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It was last modified on: 2020-04-06
 By Steven  Streetman. Spartan Chess. A game with unequal armies. (8x8, Cells: 64) [All Comments] [Add Comment or Rating]
H. G. Muller wrote on 2011-01-06 UTC
The matches are played with alternating colors. I have not analyzed yet how the Persians are doing relative to the Spartans.

Now I switched to Playing ChessV against Catalyst, the first version of an engine made by Richard Albert. (He still has to implement a hash table, and work on the evaluation.) I hope to have more engines soon. There are two people working on one (not counting myself).

Steven Streetman wrote on 2011-01-06 UTC
RE: Broadcasting live Spartan Chess comp-comp games

Very nice! 

The crowned rook is an improved, I think, chess-generalized representation for the General. 

The banner artwork, 'Thermopilae Marathon' is very appropriate depicting the spear-equipped Spartans, bathed in arrows, facing the Persian infantry.

From your description: 'The Spartans start with two Kings, and lose when they leave all their Kings in check.' What a succinct and accurate way to say this. Wish I had thought of it. I am going to have to incorporate this into the next version of the rules :)

If I understand what is going on Fairy-Max is playing Spartan and ChessV is playing Persian and Fairy-Max is winning, vary roughly, 2 games to 1.

If this understanding is correct I imagine that you will be reversing sides at some point, having Fairy-Max playing the Spartans?

H. G. Muller wrote on 2011-01-05 UTC
I did some 4-men tablebase calculations to confirm what I already suspected:

K+W or K+G each beat both K+B and K+N.
K+R vs K+C is usually draw.
K+K can draw K+Q, if the two Kings can connect before the Queen can fork them.

I will do some 5-men later.

H. G. Muller wrote on 2011-01-04 UTC
I am broadcasting live Spartan Chess comp-comp games now at

Currently ChessV is playing blitz games against Fairy-Max there. Some other engines are in the making. The idea is to have a tournament once they are finished and tested.

H. G. Muller wrote on 2010-12-30 UTC

I understand your aim, but I wonder if the Spartan piece design you presented here can achieve it. It will be very hard to break people's preconception that you are playing normal Chess. They will always try to map whatever pieces you have on orthodox pieces, no matter how strange they are. If you have many of them they will assume they are normal Pawns, even if they were as different from Staunton Pawns as draughts chips.

I would have expected them to perceive it as unusual that there are two black Kings, though. If not, when they ask why you leave your King in check, the answer 'because even if he takes it I still have another one' (pointing out the other one) should satisfactorily explain it! :-)))

I would expect it to work better when you would put a sign explaining the Spartan pieces next to the board (with pictures of them,and how they move), below the text 'Spartan Pieces' in large lettering. (There is no need to fully explain the rules; the only purpose is tomake it clear at a glance that pieces are involved that move differently.) Then they will realize it is a variant before they actually look at the board position, as the sign attracts more attention. I think that should prevent them from feeling tricked. Of course the majority of Chess players will still pull down a curtain in front of their face as soon as they are realizing they are looking at a variant, so they might never take a look at the board at all. But it is pointless to target this group anyway.

I hardly ever play Chess myself. (Why would I, if I can delegate it to my computer?)The past 25 years I have done maybe 3 games of normal Chess, 2 games of the unspeakable 10x8 variant on a server that crashed before the game ended, and some 20 games of Superchess in the Dutch championship for that. (Because I worked together with the organizer / inventor of that in making Fairy-Max play it, I felt that I could not refuse to participate.) And 2 games of Shogi against a computer at moron level in the plane backfrom Japan. So I made the pieces mainly for display. But who knows...? Too bad San Diego is a long way from Amsterdam. (Although I did visit it once, attending a physics conference.)

Steven Streetman wrote on 2010-12-30 UTC
HG ...

Your set looks great. The crests on the four finished  hoplites on the left make me smile. This crafting is something I am not cut out for or I might have made my own set. Nice work!

I have departed from the universal pieces approach to designing the Spartan pieces due to some practical experience I have had. There is a lot to be said for this approach and it's certainly what I am now using when playing face-to-face. I use pieces from a Capablanca set for the Spartans and thus use the Archbishop for the Warlord and either the Queen or Chancellor for the General depending on the preferences of who is playing.

