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Extinction chess

Recognized! Recognized Variant of the Month for December 2004. Twelve times per year we will select a Recognized Variant for special consideration. Its web page will be reworked and improved and a connecting link displayed on all of our CV Pages. We hope to encourage CVPhiles to read about, play and explore this featured variant.



This game was invented by Games editor-in-chief R. Wayne Schmittberger in 1985 under the name Survival of the Species. It is mentioned in Schmittberger's nice book New Rules for Classic Games. It is somewhat similar in rules to the older Kinglet, but much more lively. The game was popular in the now defunct organisations AISE and NOST and is played routinely on BrainKing and It'
It was also played in the 2003 Multivariant Tournament and the 2005 Second Game Courier Tournament.



All rules of Orthodox Chess are used, with the following exception. Check and checkmate do not apply. Instead, the first player that does not have pieces of all types loses the game. Thus, a player who loses either his King, his Queen, his two Rooks, his two Bishops, his two Knights or his eight Pawns loses the game (barring a promotion).

Pawns may promote to any other type of piece, including Kings. When a Pawn promotes to some type of piece, this piece is also counted among the pieces of the type; e.g., when a Pawn promotes to a Queen, and the other Queen is taken from the player, then the Queens are not considered to be extinct, i.e., the game continues. If a player promotes his last Pawn, he loses (as his Pawns are now extinct), unless he wins by extinction on that very move.

Since there is no check, castling under or through check is allowed.
This rule has been confirmed by R. Wayne Schmittberger himself. However, a variant allows castling only if the King (unless the player has several Kings) and the Rook (unless the player has several Rooks) aren't threatened. This seems rather odd, since Extinction Chess allows a Queen, a Rook or a Bishop to slide through check anyway.



Extinction Chess may be the only variant other than Orthochess where a deep understanding of opening theory (as opposed to mere rote learning) would help.
As in Chess, the ususal practice seems to open agressively and fight for the center, although many NOST participants may have gone for a more cramped game.

A common advice is that when a Knight, a Bishop, or a Rook has been captured, it is better not to develop the other. Nevertheless, the riders remain useful: not only it would be a mistake to hide the Queen simply because of its royal nature, but an only remaining Rook or Bishop is sometimes in a position to deliver the fatal blow.

The species which is the most at risk is clearly the Knight. The other species usually get captured only as a consequence of a pin or a double check.

The King alone is less in immediate danger for the first ten moves than in Chess, because a Queen is unable to come to its contact (a luxury not enjoyed by the Knight), but it will never find itself in a position to attack since there is simply too much material on the Board. Hence, if castling by the fourth move is unnecessary, you shouldn't wait too long.

The Rooks are more resilient than the Bishops or the Knights, so exchanging a Rook for a Bishop or a Knight is often good. However, a protected Rook in enemy territory may prove devastating.

The Bishop vs. Knight exchange may be the most important decision in Extinction Chess. There is little doubt that exchanging a Bishop for a Knight is often desirable, particularly when the other Knight won't find an easy retreat behind a wall of Pawns. However, there are a few downsides as well. For instance, you may open a file for an enemy Rook, or get your only remaining Bishop chased by its opposite number.
A Knight on c3 or f3, or c6 or f6 is certainly useful on the first few moves, but quickly becomes kind of a sitting duck for Bishop vs. Knight exchange (unless the relevant Bishop has been exchanged, of course, or if it is blocked by Pawns of either color).

The Pawns won't become extinct, although they remain important. It is true that since you need not fret about long-term positional considerations, there must be many gambits of a Pawn to consider. But the reason for gambitting a Pawn is less to go after a royal piece than to open the right file for a Rook.


Sample Games

A miniature for starters.

The French town of Messigny hosts a yearly convention for problemists, the RIFACE, (Rencontre Internationale en France des Amateurs de la Composition Échiquéenne) which features a blitz tournament for a Chess Variant.
1998 was the year for Extinction Chess.

Alessandro Castelli won and annotated the following three games.
(The Italian versions are on Fabio Forzoni's page. Forzoni writes that ALL the games played within the AISE are reproducted in the Enciclopedia delle Varianti Scacchistiche.)

Alessandro Castelli - R. Wayne Schmittberger. (CM92)

Alessandro Castelli - Aldo Kustrin (GP93)

Patrizio Fontana - Alessandro Castelli (GP90)

Another annotated AISE game:


Hall of fame

AISE Winners
1990 Alessandro Castelli and Patrizio Fontana
1991 Aldo Kustrin and Saulius Miliunas
1992 Patrizio Fontana
1993 Alessandro Castelli
1994 Fabio Forzoni
1995 Alessandro Castelli
1996 Fabio Forzoni
1997 unfinished
1998 Fabio Forzoni

Messigny blitz tournament
1998 Fabrice Liardet


Computer Play

The Chess zrf for Zillions of Games caters to Extinction Chess.
Greg Strong's ChessV also allows you to play Extinction.



There is a four-page entry for Extinction Chess in David Pritchard's Popular Chess Variants.
It offers eleven games won by Schmittberger, Castelli, Liardet, Yearout...

Written by Hans Bodlaender and Antoine Fourrière, with a lot of comments by Alessandro Castelli borrowed from Fabio Forzoni's Extinction Chess page.
WWW page created: April 4, 1996. Last modified: April 21, 2005.