The Chess Variant Pages
Custom Search





8-Piece Chess

Introduction

When exploring ideas for new chess pieces, I wanted to retain the 8x8 board due to personal preference. I also wanted to create a variant that can be easily played with a standard chess set. In that spirit it seemed appropriate to create pieces which would be unique yet resemble a basic property of their familiar counterparts (especially the bishop, since it only occupies one shade of square). With that in mind, I have created 3 new pieces for the Queen’s side. The main idea in terms of the medieval battle theme is that the King and Queen have trained their respective troops differently. While the King has trained a rook, knight, and bishop, the Queen has trained a jailer, lancer, and sentry.

Setup

There are 8 unique pieces in the back rank:

1 King

3 minor pieces (Bishop, Knight, Sentry)

1 moderate piece (Jailer)

3 major pieces (Queen, Rook, Lancer)

Along with their own king, any two minor pieces can checkmate a lone king, and any single moderate to major piece can checkmate a lone king. Below, I have highlighted the new piece headings with a gray background border and wrote the rules pertaining to each. You will notice a comment in the paragraph on pawns, clarifying promotion in this game.

Pieces

Jailer

The jailer slides orthogonally like a rook, but it cannot capture. Instead it “holds” enemy pieces. When it is directly next to/touching an enemy piece (horizontally or vertically), that enemy piece cannot move at all, nor can it capture. It is held in place until the jailer moves away or is captured. If an enemy piece moves onto one of those 4 squares (orthogonally 1 square away from the jailer), then it is “held.” Enemy pieces can still move “through” the hold squares- I am only referring to when it stops next to the jailer. A jailer could potentially hold up to 4 enemy pieces at the same time (although not likely, as a 4th piece on the remaining hold square would have to be moved into place by the opponent) Unlike with pieces that capture and threaten the back rank squares, the opponent is still allowed to castle "through" a jailer's hold square i.e. if the Black jailer is on f2, White can still castle king-side (assuming all other castling conditions are met. Afterward the White rook on f1 would be "held"). However, a king and rook/jailer cannot castle if either is already held before the castle move.

Regarding the pawn's two-square movement, there is no such thing as "holding" by the jailer en passant, so i.e. a Black jailer on e3 does not prohibit a White pawn from moving from d2 to d4.

If a jailer holds the enemy jailer, then both are prohibited from moving until one of them is captured. While jailers are “stuck” to each other, each jailer still exhibits hold control of the other three orthogonal squares like normal. In the spirit of encouraging a checkmate, there is an added rule to the turn-based system: when the jailer is holding the opponent's king, the opponent may “pass” as a legal move (you can only pass if the jailer is holding your king, not in any other situation). This means that a king+jailer can checkmate a lone king. In that scenario the winning King would deliver the checkmate since it can move directly next to the opponent’s king (which cannot move at all). A jailer can be part of a castle move just like the rook. The same rules and condition apply for Queen’s side (0-0-0) castling as one would need for the King's side (0-0) castling. I estimate the jailer’s value at 3.5 to 4.

Above, the bishop is not actually pinned because jailers cannot capture. It is probably best for White to move the bishop or else Je7 would hold the bishop for Black’s King to take two moves later. Bg4 looks good, as it protects the King from Je2 (holding the King). Black would probably win this game, but Bg4 puts up a good resistance.

Lancer

The lancer begins the game facing diagonally inward, and it moves the same way that it captures. It moves by “jumping” straight forward - over multiple friendly pieces if desired - in the direction that it is facing. It can move to any available square that it is facing up to and including the first enemy piece in that direction. It cannot jump over an enemy piece or land on any square beyond that first enemy piece. After it lands on an empty square or captures a piece, as part of the same move, the player can turn the lancer to one of the other 7 primary directions – or may leave the lancer facing the same direction it just moved. A player may not turn a lancer without moving it first. If a player moves his or her lancer onto an enemy jailer's "hold" square, then that player is still allowed to turn the lancer (finishing the move) to face the desired direction before it becomes "held" by that enemy jailer. I estimate the lancer’s value at 4.5 to 5.

Lancers may jump over friendly pieces. In the above example, the Black lancer is currently facing “southeast.” It can take the pawn on e5 and then turn south, putting the White king in check. Turning toward the White king would be necessary to prevent Qxf7+.

