The Chess Variant Pages

Twenty-First Century Chess

By Karl Munzlinger


From what I've been reading in Chess Life, I thought you might be interested in the following. It seems that chess is in a sorry state, in that over the past century it has become played out. This is not surprising since it was developed hundreds of years ago by players who had no idea it would be subject to such extensive interest and analysis. I find that:

Now, with the new century on us and the defeat of Kasperov by IBM's Deep Blue, I feel it is time for a major upgrade. So having played chess for more years than most of you have been on the planet, I as a chess player and twentieth century systems analyst propose the following: I call it 'Twenty-first Century Chess' and find that it has a nice ring to it. It mainly involves expanding the board to 10 by 8 with the addition of two pieces along with a couple of pawns for each side. The new pieces would be called Ambassadors or Barons and could move like a Bishop or a Knight. In closed positions they add a tremendous amount of power to the board since they cannot be blocked by another piece on their Knight squares while they can attack quickly on the diagonal squares. Up to the end game a Baron is even stronger than a Queen as it can smother an opposing King unassisted. Due to the additional pressure on the King and the larger board, the King would be permitted to castle through check. To castle, the King would be brought to the Rook- always ending with the King on the Knight one square and the Rook on the Bishop one square. This allows the King to protect the Rook pawn when castling to either king or queen side.

To confound those who like to write books on openings- I offer the Jester. A piece that is cannot be seen on the board at the start of the game (it is hiding among the pawns). One can be brought into play in place of any pawn on its first move at any time during the game. The Jester can move like any other pawn but without their limitations. For example, it can move forward on either diagonal where a pawn can only capture, and it cannot be captured in passing. Since it cannot be blocked, most of the pieces on the board are ineffective against it -- including the new Baron. The Jester can make short work of long boring end games.

Board and Setup

The array for Twenty-First Century Chess is the same as for orthodox chess, except that the board is expanded to ten by eight to make room for a pair of Barons flanking the King and Queen:



A Jester for each side starts off of the board, waiting for the player's to replace a Pawn with them.


The game is conducted by rules of International Chess, except where noted otherwise.

The Pieces

Most pieces in Twenty-First Century Chess move as they do in International Chess, but there are some additions and changes.

Pawns move as normal, however upon reaching the far rank of the board, they promote to Sorcerers, only. Additionally, once per game, each player may take a Pawn that has not yet moved, and declare it to be instead a Jester, and move it.

A Jester has all of the powers of a Pawn, including the ability to capture en-passant, but may also move diagonally forward without capturing. Additionally, the Jester itself may not be captured en-passant.

The Knights, Bishops, Rooks and Queen move as normal in orthodox chess.

The Baron (also widely known as the Cardinal), may move either as a Knight (complete with jumping moves) or as a Bishop.

The Sorcerer only appears in the game as the result of promoting a Pawn or Jester. Its name is intended to add a note of Arthurian legend to Chess. It combines the moves of a Knight and a Queen, jumping when moving as a Knight (it has also known as the Amazon or Empress). It is a very powerful piece, capable of giving mate by itself.

The King moves as in orthodox chess, except that castling has been changed:

The other restrictions to castling usually applied, that the squares between the King and the Rook be empty, and that neither has moved yet, are still in force.

The Play of the Game

Play would differ in that one should Castle much later since the King would probably be safer among the powerful members of his court. But as the pawn center starts to crumble, the King could find his court in disarray and be forced to flee. A typical game might start with the center development of the major pieces followed by an all-out assault by White with the Queen side minor pieces, while Black either counters the assault on the Queen side or attacks on the King side. Then as the center of the board opens up, one or both of the Kings might be forced to Castle (flight of the King). As I recall, in the past the King did not leave the field of battle unless he was losing. Due to the additional power on the board and the degree to which it could be concentrated, games would tend to be slower to develop (there goes the first move advantage) and much more complex. For example, players could make positional sacrifices that would not be considered in the past (very hard to program). If Black decided to hide in a corner and trade off all the major pieces in hope of a draw White could use any remaining pieces to force his Jester through since Black's King would be out of play in the corner.

Now I realize that most chess players would not like to go back to square one and start over. However, it is the next generation that I am concerned about. The Nintendo generation doesn't want to memorize endless opening variations just to play to a draw.

Twenty-first Century Chess is VIOLENT by comparison and it just could be their game. One where they can develop their own lines of play, hold their own tournaments, have their own champion, and beat Deep Blue with monotonous regularity out through the foreseeable future.

Further Thoughts

I do not think of Twenty-First Century Chess as a variant, but as a long overdue evolutionary upgrade. Most of the variants I have seen represent too great a departure from Chess to gain any kind of universal acceptance. Others are nothing more than frivolous diversions. Twenty-First Century Chess is Chess raised to a higher and much more challenging level.

Zillions of Games

There is an implementation of Twenty-First Century Chess for Zillions of games. You can download it here:

Written by Karl Munzlinger. HTML conversion by Peter Aronson.
WWW page created: May 7th, 2001.