We play most weeks on Saturday night at a Game store here in San Diego. The game is set up at the front counter so there are quite a few folks that walk by and look. These people assume its orthodox chess and with a few of the right pieces removed there would be no way to tell that we were playing something different. 

There is quite a bit of confusion and for many this confusion is a turn-off. When they have looked at the game for several minutes and asked a question like, for example, Why is the black King still in check? The first thing I must explain is that we are not playing orthodox chess. That takes some doing and often starts the whole conversation off on the wrong foot. It seems to me they feel betrayed or ignorant but I am not sure. What I do know is that the reaction is not positive.

So for the masses that would not know an Archbishop or a Chancellor if they saw them, one of my design goals is at-a-glance clarity and the clarity I am want is this: I want anyone who walks up and glances at the board to realize its not orthodox chess no matter how many pieces there are on the board. Hence I have departed from universality and there is a downside to this but it is, for me, a trade off. I suppose it's of a marketing decision of a sort rather than a chess decision.

So, are you planning on playing against someone with your new Spartan Chess set?

H. G. Muller wrote on 2010-12-23 UTC

The similarity with your design is that I also use a ridge on the helmet of some of the Spartan pieces. The design philosophy is based on universality of pieces amongst variants, however. So the King, being a orthodox FIDE King, is represented by an ordinary Staunton King. Similaly, the Warlord, having the same moves as the Archbishop of Capablanca Chess, uses the Staunton representation for this piece that has become more or less standard.

Arcbishops and Kings crowned with a cross might not fit very well with the context of Sparta, but neither do Bishops or crosses fit with the Persians. And I certainly did not want to make new representations for familiar pieces. So I decided to ignore such historic friction. Naming the pieces different is OK, but i want them tolook as famliar as possible.

For this reason I represented the General as a Rook with a King's cross, as it is, after all, a 'Crowned Rook'. The Lieutenants move Bishop-like (mostly diagonally), and the Captains Rook-like (orthogonally), so I have given them representations in which the Rook and Bishop are still recognozable. The rook has acquired a roof (for which I used the top of a Staunton Bishop) to distingush Captain from orthodox Rook, and the clipped bishop was 'Spartanized' by putting a ridge on its head, like was done to convert Pawns to Hoplites.

A photograph of the set (which has king height 64 mm):

(not yet finshed; I stil have to paint some of the pieces, and not all Pawns are converted toHoplites yet.)

Steven Streetman wrote on 2010-12-22 UTC

I am very interested in seeing what you come up with in the way of a Spartan Chess set.

H. G. Muller wrote on 2010-12-21 UTC
I have bought two (cheap) identical wooden chess sets, with the intension to convert it to a Spartan Chess set. What I had in mind looks a bit like what you propose here, with a few small differences.

Steven Streetman wrote on 2010-12-12 UTC
From my studies I have posted an article on Spartan government on the Spartan Chess web site. Here is a portion of the article. You may view the complete article here: Spartan Government.

Spartan Government

A man argued that Sparta should set up a democracy.
--Begin with your own family.
----Lykurgus, King of Sparta

Spartan government is the strangest I've studied. It had elements of monarchy, aristocracy, oligarchy, democracy, a republic and the 1950s TV game show 'Queen for a Day'. It has, nevertheless been among the most stable and long lived governments the world has ever known.

MONARCHY - The Spartan Kings
---Hereditary rule by Kings

Sparta had two Kings, a 'dynarchy' for you linguists. The point of having two Kings was stability. Two Kings prevented problems that so often arose in monarchies when 'the only' King died, anarchy ensued and a civil war was held to determine the next King.

Spartan Kings ascended to the thrown from two Royal families, the Agid and Eurypantid. These families were not allowed to intermarry and could have been the stuff of a Spartan Romeo and Juliet story if there had been romance and literature in Sparta.

The Kings held military, political, and religious power. They led and trained the army (sort of) held seats on the Council (an otherwise elected and legislative body) and performed various religious and ceremonial duties. I imagine the ceremonial duties were ones akin to presiding over a contemporary 'arbor day ceremony,' but one where some poor small animal was slaughtered and its entrails examined.

