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List of chess variants

chess variant (or unorthodox chess) is a game "related to, derived from or inspired by chess".[2] The difference from chess might include one or more of the following:

  • different rules for capture, move order, game objective, etc.;
  • addition, substitution or removal of pieces in standard chess (non-standard pieces are known as fairy pieces);
  • different chessboard (larger or smaller, non-square board shape overall or different intra-board cell shapes such as hexagons).

Regional chess games, some of which are older than Western chess, such as chaturangashatranjxiangqi and shogi, are typically called chess variants in the Western world. They have some similarities to chess and share a common game ancestor.

The number of possible chess variants is virtually unlimited. Confining the number to published variants, D. B. Pritchard, author of The Encyclopedia of Chess Variants, estimates there are well over 2,000.[3][4]

In the context of chess problems, chess variants are called fantasy chessheterodox chess or fairy chess. Some chess variants are used only in problem composition and not in actual play.



Chess-derived games[edit]

These chess variants are derived from chess by changing the board, setup, pieces or rules.

Chess with different starting positions[edit]

In these variants, the starting position is different, but otherwise the board, pieces and rules are the same. In most such variants the pawns are placed on their usual squares, but the position of other pieces is either randomly determined or selected by the players. The motivation for these variants is to nullify established opening knowledge. The downside of these variants is that the initial position has usually less harmony and balance than the standard chess position.[5]

  • Chess960 (or Fischer Random Chess): The placement of the pieces on the first rankis randomised, with the opponent's pieces mirroring it. Invented by Bobby Fischer(1996).
  • Displacement chess: Some pieces in the initial position are exchanged but the rules remain exactly the same. Some examples of this may be that the king and queen are flipped, or the knight on the b-file is traded with the bishop on the f-file.
  • Pre-Chess: Proposed by Pal Benko in 1978.[6] The game starts with white and black pawns set as usual, but the initial position of other pieces is selected by the players in the following way: first, White places one of his pieces on his first rank, and then Black does the same. Players continue to alternate in this manner until all pieces have been placed, with the only restriction being that bishops must be placed on opposite-colour squares. Then the game proceeds in the usual way. Castling is permitted only if the king and a rook were placed on their usual squares.
  • Transcendental chess: Similar to Chess960, but the opening white and black positions do not mirror each other.
  • Upside-down chess: The black and white pieces are switched so that all the pawns are one step away from promotion.[7] The game can start, for example: 1.Nc6 Nf3 2.b8=Q g1=Q etc. (If 2.Nb4, then 2...Ne5 is necessary to stop 3.Nd3#.)

Chess with different forces[edit]

Some chess variants use different numbers of pieces for White and Black. All pieces in these games are standard chess pieces, there are no fairy chess pieces.

  • Dunsany's chess (or Horde chess): One side has standard chess pieces, and the other side has 32 pawns.
  • Endgame Chess (or The Pawns Game): Players start the game with only pawns and a king. Normal en passant, check, checkmate and pawn promotion rules apply.[8]
  • Handicap chess (or Chess with odds): Variations to equalise chances of players with different strength.
  • Legal's Game (or The Pawns game): White has no queen but eight additional pawns. The game was played by such old masters as LabourdonnaisDeschappelles andKieseritsky.[9]
  • Peasants' Revolt: White has a king and eight pawns (the peasants) against Black's king, pawn and four knights (the nobles). Black has the advantage.[10] To narrow the contest, the game has also been played with three knights (on b8, c8 and g8) instead of four.[11] By R. L. Frey (1947).
  • Weak!: White has usual pieces, Black has one king, seven knights and sixteen pawns. This game was played at Columbia University chess club in the 1960s.[12]
  • Chess with unusual rules[edit]

