What Are Chess Variants and Why Bother Learning Them
Conventions and traditions that have existed for centuries seem unshakable. Who in their right mind would even consider changing anything about the classic chessboard? Enthusiasts from all around the globe respect and share its fundamental principles. Tinkering with such a well-established, time-proven, and delicate balance seems counterproductive. And yet, it is through constant modification and refinement that the modern understanding has formed. The early iterations are noticeably different from the current standard. Obviously, that doesn’t mean that change for its own sake is justified. But playing around with unusual chess variants opens up a world of possibilities. What if the board wasn’t square, but hexagonal? How would adding a third player into the mix influence the dynamics of the battles? This article aims to walk newcomers through the concept and highlight its advantages.
Universe of Choices
When it comes to experimentation with the formula, the sky is the limit. People continue to come up with all sorts of cool ideas and gimmicks. Some turn out to be a one-time distraction, while others have tons of potential. Classifying them is a challenge in and of itself. However, certain trends are prominent enough to form distinctive categories. The assortment incorporates the following types:
- Time controls. Each player has a limited amount of time to make their moves. Speed, rapid, bullet, lightning, blitz, and others revolve around this premise.
- Minor variations of the conventional rules. The basic format is largely the same, including the movement patterns and the layout of the battlefield. The differences affect other aspects, like starting positions and the number of units. E.g., Upside-down, Charge of the Light Brigade, and Peasants’ Revolt.
- Irregular board. The pieces and their movement principles are unchanged, but the overall arrangement is more imaginative. Think decimal, active, circular, rhombic and minichess.
- Alternate rulesets. In this case, the actual mechanics, capturing, and winning conditions are non-standard. Apocalypse, Dragonfly, Hexapawn, and Parallel Worlds all belong here.
- As the name implies, participants get to move multiple troops in the same turn. Avalanche, Doublemove, Swarm, etc.
- Chance-based. Concealing specific information or introducing an element of luck. Kriegspiel, ChessHeads, Poisoned Pawn, and Schrödinger’s Chess, to name a few.
- Unconventional (fairy) pieces. They involve one or more completely original subjects with their own traits and abilities. The list includes Chesquerque, Jetan, Stealth, Bear, and Dragonchess and many others.
- These feature realistic terrains, additional spacial dimensions, and even time-travel, e.g. 3D-chess and Raumschach.
- Single-player. Similar to solitaire in cards, the goal is to accommodate a single individual. As opposed to regular chess problems and puzzles, Queen’s Quadrille, Hippodrome, have recreational value.
- Formats, adjusted to allow 3 or more people to compete at once.
The range of options is quite impressive and potentially limitless. Nothing prevents any person to invent their own spin on the centuries-old pastime. Whether it will be compelling or not is another matter entirely.
Benefits of Chess Variants
The most obvious goal is to shake things up and add some variety. Although incredibly deep and highly replayable, the original does get stale after a while. Sometimes, changing the smallest detail breathes new life into the process. Additionally, gaining a fresh perspective is a great way to overcome intellectual plateaus. Memorizing intricate openings and combinations is definitely important. But the brain needs time to digest such a huge body of knowledge. An amusing distraction can be indispensable in this regard. Finally, there is nothing wrong with attempts at innovation. Of course, it takes generations to accept the most minute tweaks. Nevertheless, there is a value in envisioning bold designs. Some may yet prove to be revolutionary and shape the path forward.
This brief overview is just the tip of the iceberg. There are over 2000 chess variants to suit any taste. Newcomers are welcome to explore them whenever they wish. The only possible concern is the availability of the necessary equipment. But even then, popular digital recreations are easily accessible. Overall, there is no downside to taking a closer look at this wonderful niche. Go to Rchess.com for a large amount of information on chess variants.