Despite having a Monarchy, Spartan politics was, as you will see, dominated by bureaucracy. When things became just too deliberative, too mired in political red tape, about the only thing a King could to do unilaterally and by decree was assemble his 300 man bodyguard and march off to places like Thermopylae and then, very gloriously, die.

Spartan Kings were not very powerful, sort of like today's Queen of England.

View the rest of the article here: Spartan Government.

Steven Streetman wrote on 2010-12-12 UTC
Spartan Chess Set

For those who have asked about a traditional chess set to play Spartan Chess the Spartan pieces are in development and I am estimating the pieces will be available in a couple of months. I am planning on making the pieces available through a outfit like

Here are some sketches:

Calvin Daniels wrote on 2010-12-04 UTC
I have made an actual set based off graphics Steven Streetman created. Each
army has different graphics.

The Spartans are round the Persians square, a suggestion I made to the game
creator to further create the idea of different armies,

I believe Steven plans to upload some photos I sent him.

Wish other creators had graphics which could be printed in a descent size.

The pieces I made are wood, about 1 1/4 inches round/square.

The pawns/hoplites are 1/2 inch thick, the other pieces 3/4 inches.

Steven Streetman wrote on 2010-11-20 UTC
Thanks Jorge for pointing me to the page with the discussion of chess with different pawns. This article has gotten me to thinking about the play balance dynamics of Spartan Chess.

Spartan Chess uses a slightly modified version of a berolina pawn for the hoplites which do get stronger as the game goes on and as the board clears; just what the article points out. Spartan Chess stays balanced because as the hoplites get stronger the Persian pieces also get stronger than the Spartan pieces, on average. Their bishops and rooks are definitely stronger as the board clears and they can exercise their full power on long clear diagonals and files. 

I would share the complex calculus and ground-breaking mathematical calculations that went into balancing the game given these two off-setting dynamics but I cannot since there is none. 

But seriously, having read the article and having time to reflect on the asymmetric play-balance dynamics of Spartan Chess I am delightfully surprised that it has worked out.

Jörg Knappen wrote on 2010-11-19 UTC
Joe Joyce wrote in this thread:

> Jeremy Good expressed the wish for totally different armies, including 
> pawns, in our conversations on shatranj-style armies, where he wanted 
> for a long time to dump the knight from the shatranj CwDA. And someone
> has tried Chess with Different Pawns, but I cannot remember where.

In fact, there is an old experimental army for Chess with different armies, namely Ralph Betza's Jovian army, see

This army may be an interesting opponent to the Spartans.

Joe Joyce wrote on 2010-11-18 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
I'd say Steven hit a home run, even if he didn't hit this one clear out of the park. Let me quote the last 2 lines of the Betza article Jorg refers to, Different Pawns.

'If you can find alternate Pawns, I will be in awe, taking my hat off to you.

And, to keep you from feeling complacent, I'll ask you to try chess with different Kings. I now fade away, leaving nothing behind but an evil grin.'

Spartan chess, with its pair of kings, is halfway between FIDE and Gary Gifford's Three Elephant Chess. You may argue the kings aren't quite different enough to fulfill Ralph's requirements. Still, Steven nailed the different pawns and also managed to put 3 kings on the board in the same 2-player game. That's a nice, high benchmark for the rest of us to go after.

Jörg Knappen wrote on 2010-11-18 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
An excellent to this game!

Maybe the author has not read the comment below, otherwise he would have been frightened by the task he has underdone. On the other hand: Can a Spartan be frightened?


H. G. Muller wrote on 2010-11-17 UTC
> Do you know roughly how many people have installed XBoard, WinBoard or Fairy-Max?

Not really. I have set up a thread in the WinBoard Forum for distributing the WinBoard binary, and we can see how many views that thread has. Since version 4.4.0 came out, that thread has had 43,795 views. But of course not everyone that views the thread comes there to actually download. And there have been several version releases (we are now at 4.4.4 there), so people that do get there to download,might have been there several times, once for each version.

For Linux I know even less, because we don't do the distribution ourselves there.I know that Debian keeps track of how many downloads there are from their repositories, for each package, on a week by week basis. But I am not sure if this includes Ubuntu downloads, as Ubuntu has its own repositories. And I have no idea which version people download; version 4.2.7, which had almost no variant support, is still widely used.

