A Critical Analysis of the Guard in Chess

A Critical Analysis of the Guard in Chess
by vickalan
(In this article I refer to chess pieces in the male pronoun because in medieval times, the setting of classical chess, armies were nearly universally male. The exception is the Queen.)
The Guard
The guard is a somewhat misunderstood, and critically endangered chess piece.  He's not used in classical chess. In the games where you can find him, he usually moves and captures the same as King - but he is not a royal piece, and has no royal powers. Although the King and guard move the same, victory depends upon the fate of the king - but the guard can be captured with no penalty other than the loss of the guard himself.
Although rarely found in chess today the guard has not always been absent. He has existed in chess perhaps since the origin of chess itself, and he is found all around the world too - with names such as "Mann" in Germany, "Dabbabah" in Persia, and "Shi" in China. He takes names such as man, commoner, servant, advisor, rath, huscarl, sage, sidekick, viceroy, paladin, pasha, mastadon, councellor, minister, henchman, warrior, spy, archer, fool, chariot, war-machine, non-royal king, and even a prince. In Old Chinese Chess a piece which can be tranlsated as "guard" or "warrior" is written as "仕" for the red piece and  "士" for the black piece.
The guard has various images too, some of which are pictured below:
(1) The guard in Divergent Chess
(2) The guard in Courier chess or Quatrochess (inverted perhaps because it is not a royal piece?)
(3) Shi in Old Chinese Chess (Xiangqi)
(4) Huscarl in Medieval Chess
(5) The guard in Mini Citadel Chess
(6) The guard in a Custom Chess Variant
(7) The guard in Waterloo
(8) The guard in Waterloo using a hieroglyphic
(9) Guards (at ends) protecting the King and General in Shatranj Kamil (as Dabbabah)
(10) The guard as Councellor in Councellor chess
(11) The guard in Courier-Spiel chess (as Fool)
(12) Guard/Prince used in chess variant (moves as king)
(13) Prince (moves as a king) used in chess variant
(14) Guard in Exotic Chess
(15) The guard in Bulldog Chess (classic style)
(16) The guard in Bulldog Chess (gothic style)
The Guard Frustrates Chess Engines and Endgame Tablebases
Few chess engines have a guard programmed in their play. And available endgame tablebases for six or seven pieces include classical chess pieces, but not a guard. So these gaming tools provide little help to players seeking to optimize their play with these resources.
The Value of a Guard
The guard is not the strongest piece, but he is not a weak piece either. He excels at attacking and defending pieces and pawns in close proximity. Wikipedia's article on the guard ("Mann" in chess) says he is "approximately equal in strength and value to a knight" but "takes a few moves to get the mann properly developed in the opening".
Emanuel Lasker (World Chess Champion from 1894 to 1921) and Larry Evans (chess grandmaster) thought more. Each estimated a piece with king-like powers is worth 4 points - stronger than a knight or a bishop, and one point away from a rook (17).
HGMuller on this forum (18) argues that a piece that moves like a king "would be worth slightly less than a knight in the opening and middle game, and slightly more than a knight in the end-game".
And Sqod, also on this forum (19), agrees saying "after at least 100 games with these guys, they're definitely worth the full 3 points in a middlegame and stand superior to knights OR single bishops in the endgame."
The Capability of a Guard
A guard often, but not always moves and captures like a king. In Waterloo, the guard is stronger than the king - he can jump one or two squares orthogonally or diagonally in any direction.
But in Medieval Chess the guards (Huscarls) are only slightly more powerful than pawns - they can move forward and backward (but no other direction), and they capture diagonally forward and backward (but they cannot capture orthogonally). Each army has eight guards and ten pawns.
In Chinese Chess, the guards can move one square diagonally in any direction (the same as the Queen in very early chess until she became more agile in the fifteenth century). Also, the guards are not allowed to leave the palace and are there only to protect the general.
Notable for its complicated movement is the guard in Divergent Chess. To quote directly from the Chess Variant Pages (20), "A Guard moves without capturing one square diagonally then optionally one square orthogonally outward. It does not capture when moving in this way. A Guard captures by moving one square orthogonally then optionally one square diagonally outward. It may only capture when moving in this way. It may not jump over pieces along the way. Once promoted on the last row, it is able to leap like an orthodox Knight and move like an orthodox King."
Prospects of the Guard
It's unclear if the guard will ever become more popular in chess. If simply out of tradition or the desire to maintain orthodox principles, he is likely to remain a reclusive and uncommon piece. That's not to say that the lineage of variant-chess pieces has ended or that new variants aren't being explored. On the contrary, variant chess seems to be alive and well. But many of the newest pieces found in chess seem to be fantastical new pieces with powerful and unique abilities.
We have archbishops, chancellors, teleporters, deathknights, robots and morphers. There's also the treacherous bishop that can shuttle sideways, and the monk, which converts enemy pieces into its own army. With these pieces roaming the variant chess world, the guard seems comparatively weak. In a fight of two guards against two archbishops, the guards have little chances of winning:
Guard for Over-the-Board Play:
To the author's knowledge there is no commercially available physical chess piece designed exclusively to represent a guard. For the player who includes a guard in OTB play, the "fortress" from the "Musketeer" chess set has been suggested as a piece which can represent the guard (image below). Unused pawns or other pieces can also be marked or modified to indicate the piece as a guard.
(in Musketeer Chess the fortress normally slides diagonally up to three squares, or jumps orthogonally exactly two squares, or jumps 2 squares vertically and 1 square horizontally)
Is There Hope for The Guard?
To players willing to understand the guard's unique defensive and offensive abilities variant chess battles can be enriching and rewarding. The guard is loyal to his King and can bring victory to his army. The player should understand a guard takes a few moves to get positioned in the opening, and travels slowly to his battles. But unless at the edge or corner of the board, the guard always controls eight squares. And although limited in range, he fights in all directions. He sharpens the game, and coordinates his powers with other pieces to create new and interesting mating patterns.
Guard with help from Rook Delivers Checkmate to White!
game: Bulldog chess
white: "vickalan"
black: "astuteoak"
result: "0-1"
The guard likes to fight in close proximity to his enemy and takes pride to see his enemy fall before his feet. Indeed, when the King's defenses have been penetrated, and it's a guard against the King - two men of equal fighting capabilities - great satisfaction is found when the guard goes face-to-face with the king and, with the support of one or more other pieces, brings checkmate to his enemy and victory to his army!
For those players seeking to play a chess variant on this forum where the army includes one or more guards, refer to the following:
Waterloo Chess:
A sample game (LXIVC vs. IvanKosintsev) is on this forum: (link)
Bulldog Chess:
Instructions on this forum: (link)
A sample game (EvertVB vs. vickalan) is on this forum: (link)
Amsterdam Medieval Chess:
Instructions on this forum: (link)
Thank you for reading this article. If you enjoyed it, have any comments, or have noticed any errors or omissions please leave a comment! happy.png
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(1/14/2017 - article revised. added link to Amsterdam Medieval Chess)

