Chess with Dice: An Orthodox Chess-Compatible Handicap

Jun 15, 2008, 5:48 AM |

In my previous post, I explored chess handicaps. Here I will look particularly at chess with dice, a way of artificially limiting the selection of pieces to move among those available to play in an orthodox chess game. There is more than one possible set of guidelines for playing a game with a dice handicap, leading to the possibility of pitting two players with different severity handicaps against each other. The reason for considering this type of handicap, beyond the general interest in introducing handicaps for the purpose of pitting different level players against each other, is that the element of chance can be fun.

Even a Severe Handicap Has its Exceptions

In any kind of random piece-to-move selection, there is the consideration of how severely the normal play may be effected. At the most severe, failing to get a roll for the piece that removes check could leave the game in an illegal state. At the other end of the spectrum, some level of suboptimal play resulting from dice throws is desired; that is why it is considered a handicap. If a pawn or even a minor piece is lost as a result, it's part of the game with the handicap.

In order to be compatible with orthodox chess, a move must always be made (unless it is a genuine stalemate), and a limited set of moves must be made in response to check. To address the first consideration, a guideline can be immediately formulated: if no legal move presents itself after the throwing of dice, the player is able to make any normally legal move. This is the fundamental guideline that must be included for compatibility with orthodox chess, which doesn't allow a "pass" or to remain in check.

This would simultaneously address the second (how to respond to check); however, it may be desirable not to require suboptimal play in response to check due to a dice throw; in which case, another guideline can be formulated: any normally legal move can be made in response to check.

There is another question that arises; if you have mate in 3 or 4, should you always be able to deliver it, providing that every step of the mate puts the other king in check? It is in the spirit of chess to say "yes," as the checkmate is not a mere capture of the king but rather a demonstration that any possible response of the player would result in the continuing endangerment of the king, and thus a checkmate is a sort of "mate in 0" to which all "mate in 1" and other problems reduce. Two different rules could be formed here, one being more plain. The first and more purist version would be to allow an exhaustive demonstration of an impending checkmate. This is possible but might require a referee. The more plain option is to allow a free move (any legal move) immediately after any check, thus allowing a large number of forced mates to proceed (while not necessarily those that require a more quiet move in the sequence that does not provide check).

So we already have three exceptions to the general rule of moving pieces by dice throw:

1) If your dice throw leaves you with no options, make any legal move.

2) If your king starts in check, make any legal move.

3) If your last move delivered check, make any legal move.

These three rules by themselves provide a sort of baseline of a "very severe" handicap or dice-dependent play. Before moving on to the dice themselves, there are a number of progressively more moderate rules that could be instituted to prevent material loss that isn't quite in the spirit of chess.

More Moderation: Or, Preventing Sub-100 Chess

Let's say your knight is posted (as black) at c6 and you are playing the Ruy Lopez opening. On move 4, the white bishop takes your knight. Your dice roll does not say that pawns should move. Should you be able to capture back?

We'll say that the answer is yes, because the concept of a "protected piece" (or square for that matter) is such a fundamental concept to all tactics that not allowing immediate recaptures would be to be playing a game so fundamentally different as to be unrecognizable as chess.

So there should be a rule about allowing captures that aren't indicated by the dice, at least in games between unhandicapped and handicapped players. The most restrictive rule (resulting in the most severe handicap of this type) would allow the capture by any legal method of any opponent piece that has captured on the immediately preceding turn. A more expansive rule, which could lead to some more interesting play from the handicapped player (and counterplay from the opponent), would allow all captures that are legal in chess to be playable in addition to the pieces-to-move indicated by the dice. This would likely result in the most interesting chess (albeit still with a handicap).

The Reverse of a Capture: Responding to Simple Threat

Making the chess played with a handicap even more moderate, one could imagine several privileges for pieces in danger of being captured:

* The Queen and the Rook, if in danger of being captured on the next turn, may move.

* The Bishop and Knight, if in danger of being captured by a pawn on the next turn, may move.

Notice that these rules still allow for some simple suboptimal play because of dice: it is still quite easy to lose an undefended minor piece, just as long as the attack is made with anything but a pawn.

There is no clause for attacked pawns, not least because they are never attacked by a less valuable piece, and also because they are typically given a high chance to move anyway.

With No Further Ado... the Dice

This version I see as being the "standard" way to translate dice rolls into pieces to move, while allowing for variation from the "standard" to create versions more or less restrictive. 

The King can always make a move. This is to make endgames more like chess is normally played and also to give a player the option of moving the king as opposed to any of the pieces indicated by the dice (that is, if the king can move).

If doubles are rolled, any piece or pawn can move.

If a 3 is rolled, the Queen can move.

If a 4 to 6 is rolled, a Bishop can move.

If anything 7 or lower is rolled, a Pawn can move. 

If an 8 to 10 is rolled, a Knight can move.

If an 11 is rolled, a Rook can move.

One can even tell a story about these values. The dice roll represents how loud the King shouts his orders for that turn. The Queen listens only to the softest whisper, and the Bishops to a reasoned pitch. The Pawn will react to near anything, but will be too frightened to move when the order is booming loud. At this point the command can reach out to the knights, and only at the highest pitch do the rooks hear the message. Of course, the King can always get lucky (doubles) and can always listen to himself.

Second, Super Soft Edition

The super soft edition reduces the effect of dice to a near-minimum. The rules there are:

If doubles are rolled, any piece or pawn can move.

If seven is rolled, any piece or pawn can move.

If 3 to 6 is rolled, move a Rook or Bishop or Pawn.

If 8 to 11 is rolled, move a Knight or Queen.

Endgame Addendum

For the "standard" dice rolls only: it may be possible to announce the intention of "Endgame" for dice rolls. Thereafter, Knights and Bishops can be moved only on the occasion that any piece can move; i.e., when doubles are rolled, a check has been made, or to capture. Instead, for 4 to 6 and 8 to 10, the player has the option of moving either a Queen or a Rook (and, still, for 7 and under also a Pawn). The intention of "Endgame" must be stated before the dice roll and is a permanent, irreversible change to the dice for that game.

Possible Play

All this is great in theory, but how does this play out? I'd like to find out! Drop me a message in order to set up a game. I will be happy to play with whatever handicap setup outlined above you prefer.