Of course there are many other Linux distros than Debian/Ubuntu.

Glenn Nicholls wrote on 2010-11-16 UTC
To H.G. Muller - Do you know roughly how many people have installed XBoard, WinBoard or Fairy-Max?

G. Nicholls

H. G. Muller wrote on 2010-11-16 UTC
Well, XBoard is sort of standard Chess interface for Linux, and (like WinBoard on Windows) is still the most popular interface for playing on-line Chess on servers like FICS or ICC. And everyone who installs it will automatically see a host of variants in the New Variant menu (if they ever open it...). And if they install the default engine Fairy-Max with it, they can actually play Xiangqi, Shatranj, Makruk, Knightmate, Capablanca, , Cylinder, Berolina, Great Shatranj, Courier, Superchess, CDA. And in the next release also more CDA flavors, Seirawan and Spartan Chess! And for WinBoard, Fairy-Max is always included in the binary install, and optionally the Pulsar engine, which plays Suicide, Losers, Atomic, Crazyhouse, Chess960. But this is all free software, so people would probably prefer to use Chessmaster or Fritz.

Glenn Nicholls wrote on 2010-11-16 UTC
With regard to the business side of variant chess.  Yes, the actual market for chess variants is currently very small, but no, the potential market is very large.  Hundreds of millions of people play chess and are very enthusiastic about the game and I am sure a good percentage of these players would find preferred games amongst variant chess; unfortunately most (virtually all?) are not aware of alternative variant games and this, I think, is what is holding back progress. How to solve this problem I do not know, but I think it is necessary to gain the attention of large numbers of players - If, for example, the next edition of the largest selling chess software, Chessmaster, were to include a few good variants properly programmed then this might start some momentum.  There are other possibilities but they would require the interest of the right person(s) and this is very difficult to bring about.

G. Nicholls

Steven Streetman wrote on 2010-11-14 UTC
This is the fourth of four parts on Spartan Chess:
  1. Spartan Chess – The Dream
  2. Spartan Chess - The Difference
      (Waiting for the other Shoe to Drop)
  3. Spartan Chess – The Process
  4. Spartan Chess - The Business



My Business Background
I have been around business a bit. You my read about my background in my profile should you wish: 

When I introduced version 1.08 of Spartan Chess to my circle of gaming friends we played a few very fun games. I was soon asked the question, “Do you plan on marketing this invention?” 

I answered something like this: I have seen they type of thing done before. Some chess variants I know have been marketed. Omega Chess looks like a modest success. Gothic Chess, which I followed for years, appears to have fared poorly. The large tournaments that were conceived of did not materialize. Their web site contains many broken links and their Blog page peeked in activity a couple of years ago; both usually a bad sign. And the game King’s Battlefield appears to have been a complete disaster. There were marketing tag lines, testimonials, mouse pads, coffee cups, and bumper stickers; a full promotional effort that just needed a market.

The market for chess variants is small, maybe a few hundred people. Americans don’t play much chess and far fewer play chess variants. So, my marketing analysis is this: I could invest between $20,000 and $40,000 into a serious business effort and make, based on my observations and analysis, upwards of $300. So no, I do not plan on marketing Spartan Chess. I have done this, like most chess variant inventors, just for fun. 

Marketing a product to such a small potential customer base is at least tough business if not a suicidal business proposition. 

I would like to hear about any marketing experiences, both those contradicting and those confirming, this terse business analysis.

David Cannon wrote on 2010-11-13 UTCExcellent ★★★★★
Upgrading my rating to 'excellent', having seen all the additional explanations added. Well done, Seven.

Joe Joyce wrote on 2010-11-13 UTC
'Waiting for the other shoe to drop' - sometimes that can take a while, but if nothing has popped up by now, whatever might be lurking is not obvious. 

Jeremy Good expressed the wish for totally different armies, including pawns, in our conversations on shatranj-style armies, where he wanted for a long time to dump the knight from the shatranj CwDA. And someone has tried Chess with Different Pawns, but I cannot remember where.

A number of games have multiple royal pieces, but there are very few with different numbers on different sides in the same game. And I don't believe any of those are pure chess variants.

