Is semi-chess out there?


In the very near future, I would like to develop something that I have provisionally called "Semi-chess", with a few variations.  All variations are played by just folding a cardboard chessboard and playing on half the board.    I played a first game a few days ago with my 8-year-old daughter.  It was her very first "chess" game ever and she could follow it pretty well.  The different variations could be extremely important for teaching beginners to play very well. 


Has anyone out there heard of such a game -- for children and for training purposes?


The pawns are touching? Could make for an explosive game.


Excuse me. I needed to add that complete half-board or "semi-chess" would be played with only half the pieces.  So, of course, it wouldn't be explosive.  It is just a drastically simplified chess as a training tool, especially to concentrate on the pawn foundation, or lack thereof. It could also be played with a handicap when there are significant differences in skill levels, and also like 960 chess.  There are other variations.  Anyway, I played it again with my daughter today, and it worked excellently for her as a beginner.  When the skill level improves and one gets draws, then one moves on to the next level.


Well, let's just take a look at the simplest variation of half-board chess.  Pretend that the left half of the board is folded under!


They'll probably result in drawish games. Take a look at for many variants. Semi chess is probably there too.


After a summary look at the chessvariants webpage, I have yet to find semi chess (or half-board chess) there.  Interestingly, there is the Los Alamos variant played on a 6 by 6 board. It was the first to be played by computer, even before standard chess itself!  So the Los Alamos variant differs from the half-board chess I am thinking of by having 24 total pieces to half-board's 16 (the complete half-board variant), and with 36 total squares to half-board's 32.  Half-board chess, then, has fewer pieces with more open space in the middle of the board at the starting position. 


As a full time chess teacher, I'm always looking for training tools. I am going to try your variation out and see if it can be worked into my program. There are a surprising number of game variations out there. Many of my younger students will play these chess variants at home, which is how I found out about half of them!


Hugh, I read your posts on the opening principles -- how they cannot be disregarded if one hopes for a good game. For Semi Chess, I am just begining to try to figure out what a "semi-Sicilian Defense" might be.  Keeping the same notation as standard chess, this semi-Sicilian might begin: 1.g4  e5. Then a twist: 2.g5 f6.  Any other ideas for a "semi-Sicilian"?


Okay, some definitions are in order: Calling something a Semi-Sicilian, a Semi-KP Opening, or whatever, can ONLY mean that the VERY FIRST move for White and Black somehow resembles the very first move in a standard opening.  So it follows that a Semi-KP Opening would only be a Semi Chess version of 1.e4 e5, nothing more, okay?  (A “Semi-Sicilian” played 1.g4 e5 only resembles the standard Sicilian in that we have an asymmetric pawn counter-thrust, which I like because it frees the White bishop.)  I would like to see if we can develop these semi-openings for chess beginners. 

Also, in the “complete” variant of Semi Chess that I envision, as opposed to some other Semi-variants, there is NO queen!  Ugh!  In the back rank, we just have King, Bishop, Knight and Rook arranged as in standard chess.


I think i've seen something similar before, but i can't place where though.


The big challenge, of course, is how NOT to get into a drawish position. That is especially true for White, I think, which seems to have more of the advantage of the tempo in Semi Chess. Black is more challenged to make it an equal game.


Gain of material is, of course, more telling in Semi Chess. Here, if not a pawn, White gains a passed pawn in this Semi-Sicilian position. Enjoy!


Bought this one when much younger:



Lots of applets; look for 'small board" in pink:


@ Grobzilla: Thanks for mentioning these interesting variants. Have you played any of them?


Some observations about Semi Chess openings:


Firstly, it would appear that the Semi-openings with the complete half-board set-up are fairly tricky for chess beginners. They require calculations because play is in a more confined area and so there are traps to avoid.


Secondly, there may be less opportunity for Black to equalize or win… however, one false move by White in the opening and the tables can be turned dramatically!


Thirdly, the Semi-openings are much shorter, not the dozen move openings as in standard chess; and they may often not have rook moves. The Semi middlegame, however, is characterized by rook moves, in contrast with standard chess where the queens come into play. (Having queens in Semi Chess would constitute a variant, distinct from the complete half-board set-up.)


I've played them all. They all have pros/cons. Some are neat, some are duds.


The puzzle above is from my re-working of a Semi Chess version of the Sicilian, a “Semi-Sicilian”, which imitates a standard Chess Sicilian through White’s move 3. The puzzle is based on what looks like a weak move for Black at move 11. In the re-worked version, Black castles at that point.

Below is a continuation of that standard opening: 1.g4 e5 2.Nh3 g6 3.f4 exf4 4.Nxf4. Doesn’t this look familiar? It mimics the standard chess 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4.  I would be happy if someone would go further with this Semi Chess continuation.



Okay, Grobzilla. I should have a look at them. However, I see enough variants in this half-board chess to keep me busy for awhile, especially as I'd like to develop a simpler variant for beginner kids by removing one of the pieces.


Today, I would like to leave you with this position of the “Semi-Sicilian” posted above. I thought it might stir reflection and an appreciation of the complexity in what seems should be a straightforward set-up.


I'm not sure if there's enough space for a decisive result.