    • Absorption Chess: A capturing piece gains the movement abilities of the piece it captures. Therefore, if a rook captured a bishop, the rook would then be able to move like a queen as it can move like the rook and now the bishop. This rule does not apply to kings and pawns.
    • Absorption Chess II (or Seizer's Chess): Similar to Absorption Chess. A capturing piece gains the movement of the piece captured. The rule does apply to kings and pawns.
    • Andernach chess: A piece making a capture changes colour.
    • Atomic chess: Capture on any square results in an "atomic explosion" which kills (i.e. removes from the game) all pieces in the eight surrounding squares, except for pawns.
    • Beirut Chess: Players secretly equip one of their men with a "bomb", which can be detonated at any time, wiping out all pieces on surrounding squares. Win by checkmating the opponent, or blowing up his king. By Jim Winslow (1992).
    • Benedict chess: Pieces are not allowed to be "captured". Example: if a white bishop 'captures' a black knight, that knight is then removed and replaced with a white knight on the same square. The 'attacking' bishop does not move.[13]
    • Checked chess: Each player, either before or after their move, may place one captured piece on any unoccupied square on the board.[14]
    • Checkers chess: Normal rules of chess. However, pieces can only move forwards until they have reached the far rank.[15]
    • Checkless chess: Players are forbidden from giving check except to checkmate.
    • Circe chess: Captured pieces are reborn on their starting squares.
    • Contramatic Chess: Players may not give check, but may put their own king in check by the enemy. A player wins when his opponent cannot escape giving check. By V. R. Parton.
    • Co-Regal Chess: Queens can be checkmated as well as kings. By V. R. Parton.
    • Crazyhouse: Captured pieces change the colour and can be dropped on any unoccupied location. There are two variations of this variant, known as Loop chess andChessgi.
    • Cubic Chess: Piece cubes display the six piece types, a player can promote any pawn by rotating its cube to match a captured piece type. By Vladimír Pribylinec (1977).
    • Dodo Chess: A race similar to Racing Kings, with players competing to be first to get their king from first rank to eighth rank. Captures, but no checks or checkmate. By V. R. Parton.
    • Dynamo Chess: Capturing is replaced by pushing or pulling enemy pieces off the board. By Hans Klüver and Peter Kahl (1968). A close variant of Push Chess (by Fred Galvin, 1967).
    • Einstein chess: Pieces transform into more or less powerful pieces when they move.[16]
    • Extinction chess: To win, a player must capture all of any one type of pieces of the opponent (for example, all the knights an opponent has, or all their pawns, etc.).
    • Genesis Chess: The game begins with an empty board and opponents take turns placing down or moving pieces.[17]
    • Gryphon Chess: Players start without kings, a moved piece transforms to the next type in the series P→N→B→R→Q→K. Mating any enemy king wins. By V. R. Parton.
    • Guard chess (or Icelandic chess): Allows captures only when a piece is completely unprotected by friendly pieces. Checkmate occurs when the piece forcing the mate is protected and therefore cannot be captured.[18]
    • Hierarchical chess: Pieces must be moved in the order: pawn, knight, bishop, rook, queen, king. A player who has the corresponding piece but cannot move it loses.[19]
    • Hostage Chess: Captured pieces are held in the capturer's "prison", and can released by the opponent and dropped into play (ala shogi) via a "hostage exchange". By John Leslie (1997).
    • Identific: Players set 12 counters on the board, which become defined as chess pieces as play continues. By V. R. Parton.
    • Idle Kings' Chess: Players play without kings until move 13, when kings are placed on any square not in check. Kings immobile unless checked. By V. R. Parton.
    • Jedi Knight chess: Knights may move three steps diagonally or horizontally or both, depending on the rules accepted.[20]
    • Kamikaze chess (or Hara-Kiri chess): When capturing, the capturing piece is removed from play also. So, a king cannot defend itself by capturing an attacker. A capture is not allowed if it exposes the king to discovered check. Idea from B. G. Laws (1928).[21]
    • Kamikaze chess: A variant of Losing chess. The king is royal and removing a check takes precedence over capturing. The king must be lost last; moving into check is permitted after all other men have been captured.
    • Kinglet Chess (or Imperial Fiddlesticks): The winner is the first to eliminate all eight of the opponent's pawns. No check or checkmate; kings are capturable like other pieces. By V. R. Parton.
    • Knight Relay chess: Pieces defended by a friendly knight can move as a knight.
    • Knightmate (or Mate The Knight): The goal is to checkmate the opponent's knight (initially on e-file). The kings on b- and g-files can be captured as other pieces. Pawns can promote to kings but not to knights.[22] By Bruce Zimov (1972).
    • Legan chess: Played as if the board would be rotated 45°, initial position and pawn movements are adjusted accordingly.
    • Losing chess (or AntichessGiveaway chessSuicide chessKiller chessTake-all chessReverse chess): Capturing moves are mandatory and the object is to lose all one's pieces. There is no check – the king is captured like an ordinary piece.
    • Madrasi chess (or Weird chess): A piece which is attacked by the same type of piece of the opposite colour is paralysed.
    • March Hare Chess: Players move two pieces per turn: first their own man, then one of their opponent's men. By V. R. Parton.
    • Mock Chess: Kings have no royal power; captures are compulsory. Win by capturing the entire enemy army. By V. R. Parton.
    • Monochromatic chess: All pieces must stay on the same colour square as they initially begin.
    • Patrol chess: Captures and checks are only possible if the capturing or checking piece is guarded by a friendly piece.
    • PlunderChess: The capturing piece is allowed to temporarily take the moving abilities of the piece taken.
    • Pocket Knight Chess (or Tombola Chess): Players have an extra knight they keep at the side of the board. Once during the game, a player may place the knight on any empty square for his move. Play then proceeds as normal.[23][24]
    • Portal Chess: Any of a number of games that involve pieces or squares for teleportation around the board(s).
    • Progressive Chess: The initial piece placement is the same as in regular chess, but in this players, rather than just making one move per turn, play progressively longer series of moves.
    • Racing Kings: Players race kings to the 8th rank. Captures, but no checks or checkmate. "... one of the more inspired creations of Vernon Parton".[25]
    • Refusal chess (or Outlaw chessRejection chess): A played move can be refused by the opponent, forcing the first player to change to another move, which must be accepted. The only exception is when only one legal move is possible.[26]
    • Reincarnation Chess: A captured piece can turn into a zombie, then reincarnate back into the game as a normal piece if captured again. By Philip M. Cohen (1960s).
    • Replacement chess: Captured pieces are not removed from the board but relocated by the capturer to any vacant square.[27]
    • Rifle chess (or Shooting chessSniper chess): When capturing, the capturing piece remains unmoved on its original square, instead of occupying the square of the piece captured.[28]
    • Royal Chess: In addition to its standard movement capabilities, the queen may be placed on any square the player's king could have been moved to during the player's turn. If the player's king could have captured a piece, the queen may also capture that piece.
    • Synchronistic Chess: Players record then reveal their moves to be played simultaneously on the board. Resolution rules are provided for anomalous conditions. By V. R. Parton.
    • Take-All: The first player to capture all opposing pieces wins. The king is allowed to move into check and pawns can be promoted to kings.
    • Three-check chess: A player wins if he checks the opponent three times.
    • Unirexal Chess (or The Black King's Complaint): Black's king is replaced by a queen. If Black does not mate White within an agreed number of moves, White wins. A variation gives Black 20 knights and the mandate to mate within 50 moves. By V. R. Parton.
    • Way of the Knight: Somewhat based on role-playing games, where pieces can improve their experience levels and so promote by capturing.

