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Jeremy Good wrote on 2007-07-17 UTCExcellent ★★★★★

Fergus Duniho comments below that 'grandmasters who had extensive knowledge of opening theory' were interested in adding marshall and cardinal to 8 x 10. Fergus is right that they were likely trying to escape their narrow professional circuit into new frontiers, but the marshall and cardinal had been around for hundreds of years and different size boards, such as Turkish / Indian Great Chess were created to explore these possibilities. We are still exploring them today.

On an 8 x 10 capablanca random board, a number of new asymmetries emerge, distancing it from FIDE Chess. The bishop becomes more powerful and the power of the marshall over the archbishop is great.

What is the Falcon piece? Simply put: One of the greatest innovations to come along in hundreds of years for a board with a length of 8 squares in particular. The Falcon family of pieces perfectly complements the linear sliders as you can tell from this wonderful diagram George Duke created to illustrate their range:

Q  D  D  D  D  Q  D  D  D  D  Q
D  Q  S  S  S  Q  S  S  S  Q  D
D  S  Q  F  F  Q  F  F  Q  S  D
D  S  F  Q  N  Q  N  Q  F  S  D
D  S  F  N  Q  Q  Q  N  F  S  D
Q  Q  Q  Q  Q  X  Q  Q  Q  Q  Q
D  S  F  N  Q  Q  Q  N  F  S  D
D  S  F  Q  N  Q  N  Q  F  S  D
D  S  Q  F  F  Q  F  F  Q  S  D
D  Q  S  S  S  Q  S  S  S  Q  D
Q  D  D  D  D  Q  D  D  D  D  Q

One of the great charms of FIDE Chess is the competition between the bishop and the knight, which are roughly of equal value on that board. Or maybe precisely. In fact, IM Larry Kaufman assigns them the exact same value (3 1/4 compared to 5 for rook, 9 3/4 for queen) and argues this: 'In other words, an unpaired bishop and knight are of equal value (within 1/50 of a pawn, statistically meaningless), so positional considerations (such as open or closed position, good or bad bishop, etc.) will decide which piece is better.'

This is charming because the bishop and the knight are two such disparate pieces and that there should be an underlying symmetry behind this polarity is surprising. There may not exist a single piece in Falcon Chess with equivalent value to the falcon, but when playing with the Falcon piece, one feels a similar pleasing feeling of polarity, of playing with a unique piece that can be competitive among disparate pieces. So it amounts to a great contribution.

The Falcon multi-path piece is one elegant solution to a problem implicit in one of Betza's observations: 'The second rule is that a forward leap which is half or more the height of the board is too dangerous. For example, a piece combining the (0,3) and (0,4) leaps would win heavy material in just a few moves from the opening position.'

Fergus Duniho does not note this but I think George Duke has a leg up on the great Jose Raul Capablanca and eccentric Henry Edward Bird when it comes to designing chess variants. The latter two gentlemen are rightly credited as great classical chess players, but unlike George Duke, they were not chess variant experts and they contributed very little original to the development of chess variants, except mainly to lend their prestige to a lazily constructed 8 x 10 variant that was hundreds of years old. [Added note: This may have been unfair. H. E. Bird probably was something of a chess variant expert. He was certainly a historian of chess development. ]

Usually, unprotected pawns are seen as a liability. In Falcon Chess, they serve to permit the dynamic Falcon piece to play a more interesting part in the opening.

I rate this game excellent and applaud George Duke's initiative in bringing the Falcon piece forward. It has enriched our chess variants world considerably. It is one of the few variants I consider enjoyable enough to be well worthy of serious study. It marks George Duke as one of the greatest contemporary chess variant inventors.


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