The Chess Variant Pages

Time Travel CHESS

By Gary K. Gifford © Dec. 2003

 

Sand through the hour glass
so did gently fall

As the shadow of the sundial
crept along a wall
Then . . . TIME BACK! . . .
FAR BACK in time . . .
. . . no glass, no dial
Nor even a wall
upon for which . . .
. . . a shadow to fall

- G. K. Gifford, 2003

Chess and Time Travel

After watching a television program about time travel it occurred to me that the game of chess is an interesting model to which time travel can be applied. For example, we can play over the moves of Weaver Adams and Boris Blumin from their 1939 New York encounter, which started: 1. e4 e5, 2. Bc4 Nf6, 3. d3 Bc5 4. Nc3 . . . and so on up to when Mr. Blumin, in New York, in 1939, resigned on move 28.

Of course, though replaying the game may give one the sense of time travel, it isn’t actually time travel. It is simply the replaying moves that took place many years ago… and yet, it does seem a bit like time travel simply knowing that Mr. Adams and Mr. Blumin made those exact moves in that exact order back in 1939, the same piece movements that I saw just moments ago.

But if that cannot be considered as time travel, what else is there in chess that can be? Some may answer, "analysis." Analysis – like when we take a game and go back in chess time to choose a different move (hopefully a better move) at a critical point and therefore end up with a different future for that game. Most good chess books have multiple futures for a given game, achieved by traveling down co-existing parallel timelines. Ah, this then is analogous to time travel. We go back in time and we change the future. Yes, it is analogous. But is it time travel? If you think about the chess analysis model you will likely realize that it is the observer who goes back in chess time where the increments of time are represented by move numbers, not seconds or minutes.

Pieces, up until their time of capture, exist on the board at all points in time for every move that has been played. And the pieces never exceed their one move per move time constraint as they move through chess time. Yet in a game, and even in analysis, the pieces never truly go back in time. If they did they’d come in contact with earlier existences of themselves. This doesn’t happen in the "analysis model" because it is the observer that goes back in chess time. And it is the observer, who by changing a single move, can change the entire course of the game. So, is this as close as we can get in regard to chess serving as a model for time travel? If so, it seems to fall short of a cheap parlor trick. This is where Time Travel Chess comes into play.

The Origin of Time Travel Chess

Although I developed this chess variant after watching a time travel program and then having a good night’s sleep, I like to imagine that the game originated as follows:

One cold winter night Caissa (the Goddess of Chess) and Father Time (who needs no introduction) were playing a friendly game of chess. While they played they watched mortals debate the feasibility of time travel. This caused Caissa and Father Time much laughter.

But when their laughter ceased, Father Time said, "What if we added time travel to chess?"

The lovely Caissa appeared puzzled. "What do you mean?"

Father Time stroked his beard. "It is really quite simple. We give the Kings the gift of time travel… with restrictions, of course."

The two continued their discussion. In the morning they presented me with a copy of the rules.

The Board, the Pieces, and Object of the Game

A standard 8 x 8 chessboard and 32 piece set are used. But you may need two extra Kings for each side (or markers to represent them). To play face-to-face, i.e., over-the-board, you will need 5 score sheets for each player. Some of the sheets may go unused.

The object of the game is to checkmate your opponent, or to win by having one of your opponent’s Kings (or King) "Lost in Time" during his time traveling.

How to Play Time Travel Chess

Pieces move as in western chess. The difference is that they can travel forward in time up to 10 moves. In addition, the King can travel back in time up to 5 moves. The King’s backward travel is limited to 2 of these 5 move journeys. Why? It depends who you ask. Father Time says that to exceed this would stress the fabric of time. Caissa says it would damage the fabric of chess.

TIME TRAVEL.

1. To send a pawn or piece forward in time:
        (a) A King cannot be in check.

(b) The piece (or pawn) must be adjacent to a King of the same color.

Thus, on the first move you could send one of the following into the future: Queen-Pawn, King-Pawn, King-Bishop-Pawn, Queen, King-Bishop, or the King.

(c) Remove the intended time traveling piece (or pawn) from the board.

(d) Indicate when it is to return in time, not to exceed 10 moves.