In the beginning you state that by "guard" you mean a piece that moves as a King. I think it's incorrect to cite pieces like the Shi in Xiangqi or the Dabbabah in Courier as examples, since they move differently (the Shi may be called "Guard", but it is a Ferz. The Dabbabah isn't even called a guard).


However, a non-royal King is an interesting piece. It has mating potential against a lone king, and it can draw against a Queen (if it can be defended by the defending King there is no way for the Queen to force them apart).

Spartan Chess effectively has this piece (it has two kings, but the special checking moves in that variant practically makes them non-royal while they are both on the board). In that game its value is higher, just below a Rook at 4.5. This is at least partly due to the increase in king safety it provides.

EGleb wrote:

In the beginning you state that by "guard" you mean a piece that moves as a King. I think it's incorrect to cite pieces like the Shi in Xiangqi or the Dabbabah in Courier as examples, since they move differently (the Shi may be called "Guard", but it is a Ferz. The Dabbabah isn't even called a guard).


Spartan Chess effectively has this piece (it has two kings, but the special checking moves in that variant practically makes them non-royal while they are both on the board)...

You're right that the Shi and Dabbabah don't always move like a king (probably usually not). But according to: in the game of Shatranj Kamil "War machines (or dabbabahs) move like kings (one square in an arbitrary direction) but are not affected by check."

And probably a Shi is not best translated as "guard" into English. But this source: says "The xiangqi piece at the left has the Chinese character shi (仕) which can translate as an official or government servant. In English, this piece is variously referred to as a guard, advisor, counselor, minister or warrior." You say Ferz so that's another name. (it sounds like you know what you're talking about!)

