The Chess Variant Pages

Killer Chess

July 16, 02; Aug 3, 02; Aug 13, 02
Original concept & creator -- Nicholas Vradis
Co-creator (variations IV & V) and editor -- JD kruger


Chess is a game that is based on war... you have to kill or be killed ... (in Killer Chess) you have to kill on the first move -- hence, the name, hence the game.

Over the last thousand years, the game of chess has evolved, and as it has evolved, the goal has been to make the game faster; therefore, a new form of chess has arrived, and a new way of thinking -- no more foreplay, now we cut to the chase... or, Killer Chess. Cutting to the chase means getting to the point. Getting to the kill quicker: the game's the thing to catch the king.


First of all, we cut the board in half, keeping one half and throwing the other half away, leaving 32 squares -- 4 x 8. So that means, 4 files and 8 ranks: a file is a vertical line, a rank is a horizontal one. Leaving 32 squares, we keep all 32 pieces, thereby leaving no square uncovered at the commencement of the game. Also, this new starting position forces the player to re-evaluate his or her strategy in the initial moves of the game. There is less room to play which means less time to think, less screwing around. These days, psychologically, people don't like to play chess because of the stigma attached to the game; generally, people believe chess is a game that takes forever to finish. Killer Chess forces the player to kill on the first move, and to make sacrifices more often than not, unlocking a puzzle on every move. This can prove to be stressful, depending upon the player's experience. Some people have found it intimidating playing on such a small board, especially the purists.

The Speed of Killer Chess

If you're not careful, the game will be over before you know it. It's very easy to be careless on a smaller board. The pace of the carnage makes the game worth playing in our current age of fast competition. We need nanosecond timing to deal with the surrounding intense stimulation. Killer Chess is a traditional game reflecting on our modern times.

Variations on the theme of Killer Chess

Variation I -- Killer Chess (the original)
Variation II – Breathing Room
Variation III- Double or Nothing (doubles)
Variation IV - Allies and Enemies
Variation V - Quads (Free-for-all)
Variation VI - Kings Crossing (kill the king, or capture the throne!)

The Variations

Variation I - Killer Chess (the original)

It just seems like the obvious way to go, because if you look at a regular chess set-up, you can see how Killer Chess evolved, naturally; it's just a natural evolution, like discovering a star. I (N.V.) wanted to have a strong defence at the start of the game because in regular chess it takes too long to set up a defence, and that's usually what the game is all about. You have to free your pieces, your stronger players, and then you have to arrange them in a defensive line, covering and protecting advancing pieces on the offensive line of attack, in many chess openings. You're putting too much focus on foundation, when you should already have a foundation to begin with. In the opening set-up of Killer Chess, everything is protected, connected, joined, and locked. It's more intimate. But, with this sense of defence, there's also a handicap -- being in a lock-chess format -- because you have to unlock the puzzle of the pieces that are locked together. Your pieces are protected, but they're also trapped. Your king is trapped. It is not possible to castle in this game; there are no easy outs. The king has to dig his way out.

Obviously, horizontal action is limited to four ranks. In Killer Chess (the original), all the playing pieces move as in traditional chess, with a few exceptions. As already stated, there is no castling; also, pawns may only move one square at all times, forward towards the opponents back row (N.B. -- they still kill on the diagonal); also, there is no "en passant capture" in this game -- a bizarre, little-known move of traditional chess, whereby the pawn may kill in an unorthodox fashion (see Chess, 16-17). Similarly, as in traditional chess, if a pawn reaches the back row, the player of that pawn may reclaim a lost piece (except the king), replacing the pawn: he gets promoted.

The starting position

Ranks 4 and 3:

It starts off as a game of pawns; you begin with eight pawns as your infantry, "once a-pawn a time". Like in war, you send out your infantry first on the battlefield. Some of the infantry are killed by necessity right from the beginning -- unlike traditional chess, where the player can pussy-foot around!

