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Chatter Chess

By Ralph Betza

Chatter Chess is a form of Chess that implements on the chessboard one of the several meanings of the word "chatter".

Chatter on the Diamond

"Hey, let's hear some more chatter out there!"

On the baseball field, the coach likes to hear lots of chatter: players shouting encouragement at each other and saying watch this guy he might bunt and suchlike macho baseball things.

It is very much like the feedback option at; chatter makes posting fun, but when you post an article and nobody posts feedback, it is very much like singing live on the radio -- not an enjoyable experience because you have no idea how well or poorly your efforts were received, nor even if anybody was listening.

But that is not the kind of chatter in Chatter Chess, although it is the inspiration for the game. There's been a distressing lack of chessvariants chatter lately, and while thinking about it, I chanced to consider another meaning of the word...

Chatter in a Cable

Chatter is also a term in ancient telephony and modern telecommunications. It refers to the tendency of an electromagnetic signal in one wire of a multiwire cable to cross over (by electromagnetic induction, Henry) and be heard on a different wire.

Thanks to fiber optics, one hears this type of chatter much less nowadays, but its lack is not at all distressing.

Chatter Chess

In Chatter Chess, any long-range piece whose move crosses the path of another friendly long-range piece may switch to that path.

In addition, because the game would be dull with only two types of long-range piece, the Knights are replaced by Nightriders.

Opening Analysis of Chatter Chess

1. e2-e4 appears to be a bad move because of 1...NNg1xe4, but things are not that simple.

After 1. e2-e4 NNg8xe4, let's examine White's legal moves, in order to understand better how Chatter movement works.

8 |   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|
7 |:::|   |:::| 2 |:4:|   |:::|   |
6 | 3 |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|
5 |:::| 3 |:::| 4 |:2:|   |:::| 1 |
4 | 2 |:::| 3 |:::|   |:::| 1 |:::|
3 |:::|   |:24| 3 |:::| 12|:::|   |
2 | P |:P:| P |:P:|123|:P:| P |:P:|
1 |:R:| NN|:B:| Q |:K:| B |:NN| R |
    a   b   c   d   e   f   g   h

1 = Qd1   2 = NNg1   3 = Bf1   4 = NNb1
The Queen can go from d1 to h5 or g4, perfectly normal moves. Because no other friendly long-range piece can move to these squares, there is nothing special about Qd1-g4 or Qd1-h5.

The Qd1 can also go to f3, and then continue as part of the same move to e5 or to d7. This is possible because the square f3 is both on the Queen's path and also on the path of the Nightrider at g1.

The Qd1 cannot go to f3 and continue to g5. g5 is not on the path, please do not confuse Chatter Chess with Relay Chess.

The Qd1 can go to e2 and then follow the path of the Bf1, proceeding to d3, c4, b5, or a6.

The Qd1 can also go to e2 and then switch to the path of the NNg1 going to c3 or a4; and can switch paths again on c3 and continue to d5 or to e7. Yes, you can switch paths multiple times in one move.

The NNg1, the NNb1, the Bf1, and the Qd1 can in fact all go to any square that any of them can go to! This is the nature of Chatter Chess.

The long-range pieces whose paths intersect can all go to the same set of places defined by the union of all the intersecting paths, but in order to go anyplace at least one of them must already be able to go there.

Note that following the path means that you can move towards the piece whose path you follow, but of course you cannot move through the piece and follow the opposite path, even though it is in the same direction.

Therefore, after 1. e2-e4, NNg8xe4 2. NNg1-e2-c4 (or NNb1-c3-e2-c4) gives check to the Ke8 and attacks the undefended Ra8. After 2...d7-d6 3. NNc4xa8 NNb8-d7-f5 (attacking Qd1 and Rh1) 4. Qd1-f3 NNe4-c5+, Black apparently regains the Rook with a solid extra Pawn; and so 1. e2-e4 is a bad move after all even though it is not simple.

If instead 1. e2-e3, does the simple reply 1...d7-d5 defend c4 with a decent game? Perhaps not, because 2. Bf1-e2-c3xd5 looks strong; but simply 1...d7-d6 should be adequate.

If instead 1. d2-d4, does the threat of NNb1-d2-f4 give White an advantage? 1. d4 e6 2. NNb1-d2-f4 g6 seems passive but solid; but the enterprising 2...NNg8-c6xd4!? 3. NNf4xh8 NNd4-f5 4. Qd1-d2-f4 (so that if NNf5xh1, Qf4xf7 mate) Bf8-d6 5. Qf4-f3 NNb8-d4 6. Qf3-e4 f7-f5! looks good for Black.

