The Chess Variant Pages



Betza Notation

In the mid-1990s, variants expert Ralph Betza began to spread a shorthand for describing all the weird moves that pieces have in chess variants. His «funny notation» has become known throughout the variants world.

This article explains funny notation. It will be extended as the system grows, but the page will be kept as simple and generally accepted as possible.

A piece is described by a string of characters such as fhNfrlRK.

Capital letters are the main landmarks. Every capital letter means that this piece has all or some of the powers of that piece.

  • A doubled capital letter is an unlimited-length rider version of the move. WW is equivalent to R. FF is equivalent to B. WWFF is equivalent to Q or RB. NN is the Nightrider of fairy chess fame.

Small letters before a capital letter modify the power of that capital letter.

A number N after a capital letter limits the described move to N spaces.

There is no standard order for the capital letters.

That's all there is to it. Now for the examples.


Main Letters

Horizontal and vertical moves (Rook family)

W is Wazir, (0,1), one square Rookwise.

D is Dabbaba, a jump to (0,2), two squares Rookwise.

H is a jump to (0,3), three squares Rookwise.

+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
|   |   |   | H |   |   |   +
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
|   |   |   | D |   |   |   +
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
|   |   |   | W |   |   |   +
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
| H | D | W |XXX| W | D | H +
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
|   |   |   | W |   |   |   +
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
|   |   |   | D |   |   |   +
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
|   |   |   | H |   |   |   +
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+

Diagonal moves (Bishop family)

F is Ferz, (1,1), one square diagonally.

A is Alfil, a jump to (2,2), two squares diagonally.

G is a jump to (3,3), three squares diagonally.

+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
| G |   |   |   |   |   | G +
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
|   | A |   |   |   | A |   +
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
|   |   | F |   | F |   |   +
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
|   |   |   |XXX|   |   |   +
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
|   |   | F |   | F |   |   +
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
|   | A |   |   |   | A |   +
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
| G |   |   |   |   |   | G +
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+

Combined moves (Knight family)

N is the Knight, a jump to (1,2).

L is the Long Knight, a jump to (1,3).

J is a jump to (2,3).

+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
|   | J | L |   | L | J |   +
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
| J |   | N |   | N |   | J +
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
| L | N |   |   |   | N | L +
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
|   |   |   |XXX|   |   |   +
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
| L | N |   |   |   | N | L +
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
| J |   | N |   | N |   | J +
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
|   | J | L |   | L | J |   +
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+

Shortcuts

R is a shortcut for the ordinary Rook move. This can also be written WW (Wazir-rider), or W7 on the standard eight-by-eight board.

B is a shortcut for the ordinary Bishop move. This can also be written FF (Ferz-rider), or F7 on the standard eight-by-eight board.

Q is a shortcut for the ordinary Queen move, RB. This might also be WWFF, or W7F7 on 8X8.

K is a shortcut for the King's move, WF.


Modifiers

Modifiers are small letters before the capital letter they modify. Directional modifiers come first, then move/capture modifiers.

b is backwards.

c is capture-but-not-move. fcFfmW is the basic move of a Pawn.

f is forward.

  • ff is forward-forward, the forward part of a Knight's forward move (from e4 to d6 and f6 only)
  • fs is forward-sideways, the sideways part of a Knight's forward move (from e4 to c5 and g5 only).
  • fh is forward-half, the forward half of the Knight's move (e4 to c5, d6, f6, and g5)
  • Analogous usage is available for bb, bs, and bh.

g is grasshopper. A grasshopper piece is a runner that must jump over exactly one other piece and land on the square just past that piece.

h is half. See the ff/fs/fh discussion above.

j is jump-only. A jump-only Dabbaba might be described as jD or as gW2.

l is left. Also see rl.

m is move-but-not-capture. fcFfmW is the basic move of a Pawn.

n is non-jumping. An nD would be a Dabbaba that cannot get from b1 to b3 if b2 is occupied.

o is cylindrical. Cylindrical pieces do not stop at the edge of the board -- they think that if you go to the right from h1, the next square is a1.

p is cannon (the Chinese cannon is a pao). Cannon pieces move like Rooks, Bishops, Queens, but require one intervening piece to move. Similar to grasshoppers, except that the piece jumped over can be anywhere on the path.

r is right. Also see rl.

rl is older usage for right-left. Using s for sideways is now preferred.

s is sideways. s is short for rl.

v is vertical. v is short for fb.

z is crooked; zF7 is a crooked Bishop.


Numbers

The number after a capital letter tells how far the piece can move. For example a W could also be written W1, and a W7 is a normal Rook (on an 8x8 board).


Notes

Evolution

Square brackets [ ] have been used to reflect a combination of two main letters treated as one. For instance, the Rhino is a crooked piece that slides alternately one space Rookwise and one space Bishopwise. This becomes z[WF].

Longer leapers might also be described in a similar fashion. The Giraffe of Grande Acedrex could become [WL] for its (1,4) leap (Wazir + Long Knight is certainly 1,4). This would make the Pegasus of Beastmaster Chess a J[WL].

Other possibilities are being discussed, and may someday be added.

A Few More Examples

  • The Champion from Omega Chess is a WDA.
  • The Crab is a ffNbsN.
  • The Eagle from Tori Shogi or ABChess is a fBfsWbB2bR.
  • The Fad from Chess With Different Armies is (surprise!) FAD.

It Can't Do Everything

Betza notation is not universal or perfect. The inventiveness of variantists ensures that this will always be so. But it describes an astonishing range of possible pieces, and there is room for extension.

Your Final Exam

Remember the example at the very beginning, fhNfrlRK? Now we know what it is.

  • fhN is forward half of the Knight's move.
  • frlR is forward/right/left for a Rook (but not back).
  • K is King.

Here's your diagram...

+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
|   |   |   | * |   |   |   +
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
|   |   | * | * | * |   |   +
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
|   | * | * | * | * | * |   +
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
| * | * | * |XXX| * | * | * +
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
|   |   | * | * | * |   |   +
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
|   |   |   |   |   |   |   +
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
|   |   |   |   |   |   |   +
+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+


Written by Glenn Overby II.
WWW page created: January 25, 2003.