Rank 2:

Watch out for the horses! There is confusion in the knight. The knights are the cavalry, protecting the first line of pawns -- the infantry; they have the first line and the two, lower-side pawns covered. These pawns form a shield and are protected by the knights; altogether, they function like a shield generator. The knights, arguably, are more valuable on this smaller battleground, having the ability to cover more area in fewer moves: horizontal, vertical and diagonal. They can jump over other pieces, friend or foe, adding to their unique status and nobility, endowing them with an important facility on this smaller board. In two moves, without an experienced foe, it is possible for the knight to mate the opposing king. Don't underestimate the power of the knight!

The rook can be thought of as a protective door because if the king becomes exposed you can close the door with the rook, in a sense, by covering and defending the king. You don't have a door when you start off in traditional chess; you have to make a door. In Killer Chess, both the queen and the king have doorways in front of them that can open and close; they can become exposed on their files; the player can close the door with the rook, who is already positioned on the second rank. If the king or queen become exposed along their files, for example if the knight moves out from its starting position, the rook can move along the rank to close the door and defend the position. The rook can be thought of as a door; if the queen or king becomes exposed, you can close the door with the rook.

The first rank:

The bishops are the beacons. They have the angles covered. They help form the foundation at the far ends of the first rank. If the rooks are doors, then the bishops are the secret doors; they can close the opening, protecting a checked king or threatened queen, on an angle. The corner-to-corner attack by the bishop, on an opposing rook, for example, possible on the traditional square board, has been eliminated on the rectangular Killer Chess board, reducing the bishop's offensive power.

As in traditional chess, the queen is still mad -- she has the ability to travel the full length of the board in any direction, having supreme dominion in the offensive and the defensive, as opposed to the king, who can only move one square, possessing as little mobility and power as the pawn. The queen and king, together, comprise the final points in the circuit, forming the foundation of defence, and if one is not careful, a self-enclosed pyramid-tomb for the Pharaoh-King.

Remember: it is very easy to be careless on a small board. One can become claustrophobic in a tight situation. Don't be afraid of making the right sacrifice!

Variation II – Breathing Room

As opposed to the original, where you’re forced to make a sacrifice when you have no empty squares on the board at the beginning of the game, or no breathing room within which to play, the second variation -– Breathing Room -– leaves two extra, empty files on either side of the playing pieces, allowing for new tactics to emerge, and room for pieces to escape from being attacked, or possibly being check-mated by the opponent. It’s a great alternative to the original because you don’t necessarily have to kill on the first move, even though it’s basically the same starting position as the original. This starting position, however, is centred horizontally across the grid. When applying the strategies of the original to this second version, you can use the arrangement of the pieces on the original board with new potential, having two extra files on either side, opening up room to place pieces in key defensive and offensive positions. For example, the bishops, rooks and knights can be drawn out horizontally, to expand the battlefield in different combinations of circuits, or protective lines of defence (see photograph).

Variation III – Double or Nothing (doubles)

What we’ve done, is taken Killer Chess (the original), and multiplied it by two, literally, thus creating 64 pieces on a 64 square board, using all the squares of a regular chessboard (see photograph). There are two sets of every piece on the board, including the King. Therefore, you can’t win just by mating one king. The game is decided when both kings have been conquered. You have to eliminate one king, removing him from the board, and mate the final king. Thus, a new rule applies at the time of taking the first king: King’s Last Wish (or, last will and testament). The king may decide how he wants to be taken, or killed: on which front, by which player, on which square, by what method of execution. You see, the player’s tactic in positioning the first King’s defeat may prove to be advantageous if he forces the King to be taken by a strong piece which is thereafter taken by the remaining King’s (King 2) defensive line. Or, in the case where two kings are forked by any opposing piece, the player must decide which king to sacrifice. The game, however, having two kings on either side, lends itself well to be played in doubles, two teams of two players, where the players on the team may collaborate on the strategy, tactics and movements. This is therefore a game of double-or-nothing; two players can win, or conversely, two players can lose as a team. You can win with one king, or two kings. Each decision is made by the partnership in full, allowing time to strategise. The opponents alternate turns, just as in regular chess, or the original Killer Chess, whether the doubles have one or two kings still in play. Ultimately, it’s white vs. black –- two opposing sides, with double the strength in pieces; there are two heads on each team -– and, sometimes, two heads are better than one. The starting position of doubles (see photograph) is the original Killer Chess board, doubled, 8 x 8. All the pieces move as in "the original".

