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Elevator Chess

By Ralph Betza

In most skyscrapers, the windowless core of the building contains elevators and staircases and suchlike, while the offices or apartments are around the edges, where they can have windows.

Similarly, in Elevator Chess, the four central squares, e4, d4, e5, and d5, contain elevators.

The Rules of Elevator Chess

Elevator Chess is a game played on multiple chessboards; when it is played on just one board, the rules are exactly the same as FIDE Chess (so, in effect, Elevator Chess can't really be played on just one board).

When it is played on more than one board, each side starts with one full set of pieces on each board, makes one move per turn on each board, any piece on an elevator square has the option of making an elevator move instead of a normal move, and victory is achieved by winning a preponderance of the games.

Each Side

A side may be a single player or a team of players. One side plays the White pieces on all boards, and the other side plays Black on all boards.

One Move on Each Board

The concept is one move per board, but there is no requirement for synchronicity.

When the game is played by mail or by email with one player per side, each player is able to make one move per board on each exchange, as long as it is her turn to play on that board; however, it is permissible to defer movement on one or more boards, as long as at least one move is made somewhere.

When the game is played by team, face-to-face, normally there will be one player per board, and each board will proceed at its own speed.

Elevator Moves

An elevator move is made by taking a piece which is already on an elevator square, and moving it up or down one step to the corresponding empty square. For example, a Pawn on e4 can be moved away to e4 on either adjacent board, as long as the destination square is empty.

Kings may not ride the elevators.

When an elevator move is made, it uses up that side's turn on the board it leaves, but on the board where it arrives it does not. For example, suppose that while it is your move a friendly Knight suddenly appears on d5, giving check to the enemy King; you can capture the King, thus winning the game! (Note that doing so moves it off the elevator square.)

Notice that if you're playing in a game of 1000 boards, you only need to be aware of the boards to your right and left.

Cyclical Elevator Moves

When Elevator Chess is played with large teams, and a large number of boards, it may be possible to arrange the chessboards in a circle so that player 1 is next to player 100, and can make an elevator move from penthouse to basement.

This is more fun than being blocked on one side, so it is legal, and even encouraged.

The Victory Transfer

When a game is won on one board, first the winning side makes one elevator move if it can, transferring one piece that is already on an elevator square, and then all pieces are removed from the board and the elevator on that floor is closed.

When the elevator to a floor is closed, elevator moves ignore it. In a team setting, this means that somebody is required to sit at the empty board and transfer pieces immediately in the proper direction.

(This rule is intended to be simple, to minimize stalling, and to give the winning side some advantage on other boards without starting a tidal wave of victories.)

Elevator Blockage

One problem with this rule is that in a match between two teams of 1000 players each, late in the game you might not be able to see your neighbors (the next active board might be 100 floors away on the elevator).

For this reason there must also be a rule that when two consecutive boards have finished no transfers can be made through them.

Different Armies

Elevator Chess is generally value-preserving, which means that it can and should be played with Different Armies; each side having a different army.

One exception is the Nattering Nabobs of Negativity. If one side used this army, it could profit by transferring all of its negative-valued pieces to a board where it was losing anyway, and resigning that game.

Each player could also have a different army. This would be a bit confusing, but it could be fun if played with the right attitude. Two applicable rules are (1) a Fibnif making an elevator move remains a Fibnif; it does not become a Knight or a WD, or whatever is native to the board it arrives on. (2) a Pawn promotes to whatever is native to the board where it promotes.

Recommended Settings

There are three recommended ways to play Elevator Chess.

Two Players, by Email

With one player per side, and playing by email, the number of boards can be as large as the players feel comfortable with.

The most common choices will probably be to play with two or three boards, but playing with as many as ten boards is probably doable.

Two Players, Realtime

With one player per side, playing face to face or on the internet, playing with two boards (and two clocks and two sets of pieces) is recommended.

Multiple Players, Realtime

With many players per side, playing face to face or on the internet, it is recommended that each player plays one board.

There is no logical limit to the total number of boards, but of course it would be extremely difficult to arrange the physical facilities for a game between two teams of a hundred players each; the noise level would likely cause hearing loss in the participants.

In practice, teams of 3 to 6 players per side should be lots of fun.

The Place of Elevator Chess

With one player per side, and a limited number of boards, Elevator Chess is just another pretty good multi-board game.

With multiple players per side, Elevator Chess is not a substitute for Double Bughouse Chess, nor is it a direct competitor; but it should appeal to nearly the same set of players. Elevator Chess is more flexible with respect to the number of players per side, and perhaps offers a few more interesting strategies than bughouse does.

Elevated Strategies

If you are losing without hope, it may pay to resign right away. By doing so you can prevent your opponent from transferring out excess pieces to help his side on other boards.

If you are winning big, you want to try to unload a few excess pieces and Pawns to your neighbors, and also to position something on an elevator square so that you can take advantage of the Victory Transfer.

Empty elevator squares are a great danger because enemy pieces may appear there, but they are also a great benefit because friendly pieces may show up. Conversely, occupied elevator squares block arrivals.


Suppose that you pick up your Knight from e4 and attempt to make an elevator move with it, but by the time your hand reaches the neighboring board you find that e4 is already occupied; or suppose that you wish to move a piece on your own board, for example Ba2-f7, but by the time your hand arrives at d5 you find that the square has already been occupied by an elevator move from some other board.

In both cases, the rule of touch-move is waived. You must replace the piece you tried to move on its original square, but then you are free to make any other legal move.


Alice's Elevator Chess can be played with two sets and two boards, but you must add the rule that capturing moves do not transfer from Board A to Board B.

"Displaced Elevator Chess" would be the name of a game where the elevator squares were in different locations on different boards.

It makes almost no difference to the game on your board if your neighbor to the right is playing Billiards Chess or Cylindrical Chess, or even if your neighbor is playing on a 10x10 board.

In Automatic Elevator Chess, each turn e4 and d4 move up while e5 and d5 move down, a conveyer-belt type of action. This would happen Avalanche-style, after each player's move, and it would require that all of one side's boards be played at the same time.

In 3D Elevator Chess, the central cube of 8 locations would be elevator squares, moving pieces in the fourth dimension from one 8x8x8 chessboard to the next.

In 7x7 Elevator Chess, only the centermost square is an elevator square.

In Elevator Chess for Many Teams, you might for example have 4 teams of 2 players each playing on 4 boards; Team A could play White on boards 1 and 2, while team C had Black on boards 2 and 3.

Closing Statement

Elevator Chess is a simple idea, but it has a characteristic which seems to me to be especially unusual.

When played between two players with two boards, it is intrinsically a serious game, with great strategic interest; but when played between two multiplayer teams it is fundamentally a social game, lots of fun but don't take it too seriously.

Written by Ralph Betza.
WWW page created: April 25th, 2002.