Multimove variants[edit]

In these variants one or both players can move more than once per turn. The board and the pieces in these variants are the same as in standard chess.

  • Avalanche chess: Each move consists of a standard chess move followed by a move of one of the opponent's pawns.
  • Doublemove Chess:[29] Similar to Marseillais chess, but with no en passant, check or checkmate. The object is to capture the king. By Fred Galvin (1957).
  • Double-Take Chess:[30] Each player, once per game, can make two moves during one of their turns. These two moves cannot be used to place the opponent's king in checkmate.
  • Kung-Fu chess: A variant without turns. Any player can move any of his pieces at any given moment.
  • Marseillais chess (or Two-move chess): After the first turn of the game by White being a single move, each player moves twice per turn.
  • Monster chess (or Super King): White has the king and four pawns against the entire black army but may make two successive moves per turn.
  • Progressive chess (or Scottish chess): White moves once, then Black moves twice, then White moves three times, and so on.

Chess with incomplete information or elements of chance[edit]

In these variants, luck or randomness sometimes plays a role. Still, like in poker or backgammon, good luck and bad luck even out over the long-term with clever strategy and consideration of probabilities being decisively important.

  • ChessHeads: Played with cards that change the game rules.[31][32]
  • Dark chess: The player sees only squares of the board that are attacked by their pieces.
  • Dice chess: The pieces a player is able to move are determined by rolling a pair of dice.
  • Fantasy Chess: Chess with wargaming added. Players fight for squares (which can be co-occupied) using dice. Can be expanded to four players; piece capability can improve each game.[33]
  • Invisible Chess: Neither player can see a piece on the board, until it is moved.
  • Knightmare Chess: Played with cards that change the game rules.
  • Kriegspiel: Neither player knows where the opponent's pieces are but can deduce them with information from a referee.
  • No Stress Chess: Marketed for teaching beginners, the piece(s) a player is able to move are determined by drawing from a deck of cards, with each card providing the rules for how the piece may move.[34] Neither castling nor en passant is allowed.
  • Penultima: An inductive variant where the players must deduce hidden rules invented by "Spectators".
  • Play It By Trust: By Yoko Ono (1966). Both players' pieces are white, which means after a few moves, players must learn to trust each other as to whose pieces are whose.[35]
  • Schrödinger's chess: Players' minor pieces are concealed so the opponent does not know what they are until revealed. When covered, pieces move in a restricted way (as queens that can only move two squares).[36]
  • Synchronous chess: Players try to outguess each other, moving simultaneously after privately recording intended moves and anticipated results. Incompatible moves, for instance to the same square with no anticipated capture, are replayed. Alternatively, two pieces moving to the same square are both captured, unless one is the king, in which case it captures the other. Play ends with capture of king.[37]
  • Viennese Chess: A barrier or screen between the two halves of the chessboard, two players then place their pieces on their half of the board. The barrier is then lifted and the game is then played as in orthodox chess.

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