Variation IV – Allies and Enemies

Allies and Enemies, like doubles, may involve four players. But, unlike variation #2, Allies and Enemies must involve four autonomous players; the former version, however, may be played by two, three, four, or more players -– depending on the size of the party that wishes to aid in the team strategy. The former version involves consultation amongst players, but variation #3 involves four separate players, two in alliance pitted against a common enemy. One alliance works to defeat both kings of the opposing alliance. The pieces have a white or black base, marking their alliance, and one of four colours (white, black, red, or green – as in illustration #3) marking the division, army, or pieces of that player. The open strategising that takes place in doubles, between the partners, is not a part of this version. Therefore, although one member of the alliance may set his partner up in a position to take the enemy, if the ally is not aware of his alliance’s positioned attack, the ally may not follow through on his partner’s strategy. Hence, the partners in the allegiance must pay close attention to each other’s strategy. This is especially important, because, when the alliance is broken, and one of the ally’s kings is lost, the remaining ally is placed in a disadvantage; he is handicapped. Although, the remaining partner inherits the pieces of the allegiance, adding to the strength of his army, his partner’s king is lost, thereby the partner’s turn is lost. The enemy’s autonomous armies may move twice (combined) for every single move of the remaining ally (ie. if the red king is lost, the sequence of each round would follow: green, white, black, green, etc.). This is a severe disadvantage. Therefore, the remaining king must move speedily to kill one of the opposing kings, or the onslaught of the two opposing forces will overpower him, in no time at all. It is important to remember the value of the alliance. Keep it alive at all costs! When strategising, remember that the red and white, or black and green, divisions both comprise one stronger force – an alliance. When one division loses its king, the entire army of the alliance is governed by the remaining, sovereign king. Look at the base of the piece if you forget which pieces belong to the remaining king. The player who loses his division no longer plays as an active member. Also, the rule of king’s last wish, still applies to the division whose king bows out first. That king may choose the location of his death, and how his death may best suit the remaining king of the alliance, if he wishes.

Ultimately, you have to defeat the common enemy while each player moves separately, alternating from alliance to alliance, division to opposing division (traditionally white, black, red and green, in sequence – see photograph), as one might in a doubles billiards match. When one player is eliminated, when one king is killed, there is no king to govern the pieces, so that player’s turn is effectively skipped. The opposing alliance may move two pieces for every one of the remaining king’s, in each round.

The starting position of Allies and Enemies is the same as double-or-nothing, except each doubles team is divided into two equal divisions, equalling four coloured armies on the board. Apply the rules, and what you have learned from Killer Chess – the original, in preparing your strategies. Just remember, there are times that you must sacrifice one of your pieces to save your ally: but one should never do so at the expense of his own king. Rescuing your ally’s pieces of higher value than the one you need to sacrifice may be necessary to keep your alliance alive and retain valuable pieces. The idea is to eliminate both opposing kings, the common enemy, and if you can’t, then it’s a stalemate. Unlike traditional chess where a stale-mate can happen if one king is backed into a corner, for example, and is forced to move into check when he is not already in check, in this version of Killer Chess, if the king is forced to move into check, he will be taken, check-mated. The king is defeated, removed from the board, thereby playing out the scenario. In this way, an alliance can eliminate a stalemate. This scenario also applies to Double or Nothing, or version #3. Promotion and castling are still the same in this version #4 as in the original Killer Chess.