Sentry

The sentry slides diagonally, but it captures differently than a bishop. The capture is performed by sliding to the enemy piece diagonally and jumping over it, landing on the vacant square immediately beyond that enemy piece. Since the square just past the enemy piece must be vacant, the sentry is less valuable than a bishop. Regarding the edge of the board, the sentry can still capture those pieces. However, it captures an edge piece the same way as elsewhere and jumps out of the field of play. In other words, a sentry is immediately sacrificed that turn in order to capture any piece along the edge of the board. I estimate the sentry’s value at 2.2 to 2.5.

Above, the White sentry cannot capture the knight on g5 because the h6 square is occupied. If Black ever moves that pawn to h5 with the knight still on g5, then White can capture: Sxg5 (and the Sentry would land on h6).

Despite these hinderances compared to a bishop, one can find positions in which the jump capture provides situational advantages (i.e. taking a pawn in a pawn chain, in which the chain is perpendicular to the sentry’s attack diagonal). Or, the sentry can capture a pinned piece and instantly deliver a discovered check:

Above, with White's turn to move, then White is glad to have a sentry and not a bishop in this situation. After capturing the knight, there is an instant discovered check. Even though the sentry will be sacrificed to take the queen at the edge of the board, this should still secure a win for White.

Pawn

The pawn moves differently from how it captures. Each pawn moves one square straight forward, but from its original starting square it may slide 2 squares forward if desired. It captures one square diagonally forward. If an enemy pawn makes its first move 2 squares forward, stopping next to a player’s pawn (to the right or left of it), that player has the option (only on the very next move) to capture that enemy pawn “en passant” (in passing). It captures diagonally to the square the enemy pawn just passed through, and the enemy pawn is removed from the board. When a pawn reaches the last rank, it is immediately promoted: replaced by any other piece of the player’s liking aside from a king. If a pawn promotes to a lancer, that player may turn the lancer to any main direction to complete the move. If it promotes to a jailer, then enemy pieces orthogonally 1 square next to it are held immediately. The pawn's value is about 1.

Rook

The rook slides orthogonally as many squares as one wants, assuming a friendly piece is not in the way. It can slide up to an enemy piece and capture it, then occupies the enemy piece’s former square. Its value is about 5.

Knight

The knight is a “leaping” piece that can jump over pieces and pawns. It cannot be “blocked” by any pieces or pawns. The movement is to any available square that is located 2 squares in one direction orthogonally and 1 square to either side (left or right from there); it is an “L” shape. Available squares are either empty or occupied by an enemy piece, which it can capture. Its value is about 3.

Bishop

The bishop slides diagonally as many squares as one wants, assuming a friendly piece is not in the way. It can slide up to an enemy piece and capture it, then occupies the enemy piece’s former square. Its value is about 3.2.

Queen

The queen has movement that combines the power of rook and bishop. It can slide orthogonally or diagonally as many squares as one wants, assuming a friendly piece is not in the way. It can slide up to an enemy piece and capture it, then occupies the enemy piece’s former square. Its value is about 9.

King

The king can move one square in any direction and captures the same way. There is one exception; it can move 2 squares when it is part of a “castle.” Its value is “priceless” because one loses if the king is checkmated. However, many have estimated that its power is worth about 3 to 4, in terms of its influence on the game.

Rules

8-Piece Chess has the same rules and goal of standard chess, but with these additions:

- If a king is held by a jailer, then the player whose king is being held may pass as a legal move.

- A king can deliver checkmate (on a bordering square from the mated king) if the mated king is being held by his or her jailer.

- Pawns may promote to any non-king piece from this game, and if it promotes to a lancer, that player may turn the lancer to any of the 8 major directions to complete the move.

Notes

Notation for the Lancer is with an L, then x if it captures, then the coordinate of the square it lands on, followed by = and the direction it turns toward (from White’s perspective, like the directions on a compass: n, e, s, w, ne, nw, se, sw) For example: Lc2 = e (facing directly to the right from White’s perspective) Lxe4 = w (facing left from White’s perspective) If the Lancer does not change direction after a move, there is no = sign or direction mentioned. Here’s an example of that as a very first move for the White Lancer: Le4 (It is implied, without notation, that the Lancer continues facing northeast/diagonally up and to the right)

Notation for the Sentry is with an S. If it captures, you only mention the captured piece square, not the piece that the sentry lands on. For example, let’s assume a White sentry takes a piece on c4: Sxc4 (and that is all. We infer and know that the White sentry, which moved up and to the left in our example, is now on b5) If a sentry self-captures by taking an edge piece, its self capture is also implied. For example, Sxa6 (with an understanding that it is now out of play, along with the captured piece that was on a6) If the sentry moves to b5 and there was no enemy piece captured, it would simply be: Sb5

General comments on piece value

The Queen’s side piece value would generally increase as the game progresses. It’s true that a bishop’s value increases as the game opens up, but the sentry would also increase in value even more so (a sentry has little value early in the game), because empty squares are necessary for a safe capture. A lancer thrives in the middle game, in which one’s own pieces hinder the sliding pieces – yet there would still be enough empty squares to provide options for maneuvering all over the board.

