The Chess Variant Pages

McCooey's Hexagonal Chess

Reviewed by Tim O'Lena (tolena at earthlink dot net)

Dave McCooey's Hexagonal Chess variant is my favorite chess variant.

Dave's variant is designed to be as equivalent to orthodox chess as possible. It seems perfectly playable and in my opinion, is the closest to orthodox chess of any hexagonal variant. It is not a large chess variant and does not use any unorthodox pieces.

Dave McCooey invented his variant along with Richard Honeycutt around 1978. After some trial and error, they concluded that the 91 hex board, with six hexagons on a side, was the most workable.

The initial setup in McCooey's Hex Chess was designed by Richard Honeycutt. Richard and Dave each designed an initial setup, independent of each other. They independently arrived at the same overall diamond shape with 7 pawns, but after comparing the two setups, they agreed that Richard's was better. The main difference in Dave's setup was that the bishops were in an oblique line rather than "up the middle", and the king was in the corner.

So the net result was Richard's setup on Dave's board.

Dave says that his variant is less drawish than orthodox chess. My experience leads me to concur. Also, attacking seems more likely to succeed.

As one would hope, the hexagonal geometry itself provides some interesting differences between Hex Chess and Orthodox Chess. To begin with, the ability to move diagonally is not as important for a piece, because each color only covers a third of the board. The result is that the Queen and Bishop are reduced in value relative to the other pieces.

Here are Dave's estimates of the relative piece values:

Pawn=1 Bishop =3 Knight=4 Rook=7 Queen=10

There isn't as clear of a distinction between "major" and "minor" pieces as there is in orthodox chess.

In reality, there is an evaluation dilemma between Knight and Bishop, and it seems even more complex than the equivalent question in orthodox chess. For example, the value of a Bishop depends heavily on how many other friendly Bishops are still on the board. In my experience, Zillions of Games seems to favor the Bishops. Dave says that correct play favors the Knights. I have found that a single Knight does indeed seem stronger against a single Bishop, but trying to prove advantage with NBB versus BBB is tough.

The Hexagonal geometry allows Knights to triangulate. They can hop to a new hex without necessarily losing control of a target hex.

Bishops and Rooks gain the ability of moving along a given line while maintaining control of a certain hex that is NOT on that line. This concept doesn't exist for orthodox Bishops and Rooks. In fact, Dave believes it is this ability that makes the Hex Chess Rook closer in power to the Queen. In orthodox chess, only the Queen has this ability, and that's what makes it reign supreme.

The Hex Chess King can "catch up to" a Pawn from behind, by moving diagonally. It appears that endgame play will be altered in the sense that a player cannot depend on certain truths from orthodox chess. However, there are also many new endgame truths to be learned.

There are some sample games on the Variants page:

You can find a Zillions of Games implementation of McCooey chess on the Chess Variants page:, 31k). Various hexagonal chess variants by Jens Markmann.

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McCooey's Hexagonal Chess

Review written by Tim O'Lena.
WWW page created: April 14, 2000. Last modified: July 19, 2001.