The Chess Variant Pages

Sentinel Chess


This variant takes chess into the realm of "secondary armies". The new piece involved, The Sentinel, is designed to alter strategy to account for an amplification of position, instead of an amplification of power directly-the goal of which is to force the player to think about the placing of each piece, and when it is most applicable to use its power.

"The hum of either army stilly sounds,
that the fixed sentinels almost receive
the secret whispers of each other's watch.."
--William Shakespeare, King Henry V, act iv, Prologue

Earlier in the history of the game players substituted pawns for a queen as commented upon by Pritchard. Most modifications of earlier pieces have been to extend the range of the piece, amplifying it (fou-bishop-from 2 squares to 7), or fusing pieces together (turning the ferz and wazir into the rook-bishop) or extending the range of the king (knighted royal, which moves as a knight when directly threatened; or castling, which at one time was allowed in any direction-see Italian free-castling).

I remember the words of Philidor that "pawns are the soul of chess", and as I played through many standard games and tested out several variants, I felt that the landscape was not often changed, but rather that more and more power was being squeezed into and out of the pieces. Our goal here is to change the landscape itself, to give the player more control over the terrain of the game. My question as I have played through games, standard and variant, has been "what if the 'sphere of influence' of the king could be filled with a piece who is responsible for, and latently contains, a regiment by itself that can work for the king?"


The game uses an 8x8 board-the Sentinel replaces the queen on both sides. Regular setup for the other pieces and pawns is maintained.


The backfile of white is as follows, proceeding from the left-hand a1 square: Rook, Knight, Bishop, Sentinel, King, Bishop, Knight, Rook.

Black follows the same pattern proceeding from the a8 square.

The Sentinel (in FEN notation designated by an S), or Royal Guard, moves as a Prince as described in Chess II. I chose Sentinel for the name so as not to confuse international players who use the term "Royal" to signify a piece which may not move into check, may not be left vulnerable to capture, may not move across check. The Sentinel is not a royal piece. It can move one square orthogonally or diagonally per move in its initial form. Once during the game it can be transformed, and in doing so, the Sentinel "deploys the Corps", composed of 8 pawns, who can then move as normal pawns, and the Sentinel is removed from the board. Each pawn in "The Corps" will take one square in the "sphere of influence" of the Sentinel, that is, one square immediately adjacent to the square upon which the Sentinel was standing, or one square immediately adjacent to the square to which the Sentinel moved, depending upon the action chosen by the sentinel. To "deploy the Corps" the Sentinel can perform a "zero transformation" on the square it stands upon; if any of the opponent's pawns or pieces occupy those squares, the player on move may capture those pieces (imagine the explosions of Atomic Chess. The Sentinel may also make a capturing move in its initial form, and then "deploy the Corps", who also capture opponents who stand on the squares of their "sphere of influence". Either action by the Sentinel counts as one move.

The Sentinel, if it moves to its 8th rank, may be promoted to any of the pieces in the standard set. Also, it can choose to remain a Sentinel, but thereafter cannot deploy the Corps. A Sentinel may not deploy pawns on the first or eighth rank. Pawns which promote cannot become Sentinels in return. In the event the Sentinel deploys the Corps on its first or eighth rank, no pawns can be placed on squares of those ranks, but may be placed on legal adjacent squares, and the move is considered an "incomplete deployment". That choice, however, may be necessary and effective.

Pawns from the Corps move as regular pawns, and can be promoted as would regular pawns.

Playing tips

The opening moves of the game will be different, as Rooks and Bishops are now the only long-range pieces on the board at the start of the game. The Sentinel's Pawn is weaker and will need to be supported by the QBP and the king's knight in early advances. The Sentinel is slower, but will make up for its extra weight by its ability to increase its volume on the board. If it can be ushered to its 6th or 7th rank, any pawn in the front line of the Corps can all be promoted to any piece as it moves to the 8th rank, including queens-all according to the needs of the player. As the Sentinel approaches the center of the board the Pawn Corps can be a valuable pawn mass. As the Corps is deployed across enemy bishop lines it can slow a bishop attack to a halt; if the Sentinel is used against an opposing Rook, an open file can be closed for an extended period.


Using two sets of pieces will provide material for the Corps; taking the cross off of a standard Staunton king's crown provides the body of the Sentinel. For added clarity, painting 8 dots on the top of the Sentinel in a square pattern is a reminder to both sides of its latent ability. Black acrylic for white, red for black.

sentinel:--to watch over as a guard, to provide with a guard. One that keeps guard; a sentry.

---from Germanic root *sandaz, "that which is sent".

--definitions from and Yahoo! Dictionary. Many thanks to them.


The sphere of influence consists of 8 squares around the Sentinel. It is possible for the Sentinel to throw itself upon its own king and deploy the Corps to protect its king, thus giving the king a pawn shield in all directions. Although the king will be immobilized for the moment, he is protected; the opposing knight can attack and give check, but at its own peril from the newly-placed pawn in the Corps. Mail system on this site.
Written by Michael J. Farris.
WWW page created: April 23, 2004.