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The Unfair Advantage of Playing First

A few years ago, there was a csipgs game called Merchant Prince, that was a great game and which would have been a wonderful multiplayer email game if only there hadn't been such a huge advantage given to the first player. I suggested several ways to fix it, but nothing happened.

More recently, I've been playing Cave Wars, another great game, and a few funny things happened in the game. When I thought about it, and figured out what was going on, I realized that the clever people who designed this game had used one of my solutions (not that they read my email, of course, but that they thought of the same obvious answer that I came up with).

Instead of playing in a fixed order, every turn they roll the dice to decide who goes first that turn.

Then it occurred to me that you could use the same rule in Chess! Although this would be especially interesting when applied to Chess for any number of players, it is also good to think about how this rule would apply to a two-player game.

Check!

Every turn you flip a coin to decide who goes first that turn.

What if it's your move and the other player is already in check?

One obvious answer is that you capture the King and win, the game is over; but this would be a bad rule. If I sit down to play against Kasparov using this rule, of course I will start with 1. Nb1-c3 and I will be willing to sacrifice lots of material just to give check: if I merely give one check, I have a 50% chance of winning!

Another possible answer is that check overrules the coin flip, and the player who is in check gets to move first. This means that a series of checks sequences the moves like a normal game, and a combination to sacrifice material and then draw by giving perpetual check is still valid. This is not a bad rule, but it seems difficult to generalize this rule to multiplayer chess.

Another rule might be that each player has a certain number of preemptions available, something like the get-out-of-jail card in Monopoly; the problem is if I pre-empt and say I want to go first, and my opponent does the same, we have to flip the coin.

The only other rule I can think of is that if it's your move and the other player is already in check, you cannot capture the King but you can play any other legal move you choose (and so you might turn it into a double-check, or cover a flight square and make it checkmate).

Check to the Queen!

Every turn you flip a coin to decide who goes first that turn.

After the moves 1. d4, 1...e5, 2...e:d4, White might play 2.Bg5, gambling on a 50% chance of winning the enemy Queen.

This is how the game must be with these rules, and there's nothing to do about it. Some players will like it, some won't. After all, when you add a random element to Chess, of course the random element tends to pull winning percentages down towards 50%. Just as in backgammon, a skillful player can always manage to keep some control of the board, overcome a little bit of bad luck, and win more than half the time.

Really, if you like the random element, this simple rule change probably gives you a better game than any other random Chess I've seen; so even if I personally don't much like random, this game is still worthy of discussion, and indeed, worthy of being played by anybody who likes random.

The element of skill would be increased by adding a doubling cube to this game. Traditionally, when you "double" in Chess, you are playing for twice as great a stake but you can no longer draw -- when you double, you give draw odds.

Is it Doublemove?

Every turn you flip a coin to decide who goes first that turn.

If the coin always comes up "heads", then White plays first every move, and the game looks just like FIDE Chess. It isn't the same, though: Black would have a big advantage because Black always has the threat of playing two moves in a row.

If the coin flip always alternates its results, then we have a game where White makes a move, Black makes two moves, White makes two, Black two, and so on. Once again, this looks like ordinary Balanced Doublemove, but it's really very different: when you play the first move of your doublemove, you don't know if you're going to get to play the second part of it.

A more normal pattern would be for White to make a single move, Black gets a doublemove, we trade a few single moves, White gets a doublemove, and so on.

This is only fair. When you get a doublemove, you don't get another doublemove until your opponent gets one. This is also interesting. Either it's your turn to get a doublemove or it's the other guy's turn, and when you trade single-moves there's a great tension caused by the fact that one player or the other is due to get a doublemove.

Variants

Every turn you flip a coin to decide who goes first that turn.

What if you flip the coin every other move, or once every five moves?

Sample Game

1. d4 e6 2. f4? Bb4+ 3...Qh4+

Double check and mate. Not a sample of good play, but I think it's amusing.

In some kinds of doublemove Chess, White could save the King by playing 3.c3 4.g3, but it doesn't work here. The game is decided by checkmate, and so the dice are not thrown for the fourth move.


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