I do like the idea of two kings in Spatan Chess. I've never played it but sounds really interesting!

Thank you for your comments!happy.png


Previously  Guards of Waterloo were placed classically at the center. But variant turned out unsuccessful. So I transfer later Gs to flank and that was fortunate. I got a perfect variant. The meaning of the title Guard is now as Elite. 

Wikipedia: "The Imperial Guard was originally a small group of elite soldiers of the French Army under the direct command of Napoleon".

IvanKosintsev wrote:

The meaning of the title Guard is now as Elite. 

So your guard in Waterloo is like an "Elite Guard" (that's how I think of it). I am studying the rules - it looks really challenging and interesting.

When you say "The king moves by N mode" does that mean he can move to all squares in this diagram?


That's probably a good idea because the board is bigger so travelling more will help him. I think I might like to try Waterloo sometime!happy.png


That was my fault. The last party demonstrates that the Waterloo with a classical king and with a double castling is better (the idea of BattleChessGN18).


Double castling was never my idea; it has always been yours, my friend. ^-^

I was the one who merely suggested adding castling back into your variant. Ultimately, however, the idea and invention of it was yours and your own.

You have to give yourself more credit. happy.png


do it!


Hey, I am making my own chess variant! Can I have a guard in the spiked rook design, but with a transparent background? And also have both a black and a white, of course.


Unfortunately the graphics software I use (MS paint) doesn't produce transparent backgrounds. So I only have the guard (black and white pieces) shown on light and dark squares. You should be able to just lift the images from here:


I also have a large version, but it is only white, on the white background. You can resize this to any size you'd like, and maybe you can convert the image to black and white pieces, with a transparent background, or whatever else you need.


Btw, some of us have noticed that since the guard has a big "body", it's pretty easy to blank out its torso and put another symbol in there to make it into new pieces. This outline has been used as a Joker (adding a "J" in its body) and also a Builder (adding a "B" in its body). The jokers are in this collection:

phpLJsssI.pngGood luck with your game! I'll watch these forums to see if anything new is ever created!happy.png


Hi man

I noticed that you use MS Paint, I only use that for pasting in screenshots.

Here is a link to a free online graphics editor that I have been using for years.

Note that I don't know all the features, there is a lot of stuff you can do.

You can say open a graphic as .xxx then crop (cut out) resize shade etc etc then save as .png


Here is picture of Chess Variant Kits suitable for representing "Guard" piece.


 This was very interesting to read.

IvanKosintsev wrote:

That was my fault. The last party demonstrates that the Waterloo with a classical king and with a double castling is better (the idea of BattleChessGN18).


What is double castling?


Thanks for reading about (my) interpretation of the history of the guard.happy.png

Double-castling is a move in Waterloo. There are more pieces in the 1st ranks, so three pieces move rather than two. The marshall (or "chancellor") and the rook move in, and the king moves outward.

This move was recently played in a game of Waterloo between Ivan and me:


Black just double castled, and (if) White moves the "superqueen" off f1, then White would be able to double-castle too.

Note this game also has "Elite Guards" (stronger than normal guards), and another piece called "spies" (move as guards in other games). But all pieces in this game are fairly easy to comprehend and I've found it fun to play. I just wish my opponent would make a move that appears to be more like a blunder.happy.png


ok, thanks for explaining. Double castling looks like a cool move. I am often against unnecessary complexity, but I like that rule.


Here is the Guard or Commoner used on "Green Chess" variant site. 



It’s interesting to note that besides the king and queen, the guard is the only piece in the whole variant world that I know of that attacks each of the eight squares around it.

I like the graphics for the guard in Green Chess - crisp and simple.

In Waterloo, there is another type of gaurd (Elite Guard) which jumps two squares in any direction. If this type of guard captures a knight, then it becomes a "joker". This joker can capture anything in a massive 5x5 square.

Since it only shows up in this special case, it isn't seen very much. I think I've only seen it show up in a game for one move, and then was immediately captured.

This is what I've used for the joker, although the inventor (I. Kosintsev) issued it with a different graphic.



Is it possible to convert that 2D symbol into 3D character?


I also find symbol used on Green Chess decent. 


I've never seen this graphic in a 3D version and I don't have any 3D modelling software. Are you trying to use it for some particular game?