Steven, if nothing shows in the next few days, you get to sit and wait for months or years before anything may show up. And even then... but for now, you're probably good. ;-) 

You'd be surprised at both how many times people design the same game, or effectively the same game, and also at how many great, obvious after the fact, games there are constantly being posted. A number of people have expressed amazement that no one has done their game before. And others have been amazed that someone else did 'their' game, sometimes long before. Heh, Larry Smith floored me with a comment on VR Parton's Sphinx Chess when I posted my first variant, Hyperchess. Gary Gifford posted effectively the same game right after Jeremy Good posted a very slightly different version. And these things will happen more as the world gets more interconnected - it's the price of progress. The internet giveth, and the internet taketh away.

Steven Streetman wrote on 2010-11-12 UTC
This is the third of four parts on Spartan Chess:
   1. Spartan Chess – The Dream
   2. What makes Spartan Chess Different? 
      - Waiting for the other Shoe to Drop
   3. Spartan Chess – The Process
   4. Spartan Chess - The Business



I thought about a chess variant for some time and there were a number of considerations I had in mind. These included: 1) historical rationale, 2) asymmetry, 3) different pieces on both sides, 4) different pawns on both sides, 5) play balance, and 6) fun. When I arrived at the overall idea for Spartan Chess I added one additional consideration and that was 7) two Kings one side.

1) Historical Rationale
Spartans vs. Persians is really all that needs to be said about the historical rationale. 

2) Asymmetry
In orthodox chess you can make a lot of equal trades. You can trade a Knight for a Knight or a Rook for a Rook for example. By design, every time you make a trade in Spartan Chess you have to consider how you are shifting the balance of power since there are no “equal trades”. From the start the “power hierarchy” of the pieces was created to enforce asymmetry. These piece values are still being worked on but rough values for the pieces in Spartan Chess are:

Queen		9
Warlord	        8
General	        7
Rook		5
King		5-  (the extra Spartan King)
Bishop	        3+  (plus 1/2 point pair bonus)
Lieutenant	3+
Knight		3
Colonel	        3+-

Just after winning a game as the Persians one play tester commented something like, “This is irritating. I never knew where I stood, what trades to make. Things just aren’t equal. I think this is a problem.” I said “Yeah, that is a good point” while thinking to myself “He just won a hard fought game and is grumbling about the asymmetry. Mission accomplished!”

3) Different pieces on both sides
First there was the consideration of what army to use for the Persians? It’s already done, the FIDA army is the Persians. The Persians had highly mobile fast moving army with such pieces as their chariots and elephants (rooks and bishops) and is quite regular and beautiful. I suppose that you might expect this after more than 500 years of development and play test :)

For the Spartans I thought about achieving two goals; asymmetry and what I call “Spartaness”. 

In my early designs I used the Chancellor and Archbishop from Capablanca chess on the Spartan side as the Warlord and General. Thus the Persians had the most powerful piece, the Queen. The next two most powerful pieces were the Warlord and General. The next 2 most powerful pieces were the Rooks. Asymmetry was well underway. 

Next the Captain and Lieutenant were created as pieces to fight very well with their hoplites. They were slow moving, supportive and capable. So with two Spartan Kings, hoplites in place of pawns, and the minor pieces the Captain and Lieutenant I felt I had a good degree of Spartaness on the black side. 

4) Different pawns on both sides
The Spartan have hoplites in place of pawns. Hoplites are a form of berolina pawns that differ in that they can jump, not just slide, two squares on their first move. Six different configurations for pawns were tried before settling on the modified berolina pawn. The first was a hoplite that moved like a pawn and captured like a checker. That was quickly discarded. Getting the hoplite “right” took the most work.

7) Two Kings one side
The Spartans have two Kings and their second King, based on testing, is nearly as valuable as a Rook.

What makes the two Kings work is their situational check immunity, duple-check and duple-mate. These rules just naturally evolved as we realized that the rules being play tested just were not good enough. We tried total check immunity when the Spartans had 2 kings and we tried no check immunity at all. The first was somewhat OK and the second a complete disaster for the Spartans. 