When doing so, on the same score sheet go to the future move number and write the name of the piece between brackets, e.g., [Bw] for a white-square Bishop time traveling, [N] for knight, etc.

Note: Pawns cannot be placed on 1st or 8th ranks when coming in from time-travel. Pieces of the same color cannot be sent to the same move number.

Example of Recording a Move: On move 4 white decides to send his f1 Bishop to move 9. He would write 4. Bf1// to 9. And on the same sheet at move 9 he would write [Bw] meaning "Bishop-white squares." The main notation (Bf1// to 9) means, "Bishop on f1 Time Travels Forward to move 9." Thus, when the player reaches move 9 he sees "9. [Bw]" and is reminded that the Bishop must be dropped on any open white square. The landing square must be white for the f1 Bishop because no matter how far in the future the Bishop traveled it would always have been constrained to the same set of light-square diagonals. Note that a sample game is included at the end of these instructions.

If the Bishop cannot be legally placed (for example if a check happened to be in progress such that the Bishop could not be placed to block the check) then the Bishop is considered to be "Lost In Time." The only way it can re-enter the game would be for a King to go back in time. But if the Bishop can be placed, it must be placed. You could not for example say, "Well, I need to move my Queen or you’ll take it… so I will let the Bishop get lost in time." That would be illegal.

You cannot allow a piece or a pawn to be "lost in time" if it can be legally placed.

2. To send a King forward in time:

(a) A King cannot be in check.

(b) The player must have at least one Pawn or Piece of his color on the board. A second or third King does not count as a piece. Note: Backward time travel can cause up to three Kings existing per side. This is explained shortly.

(c) Remove the King from the board. If you have 2 or 3 Kings any one of them can travel… as long as at least one Pawn or one Piece of his color are on the board.

(d) Indicate the move that the King is to return, not to exceed 10 moves.

When doing so, on the same score sheet go to the future move number and write [K]. This will remind you [when you reach that move] to place the removed King back on the board. MAKE SURE THERE IS NOT A MOVE CONFLICT. For example: If a Pawn is time traveling and is to appear at Move 12, the King cannot appear at move 12.

Note: when a King is forward in time [and you have no other King of your color on the board] your pawns and pieces on the board cannot do a time travel because they must be adjacent to the King to do so. However, pieces and pawns already traveling through time continue to do so.

3. To send a King back in time:

(a) A King cannot be in check.

(b) A player must have at least one Pawn or Piece of his color on the board at the time of the move. A second or third King does not count as a piece. Thus, if you had three lone Kings on the board, none could time travel. You would need to have at least one of your pawns or one of your pieces on the board.

(c) Announce that the King is going back in time x number of moves, such that x does not exceed 5. If you have 2 Kings, either one could go back.

(b) Write down the move, example for a King on move 10 going back 4 moves: 10. K // to 6 (King Back in time to move 6).

(c) Re-set the board. In this example reset the board to how it looked when white was to begin his 6th move.

(d) On a new score sheet, write down where you are placing the time-traveling King. (Any empty legal square). Example. 6. K f3 // FTF Means "King to f3, from the future." You might have two Kings at this point. The King that existed in the past at move 6, and the King from the future.

You would now continue to record the game on the second score sheet, which represents a new timeline. The sample game clarifies the use of multiple score sheets.

Pieces scheduled to arrive at a future time will still do so, on the indicated move.

Note: If a King gets "Lost in Time" you lose. This is true even if you have a second or third King in the game. A King will become "Lost in Time" if he is to appear on the board at a given time [move number] and the move is illegal. So, if White had a King scheduled to show up on move 11 but Black put White in check on move 10, then White would lose because by moving to get out of check the time traveling King would have no move and would be Lost in Time. In other words, move 11 was reserved for a King to appear from time travel, moving to get out of check prevented the completion of the other King’s time travel… he became "lost in time."

CHECKMATE. Checkmate is as in traditional chess. No time travel can occur when a King is in check; so don’t count on a jump to the past or future to get out of check or checkmate. This is similar to not being able to castle when in check.

STALEMATE. Stalemates are very rare. This is because Kings can move into the future (and twice to the past) as long as they have a piece or pawn on the board. But, if a King had no time travel ability, a stalemate could occur. Note that a player cannot claim a stalemate if he can use time travel to get out of it.

