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Ruddigore Chess

By Peter Aronson

(But it's all Ralph Betza's fault!)


          Ruddigore Chess was inspired by the comic opera Ruddigore, by W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. It is a variant of Chessgi (Ruddigore has a "gi" in its name, only spelled backwards). Ruddigore Chess depicts the Loser-Take-All battle between the forces of Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd (white), and the forces of Sir Despard Murgatroyd (black) over who has to be the cursed Bad Baronet of Ruddigore. (If you are familiar with the piece, and wish to object that no such battle took place in it, and furthermore, Sir Ruthven didn't have any forces other than his faithful steward Adam Goodheart, well, I can't help it if G&S missed such an obvious crowd pleaser, can I?)

Board and Setup

          Ruddigore Chess uses the setup of usual Western Chess, except that the Kings are replaced by Baronets, and the Knights by Gentlemen.

General Rules

          The rules of Ruddigore Chess are identical to those of FIDE Chess, except for the changes described below.

  • The largest single change is the curse. On each even turn (turn 2, 4, 6, 8 ,etc.) each player must either capture a piece (either an opposing piece, or one of their own pieces using their Baronet), or after their move, sacrifice a piece they have on the board or in hand to the curse. Sacrificed pieces are gone from the game for good. If you have nothing left but your Baronet, and you need to sacrifice a piece, then the curse takes you and you lose.
  • Like in Chessgi, any pieces a player capture become their color, and are put in hand. In hand pieces may be dropped on empty squares on the board on later turns as a move. Pawns may not be dropped on the 8th rank. Promoted Pawns when captured do not revert to Pawns when captured, but go into hand as their promoted rank.
  • The Kings are replaced by Baronets, which are still royal and must respond check and are mated normally. However, in addition to a normal King's moves (including castling), Baronets may capture like Knights (but not move without capturing like Knights). (Or in other terms, Baronets are royal WFcN's.) Baronets may capture friendly pieces as well as enemy pieces ("If a man can't capture his own pieces, whose pieces can he capture?"), placing such pieces in hand just like any other captured piece.
  • The Knights are replaced by Gentlemen, which are Halfling Nightriders (hhNN). A halfling piece can move up to half of the number of steps to the edge of the board, rounded up; so a halfling piece three steps from the edge of the board could move up to two steps. A Nightrider makes repeated Knight moves in the same direction through empty squares, rather like a Bishop makes repeated diagonal steps through empty squares. In some places and directions on the board, there is room for only one Knight move, in some places and directions there is room for two repeated Knight moves, and in some places and directions room for three repeated Knight moves. In the first two cases, the Gentleman could move only like a Knight, but in the last case it could make two Knight moves in a row, assuming the first Knight's move landed on an empty square. For example:

      |   |:::|   |:::| x |:::|   |:::|
      |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |
      |   |:::|   |:*:|   |:::|   |:::|
      |:::|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::| x |
      | + |:::| + |:::|   |:*:|   |:::|
      |:::|   |:::| + |:::|   |:::|   |
      |   |:G:|   |:::|   |:::|   |:::|
      |:::|   |:::| + |:::|   |:::|   |
    The green circles, blue circles or '+'s and '*'s indicate the squares the Gentleman can move to, the squares marked with 'x's are the squares that a regular (non-halfling) Nightrider could move to in addition. Note that the 'x' squares do not have to be empty for the Gentleman to get its second move, merely be on the board. However, to move the squares marked with blue circles or '*'s, the square a Knight's move back marked with a green circle or '+' does have to be empty.
  • Pawns in Ruddigore Chess are a variety of Quick Pawn. They may make double moves forward on any move, not just on their first. There is no en passant capture.

Notes and Comments

          This game is mostly Ralph Betza's fault. Oh, I'm not entirely innocent, and John Lawson is in for a share of the guilt too, but it was primarily Ralph's fault. There was a bunch of chatter on the CVP comment system, involving Gilbert and Sullivan in general and Ruddigore in specific, and he threw out the germ of Ruddigore Chess: a Chessgi variant where you had to capture a piece a turn or sacrifice a piece, and where you could capture your own pieces.

          These initial rules produced a game that seemed to be more about self-capture and avoiding sacrificing your King than chess play, so I started fiddling. First, I strengthened the Pawns and Knights in the hope they would do something in the game. That didn't do it. So I changed the sacrifice requirement from every turn to every other turn (which made thematic sense, since Sir Despard Murgatroyd, when he was the Bad Baronet, did an evil deed every morning to get them out of the way, and then spent the afternoon doing good: even turns must be mornings), and restricted capture of friendly pieces to the Baronet, which was given extra capturing power to make its dark deeds easier. This seemed to work.

          This is not to say the result isn't a strange game. It is not every game in which it is good sense to capture your own Queen in order to make it more mobile! Also, sacrifices can be used to open attack lanes or even to create discovered check.

          Thanks to Ben Good and Tony Quintanilla for playtesting.

          When playing this game, instead of saying check, you may instead say "Beware! Beware! Beware!", and saying "Basingstoke" is to make an offer of a draw.


          Ruddigore Chess can be easily played with a normal Western Chess set.

Computer Play

          I have written an implementation of Ruddigore Chess for Zillions of Games. You can download it here:

Written by Peter Aronson.
WWW page created: May 8th, 2002.