The Chess Variant Pages

Zelig Chess

Zelig Chess is a variant by Stan Druben, of M-Chess (also by Stan) where the possibilities that a piece has of moving vary depending on its current position.

First, a word of background from Stan (as a follow-up to M-Chess):

I was trying to think of a better name than M-Chess and thought of Chameleon. That name showed up in your list and led to Lumberjack, which turns out to be nearly the same as M-Chess. (The difference is that M-Chess does not vary the power of the king, while Lumberjack has the king's power change with the file it's on. Also, the rules for Lumberjack do not appear to be explicit about what happens when a pawn is promoted.)

Given the existence of Lumberjack, I wonder whether you might simply want to add a note there regarding the two ways of treating the king. Alternatively, you might wish to list M-Chess separately, linking a brief description of it to Lumberjack (the description could reference Lumberjack and comment on the king and promotion). I'd also suggest that M-Chess be called Zelig (or Zelig Chess) after the chameleon-like character in the Woody Allen film by that name. The "checkers" could be called zeligs.

For those who don't know M-Chess, this page will introduce all the rules of M-Chess and then the additional rules for Zelig Chess.

The pieces (not pawns, and not the king) are physically replaced by checkers, known as zeligs, after the Woody Allen film. They are like this, because their power changes throughout the game, depending on their position on the board.

A zelig's power is determined by the file (column) upon which it stands, before it moves. If a zelig stands upon a rook file (i.e. farthest left or farthest right column), that turn, it may move as if it were a rook, so it may move any number of squares (empty ones) either vertically or horizontally. The same holds true for zeligs on the knight, bishop or queen files.

A zelig on the King's file is termed a 'monarch', to reflect the fact that it is not a real king. It has the standard movement of one square in any direction, but cannot be put in check or mated.

Zeligs may capture as in traditional or Western chess, and may be captured accordingly.

Stan commented that one of the major flaws with M-Chess as it stood (as the rules above) that players will tend to hoard pieces on the rook and queen files, purely because this gives them huge power over their opponent.

As a result, he introduced a few new rules.

At any given time in the game, there can only be a maximum of one queen and two rooks for each player. This limits the potential that a player could gain by creating many 'queens' or 'rooks'.

Hence, there can only be a maximum of one white queen, two white rooks, one black queen and two black rooks in play at any given time.

Therefore: if there is only one white rook (or none), and one is already a queen, a second white zelig on the queen file would not make a second queen. Instead, it creates the second rook. If however, there were already a second white rook, the piece would become a bishop.

If yet another zelig moved onto that file, it would become a knight, and any further zeligs would become monarchs.

Note that the order of power for the zeligs decreases the further down the board you go (hence the zelig nearest to the player is always the strongest), and any creation of zeligs on a file that is not their own, such as bishops on the queen file is always done is the strict order downwards, from queen, rook, bishop, knight, monarch.

So if all seven white zeligs were on the queen file, white would control a queen, two rooks, a bishop, a knight and two monarchs on that file. Apart from monarchs, there can only be one piece on one file that isn't its own - on the queen's file, there is only one rook, even though we could have another elsewhere.

Creating a piece on a file takes precedence over creating on another file, so if we had the seven zeligs on the queen file, and one of them moved onto the rook file (it doesn't matter which), we would have a rook on the rook file, followed by a queen, a rook, a bishop, a knight and two monarchs on the queen file. Notice that the order is not affected.

Should another zelig move onto either rook file, there would be two rooks on the rook files, plus a queen, a bishop, a knight and two monarchs on the queen file.

If there are multiple zeligs on the rook files, e.g. two on each, the zelig on the left-most file, which is nearest the player, is a rook, and so is the zelig on the right-most file, which is nearest the player. The other zeligs' power is determined by the standard order (i.e. bishops)

So, if there were all seven zeligs on the rook file, they would be (going further up the board), two rooks, a bishop, a knight and three monarchs (nearest the opponent).

When playing, remember the enormous strategic importance of changing the value of pieces by moving one elsewhere.

The last detail is pawn promotion. This happens as normal (a pawn moves into the 8th rank) and the pawn becomes a zelig. From then on, all zelig rules apply, and the initial value of the zelig is dependent on its position when it promotes. So a pawn which moves to C8 to promote, becomes a bishop.

However, this is still subject to the rules of queens and rooks. If there are already two rooks in play for White (e.g. on A1 and H1), a pawn promoted on H8 will become a bishop, following the strict order above.

The enhancements make for "action at a distance" and, therefore, for intricate tactical and strategic possibilities: moving a zelig onto or off the queen file or a rook file can instantly affect the values of other zeligs on the queen or rook files.

"Zelig" or "Zelig Chess" is offered for experimentation by chess variant enthusiants. I welcome feedback at (email removed contact us for address) tv.net.

Zelig Chess 2

The following rules are much simpler than the original ones but do not change the unique character or depth of Zelig Chess:

Zelig Chess 2 is M-Chess with the restriction that each player may have a maximum of one queen and two rooks on the board simultaneously. (Note: the two rooks may be on the same file or there may be one rook on file A and another on file H.)


Written by Stan Druben. Edited by Peter Spicer.
WWW page edited: October 16, 2001, updated: July 23rd 2003.