DRAWS. Draws may be reached by agreement or by stalemate. If an endgame is reached such as three Kings vs. 1 King… it is still a draw… unless backward time travel can be used to change the position by, in effect, adding pawns or pieces; or if pieces are arriving from the past. A player has the right to protest what would be a draw in normal chess, for example, by three-position-repetition if he can show that pieces from the past will be arriving.

A Word About Pawns

Pawns that travel into the future can reappear [at the indicated future move] on any empty square except for those in the first and eighth ranks.

A Few Words about Traveling Backwards in Chess Time

Remember:

(1) Only Kings can travel back in time and only when no check is in progress. There must be a piece or pawn of their same color "on the board" to enable travel in time. A second King does not count as a piece.

(2) There is a limit of two backward time travels per player.

(3) Each backward travel is limited to 5 moves.

(4) Backward time travel may save you from a dangerous attack or prevent the loss of a piece by returning to a time when the piece existed.

(5) If a King from the past is to appear on the same move that you are in check, the game is over. You cannot move to get out of check plus move the time traveling King onto the board. That would be 2 moves.

Tips:

(1) Be careful about using backward time travel. You can end up with 2 or 3 Kings. If two Kings are in check at once only a capture of the checking piece will stop the loss of the game (or at least delay it). Remember that you lose the game if one of your Kings becomes lost in time.

(2) If you have saved your two backward travels and you reach a King and Pawn endgame you could use them to effectively create a three King and Pawn vs. a 1 King and Pawn Ending, which is a great advantage as it is unlikely for any of your 3 Kings to get checkmated and they should be able to wipe out your opponent’s pawns while protecting your own.

Sample Game of Time Travel Chess with Notes

First play through timeline 1, at move 6 the black King goes back in time to move 2. At that point go to timeline 2 and at move 2, notice that instead of the f7 pawn time traveling, the black King (from the future) is placed on the board instead. That counts as Black’s new 2nd move. The new variation continues until we have another backward time travel… we then go to timeline 3. In timeline 2 remember that a King traveled back in time to move 2; but when he appeared (meaning black now has two Kings) white had already sent two pawns to the future (one to move 8 and one to move 5) and Black had sent his King Bishop on f8 into the future (to move 5).

Time traveling in chess is actually pretty easy, once you get the hang of it.

 

Original - Timeline 1

 

Timeline 2

 

Timeline 3

 

White

Black

 

White

Black

 

White

Black

1

d2// to 8

B(f8)// to 5

1

d2// to 8

B (f8)// to 5

1

d2// to 8

B (f8)// to 5

2

e2// to 5

f7// to 3

2

e2// to 5

K [FTF] f8

2

e2// to 5

K [FTF] f8

3

Bc4

[P] e6

3

Bc4 *

Nf6

3

Bc4 *

Nf6

4

Nh3

d5?

4

Nh3

e6

4

K[FTF] f1

a6

5

[P] f7+

[Bb]* Kxf7

5

[P] g5

[Bb] a5+

5

[P] e2

[Bb] a5+

6

Bd3

K// Back to 2 **

6

b4

Bxb4+

6

c3

h6

7

   

7

c3

Bxc3+

7

Nf3

c6

8

   

8

[P] d2

Bxa1

8

[P] b4

Bc7

9

   

9

K// Back to 4

 

9

K(f1)// to 17

d5

10

   

10

   

10

Bb3

Bg4

11

   

11

   

11

h3

Bxf3

12

   

12

   

12

exf3

Nbd7

13

   

13

   

13

Nbd2

N(d7)// to17

14

   

14

   

14

o-o

Qd7

15

   

15

   

15

Re1

o-o-o

16

   

16

   

16

Nf1???

Bh2+!!! ***

17

   

17

   

17

[K] Lost in T

 

In Closing

I find it interesting to play over the final timeline of a game a few days after the game. It is strange to watch pieces move off into the future then later reappear from the past, or to see a King or two drop in from the future. When a King drops in from the future you may forget why he is doing so. What did he fear in that future? Only the complete set of timelines tells the entire story.

Best regards to all lovers of chess and to all time travel theorists.

Sincerely,

Gary K. Gifford