An added suggestion is to keep a marker on the board, such as the first pawn taken, to keep track of whose turn it is in each round, thereby avoiding confusion. As the game progresses, especially after one player is eliminated, the players might forget the order. The marker will resolve any unnecessary conflicts about the proper sequence of moves.

Variation V – Quads (or, free-for-all)

Similar to Allies and Enemies, Quads demands four players, with each King starting at the corner of his quadrant. Unlike the former, however, there is no lasting alliance between players. Although players may, at times, work together to defeat a common foe, there is no lasting bond between them, for the goal is to be the last King standing. It’s each man for himself, in the end. It is, however, possible for there to be a stale-mate with two kings standing without their respective armies.

The starting position of Quads uses the four divisions of four separate colours to their fullest potential. Each team is completely autonomous, and between the four teams, all 64 squares of the board are covered. The pawns form arrowheads pointing to the centre of the board. They are protected by an inner rank of rooks, knights and the central bishop. The inner circle is composed of two advisers (the bishops) to the right and directly in front of the King, with the Queen, always starting in a position to the left of the King (see photograph). Examine this opening position: be careful not to trap your King in the corner!

The sequence of play is unique in Quads, where players take turns moving in a clock-wise rotation. Pawns still kill on the diagonal and may move forward or backward on horizontal and vertical axes. Pawns can kill on the diagonal in any direction. They can be promoted by taking the diagonally adjacent king’s starting position, or throne. When one king is defeated, the conquering king inherits the remaining pieces of his foe, thereby building up his army, inheriting as many as three opposing forces. King’s last wish still applies in this game. Consequently, a player may be in the position to decide which foe will inherit his remaining pieces. He can choose his successor.

Variation VI – Kings Crossing (Kill the King or Capture his Throne)

This variation deviates from the previous innovations, yet still maintains a certain essence of Killer Chess. It is specifically intended for two players and its line of attack and principle action spans across the board, diagonally (see photograph). Rotate the board 45 degrees: the diagonal becomes the file and rank. At the opening, the Kings are placed on their thrones in opposite corners of the board. The King is flanked by the rook to his right and the Queen to his left. To the left of the Queen are the rook and knight, accordingly; and, to the right of the first rook, sits the knight. Diagonally in front of the queen, the second bishop is placed. There are two pawns placed vertically on the king’s line, and a row of six pawns on the sixth row, for each opposing team (see photograph).

Capturing the Throne: When it is not possible or advantageous to kill the opposing King, another method of winning may prevail. The king takes on a more vital role in this version than in other versions of chess, or Killer Chess; this is because the king has the possibility of winning the game, all on his own. It is possible to win the game by capturing your opponent’s throne with your own King. There is now hope to win the game, where there had been none.

Promotion: There is only one square, similar to Quads, where a pawn can land in order to become promoted to any lost piece (except the king) and that is the King’s throne.

In this new version, pawns may advance one space forward or horizontal, on the vertical or horizontal lines (previously diagonals), and they kill on the diagonal (previously horizontal and vertical lines), with the objective of destroying the enemy and reaching the king’s throne, thereby gaining promotion. It is important to move your pawns onto the white path in order to pursue the King’s throne for promotion with those pawns, as the throne is on a white square. You only start off with two pawns on the white path. To get another of the remaining six pawns onto a white path, you must take an opponents piece with your pawn.

Unlike other Killer Chess versions, killing isn’t forced on the first move, but it is still optional. As not all the squares are inhabited by pieces at the commencement of the game, there is more room for the player to dance about, as in version #2, Breathing Room.


Chess is a game based on war that has undergone many modifications and variations over time. The one thing that still remains constant is the instinct for survival in battle. We play to conquer our common enemies as an exercise of will, determination and revelation. We sublimate and transcend our aggressive tendencies by acting through the game. Therefore, play in peace and pray forgiveness!

(NV & JDK – August 13, 2002)

Works Cited

Williams, Gareth. (2001) Chess, Bath, UK: Paragon.

Written by Nicholas Vradis and JD kruger.
WWW page created: November 26, 2002.