Chess variants

Chess variants are modifications – sometimes radical – to the rules of chess. Playing chess variants can be a fun way of increasing your chess skill. Changes to the rules force players to increase their focus on particular skills, as well as their level of attention during play. Chess variants can be a fun break from regular chess, but should always be approached as a training tool rather than a replacement for the standard rules of chess.

The following are some of the chess variants that we’ll use occasionally to train and improve a variety of our chess skills. Some of these variants have been modified, to some degree, from those widely available on the web.

Girls Night Out

This variant is used to reduce a player’s dependence upon their queen, which is a common weakness of beginners.

Players start the game with no queens. Pawns cannot be promoted to queens.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Humpty Dumpty

This variant helps players increase their ability to use their knights; it focuses attention on the power of pawn promotion; and it highlights the importance of endgame skills.

Players start the game with no bishops or queens.

Rooks are replaced with knights.

Pawns promote only to rooks.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Parking Lot

The reduced size of the board emphasizes the connection of trading pieces with board position.

Players start the game with rooks and rook pawns removed.

All other pieces are advanced one rank towards the center.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal, including pawn promotion.

The World Is Round

This variant is designed to help players more readily recognize flank attacks, either to execute or to defend against.

The side edges of the board are considered connected. Pieces can move off one edge and reappear on the opposite edge as if the edges were continuous.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Night at the Museum

This variant calls attention to pawn structures and their relationship to the diagonal movement of the bishop.

Before the start of the game, players select two of their own pawns to remove from the game. Players may not select rook pawns.

Pawns cannot capture, promote, or be captured. Pawns can move forward and backward.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Showdown

This variant focuses on king protection. The contrast between offensive play and defensive play is amplified.

The black king begins on c5 and the white king begins on f4.

Players start the game with no bishops or queens. Pawns cannot be promoted to bishops or queens.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Castle Gemini

This variant is good for practicing executing and defending against multi-pronged attacks, as well as adding deception to one’s chess play.

Players start the game with two kings in the rook positions, and rooks in the king and queen positions.

Players start the game without a queen, but pawns may promote to a queen.

Either king can be checkmated.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Peasant’s Revolt

This variant is a game of unequal forces. Like the Humpty Dumpty variant, it helps players increase their playing ability with knights as well as pawn promotion.

Black starts the game with four knights (on b8, c8, f8, and g8), his king on e8, and one pawn on d7.

White starts the game with eight pawns and a king in the usual positions and no other pieces.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Guardians of the Realm

This variant is used to reinforce undermining and the avoidance of hanging pieces. Play can be frustrating if both players play completely defensively; however, attack speed and cleverness are highly rewarded.

Players may make two non-capture moves or one capture move each turn.

Pieces may not be captured unless they are unprotected.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

The Pit

This variant is designed to force the players’ attention on flanking play and edge-of-the-board play. It also helps players with attack/defense of the castled position.

The four squares in the center of the board – d4, e4, e5, and d5 – are “the pit”.

Pieces may not move into or through the pit at any time during the game.

Also, all lines of attack are stopped by the pit, so a piece cannot place the enemy king in check through the pit.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Dark Ages

This variant is fast-paced and ruthless in regard to piece trading, which is the focus. Players are pressed to consider their endgame carefully before engaging in all-out exchange wars.

Pawns that capture can make another move. If this move is a capture, the process repeats.

Bishops can be sacrificed to remove an adjacent enemy piece from play, except for the enemy king.

Captured bishops return to play on a square on their starting rank of the same color as their starting position.

Sacrificed bishops are not returned to play in this manner.

Rooks must remain on your side of the board. Pawns cannot promote to rooks.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Wounded King

This interesting variant focuses on king protection. It helps beginners overcome the tendency to move their king when placed in check.

Once a king has been placed in check, that king can only be moved three squares for the rest of the game.

When you capture a piece, you may make another move with a different piece.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Zombie Apocalypse

Somewhat chaotic, this variant emphasizes aggressive play and drives players to carefully consider attack chains and piece mobility.

Pawns are zombies. They move and capture like kings. On their first move, they can move two squares forward as normal.