In short, a quick look at the opening position does not reveal any forced advantage for the first player.

Characteristics of Chatter Chess

If you have intersecting long-range pieces, your total mobility may be increased; however, you never control any square that you wouldn't control without chatter. As a result, the tactical complexity of this game will be greater than it would be without chatter (of course, replacing the Knights with Nightriders has already increased the complexity, but that's a different issue). However, the tactical complexity has not in my opinion been increased to insane levels.

Therefore I would expect the game to be quite enjoyable. Standard endgames from FIDE Chess can still occur -- but with Q versus Rook and Bishop, who will have the advantage? Solving these endgames will be a delight for the pioneer.

I also find it noteworthy that chatter is extreme when your long-range pieces are all on the edge of the board, but that centralized pieces benefit less from chatter. This would please the Hypermoderns, don't you think?

Different Armies

This game appears to be value-preserving with respect to long-range pieces, but because short-range pieces cannot chatter their values are relatively less. The Chatter Chancellor is worth much less than the Chatter Queen, for example.

Therefore, the Nightriders probably still have the same values as the Rooks, and therefore the combination of Bishop plus Nightrider should have the same value as the Queen, and so at least one can probably play with different Queens.

Likewise, the Crooked Bishop (zFF), which is thought to be worth a Rook, should still be basically worth a Rook -- but there's a whole-army effect to watch out for!

In this game, if you have long-range pieces that move in 4 different directions (NN, B, R, zFF), of course you have a big potential advantage over a player whose pieces move in only 3 directions! A good player will make this potential advantage a real advantage.

If you replace Q with NNFF and R with zFF, there are only 3 directions in the new army. This sounds promising, but the difficulty of developing the zFF may make the army too weak.

In short, there are limited possibilities for playing Chatter Chess with Different Armies. At least, there are limited possibilities pending further research.

Variations of Chatter Chess

Tripunch Chatter Chess would be too tactically complex for humans to play.

Relay Chatter Chess would be too confusing.

Demi Chatter Chess is playable but trivial because there are no long-range pieces in the game.

Halfling Chatter Chess deserves a good look. The limits on long-range movement make it much more difficult to take advantage of Chatter moves, but at the same time the general weakness of the pieces makes Chatter that much more powerful when it works. After 1. e2-e4 if you play 2. NNg1-f3, the NN is allowed to follow the Queen's path to e2 but not to g4 or h5; and from e2 the NN can still proceed to c4, but it does not attack a8 or e8.

Chattering Cannon pieces would need to jump one piece on each Cannon-style path they switched to. Switching between Cannonistic paths and non-Cannon paths would be confusing.

Turtles are mute and so cannot chatter; nor can any other hypothetical pieces named after silent creatures. This is a whimsical rule, which may be violated at will.

Chatter In Operetta

"This particularly rapid unintelligible patter Isn't generally heard and if it is it doesn't matter!" Ruddigore, act II, in a patter-trio featuring Robin, Despard, and Margaret.

The words chatter and natter are not used in this lyric, but flatter and hatter do make appearances.


Speaking of opera, the great Chess champion Andre Francois Danican Philidor composed 37 operas, some of which can be heard today.

Because he wrote in French, he presumably never used the word "chatter".


Many of my best ideas for chess variants come from the world outside of Chess. There is such a thing as a world outside of Chess, they say.

I speak of natter and opera and Philidor as a public service, in order to perhaps inspire a chain of associative thought that leads to a great Chess variant.

Chattering Kings and Pawns

In my description of Chatter Chess, I have assumed that Castling is not a long-range move, and I have assumed that the Pawn's two-step advance is not a long-range move. Thus, in my version of the game, Kings and Pawns can never make chatter moves.

One could make the opposite assumptions, either individually or together.

With Chattering Kings, keeping the option to Castle might allow the King to escape to a remote area of the board, but of course his long-range movement could not cross any attacked square because O-O is illegal if f1 is attacked.

With Chattering Pawns, a Pawn that reaches the 8th rank by means of a non-Pawn move cannot promote; of course, moving to the 7th rank with the threat of promotion is quite strong.

Editorial Note: Since this was written, chatter has picked up some on the comment system, but still, we could always use more chatterers.

Editorial Note 2: Strings like zFF used to denote particular piece moves on this page are in Ralph's funny notation, and not really line noise.

Written by Ralph Betza.
WWW page created: April 5th, 2002.