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Tim O'Lena wrote on 2021-05-27 UTC

McCooey's Hexagonal Chess

Reviewed by Tim O'Lena

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. In my experience, this variant is the closest to orthodox chess of any hexagonal variant. It is not a large chess variant and does not use any unorthodox pieces. The games use about the same number of moves and take the same time as a standard Chess game, given the relative strengths of the players.

Dave McCooey invented his variant along with Richard Honeycutt around 1978. After some trial and error, they concluded that the 91 hexagon board, with six hexagons on a side, was the most workable. Richard originally tried the 196 hexagon board, with eight hexagons on a side.

The initial setup in McCooey's Hexagonal 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 instead of centered, and the King was in the corner. The 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. Attacking seems more likely to succeed. Timid play can lose quickly and neither side can afford to pull punches. Black can quickly steal White’s opening initiative and even win quickly if White tries to be coy, stall, play for a draw, or play conservatively.

The hexagonal geometry provides some interesting differences between Hexagonal Chess and orthodox Chess. 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 Rooks are slightly increased in value relative to the other pieces. A King can “tunnel” through a Rook’s line of influence, unlike orthodox Chess where a King cannot cross a Rook's line of influence. This ability is not as annoying to the attacking player as one might expect, because it is easily managed. I encourage players to study the checkmate positions involving (K+R vs. K) and (K+Q vs. K) then play these endgames from both sides, to observe the mechanics.

Here are Dave's estimates of the relative piece values: Pawn=1 Bishop =3 Knight=3 Rook=6 Queen=9

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 and I have observed that there are positions where Bishops are better than Knights, but these seem to be less common. The Scatha program seems very adept at managing the Knights and Bishops, and the decisions it makes are often surprising. I have found that a single Knight does indeed seem stronger against a single Bishop, but trying to prove an advantage with NBB versus BBB is tough. Experience has suggested that one does not want to part with the Bishop triple early in the game, but when the piece count is low and the Bishop triples are gone, the Knights show superiority to the Bishops. Like standard Chess, there may be positional issues that determine what exchanges need to occur.

The Hexagonal geometry allows all of the pieces to triangulate. Knights 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 does not 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 can not 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:

Game Courier Logs:

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

App for iOS devices that plays numerous Chess variants, including McCooey’s:

Dave has a program online based on the Scatha engine:

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