting one behind the king or queen and the other piece usually behind the bishop. This helps to not overcrowd the board and avoid introducing a piece behind a rook or knight that would otherwise be stuck there for a long time.

EBINOLA: From my experiences, people seem to be quite reluctant to place the new pieces behind a rook. What do you think about this, and is there actually any real advantage to it that some players aren't seeing?

HADDAD: The only benefit from it is to protect the king. It all depends on the piece; it should really be a cannon or spider. But if you place a piece behind a rook, you risk being short of a super piece in the middle game and you'll find yourself outnumbered. So, I don't see any benefit to it for the moment.

EBINOLA: With regards to the new endgames that the musketeer pieces open up, which have you found to be the most exciting to play through?

HADDAD: Probably pawns + hawks vs. pawns + rooks. Very tricky! Look at this game:

musketeer endgame #1

(from here)

EBINOLA: (I only know a little French but) What I gather from your opponent's comment is that you have one more pawn; the hawk isn't as strong on the board as the rook is in the endgame because the position is too open? That draws a nice parallel between hawk and rook - board opens up; hawk loses strength; but on the other hand, the rook gains strength. What about some of the leopard endgames? If we imagine the leopard as essentially a weaker archbishop, I imagine that its limited bishop moves what would otherwise be wins for the archbishop into draws.

HADDAD: Your comment about hawk vs. rook is absolutely right. The leopard and archbishop are strong pieces. I think in the endgame the archbishop should be stronger by a margin of at least 1 pawn but depending on the position and the number of pieces and pawns it could be stronger by 2-2.5 pawns! This makes the archbishop slightly inferior to a queen by a margin of 1 pawn or less.

EBINOLA: I suppose now would be the best time to ask - according to your team, what are the approximate values for each of the musketeer pieces? I've seen quite a few number of people speculate but no official numbers have been released thus far.

HADDAD: Here is an exclusive: Leopard 650, Cannon 750, Unicorn 550, Dragon 1150, Chancellor 780, Archbishop 750, Elephant 620, Hawk 540, Fortress 750 and Spider 800. A pawn is worth 100, Knight 290, Bishop 305, Rook 480, Queen 930.

Editor's note: These values are in centiPawns. For decimal values, you would divide these by 100. As of writing this, @musketeerchess2017 has updated his website with a page elaborating on these values, which you can find here.

EBINOLA: Where do you generally develop the musketeer pieces in the opening? That is to say, what objectives do each musketeer piece have? E.g. the hawk wants to be develop ASAP to be able to threaten forks, the cannon is good for defending the flanks, the dragon is best saved for the middle game, etc.

HADDAD: You've got a point. The hawk is my favourite piece because of all the new tactics it offers; as I said, it's a very tricky piece! The spider and fortress are very strong attacks so I tend to develop them on the opponent's king flank to attack. But to do that there is a need for a strong centre to secure and build a steady attack, especially with the spider because it can only leap to a limited number of squares. The unicorn is an excellent leaper with its extended knight abilities!

EBINOLA: I have to say that the unicorn is one of my favourites. A very tactical piece to use, especially with regards to its endgames. How effective is it behind a knight? I find that often when the unicorn is behind a knight. I'll develop the knight very early but the unicorn seems to stay on its starting square until much later.

HADDAD: It all depends on your starting position, e4 or d4, and chosen knight. In general, try to combine attacking skills by putting leapers behind sliders and vice versa. This will probably give a slower start for tactical shots but also more rich combinations and positions.

EBINOLA: Is counterpicking an effective method for Black for choosing a musketeer piece to counteract/compliment White's piece? No piece is a bad counter/complement per se; but when I'm Black, and my opponent picks a dragon I almost always pick the unicorn. I typically never pick the elephant or cannon against a dragon, for instance.

HADDAD: Yes, I agree. The most interesting pieces are for sure the unicorn and hawk because they are the only pieces that can attack the amazon [dragon] without being attacked. Also, the spider and fortress are a good choice: they are strong and they have leaping capabilities. They must use a shield to attack the dragon (typically a pawn near the dragon or any other piece that doesn't attack them directly).

EBINOLA: I think the current position is a good example of why it's not a good idea to leave your king sitting when you have a piece behind it. The game gets too open, therefore there's a greater risk of losing the piece through a check.

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(from here); my game against Dr. Haddad.

 

HADDAD: When you put a piece behind the king, you are supposed to castle as quickly as possible. But it all depends on the kind of openings and positions you play. In closed positions, it doesn't matter when you castle. In opened positions, if your opponent gets his additional peices in the game, he's in a more favourable situation to attack you.

EBINOLA: Yeah, starting to regret not castling earlier :/. Tried to play c3 to prevent Ud4 but I think Be3 was the better move; but I digress. I think we can finish with one final question regarding musketeer chess theory. (At time of writing [12/12/17]), AlphaZero has beaten Stockfish 28-0 in a legendary computer chess match. Because of the way in which players choose and place their pieces, the game-tree of musketeer chess is significantly higher than that of regular chess. What are your hopes for musketeer chess when an engine (or A.I) is developed for it? And if an engine was to be developed for it right now, how would we fare in trying to beat it? Think Kasparov-Deep Blue.

HADDAD: Chess A.I is based on millions of human games, in particular master games. Musketeer chess is far away from that. An A.I, if the human programming it can succeed in giving an accurate evaluation of the fairy pieces, will probably get the advantage if the engine is strong in classic chess. But the human can better compete against A.I in musketeer chess than in classic chess. In fact, the new fairy pieces have many subtleties. When a human plans for certain ideas and certain tricks and projects himself tens of plies before the tactic comes I think the human mind with its global long-term vision is superior (in musketeer chess as much as the fairy pieces remain on the board). AlphaZero's concept is different. It is based on neural networking and self-learning. What could be the most important step for chess with AlphaZero is to make parallel algorithms based on AlphaZero games to evaluate in a more accurate way the classic chess piece values. Probably AlphaZero with its probability calculations even though it calculates much less positions per second than classic engines based on brute-force calculations of millions of positions per second can help in this.

 

EXTERNAL LINKS

First, shout out to @Finitus, alias Sbiis Saibian: He's taken a very scientific approach to calculating the values of the musketeer chess pieces which, if you are wanting to read further, you should definitely check out! I think he's really blown me out of the water, but I'm an English guy, not a Maths guy; he has a history of working with very large numbers, so he certainly knows his stuff.

A secondary shout out to Ed Trice ( @GothicChessInventor), writer of the Planchet program used to get the leopard endgames.

Second, a link to the dev's website where you can participate in chess variant discussion, and also a section where you can sample chess variants that he hosts: click here.

I'm also going to leave links to Amazon and the House of Staunton; if you've scrolled all the way to the end and would like to purchase any of the kits, you can do so here (for European readers) and here (for U.S readers).