The Chess Variant Pages




Isis and Cam

Charles Gilman

Introduction

Having generated much discussion with my first "micro-regional" variant, Magna Carta Chess, I have now come up with two more, this time based in England's ancient university cities. The Isis is the most important of the four rivers converging around Oxford to form the Thames while the Cam, also called the Granta, is the river passing through, and giving the name to, Cambridge. Oddly enough Chess is itself the name of another English river.

Isis

As well as a river name, Isis is a woman's name. Indeed it was partly my friend Isis Maitreya's interest in Chess that inspired the games. There is a tradition of small-board games with women's names including Beryl, Diana, and Elena, so in Isis the files - and therefore each army's Pawns - are reduced to 6. The basis for the game is that, during the reign of a King, the Bishop of Oxford and the university Chancellor have got together to invite another each of their kinds and the royal couple to the city. The full cast are represented in each army's back rank. Chancellor is an alternative name for a piece more widely called a Marshal. More widely includes my own variants, but as the names are interchangeable in Capablanca's Chess and Haynie's Great Chess the same can apply here. Its combining of Rook (as in bird) and Knight moves also suggests Horse Feathers, title of a Marx Brothers film in an academic setting! This piece replaces its components and occupies the corner squares, with Bishops on the next files in, Queens on file c, and Kings on file d. The power of the FIDE back rank is thus concentrated into six pieces, rather like Lilliputian Chess (which merges Bishop and Knight into Cardinal) but more accurately. For whereas Lilliputian Chess loses the colourbinding of two Bishop moves, Isis preserves it. There is no castling.

Between ranks 4 and 5 is the River. As in Anglis Qi Kings and Queens cannot cross it, and Pawns doing so are promoted to Wazirs, which they remain as long as they are in the game. As promotion is so soon there is no initial double move and so no en-passant. However in the games on this page the River neither restricts Bishops nor gives them blocking powers, as no attempt is made to represent their elephantine roots.











   +---+---+---+---+---+---+
8  |:m:| b |:q:| k |:b:| m |
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+
7  | p |:p:| p |:p:| p |:p:|
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+
6  |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+
5  |   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|
   +###+###+###+###+###+###+
4  |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+
3  |   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+
2  |:P:| P |:P:| P |:P:| P |
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+
1  | M |:B:| Q |:K:| B |:M:|
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+
     a   b   c   d   e   f

Cam

Cam is not (as far as I know) a woman's name, so the game of that name has the 16 "missing" squares restored. It is however a common noun meaning a lopsided wheel, so the squares are added lopsidedly, as files g-j, ranks 3-6. They are accessible only from or through the rest of those ranks, based on the One Foot in the Grave rule from my 4-player game Fivequarters. These squares represent an area downstream of Cambridge called the Isle of Ely, and based on this name the border between files f and g is taken as part of the River. Thus Kings and Queens cannot enter the Isle, and Pawns capturing on g4 or g5 become Wazirs.

As Ely is both the name of the diocese covering Cambridge and the location of the cathedral, the Bishops start on file j: White on j3 and j4, Black on j5 and j6. From this file it takes two moves to leave the Isle, let alone capture an unmoved piece.

Frog I considered whether to add some other piece behind the file b and e Pawns, and originally decided to leave them empty, but it now strikes me that this leaves too low a piece density. I have therefore decided to put in a compound short-range leaper known in some circles as the FROG. It makes a leap of either 1:1 or 3:0. "Cambridgeshire nightingale" is one of the many nicknames for the biological Frog combining allusions to its sound (ironic) and its prevalence in marshy lowland areas. I do realise of course that this makes each file b and e Pawn a "Frog's Pawn"!











   +---+---+---+---+---+---+                
8  |:m:| f |:q:| k |:f:| m |                
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+                
7  | p |:p:| p |:p:| p |:p:|                
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
6  |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   #:::|   |:::| b |
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
5  |   |:::|   |:::|   |:::#   |:::|   |:b:|
   +###+###+###+###+###+###+---+---+---+---+
4  |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   #:::|   |:::| B |
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
3  |   |:::|   |:::|   |:::#   |:::|   |:B:|
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+---+
2  |:P:| P |:P:| P |:P:| P |                
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+                
1  | M |:F:| Q |:K:| F |:M:|                
   +---+---+---+---+---+---+                
     a   b   c   d   e   f   g   h   i   j 

Notes

Fantasy-writing Oxford dons have particular resonance in Chess Variants. Charles Dodgson's nom de plume Lewis Carroll and his character the Walrus give a link to the Lewis Chessmen, while his weak Kings and strong Queens reflect the relative power of pieces, and his theme of a looking-glass is echoed in the duplication in both armies. FIDE Pieces shaped as their eponymous characters but in Stauntonian relative sizes suggest Tolkien characters, the middle two Pawns resembling Hobbits guarding some Mannish or Elvish lord and lady and the Knights like Hobbits on startled ponies. Both authors have inspired fantasy Themed Variants. Other literary links to the Lewis men are Tolkien's rival Clive Staples Lewis, and more recently Colin Dexter's Oxford-based detective characters who have the surnames Morse (meaning walrus) and Lewis! Cambridge has less obvious literary connections, although use of a Frog piece was inspired by Frog characters appearing in both Alice books. A detective author rooted in the surrounding eastern lowlands, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, shared Tolkien's Catholicism and love of inns, and in The Innocence of Father Brown, published decades before LOTR, even wrote of broken swords and dwarflike men! More recently, Cambridge's status as main destination from the relatively hidden-away platforms 9 to 11 at London's Kings Cross station ties in with Joanne Rowling's Harry Potter fantasies.

While the theme of Bishop as extra-strong Elephant is dropped (despite the potential Ely-phant pun) that of Bishop as Anglemover is more appropriate than ever! Although the south bank of the Isis was settled mainly by West Saxons, the north bank was in the mixed colony of Mercia, which had a substantial population of Angles. The Cam was in Anglia, the part of Britain where Angles were the predominant settlers. Presumably a game set in a corresponding French or Greek city would not have the piece at all, as university is no place for Fools, but extrapolations beyond southern England I leave to inventors with local knowledge. I have myself added a 4-army variant based on two southern English universities, of later foundation but still of good repute, on the river Avon. Other modern-university variants include CoBlaChe, Kennet, and Wey.

An exception to the woman's-names-for-small-variants convention, Alice Chess, which paradoxically uses two full-size boards, has inspired another family of geographically-themed variants, bipolar ones (names shared by towns in British Isles and Australasia) starting with my Melbourne Chess and Christchurch Chess. Again feel free to create others if you know anything of a relevantly-named town.


Written by Charles Gilman.
WWW page created: March 24th, 2004.