Playing Over the Board

We do not yet have specific customized pieces for this variant, but any alternate pieces that are unique yet look similar to the knight, bishop, and rook should work fine. If you have pieces from an additional chess set (or alternate colors), you could use those in place of the three Queen’s side pieces and you will likely distinguish between a bishop and sentry, a rook and jailer, etc. Or, using only one chess set with standard pieces, an easy and low-cost way to mark the Queen’s side pieces is to use rubber bands (I found it straightforward to put bright green rubber bands on all the sentries, lancers, and jailers). Regarding the lancer’s direction, players can be mindful of how the green-marked lancer is facing. Still, in a blitz game it could create confusion about how the lancer is faced (if set to an in-between direction the players might argue over it). Instead, I would recommend the following, especially for rapid and blitz: In addition to the rubber bands, put bright orange tape around the top of the White lancer, and bright blue tape around the top of the Black lancer. Then, on the edge of the board, place bright orange and blue markers of some kind (I have used small plastic bright-colored containers – inexpensive – or you can use a blue and orange poker chip) The markers would be just off the playing area and would indicate which direction the lancer is facing for easy visual reference. Each time you move the lancer and adjust the direction, you move the marker to a spot just off the board that is in the direction it faces. For example, the orange marker at the very beginning of the game – which show’s the White lancer’s direction – starts the game on the imaginary “i8” square, next to the Black rook:

Above: a crude but inexpensive method of setting up 8-Piece chess. You can clearly see the White lancer is on b1 and aims at the orange marker- so the h7 pawn can be captured (not wise to do that of course) The blue marker is at the imaginary “i1” square, next to the White rook.

Randomized 8-Piece Chess

This game can easily be configured to have a randomized back rank similar to Fischer Random Chess (AKA Chess960). Just like in Fischer Random in which the king must be in-between the two rooks, in this case: the king starts anywhere in-between the rook and the jailer. The bishop and sentry must be on opposite shade of squares. Once the configuration is determined, the other player has a mirror image of it. When castling the King toward the g file, the king will always end up on g1 with the rook or jailer (whichever was closer to the h file) ending up on f1. When castling the king toward the c file, the king ends up on c1 with the rook or jailer (whichever was closer to the a file) ending up on d1. The king cannot be in check when you castle, nor can any square that the king moves through be attacked by an enemy piece. Original plans for the randomized version featured the lancer aiming in any random forward/sideways direction for the opening setup. However, this can pose a problem; there are setups in which a White lancer could easily capture an unprotected pawn if aiming a random direction before the first move.

Above: we see an example of a randomized setup (one of several) in which the White lancer can take a free pawn immediately, and then turn the lancer back toward his or her own pawn at a2 (preventing Black from also taking the free pawn). With that sort of obvious first move, these setups don’t inspire much opening variety nor are they fair. Therefore, when setting up Randomized 8-Piece Chess, the lancer should always begin the game facing straight forward:

This would guarantee that every pawn under attack by the lancer is protected, to be fair for Black. Even with this restriction on the lancer’s starting direction, 8-Piece Random Chess still has several thousand possible starting positions.

If anyone is interested in playing this variant, I can provide a link to a shared board we can use both use to play online. ([email protected])

Special thanks to:

Doug Kubach for play-testing and special rule suggestions

H.G. Muller for tips on notation for the lancer piece (from the Lancers Chess page)

Diagrams were created using modified graphics from musketeerchess.net as well as lichess.org.



This 'user submitted' page is a collaboration between the posting user and the Chess Variant Pages. Registered contributors to the Chess Variant Pages have the ability to post their own works, subject to review and editing by the Chess Variant Pages Editorial Staff.


By Jeffrey T. Kubach.
Web page created: 2019-01-28. Web page last updated: 2019-01-28