The first game where we tried duple-check (if both Spartan Kings are under attack one must escape attack on the next move) there was very entertaining and dynamic game. The Spartans had 2 Kings, some hoplites and their two Captains marching across the center of the board. With no duple-check rule there was nothing to stop them on their slow path to promoting their hoplites. With duple-check the Persians were able to zip around both flanks and rear of the Spartans delivering duple-check after duple check eventually out maneuvering the Spartans and winning a still close fought the game. Further play tests proved the duple-check rules good ones. And this game seemed to underscore the historical point that if the Spartans let the Persian outmaneuver them then the Spartans should loose.

5) Play Balance
We kept tweaking the rules play test after play test until we achieved at what we felt was play balance. The rules we arrived at were exactly the same as we final version except that the General moved like a Chancellor rather than a Crowned Rook. 

Fortunately Mr. H.G. Muller entered the picture and modified his Fairy-Max to be able to play Spartan Chess. We soon discovered from running hundreds of computer vs. computer matches that Spartan Chess favored the Spartans 2:1. 

Both Mr. Muller and I altered the major Spartan pieces, the General and Warlord in attempts to achieve balance. He tried them both as crowned and I tried making one or the other a Bishop + Dababa or a Rook + Afil and so on. Coincidentally we both tried the General as a Crowned Rook and the Warlord as an Archbishop and as if by magic equality was achieved. The last 100 games I ran with this configuration yielded this result: 39 Persian wins/40 Spartan wins/ 21 Draws. Mr. Muller had similar results.

I shed a few tears over electing to make the General a crowned Rook rather than a Chancellor but play balance is THE BOSS. I bowed to him.

6) Fun
I have had fun creating and the play testers have had fun playing Spartan Chess. I hope you have some fun too.

**Interesting factoid from my research**
Did you know that the commander of the Kings 300 man bodyguard was given a rank that indicated he commanded a cavalry unit?

Steven Streetman wrote on 2010-11-11 UTC
This is the second of four parts on Spartan Chess:
   1. Spartan Chess – The Dream
   2. What makes Spartan Chess Different? 
      - Waiting for the other Shoe to Drop
   3. Spartan Chess – The Process
   4. Spartan Chess - The Business


    - Waiting for the other Shoe to Drop

There are several unusual features of Spartan Chess and a couple that are (maybe) unique.

1. Unusual – Different Armies
Spartan chess pits two completely different chess armies against each other. With the exception of their Kings, every Spartan piece differently than that of the Persians (FIDA). While this is by no means unique, only a percentage point or two of chess variants vary the chess pieces between sides.

2. Unusual – Historical Rationale
There is a historical rationale for the opposing sides; Spartans vs. Persians. While the origin of Chess is debated (did it originate in India or Persia?) I naturally accepted the FIDA army as the Persians. While designing the Spartans I tried to capture the flavor of a more slowly moving, solid, mainly foot-soldier army. Of the chess variants with different armies only a fraction of those try to represent historical armies. A historical rationale is an unusual feature, not a unique one.

3. Unique – Spartan Hoplites or Spartan pawns
Spartan Chess features pawns on the two sides with different capabilities. The Persian uses traditional pawns of course. The Spartan uses hoplites in place of pawns and move differently than pawns. The use of different types of pawns on opposing sides is, it seems, unique.

4. Unique – Two Kings
In Spartan Chess the Spartans field a chess army with two Kings. This is a part of the historical rationale owing to the fact that the Spartans did, in fact, have two Kings. Placing two fully royal Kings on one side along with rules to make that work, including situational check immunity and duple-check, is a unique feature of Spartan Chess.

Waiting for the other Shoe to Drop
Everything around chess has already been done before, hasn’t it? Over the years, as I thought about chess pieces and game variants, I would come up with an idea. I would then visit the various wikis and the CV website and find that it had already been done (*sigh*). Not so with different pawns on different sides. “Why?” I thought, “Was it just too hard?” I stuck with this idea until I came up with the additional idea of the Spartan army and two Kings and then developed this chess variant. There is still, a part of me that is waiting for someone to step forward and say something like “Well, this has all been done before. See my web link to Mr. T. H. Chesserman’s game Lacemedonian (i.e. Spartan) Chess invented in 1884”. So I sit, “Waiting for the other shoe to drop”.

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