The Chess Variant Pages

Toe-to-Toe Chess

By Peter Aronson


          Toe-to-Toe Chess is loosely based on Sittuyin (Burmese Chess). It is a game of placement as well as movement and capture, where all of the non-Pawn pieces start off of the board, and are placed behind the Pawn line before regular play begins. The Pawn lines start at right in front of each other (which means the fighting starts immeadiately) and there are plenty of short range pieces to slug it out, toe-to-toe.

Board and Setup

          Toe-to-Toe Chess is played on an eight by eight board (either checked or unchecked). Only the Pawns are initially placed, as so:


In addition, there is a King, a General, two Chariots, two Horses and two Elephants off-board for each player, waiting to be deployed.

General Rules

          The goal of Toe-to-Toe Chess is to checkmate the opposing King. Like in Sittuyin, a move that causes stalemate is illegal. Play starts with the initial deployment of the off-board pieces, then there are three alternating swap moves for each player, then finally, regular movement begins.


          Deployment is the process of placing the off-board pieces onto the board. All deployment moves are done before regular moves begin. Deployment is broken into two phases in Toe-to-Toe Chess: initial deployment, where the pieces are placed on the board; and the swap phase, where already placed pieces swap places.

          Initial deployment for white is to the spaces below the white Pawns. Initial deployment for black is to the spaces above the black Pawns. Pieces are deployed several at a time, in the following sequence:

Then, the swap phase begins. In the swap phase, white makes a swap move, then black makes a swap move, then white makes another swap move, then black makes another swap move, the white makes a final swap move, then black makes a final swap move. A swap move consists of a player swapping the locations of any two of their pieces, including their Pawns. A player may effectively pass a swap move by swapping two pieces of the same type. After the last swap move by black, white makes the first regular move.

          An example of deployed position from game between a Peter Aronson and Tony Quintanilla:

This position is after the final swap -- notice the Horses and General on the Pawn line position.

The Pieces and their Movements

          Each side in Toe-to-Toe Chess has a King, a General, two Chariots, two Horses, two Elephants and eight Pawns. Once the swap phase has ended, they move as in the following table:

Piece Graphic Description
King k The King moves like a standard orthodox chess King, except there is no castling.
General general The general slides one or two spaces diagonally or orthogonally -- like a short-ranged orthodox chess Queen (this is entirely different from a regular Sittuyin General).
Chariot r The Chariot moves like a standard orthodox chess Rook, except that it is limited to moving at most four squares at a time. (This range limitation is not present in Sittuyin.)
Horse n The Horse moves like a standard orthodox chess Knight.
Elephant elephant The Elephant moves and captures one space forward or on any diagonal, like the Silver General from Shogi, except that it does not promote.
Pawn p The Pawn moves like a standard orthodox chess Pawn except that there is no double-move or en-passant, and that it has an additional move: if there is a piece in front of it (belonging to either side), and there is an empty space immeadiately past that piece, the Pawn may make an non-capturing jump to that empty space.
In the above example, the white Pawn could leap over the black Pawn to the space marked with the green circle as long as it was empty.

Pawns can promote when on the last rank to any previously captured piece, but it does not happen automatically. Rather, promotion is itself a move: all that player does that turn is to replace the Pawn with the piece it is promoting to.


          Sittuyin is (or was) almost certainly a game of deployment as well as manuever, with the Pawn positions (mostly) fixed, but the eight pieces set up (with a few exceptions) as the player wished. Most regular players seemed to have standard setups they generally used. In this, Sittuyin seemed to be like Shatranj, where both players often setup their opening arrays (ta`bîya) before actually starting play.Toe-to-Toe Chess formalizes this aspect of the game, in a manner not too slow for convenient e-mail play.

          The Pawn setup insures that battle is joined from the first. The General was upgraded to a short-range Queen, not because the usual Sittuyin General, which moves like a Ferz, is a bad piece, but to increase the mayhem. The Chariots' range was reduced in order to prevent stand-off attacks. The Pawn's leap was added to prevent pairs of locked-up Pawns from littering the battlefield instead of fighting. Promotion was made to any captured piece instead of Sittuyin's extremely limited form to give Pawns past the battle something to do, but made a seperate move in order to keep promotion from being too easy, and possibly dominating the game.

          This game could also be played with orthodox chess pieces, but it would be very, very violent. An alternative piece set that might work better is Ralph Betza's Halfling Army.

          Thanks to Tony Quintanilla for suggestions and playtesting!

Zillions of Games

          I have written an implementation of Toe-to-Toe Chess for Zillions of Games (latest version of ZRF is 1.2). You can download it here:

Written by Peter Aronson.
WWW page created: June 3rd, 2001.