Pawns do not promote.

On a player’s turn, instead of moving a piece, he or she may place one of their captured pawns on any square it might have occupied at the start of the game. A player may only do this once for each non-pawn piece captured.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Bomb Jockeys

This simple variant accelerates quickly, making players think about the forces they want to remain for the endgame. It also helps players focus on interference and undermining as important tactical maneuvers.

Captured pieces “explode”, capturing adjacent enemy pieces according to their point value:

Pawns capture the capturing piece

Bishops and knights capture the capturing piece plus up to 2 adjacent pieces

Rooks capture the capturing piece plus up to 4 adjacent pieces

Queens capture the capturing piece plus all adjacent pieces

There are no secondary explosions; when a piece is removed from play because of an explosion, it doesn’t explode.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Shuffled Up

Essentially a rendition of Chess960; before the start of the game players decide how the die rolls translate into piece placement for the back row. This variant helps players to look past move sequence to go deeper into opening theory.

Players randomly determine the arrangement of their first rank pieces (by rolling a die) according to these restrictions:

Kings must be placed between the rooks.

Bishops must be on alternate colors.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal, except castling is not allowed.

Strobe Chess

This variant heightens board evaluation, as the squares strobe in and out, changing the availability of moves. Also, it somewhat reduces the importance of tempo and focuses more on position.

On white’s turn (except the first), flip two coins:

If the coins are the same, nothing happens.

If both are heads, only pieces on the light colored squares are available.

If both are tails, only pieces on the dark colored squares are available.

The squares that are “strobed out” are unavailable for white and black for this turn of moves. Pieces on these squares cannot be moved or attacked. However, pieces cannot move through pieces on “strobed out” squares.

During your turn, if your king is in check (or checkmate) and located on the color of square that is “strobed out”, then it doesn’t count as check (or checkmate) for that turn.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Merry-Go-Round Chess

As with Strobe Chess, this variant changes the availability of moves; however, the predictability of the rotation offers another facet of planning to the game.

On white’s turn (except the first), rotate the board 90 degrees clockwise. (You could also move a marker to the corresponding edge of the board, to represent the location of the white player, rather than physically rotate the chessboard.)

You can only move your pieces that are on the half of the board closest to you.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Give Away Chess

This classic variant is great for beginners, because it helps increase the speed of looking ahead as well as reinforces the basic movement patterns of the pieces.

If it is possible to take an opponent’s piece, you must take it.

If you have multiple pieces you can capture, you can choose which one you take.

Check is not announced. The goal of the game is not to checkmate your opponent’s king, but to get rid of all of your pieces the fastest.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Bughouse Chess

Probably the favorite variant of our club, Bughouse is great for increasing a player’s ability to devise traps and mating patterns as well as increasing a player’s speed of play and board evaluation.

Players play on teams with two adjacent boards.

The players on one side of the table are on a team. Arrange the boards so a team has one player with white and one with black.

When a player makes a capture, he or she gives the captured piece to their teammate.

During a player’s turn, the player may place one of those pieces on any unoccupied square of the chessboard.

Check is not announced. The goal is to capture the enemy king.

A team wins if either enemy king is captured.

If a player begins stalling after a fair period of time, the opposing side can begin the loud-and-slow countdown 5-4-3-2-1. If the player has not moved by the end of the countdown, he or she loses. This keeps players who are about to lose from stalling out the game, because Bughouse is meant to be played quickly.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Four Generals

This variant is another great team variant that really introduces several levels of strategy that increase planning ability.

Players play on teams with two adjacent boards.

Players on a team play the same color.

The adjacent edges of the board are joined. Pieces may freely move from one board to the other.

Players alternate turns by color. Players may move any piece of their color.

The kings are the generals, and each king corresponds to a player.

The opponent may capture one of the kings of your team. When this happens, the corresponding player is out.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Play continues until one side is victorious.

Eight is Enough

This variant is great for positional play, as well as teaching there is more to chess than just taking pieces.

Players are each allowed to make eight (8) captures during the game.

A pawn capturing a pawn does not count against this limit.

Otherwise, play proceeds as normal.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *