Quick Guide to Spell Chess

Quick Guide to Spell Chess

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Spell Chess is an imaginatively crafted variant. It's the best one in the /variants part of Sort of close to chess, and also unique. All of the standard rules apply, but each player has 5 freeze spells and 2 jump spells, and these spells make game (especially the opening) highly cutthroat and tactical. The freeze spell freezes everything within a 3x3 section of the board, including one's own pieces. But players may move through the 3x3 section, or capture things inside the 3x3 section. Players can only use one spell per turn, and it takes a cooldown period of three full moves before a player can use the same spell again. But players may use the two different spells on consecutive moves. The jump spell allows Bishops, Rooks, and Queens to jump over one enemy or allied piece. (Pawns may also exploit this rule by jumping over a piece from the second to the fourth ranks but it's quite rare that this happens). This completely changes the openings. Most of Black's openings lose by force, because White can aim for Bb5 and Qh5, threatening to jump at either d7 or f7, and also freezing Black's pieces. In response to 1.e4 by White, Black has 1...Nc6, 1...c6, 1...e6, or 1...e5. Some strong players have told me that the last two options are barely not losing by force. My very first game of Spell Chess, played before I had properly understood the rules, went like this. (You will need to visualize a little here.)

You can capture the King in this variant, as well as delivering checkmate in the usual way. Black did not have to lose so easily. It was possible for Black to play jump@h7 and Rxh5. Black would take the White Queen, and White would be forced to capture the Black rook with their own Rook, leading to this position. 

White could have been craftier than this. White could have played 2.Qh5 and freeze@g7, which would prevent the Black Rook from taking the Queen, and keep the threat of jump@f7 on. But even freezing at g7 is not good for White. 

I prefer to answer 1.e4 with 1...Nc6. Some strong players also play 1...c6 or 1...e6. 

White should probably not play 1.d4. It is not losing by force, but after 1...e5, if White takes the pawn then White is losing by force. White should probably just stick to 1.e4. Although there is nothing stopping White from playing 1.Nc3 or 1.c3 and playing as if playing Black, but with an extra tempo. I like 1.e4 too much to try that. 

Here I'll offer some middlegame pointers. The freeze spell can often backfire, as we saw above when White tried Qh5 and freeze@g7. When a player is frozen first, that player's pieces unfreeze first. Sometimes you need to keep the freeze spell in reserve. 
I lost one game in the following way.
This isn't given in the in-game explanation as far as I can see. I guess it makes sense. The other notable point about the rules is that although you can capture the King, you cannot castle through or out of check. 
The spells are limited, there are 2 jump spells and 5 freeze spells. I'd say that it's worth spending a jump spell to win a piece. I normally wouldn't use a jump spell to win a pawn. Sometimes against strong players, I try to force my opponents to spend a jump spell just to make an equal exchange (usually it's the Queens). The balance of material stays the same, but my opponent used a jump spell and I didn't. If you can force your opponent to spend their jump spells, you are likely to have a big advantage in an endgame with rooks. 
Sometimes you can use freeze spells to force your opponent to freeze in return. If you make an equal trade while freezing your opponent, they will be forced to freeze you. If you can make a different threat after this, there are now two things for your opponent to deal with. 
In the endgame, it's sometimes simplest to force your opponent to trade down freeze spells. If you put them in check, and freeze their King, they must freeze the checking piece. If you can repeat this until both sides are out of freeze spells, you can now just play standard chess, assuming you have some advantage there. 
Some ordinary pins (like pinning a Knight to the Queen) can backfire if the Bishop is undefended. The Queen can just hop over the knight and capture. 
In this position, White can just capture the bishop with the Queen. It's worth the jump spell--even more so since White is capturing a piece which can use the jump spell. 
Sometimes the Rooks can jump over the pawns to capture one another, and this influences everything else. One game I played went like this. I was playing Black. 

I later blundered away my Queen and the game. But after taking on a1, Black should win the game. I'll show the blunder, because it's quite instructive. In this position, I played freeze@e2 and Bxc3+, which is dreadful. White correctly plays freeze@c3 and Rxg2. 
I won't say much more, because the variant is still new and we will learn more about the openings and tactics. If you are reading this blog post, be sure to look at the comments, because it is likely that others will have useful things to say. 
Spell Chess is a genuinely fun variant. It's not clear who designed it--or whether it was designed by one person or many. The /variants part of has some other nice variants on it too. I liked Blackletter Chess, which is a large variant with more kinds of pieces. It has knight-bishops, knight-rooks, and knight-kings. It's obviously inspired by Christian Freeling's Grand Chess, with the absence of castling and the pawns advanced to the third rank.

I wonder why they didn't just write to Freeling and ask him if they could host Grand Chess on And why not ask Daniel MacDonald about his Omega Chess? Or Jean-Louis Cazaux if they could host his Shako variant? Or David Paulowich if they could host TenCubed Chess. These are all excellently designed and fun to play large board variants. (Whether or not requires the permission of the designer is something I'm not sure of. Due to the patent laws in the U.S., I suspect they do require permission.) But if it is not feasible to get one of these variants, it's still not clear why this variant exists. 

XXL Chess--quite something. And the pawns always promote to Queens on the 8th rank, which skews the game into a race to promote. Large board variants should not be unwieldly or intimidating. They should be slightly larger than Chess, but elegant like Chess. I'm genuinely lost as to why there is such creativity and care in Spell Chess, and at the same time there is XXL Chess. As a fan of large board variants, XXL is a real disappointment, because it is likely to reinforce the prejudice that 8x8 chess is perfect and anything larger is just too much. The /variants part of is obviously an experimental part of the website, but it would be so easy to have 10x10 variants which are as fun as Spell Chess. 

I'd like to see Spell Chess 2, with more spells, or perhaps on a larger board. Spell Chess has had me hooked. I spent a few weeks grinding to break a 2000 rating, and it was a blast. 

As a final note, if you are playing Spell Chess, take care about time. When I play, there is no sound, and no red clock, to let you know that you are getting low. People flag fairly frequently because the usual alerts one gets are missing.

Let me know your thoughts, if you like.